Architect: Sir Owen Williams

Pioneer Centre
St Mary's Road, London SE15



Occupying arguably the best position in the building, this remarkable two-bedroom split-level apartment forms part of the Grade II*-listed Pioneer Centre. Built in 1935 to a design by architect Sir Owen Williams, the building was described by Walter Gropius as ‘an oasis of glass in a desert of brick’.

Entrance to the apartment is on the ground floor. The front door opens onto a lobby before revealing an expansive living / kitchen / dining area, with beautifully designed windows that line one side of the room. Up a spiral staircase there are two bedrooms, one with en-suite bathroom, and a family bathroom. At bedroom level there is a door that leads almost directly to the first floor swimming pool and communal gym. There is a communal tennis court at the front of the building and residents parking in the gated grounds.

One of the most striking aspects of this particular apartment is the large amount of original glazing that makes up the entire south elevation, creating floor-to-ceiling windows in each room. Corner windows in the living room and master bedroom look out towards the more private rear side of the building. All the windows were recently renovated and double glazed.

The Pioneer Centre was designed as a purpose-built health centre for the ‘Peckham Experiment’, a unique study into the nature of health, led by Dr. George Scott Williamson and Dr. Innes Pearse. The scheme was devised to observe families in a community setting and to monitor the factors that contributed to human health.

The Pioneer Centre is excellently located between the thriving areas of Queens Road Peckham and Nunhead. Recent developments along Queens Road continue to contribute to the area, notably the Blackbird Bakery under the railway arches, Mama Dough’s pizza restaurant, and a number of new independent bars. Nunhead Lane has a village-like feel, with a greengrocer, a fishmonger , deli, café and a new community centre by AOC architects. Popular local pubs include the Old Nuns Head, The Telegraph and Beer Shop.

The nearby Bellenden Road has become a centre for some excellent independent restaurants, bars, and shops, including Artusi, The Begging Bowl and Flock & Herd butchers. The Bussey Building, off Rye Lane, hosts an active and varied programme of yoga/dance classes and workshops, along with a residency from the Royal Court theatre. The green spaces of Telegraph Hill & Peckham Rye Park are a short walk away.

Queens Road Peckham is the nearest station, just a two-minute walk away, running London Overground services to Shoreditch High Street and Dalston Junction in one direction and Clapham Junction in the other. Connections to the Jubilee Line can be reached at Canada Water (10 minutes) and the Northern Line at Clapham High Street (11 minutes). Southern trains run services to London Bridge with a journey time of around 7 minutes. Nunhead station is seven minutes’ walk away with connections to Victoria (in 15 minutes) and King’s Cross St Pancras (in 25 minutes).

Tenure: Leasehold
Lease length: approx. 108 years (125 years from September 1999)
Ground rent: approx. £125 per annum
Service charge: approx. £3,000 per annum

Please note that all areas, measurements and distances given in these particulars are approximate and rounded. The text, photographs and floor plans are for general guidance only. The Modern House has not tested any services, appliances or specific fittings — prospective purchasers are advised to inspect the property themselves. All fixtures, fittings and furniture not specifically itemised within these particulars are deemed removable by the vendor.


In 1926, Dr George Scott Williamson and Dr Innes Hope Pearse, opened the Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham in south east London, a scheme which became known as the ‘Peckham Experiment’, devised to observe families in a community setting and to monitor the factors that contributed to human health. The Peckham area was chosen because ‘this populace roughly represents a cross section of the total populace of the nation with as widely differing a cultural mixture as it is possible to find in an circumscribed metropolitan area’.

The first phase of the project closed in 1929, but funding was then sought to build a larger centre that was more suitably designed for purpose. In 1935, the project moved to its new home on St Mary’s Road, a purpose-built Modern building often quoted as an early example of how new architectural techniques could help further bold new social experiments. The new building, designed by Sir Owen Williams, moved away from the traditional lines dominating medical buildings. Using the latest structural techniques, Williams created a large open space that allowed the Centre’s doctors to properly observe the members.

Williamson and Pearse recruited 950 local families to be part of The Peckham Experiment. Paying one shilling (5 pence) a week, they had access to a range of activities such as physical exercise, swimming in the large pool, games and workshops. Members underwent a medical examination once a year, and they were monitored throughout the year as they participated in the Centre’s events. Central to Scott Williamson’s philosophy was the belief that, left to their own devices, people would spontaneously begin to organize in a creative way.

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Sir Owen Williams

Sir Owen Williams (1890-1969) was a British architect and engineer, responsible for a number of key modernist buildings and landmarks in the UK. For Williams, who was not classically trained as an architect, architecture and engineering were inseparable disciplines.

Williams undertook an engineering degree at the University of London in 1907, at the same time as completing an apprenticeship with the Electrical Tramways Company. Upon the completion of both, Williams assumed a position as an engineer and designer with the Trussed Concrete Company before starting his own firm consulting on concrete structures.

Although he was best known for his public buildings and infrastructure systems, Williams completed a number of housing projects both before and during the Second World War, including an apartment block in Stanmore. Following the Second World War, Williams worked on developing the first plan for Britain’s motorway system, and went on to become the principal engineer for the Gravelly Hill Interchange (known commonly as Spaghetti Junction).


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