Segal Self Build in Shooters Hill

Segal Self-build houses in Llanover Road
Segal Self-build houses in Llanover Road

While walking along Herbert Road photographing buildings of local interest, I walked right past some of the most interesting – the group of 5 wooden-framed houses at the top of Llanover Road. These houses were built by the people who lived in them as part of a cooperative self-build group, following a design by the architect Walter Segal. Some of the builders still live there, and I was lucky to be able to talk to a couple of self-builders, Gordon and Dee, about how they did it. They generously lent me their album of photos recording the build – some of them are included below.

Walter Segal was a German-born architect who moved to London in 1936. In 1963 he pioneered his eponymous building method when he constructed  a “temporary” wood-framed building in a back garden in Highgate to house his extended family while their main home was being extended. That building is still standing today, the first of many constructed using the Segal method. Quite a few Segal houses have been built in south-east London, and those in Lewisham are particularly well known. The architect himself provided guidance and encouragement to the Lewisham builders. After he died in 1985 two of the roads where his houses stand were named after him:  Walters Way in Honor Oak and Segal Close near Blyth Hill. Two of the houses in Walters Way were open to the public in last year’s London Open House, whose brochure described them as:

Each house is unique, many extended and built using a method developed by Walter Segal, who led the project in the 1980s. Both houses have benefitted from extensions and renovations. Sustainable features include solar electric. water and space heating. Walter Segal 1987.

There’s more about the green and sustainable features on the Superhomes web site, and the Modern House web site has some great photographs and details of several South London Segal houses.

Segal House in Walters Way, Honor Oak
Walters Way, Honor Oak

Walter Segal’s method was designed to be simple, suitable for people with no previous building experience, and to avoid what he called the “tyranny of wet trades”; that is, there is no need for brick laying or plastering. The building plan is based on a set of timber frames, constructed from standard, readily available materials using basic carpentry skills, which sit on pad foundations. This means  that there is less need for levelling a site and disrupting existing trees and vegetation, and it allows houses to be erected on sloping sites which are problematic for traditional methods: Walters Way, for example,  is a steeply sloping site. The roof is attached after the frames have been erected, allowing the builders to work under cover on the rest of the building. Within the grid defined by the wooden frames builders can chose the layout of the rooms in the house and, as the walls are not load bearing, can even rearrange the internal lay-out after the build is complete.

In the borough of Greenwich a number of Segal self build developments were overseen by Co-operative Housing in South-East London (CHISEL).  Gordon and Dee were part of the first of these:  the Greenwich Self Build co-operative project at Llanover Road, which officially started on 16th March 1993. The site had been occupied by a row of three Victorian houses, numbers 220 to 224 Herbert Road, according to the 1914 OS map, though they had been demolished and the site littered by fly-tipping by the time the project started. The first of Gordon and Dee’s photos below show the site as it was when they started. The fly-tipping and rubbish had been cleared away by the council – the only physical help the council contributed to the build! The self-builders had all been selected by the council, and were working on a  “Self Build For Rent” model.  They committed to putting in 20 hours a week each on the build. In return for their labour in building the houses they would be able to live in them on a reduced rent. Before starting they attended a training course, though it mainly seems to have covered how to use power tools safely.

The Llanover Road plot at the start of the project
The Llanover Road plot at the start of the project

The official start was attended by local MP Nick Raynsford, seen on the left in the photo below. The architects were probably Architype, led by Jon Broome, who also worked on the other projects undertaken by the Greenwich Self Build co-operative at Parish Wharf near Woolwich Dockyard, and Birchdene and Silver Birch in Thamesmead.

Official opening with MP Nick Raynsford March 16th 1993
Official opening with MP Nick Raynsford March 16th 1993

The first stage of the build was to dig the holes for the concrete bases for the pad foundations. The little digger in the photograph was the only “large” piece of machinery used in the whole build, and was passed on the next Greenwich project at Parish Wharf when the Llanover Road builders had finished with it.

