Written by Sean McEntee as part of Brix & Mortar, a celebration of Brixton’s landmarks
The Black Cultural Archives exist to preserve and promote an understanding of black cultural heritage,and after a long wait, rapid progress is now being made on the new home for the archives in the 19th Century Raleigh Hall on Windrush Square.
Originally built as a pair of houses in 1824, Raleigh Hall has been host to a number of different uses over the years. From residential, to educational as well as a long stretch hosting the Brixton Liberal Club, the various occupants have informed a unique history of the site. This history, together with the architectural significance of the building, earned it a Grade II listing.
Unfortunately listing a building does not exempt it from changing fortunes and structural problems, and after lying vacant and slowly deteriorating the Hall had to be placed on the English Heritage Register of Historic Buildings at Risk in 1992. The revival of the building to its latest use with the BCA has been a timely one, and saved the building from being lost completely.
Architects Pringle Richards Sharratt were responsible for developing the scheme, working within the constraints of a structurally unstable listed building and the technical requirements of rare and delicate archive material. Raleigh Hall will be returned to its original appearance externally, with modern and flexible educational spaces, a cafe and shop accommodated within.
The exhibition and archive spaces will be housed in the new stone clad wing, which provides a contemporary counterpoint. The two solid elements will be contrasted by a light connecting volume between the two, with the arrangement around a central court making for another versatile space and strong connection to Windrush Square. Architect Malcolm McGregor tells me:
The bringing together of something old and new as a home for the BCA in the centre of Brixton will hopefully show how new life can be born out of something that was at one point considered to be at risk.
The conversion of Raleigh Hall from something derelict to something purposeful and beautiful is of immense benefit to the perception of Windrush Square, and even though it was a long wait, I’m sure it will be worth it.