Charterhouse Square is a microcosm of London’s diverse and multi-layered architectural history. Ranging from medieval to Georgian to Victorian to Edwardian to the modern, it encapsulates the rich tapestry of a neighbourhood right on the edge of the City of London.
One of the most distinctive and impressive building on the Square is Florin Court on the eastern side. Looming up alongside the Barbican, it is a rare example of a surviving, unaltered Art Deco/Streamline Moderne residential building in Central London.
Florin Court was once the site of townhouses belonging to the Marquess of Dorchester and Lord Grey of Warke, one of many that sprung up around the Square at the beginning of the 17th century, hosting embassies and members of the nobility. An inter-war owner of No. 10 even made the historically inaccurate claim that Henry VIII married Katherine Parr on the site of the future Florin Court (they actually married at Hampton Court), probably in an attempt to drum up business.
With the development of the West End proving more enticing to wealthier owners, the Square gradually lost its appeal. The eastern side was redeveloped by Peter Ward, a local brewer from Aldersgate, who constructed six houses c.1694.
By 1859 the dwellings were the site of an unidentified ‘ladies school’ and a vicarage for St. Botolph’s without Aldersgate. 1870 saw the arrival of Copestake, Crampton & Co. Ltd., a haberdashery business in Cheapside who utilised the buildings as a staff hostel. At its peak, in 1910, the hostel accommodated 118 staff. The business moved to Nottingham in the 1930s and the building was sold in order to pay off some of the haberdashery’s debts.
The modern-day Florin Court was built in 1935-37 for ‘Charterhouse Ltd.’, the architects were Guy Morgan & Partners, and the builders were J. Gerrard & Sons Ltd. The cost of the building, comprising 126 flats, came to £74,000 (£4.2 million in 2023). The building materials consisted of a steel frame (clad in a pale yellow) and brown-mottled bricks procured near Stanford. The U-plan of the building was designed to afford residents the optimum view of the square.
The building’s original residents were local businessmen, who often needed to be at Smithfield Market in the early morning. Most of the flats were therefore intended to be bedsits. But for some of the wealthier, permanent residents, there were several attractive amenities including: a restaurant, a cocktail bar, a squash court, and even a parking garage for twenty cars. Flats at the top even had small roof gardens, which are still used today.
Despite surviving the Blitz, the building struggled financially post-war; by the 1950s some of the rooms were converted into independent office spaces. In 1988, the architects Hildebrand & Glicker and interior designer Andrew Dandridge renovated and restored Florin Court to its original Art Deco grandeur, fitting out a swimming pool and jacuzzi, and the building received a further boost when it became the filming location for detective Hercule Poirot’s flat, Whitehaven Mansions! Florin Court survived a serious fire in 2013 and retains its Grade II-listed status. It remains as impressive and imposing as ever.