Preparing the concrete base blocks
Preparing the concrete base blocks

Unlike brick built houses, the foundations of Segal houses don’t run underneath the entire area of the house. Instead they have pad foundations – the upright posts of the wooden frames stand on a paving slab which is sitting on top of a point block of concrete, about 600 x 600 wide, the depth depending on local soil conditions. The ends of the wooden beams are sealed with a lead sheet which seals them very effectively against moisture. The weight of the house holds it in place. For the Llanover Road houses the flat felt roof is topped with some two and a half tons of gravel, so there is quite a weight to keep the house in place. The only connection to the ground is through services pipes and cables. In Gordon and Dee’s experience there has never been any problem with stability, even in the recent strong storms which damaged more traditionally built properties. They did say that the house sometimes sways a little though.

Base slabs in place
Base slabs in place

In the early parts of the work at Llanover Road all of the self builders worked together – preparing the foundation bases and constructing and erecting the frames and main structure. After that they tended to concentrate on their own properties. It was a lot of work, especially while holding down a job and bringing up a family

First frame up
First frame up
Developing the structure
Developing the structure

The roof in the standard Segal design is flat, though with some critical differences to other flat roofs to avoid some of their problems. The waterproof membrane is not fixed down but laid loose on the roof deck, with a generous amount of overhang, like a table cloth. This allows the membrane to accommodate any movements in the building frame and to expand and contract with temperature, so it doesn’t crack or tear like fixed membranes. On top of the membrane is a 40mm layer of 20mm diameter shingle, which weighs it down and shields the membrane from direct sunlight. The Llanover Road houses had the standard Segal design flat roof, though the other Greenwich properties had pitched roofs. For the Llanover self builders the only way to get the shingle up on to the roof was to use a rope and pulley and a builders’ bucket. Shifting two and a half tons of shingle in this way was a significant undertaking!

Ready to add the roof gravel
Ready to add the roof gravel

The internal timbers all had to have six coats of a special varnish. The walls and partitions were constructed with cavities, which were filled with insulation made from recycled copies of Yellow Pages using a blowing machine – one of the reasons the Segal homes are more energy efficient than other houses. The trickiest carpentry inside the house was needed to construct the stairs, especially the different shapes required for the treads when the stairs turned a corner.

Six coats of varnish/paint
Six coats of varnish/paint
Yellow pages for insulation
Yellow pages for insulation
Windows and porches
Windows and porches

It took two years and nine months to complete the Llanover Road self build, and the material costs for a house were £13,500. The development was the first Segal housing project to be completed since the original ones in Lewisham. The opening ceremony was again attended by local MP Nick Raynsford, who was also the Labour Party Housing Spokesman. Inside, the completed Segal house feels surprisingly spacious. If the beams are left exposed it has an Elizabethan feel, though many self-builders paint the insides a uniform colour, making it feel like any other house.

The Greenwich Self Build co-operative went on to further Segal projects in Woolwich and Thamesmead, with the members of the original group maintaining their involvement for later developments. The Parish Wharf development is described in English Heritage’s Survey of London volume about Woolwich as follows:

Parish Wharf, off Woodhill, is of the same period, but it is something different. The self-build method espoused by Walter Segal was followed here in 1992–5 to produce eight free-standing four-bedroom houses. Using modular, dry-jointed and cheap post-and-beam timber frames, on stilts to avoid the cost of foundations, these chalet-like houses were built for themselves by members of Co-operative Housing in South-East London (CHISEL). Their architects were Architype, then led by Jon Broome, Segal’s leading disciple, with Bob Hayes as the job architect. The name, which seems puzzling here on the landward side of the railway, reprises that of a municipal depot that lay east of the former dockyard.

Segal house in Parish Wharf
Segal house in Parish Wharf

As well as the Llanover Road, Parish Wharf, Birchdene and Silver Birch projects the Greenwich Self Build co-operative put in a proposal for a further Segal project in Abbey Wood, but it didn’t get the go-ahead. The co-operative was formally dissolved just a couple of years ago, in September 2011. Co-operative Housing in South-East London (CHISEL) is responsible for about 250 homes in south-east London, Colchester and Brighton, of which about a third are self-build, energy efficient Walter Segal properties that were constructed by the tenants who mostly still live in them.

Gordon and Dee still live in the house they built themselves, 20 years ago. As the name they gave their house attests, they don’t have any burning desire to build another house.

