Urban landscape — 01 December 2017
Site Unseen: Courtenay Square

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

This charming square now has, as one of its residents a prominent Tory backbencher well known for his support for staying in Europe and love of jazz.

TODAY Courtenay Square might be the province of the propertied classes, but in 1913, Maud Pember Reeves selected Kennington for Round About a Pound a Week, which was a survey of social conditions in the district. She found ‘respectable but very poor people [who] live over a morass of such intolerable poverty that they unite instinctively to save those known to them from falling into it’.

Courtenay Square built in a Neo-Georgian style was part of the Duchy of Cornwall’s major redevelopment of part of the district in the early twentieth century aimed to address those social conditions.

Detail

The great architectural critic Ian Nairn who coined the word ‘Subtopia’ to indicate drab suburbs that look identical through unimaginative town-planning, described Courtenay Square as the best Georgian square in London.

In his view:

It is neither here nor there that it was built just before the First World War for the Duchy of Cornwall, and that the delicate classical ornaments are cast in concrete and can be seen to be . . . Alone among London’s squares, it has really accepted what is meant by a formal space: all the detail is directed towards the whole space, and the centre is nota lawn or a folly of flower-beds, but regular trees in gravel, kept down around your ears by deliberate, direct pruning.

Praise indeed from one of London’s most incisive writers.

He then compares it somewhat unfavourably with the genuinely Georgian Cleaver Square nearby – Nairn’s London ©Penguin Modern Classics, first published 1966.

Featured image: Courtenay Square, Kennington by Marathon (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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