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Architect who was hailed as the man who saved Islington

Defender of social housing battled against Town Hall plans to knock down Georgian homes

29 September, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Kenneth Pring with wife Connie

JAZZ musicians and a full brass band played at a church in Barnsbury on Wednesday as mourners gathered to bid farewell to Kenneth Pring, renowned architect, campaigner, musician, grandfather and one of the founders of Barnsbury Housing Association, who has died aged 80.

More than 100 people attended the funeral at St Andrew’s Church, in Thornhill Square, close to the home where Kenneth and wife Connie, who survives him, lived from 1964. Kenneth had died peacefully in the company of his son, Christopher, at University College London Hospital on September 15.

Kenneth was born of humble origins in south-east London. His father Eric was a dockworker and mother Sophie worked in a biscuit factory and as a cleaner.

His parents encouraged him in his studies and in his music. A young Ken played the violin and moved on to the fife and then drum with the boy scout band.

As a teenager, he won a scholarship to Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College in New Cross before going on to qualify in architecture at the Polytechnic of North London. During his time at the poly he paid for his upkeep by playing drums in jazz venues. He formed an architectural practice in the early 1960s with partners. Throughout his career he worked on a range of schemes, including social housing, grade I-listed buildings, offices and a palace in Copenhagen.

On moving to Barnsbury in 1964, Kenneth quickly immersed himself in the community.

In 1967, he was one of the founders of Barnsbury Housing Association, along with other local professionals who had an interest in social housing. In those days there was a housing shortage and such groups were encouraged to form housing associations. He designed a number of award-winning developments, most notably Barnsbury Mews – now called Moreland Mews – as well as at the north terrace of Barnsbury Street, Milner Square and Lonsdale Place.

The young drummer who played in jazz venues

Paying tribute, Susan French, chief executive of the housing association, said: “Ken was a key member of the team that developed BHA’s award-winning estate at Morland Mews and helped save and renovate homes on Barnsbury Street.

“Like many architects and surveyors at the time, he was motivated to help solve the housing shortage of the late 60s and make sure that the new housing integrated seamlessly into the Barnsbury neighbourhood.”

Some even went as far as to say he was “the man who saved Islington” by convincing Town Hall chiefs that refurbishing existing Georgian housing stock was better than knocking it down and rebuilding, which is what was planned for swathes of Islington.

Kenneth formed his own small building company and secured financial backing to buy up pairs of houses in a few streets and then convert them into apartments. His model for this was his own scheme for the north terrace of Barnsbury Street, where half the houses were privately owned and half were social housing. This, he felt, was much better than segregating social housing into new estates.

He helped bring back to life homes which had been listed as dangerous structures and were scheduled for compulsory purchase.

As a campaigner, he was always involved in conservation, in which he obtained a doctorate. He marched to save Upper Street and other streets from being turned into dual carriageways, which would have involved the demolition of a lot of historically interesting buildings.

A keen musician, Kenneth played the flute, violin, guitar, drums, a series of brass instru­ments, and dabbled in the saxophone, clarinet and banjo.

He was a member of Hadstock Silver Band, Fulham Brass Band and The Angel Orchestra, among other bands.

More recently, he took part in supporting the demonstration to save Whittington Hospital – playing drums with Crouch End All Stars jazz band on the top deck of the campaign bus organised by the Tribune.

He was also a keen artist, photographer and linguist.

Chris said of his father: “He was very generous, very supportive and encouraging.”

Kenneth is survived by his beloved wife Connie, children Catherine and Christopher, daughter-in-law Jeanne, son-in-law Morgan and grandchildren Sophia, Freddie and Ilaisa.


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