Brass name plate on Gordon and Dee's self-built house
Brass name plate on Gordon and Dee’s self-built house

House Stories

100 Eglinton Hill - Cheviot Lodge
100 Eglinton Hill – Cheviot Lodge

On my tour of the buildings of interest in Shooters Hill the group of houses at the top of Eglinton Hill proved to be of particular interest, not least because of the links they provided into aspects of local and national history. I had been walking around the area guided by a scrunched up photocopy of some pages from “Buildings of Local Architectural or Historic Importance” by Councillor N.R. Adams and Borough Planning Officer C.H.J. Pollard-Britten, found in Woolwich Library. (Incidentally I have since found an updated version  online on the Royal Borough of Greenwich web site). The document had this to say about number 100 Eglinton Hill, pictured above:

Eglinton Hill No. 100 ‘Cheviot Lodge’

2-storey mid-Victorian building in yellow stock brick with red dressings and stucco dressings. Slate roof with weather boards and decorative finials to gable ends in projecting eaves; attic dormers. Single storey extension to side and glazed extension to front, conservatory to flank facing Shrewsbury Lane. Seven steps up to front door in recessed porch supported on black columns with decorated capitals in the Gothic foliated style. Built by British Land Co. who set out most of Herbert Road area in 1868. Sold to Robert Brownlow Dale who owned Brownlow Dale Drapers 6 – 12 Hare Street, Woolwich and sold again in 1882 to Joseph Randall of builders Kirk and Randall who built Tilbury Docks, Greenock Barracks and many other government buildings. Randall added a billiard room and the Conservatory but building has remained little altered since then.

The British Land Company played a significant part in developing the Herbert Estate, as this part of Shooters Hill   between Plumstead Common Road and the Dover Road was known, and built many of the properties hereabouts. They were established in the mid nineteenth century  to extend the vote to more people by allowing them to own small plots of land – at that time only landowners were eligible to vote – though they later became a development company which still exists today.

Robert Brownlow Dale must have liked the area as he moved to Clavering Lodge in Wrottesley Road where he died in 1892. The Woolwich-based company Kirk and Randall were major builders in Victorian London. They are mentioned a number of times in English Heritage’s Woolwich Survey, their local buildings including the Tramshed and the Church of St Michael and All Angels down near Woolwich Dockyard. They built all across the city: as well as the government buildings mentioned, they were responsible for the  Comedy Theatre in Panton Street, Shops in Duke Street, the Greek cathedral of Aghia Sophia in Bayswater, the Wandsworth & Clapham Workhouse, Southwark’s St Saviour’s Union Infirmary …. and many more.

Detail of 145/147 Eglinton Hill
Detail of 145/147 Eglinton Hill
145/147 Eglinton Hill
145/147 Eglinton Hill














On the opposite side of the road there is a row of imposing houses, which Adams and  Pollard-Britten describe as follows:

No. 133

Large detached late Victorian villa with basement. Projecting bay windows to basement and ground floors. Front rendered. Hipped slate roof.

Nos. 135 and 137

Pair of 3-storey plus basement semi-detached late Victorian houses with centred front doors and projecting bays to basement, ground and first  floors. No. 135 in yellow/cream Gault brick; No. 137 has brickwork painted. Hipped slate roofs. Modern front doors and modern windows to No. 137.

No. 141 and 143

Pair of mid-Victorian 2-storey semi-detached houses with cornices and parapet roofs. Projecting bat windows. Walls rendered. Modern windows to No. 141.

Nos. 145 and 147.

Pair of substantial Edwardian houses with centred pediment containing two attic windows and centred terra-cotta medallion in circular red brick. Nos. 122 to 147 form a group.

There are photographs of these houses in the Shooters Hill Interesting Buildings Flickr set. I’m aiming to include photographs of all the buildings in the list.  Number 145 is now the home of the Shooters Hill Practice for Acupuncture and Complementary Medicine, and Lesley the Acupuncturist.

153 Eglinton Hill Front Elevation by G.J. Paszkowski
153 Eglinton Hill Front Elevation
153 Eglinton Hill
153 Eglinton Hill










I don’t know why 153/155 Eglinton Hill, directly opposite Cheviot Lodge,  isn’t one of the locally listed buildings: it looks just as important as its neighbours down the hill. It was certainly of interest to G.J. Paszkowski, a student at Thames Polytechnic School of Architecture and Landscape whose 1984 project report about number 153 Eglinton Hill is in the Greenwich Heritage Centre. The report gives the history of the house from 1896 when Joseph Randall of Randall and Kirk purchased the plot of land from the British Land Company, and includes some excellent drawings of the architecture of the house, including the drawing of the front elevation above (you may need to enlarge it by clicking on the image).

