Local and national appeal to save ‘at risk’ landmark Brixton building

The school. Image © Connor McNeill

An architecturally important Brixton school with a significant history has been named by the Victorian Society as one of its 10 most endangered buildings for 2024.

The former Kennington Boys’ School on Cormont Road, a Grade II listed building opposite Myatt’s Fields Park, has been on the Historic England “at risk” register since 2016.

Local history campaigner Tracey Gregory has launched a petition calling on Lambeth council to immediately make the building weathertight.

The council told the Blog that even a temporary fix would cost £1.5m and that, in the light of pressures on its budget, it is looking at how to secure funding for works.

The building was requisitioned by the military wing of St Bart’s Hospital in 1914, along with the adjacent St Gabriel’s teacher training college.

The two buildings became the 1st London General Hospital, treating thousands of wounded soldiers throughout the First World War.

boiling opposite park
Image © Connor McNeill

The need was so great that the hospital took over Myatt’s Fields Park opposite, as the demand for bed space for the wounded outstripped the space available in the school and college buildings.

Acclaimed writer Vera Brittain, author of Testament of Youth, worked as a nurse there.

Actor and writer Griff Rhys Jones, president of the Victorian Society, said: “This is one of those dilemmas that just seems confusing. How come this building can’t be reused? Recycled? Why can’t it be sold? 

“Loads of distinguished old places have been successfully repurposed for homes or commercial use. To allow this noble structure to simply decay by neglect is surely wasteful bad policy.”

Brittain described the school as “one of the few distinguished buildings in the dismal, dreary, dirty wilderness of south London”.

She was one of many nurses who cared for the wounded and dying at the school while it was a hospital. Her poem A Military Hospital was written while working there.

old image of people in uniform
Vera Brittain and members of her family during the First World War. Reproduced by permission of the Principal and Fellows of Somerville College, Oxford and the Vera Brittain Estate

Her fiancé, the poet Roland Leighton, was killed in the war.

After the First World War the building returned to schooling South Londoners, as it did for more than a century. 

It is a key feature of the Minet conservation area.

After World War II, the School became Kennington Boys’ School and later the Charles Edward Brooke Girls’ School, before becoming vacant following the relocation of the girls’ school to new premises nearby in 2012.

The building has been on the Historic England “at risk” register since 2016, when its condition was recorded as “poor”.

By the time of the 2023 register, its condition had deteriorated to “very bad”.

The Victorian Society said that this demonstrated that its latest owner, Lambeth council, “has not undertaken necessary ongoing maintenance”.

It said a survey commissioned by the council in March 2016, identified that water ingress had caused significant internal damage.

Works to make the building wind and weathertight were identified as urgently required in 2016.

“Some remedial work was supposed to have commenced in 2023, but no action has been taken,” the society said

“It is now critical that work is done urgently to stop further deterioration and identify a new use for the building before the structure deteriorates any further.

“Its central London location offers opportunities for reuse that don’t apply to many buildings. A sympathetic reuse for it could surely be found.

Image © Connor McNeill

“Local people are seriously concerned about a building that has been a prominent feature of their lives and their locality, but which has been draped with green netting for years. 

James Hughes, director of the Victorian Society, said: “London has a rich heritage of Victorian and Edwardian schools, and this example by the prolific T. J. Bailey is especially splendid.

“Aptly described as a building of ‘romance and fantasy’, its sweeping spirelets, towers, dormers and Dutch gables combine to entertaining, kaleidoscopic effect.

“This is a building of enormous historic and architectural significance, and is a landmark in the Minet conservation area in a pleasant and desirable part of London, within striking distance of the centre of town.

“It is one, too, of enormous potential for reuse, which the local authority must make an absolute priority.”

A Lambeth council spokesperson said the school building was originally slated for renovation under the Blair government’s Building Schools for the Future Programme – but that the current government had decided to build a new school elsewhere.

“A temporary school was running on the playground of this site until 2019, leaving the condition of this Victorian building to worsen,” the council said.

“The building was then handed to the council three years ago in a very poor condition, and in need of very extensive restoration work.

“The council initially looked at a temporary fix, including mending the roof, but even just this would have cost £1.5 million.

“Considering the cost of this work and pressures on our budget we are now looking at the feasibility of securing funding for the much needed renovation, and will consult with the local community before any decisions about its future use are taken.”

The Victorian Society has a statutory role in the planning process and its input has saved landmark buildings ranging from St Pancras station in London to the Albert Dock in Liverpool.

Tracey Gregory said the school sits alongside the Grade II listed St Gabriel’s College (formerly a teacher training college and now flats) and overlooks Grade II listed Myatt’s Fields Park.

The local petition


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