Saturday, 6 November 2010

Further support for saving the Strand Union Workhouse in London


"Dear John Penrose,

Ed Vaizey will have shown you my impassioned plea for the spotlisting of the Strand Union Workhouse in Cleveland Street in which I hope you will take a personal interest. I am the West End Ward councillor and this was brought to my attention by my residents, who will be in the sad position of having to look at the modern replacement proposed by Camden Council and supported by the previous government.

The residents have prepared many documents pertinent to the listing application which has just been sent to English Heritage, but let me summarise:

This, the oldest surviving workhouse in London, was built in 1775-6 by leading Georgian church architect Thomas Hardwick. It has the famous proportions of Georgian architecture plus Victorian hospital wings based on Florence Nightingale's revolutionary pavilion designs for the treatment of the sick. It remains substantially as when first built -- staircases, windows, slate roofs, floors, fireplaces even some panelling for the most part intact. It has served the sick and poor for over 200 years, was a Second World War casualty post and recently part of the NHS. Its social history is compelling. Victorian Poor Law Reform began in this building. Charles Dickens got his inspiration from conditions within it, its formidable medical officer Dr. Joseph Rogers worked with Gladstone, Queen Victoria and the Duke of Westminster to improve life for the disadvantaged, and the inquests held within its walls by Thomas Wakley, founding editor of The Lancet, helped highlight the 'Burke and Hare' practice of providing bodies for dissection, leading to the 1832 Anatomy Act.

This is clearly an invaluable piece of London's past and could make a memorable contribution to the future. From my experience on Westminster's planning committee I can envisage how its generous proportions and central courtyard would enable it to be converted to flats of all sorts. Such a sympathetic conversion would uplift the neglected area of Fitzrovia in which it is situated, much as the warehouse conversions have done in Docklands.

When the last application for listing was made Frank Dobson [the local MP] did not agree - which gives the new Government a brilliant opportunity to show themselves more sensitive to our heritage by recycling a vital piece of popular history which it would be a crime to erase.

If you would like to see for yourself I will very happily arrange it. There is a very brief window before Camden make their planning decision,

Glenys Roberts
Westminster Councillor"

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