The house was built at the turn of the century and started out as number 303 Eglinton Road. It changed to number 353 Eglinton Road on 4th March 1913 when new houses were built lower down the road, and then became 153 Eglinton Hill on 16th March 1920.

G.J. Paszkowski lists the occupants and owners of number 153 in his report. Houses in Eglinton Hill were popular with officers from the different regiments based in Woolwich, and the report mentions several servicemen. One was Major F.H.G. Stanton RA who moved there in 1908. Major Stanton seems to have been a cricketer at the end of the nineteenth century, who saw action  in the Second Boer War. He is listed in Creswicke’s South Africa & the Transvaal War as being one of the prisoners freed after the British forces captured Pretoria in June 1900, and  he was mentioned in dispatches for rendering special and meritorious service in 1901. Major Stanton later served in the British Salonika Army which fought on the Macedonian Front in the First World War.

Captain Alfred Herbert MacIlwaine bought the house in 1922 for £1350. He sounds very highly accomplished if the various references I have found are the same person, and they fit together from a date point of view and with the most complete biography on the Militarian Military History forum. The son of the founder of the Hull Oil Manufacturing Company, he won five England rugby caps in 1912, England winning four out of his  five games. He served in the Royal Artillery in WWI, and his courage was recognised with the MC, DSO and Croix de Guerre. After the war he was at the Royal Military Academy, and helped set up a Central Army Rugby Referees Society. He moved to what was then Rhodesia and became a farmer, but was again active in WWII when he was the primary force behind the formation of the Southern Rhodesia Artillery. Back in Rhodesia after the war  he created Troutbeck, a lakeside inn in the Nyanga mountains of Zimbabwe, where “a portrait of him sitting on his boat with a fly rod at his side and a net in his hand hangs above the eternal hearthside fire”.

Intriguingly MacIlwaine gets caught up in Rhodesia’s unilateral declaration of independence, when in 1967 he is mentioned in Hansard because his Rhodesia passport was impounded when he visited Britain: an incident that gave a footnote to a book about Rhodesian UDI: A Matter of Weeks Rather Than Months by J.R.T. Wood.

So, some interesting stories prompted by local buildings. There’s just one thing I need to follow up on, a paragraph in G.J. Paszkowski’s report:

From the Barrow in Shrewsbury Lane is a long green lane still to be found at the back of the houses in Eglinton Hill. It followed the edge of steep slopes till it reached the levels of Woolwich marshes near Woolwich Arsenal station site.  Cows still came down from grazed fields on Shooters Hill to be milked at the dairy in Ripon Road.

This is a reference to Mayplace Lane, which I had noticed appears on the earliest old OS maps, before any development. I’d love to know its history.

Buildings of local interest

Edwardian Romanticism on Shooters Hill
Edwardian Romanticism on Shooters Hill

Whilst browsing in the local history section at Woolwich Library I came across a slim, typed, A4 document entitled “Buildings of Local Architectural or Historic Importance” by Councillor N.R. Adams and Borough Planning Officer C.H.J. Pollard-Britten, published in April 1983. It lists and describes interesting buildings across the borough, including quite a few here in Shooters Hill. I hadn’t come across many of the building described, and the descriptions sounded quite interesting, which seemed like a good excuse for a stroll round the local streets with my camera. Also the selection of buildings didn’t include quite a few that I thought would be essential members of such a list, so I arranged my route to pass some of them too.

I started on Shooters Hill itself.  The list included the Police Station, Christ Church and School, Samuel Phillips Memorial Shelter, and the Castlewood Day Hospital, but not the Water Tower or the Bull, though the nearby houses in the photograph at the top were there:

Nos 157 and 159

Built in 1907, a pair of semi-detached villas in the Dutch style, standing on the previous site of “The Bull”. 2-storey in red brick with blue brick diaper work in the two main front gables. Slate roof and English Tudor style chimneys. Example of Edwardian romanticism uncommon in this area.

