The Pullens Estate was built by local builders, James Pullen and Son of 73 Penton Place between 1870 and 1901. Originally comprising 650 flats, surrounding 4 separate yards of workplaces of which 360 flats and 3 yards remain.
The Yards were purpose built with craftspeople and small traders in mind and represent an original Victorian example of live/work space as, originally, each ground or first-floor workshop opened into one of the 2 flats situated behind it.
It is not known precisely what businesses were carried on in the very early days of the Yards; however, at the time of the estate’s coming into local authority hands 100 years after being built, such diverse trades as, industrial clogmakers for the Fire Service; Stationers; makers of Ships’ Fans; manufacturers of X-ray machinery; hatmakers; brushmakers; bookbinders; printers as well as furniture makers and restorers were in occupation. The latter category including brothers, J & J Lilleycrop trading as Turners’ Office Furniture – furniture restorers to the Inns of Court amongst others, and the only business still in the yards (until recently) to have taken their workshop on whilst Messrs. Pullen were still the landlord
This original spirit of diversity of trades and occupations was resurrected in 1979 when several new businesses began to move in: silversmiths, fine artists, bookbinders, ceramicists, furniture designer-makers; many of whom went on to achieve world-wide recognition as well as operating as a vital part of the local economy. Many of these “new” businesses became involved with community projects such as school visits & demonstrations, college industrial experience placements and, indeed, some of the new businesses were started by graduates of local colleges – a trend which has continued.
The Pullens Arts Businesses Association was originally formed in 1983, by Lutemaker Stephen Barber and Fine Artist Kevin O’Brien, as a business tenants’ association with the aim of representing tenants’ rights and interests in dealings with the Landlord. Along with the Pullens Tenants and Residents Association the Businesses Association was instrumental in achieving the granting of an indefinite life for the remainder of the estate when it was threatened with demolition following its aquisition by the council.
Over the past 29 years, the association has been instrumental in achieving the working conditions which have helped a unique creative community to thrive – through negotiation and lobbying for such essential survival strategies as secure and tenant-friendly leases as well as the more effective enactment of essential repairs and maintenance – and has in recent years essentially operated as a de facto management-partner with Southwark’s Portfolio Management department.
As the sense of community within the workshops has grown and developed, many unusual and/or highly specialised small businesses, leaders in their respective fields, have come to the Yards and in a few cases, sadly, gone: Rob Dixson, ceremonial swordmaker to the Lord Mayor of London; RimmingtonVian, glassware & ceramics designer/decorators supplying various royal palaces, stately homes and the National Gallery Collection amongst others; Kevin O’Brien, former artist in residence at the National Gallery during his time in Peacock Yard, to name but a few.
Currently the Yards house: fine artists & sculptors, among them – contemporary of Hockney & Kitaj – Frank Bowling RA; ceramicists & potters; jewellers; silversmiths; paper conservators; designers; graphic artists; web-designers; furniture designers; architects; furniture makers/restorers; video & film makers; photographers; writers & publishers; musical instrument makers and theatre & film-costume makers. The list is endless…
Our Vision for the Future:
Today the Yards house a unique mix of the some of the best artists, designers and craftspersons, not just in Southwark, but London and beyond. The range of skills and expertise, which sprung from the visions and ideals planted as seeds in the late 19th Century when the Yards were built, have thus continued into the 21st Century. Clements, Iliffe and Peacock Yards are a vibrant, interesting ‘hive of industry’, comprising a diverse mixture of talents, resources and services. We believe we make an important contribution to the local area and our businesses bring visitors to Southwark from literally all over the world.
Operating on this small a scale in the modern environment, however, carries pressures which were unforeseen when the Yards were built: this flourishing, diverse, fascinating and innovative community needs to be protected from extinction.
As the Elephant & Castle proceeds through its process of regeneration, we believe it is absolutely essential that “creative hubs” like that which has grown organically within the Pullens Yards are nurtured and protected. At the Creating Places Conference held at Tate Modern in July 2003 Minister of State for the Arts, Estelle Morris said,
“ If the criteria we use for developing an area squeeze out the small/arts businesses we need to alter the criteria”.
A local authority landlord will always be under pressure to fulfill its requirement to obtain best value in purely monetary terms; we believe that the Pullens Arts Businesses Association (ie: the occupiers of the Pullens Yards themselves) are far better placed to take a more visionary, practical and constructive overview for the future of the workshops, building on our existing strengths both as individual businesses and as advocates and lobbyists for the small and/or specialist businesses of which we’re comprised.
We believe that, with the right advice and assistance we have the wherewithal to capitalise on what we have already built so far, so as to establish a management ideal which will not only help existing businesses to survive, but will also provide the perfect environment for the next generation of practitioners to train, develop and flourish.
Made in Southwark: Collection of photographs by George Nicholson of artisans at the Pullens Yards.
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