“Uncommon Edwardian Romanticism” – a good start. I headed round the corner into Shrewsbury Lane, where several of the document’s entries are remnants from Victorian times when the area was dominated by large houses. Two walls from that era are described. The one between number 55 and Occupation Lane marked the boundary of Haddon Lodge, which appears on the 1866 OS map and according to Bagnold was built by William Jackson Esq. in about 1860. Then there’s the wall next to number 61, which was part of the enclosure of  Park Villa and West Villa, former 19th century buildings which were demolished in the 1960s.

On the other side of  the lane is Elmhurst Cottage, which is described as:

No. 40

‘Elmhurst Cottage’

Small single storey timber building – originally appeared on Ordnance Survey map of 1846, but rebuilt in previous style in 1976. Lidgebird, brickmaker for the Royal Arsenal, lived here. Built of wood with slate roof and sash windows. Decorative trellis work to sides of windows and projecting porch.

Elmhurst Cottage
Elmhurst Cottage

The cottage is all that remains of a much larger residence in spacious grounds called Elmhurst, which Bagnold describes as ” a substantial residence built by the Dallins in 1859 and occupied by the family up until 1868 or later.” The Lidgbirds and Dallins were significant families in the history of Shooters Hill. John Lidgbird, who was made High Sheriff of Kent in 1741, was a major landowner in the area. The eagles in his coat-of-arms are one possible origin of the name Eaglesfield. In the nineteenth century the Rev Thomas Dallin was the first vicar of Christ Church. He was married to Mary Lidgbird, a descendant of John. I guess that’s where Dallin Road got its name from.

The only other houses mentioned in Shrewsbury Lane are 48 and 65. The fire station and Furze Lodge, the former gas decontamination centre, aren’t in the list. I notice the conversion of Furze Lodge is now complete and ready for people to move in and enjoy the views.

Furze Lodge - former Gas Decontamination Centre
Furze Lodge – former Gas Decontamination Centre

I continued down the hill into Plum Lane where the document describes a terrace of pretty cottages:

Nos. 10 – 32 (even)

Mid Victorian period – two terraces, split by Vambery Road, of small 2-storey yellow stock houses with slated roofs. Stone dressings to front doors and ground floor windows. Some houses have been pebbledashed. Terrace north of Vambery Road bear inscription, ‘Shrewsbury Villas – built 1858’

Shrewsbury Villas - built 1858
Shrewsbury Villas – built 1858

I decided to head back via Genesta Road to take a look at another building that isn’t in the list – the United Kingdom’s only modernist terrace. On the way I expected to see the only wall post box left in SE18: a “Victorian letter box in wall adjacent to No. 90 Plum Lane”.  I was disappointed to find just a blank wall, which must mean that there are now no wall post boxes in SE18.

Russia-born architect Berthold Lubetkin‘s terrace at 85-91 Genesta Road is Grade II* listed, and is described on British Listed Buildings as follows:

Terrace of four houses. 1933-4 by Berthold Lubetkin, in conjunction with A V Pilichowski who secured the commission from C J Pell and Co. developers. George West Ltd. builders. Monolithic reinforced concrete construction, painted, with flat roof. Narrow frontage houses, 7.7 metres deep, on three floors, the ground floor lower than the road owing to the extremely steep site. Houses arranged in mirrored pairs. Ground floor with entrance halls, loggia rooms and garages, first floors with reception rooms and kitchens, the second floors with three bedrooms and bathrooms.
Entrances set back behind single pilotis to each house, which support the projecting upper storeys, and given further enclosure by curved projection to side. Most houses retain their original Crittall metal doors, and No. 91 has original bell. Garages, set further back, retain original doors. All windows to front are the original Crittall metal frames with side-opening casements, as are those to the rear except where noted. First floor with continuous horizontal windows across facade, each of ten vertical lights with some opening casements, set in projecting concrete frame – a very early use of such a feature. The second floor has a similar five-light window, with to side, doors on to balcony with cyma-curved concrete front and steel sides. This is a very distinctive and classic Lubetkin design, perhaps derived from the Bauhaus but evolved by him into one of the most characterful design features of the 1930s. Rear elevation simpler, though with similar Crittall windows surviving to Nos. 87 and 91 and to the upper floors of No. 85. The small bathroom and toilet windows to No. 89 survive, but the others have been altered. Ground floors originally with open loggias, now infilled with wood or glass but retaining their ‘garden room’ characteristic. The interiors survive remarkably well in all the houses, though No. 91 is the most complete.

Entrance halls with magnesium chloride floors, save that to No. 87 which has woodblock floor. Curved cloakroom in projection to side of front doors. Circular staircases with cupboards underneath, their timber newels scooped out on ground and first floor levels to make semi-circular features, admitting more light and space. A series of curves completes this newel wall at the top of the houses. First floor landing with cork floors. Reception rooms in two halves with square archway between, devised to give a sense of division without loss of space and light, and with two doors opening on to landing to enhance circulation space. On the second floor, No. 91 retains its original bathroom fixtures, with tiled walls and floors. The bedrooms have composition floors. Ladders secured over the stairwell give access via rooflight to flat roofs.
The front and side retaining walls with planting boxes are an important part of the composition, as are surviving gates and gatepiers. The rear gardens incorporate some walling and edgings in their steeply sloping sites.
Lubetkin was an emigre architect from the Soviet Union who settled in Britain in late 1931. This is his first building here, yet it is a confident and mature work which reveals many of the design details which were to appear in his later and better-known public commissions. The houses are the only completed terrace in England built in the modern idiom during the 1930s, and they are remarkably well preserved. Lubetkin himself designed only two other private houses, both in Whipsnade and including one for himself.

One of the terrace was recently up for sale, and there are currently some great pictures of the interior and a floor plan on The Modern House web site.

I headed back via Eglinton Hill. The first two houses in Adams’ and Pollard-Britten’s list had changed unfortunately: the red brick front and yellow stock brick return at number 29 had been pebbledashed and the carriage doors at number 35 are now a window. The houses further up were interesting though, and I’ll write about them in a future post.

I took quite a few more pictures on my stroll around Shooters Hill buildings of interest,  which I’ve uploaded to a flickr set of Shooters Hill Interesting Buildings. I’m planning future photographic perambulations to visit the other buildings of architectural and historic interest in the area, which I’ll add to the set. Suggestions for buildings that should be included would be welcome.

91 Genesta Road - part of the United Kingdom's only modernist terrace
91 Genesta Road – part of the United Kingdom’s only modernist terrace

London Open House Weekend

Severndroog Castle
Severndroog Castle
Title: London Open House Weekend
Location: Severndroog Castle
Link out:
Description: Grade II* listed triangular brick Georgian tower with Gothic windows. Standing 63ft tall in woodlands it offers spectacular views across the capital. Built to commemorate the 1755 conquest of the Malabar Coast by Sir William James.
Start Date: 2009-09-19
Start Time: 10:00
End Date: 2009-09-20
End Time: 15:00

Arrive early to avoid disappointment as only 20 people can be on each floor at a time, so the queues back up a lot.

If you would like to sponsor a part of the tower for £5, you can do that too, and have your very own Severndroog Brick!

This is probably the best chance this year to have a look at the impressive interiors and views that can be enjoyed at Severndroog Castle, the campaign to save the castle for the public is now in it’s fifth year, and the more support it receives at events like this the better the long term prospects of having our own castle on the hill will become.

On some open house weekends, although not this time, it is possible to visit the unique Lubetkin Houses, which were reportedly the architect’s first commission before going on to design the penguin pool at London Zoo among other things.

Another art deco gem in this area is the mind blowing “Italian Gothic” Gala Bingo Club on Powis street, formerly known as the Granada Theatre “The most romantic theatre ever built” [1. Granada images found on]. This is a fascinating place to visit, not least because it acts as a happy reminder of the impressive art deco achievements of Woolwich, along with the Odeon and the Co-Op (which is now destined to become a multi storey car park as part of the controversial Woolwich Triangle proposals) – note – the Granada is open on Sunday only from 1030 to 1130, although bingo membership is another way to enjoy the place, but it would be hard winning any games if you kept getting distracted by the intricacies of the carved wooden ceiling!

Granada Woolwich Granada Woolwich Granada Woolwich Granada Woolwich Granada Woolwich Granada Woolwich Granada Woolwich Granada Woolwich Granada Woolwich Granada Woolwich Granada Woolwich