Elliott School is a landmark rightly listed as a valuable part of this country’s architectural heritage.

The significance of the setting is paramount. The grounds are a magnificent and a rare landscaped resource for any school in inner London which must be retained and cherished for future generations. The grounds still retain all the original design features which is rare in itself. These features have complemented and enhanced the educational experience of school children for decades.

Elliott School is a building of significant cultural and historic importance. This was recognised in 1993 when the building was listed Grade II by the Department of Heritage. A Statement of Significance commissioned by Wandsworth Borough Council from DPP Heritage in preparation for the Building Schools for the Future programme in 2009, further explains its importance, describing the building as:

“a leading example of this architectural and technological approach as executed by the London County Council in the early post war years.” 

Statement of Significance, DPP heritage 2009

Elain Harwood of English Heritage goes even further: She calls Elliott School “perhaps the finest of the large comprehensive schools built by the London County Council architects”

However Wandsworth Council’s proposals to fund the refurbishment of the school by selling school land and demolishing part of the listed building, show no recognition of this importance. The council propose a substantial new private housing development be built over more than half of the site. This is in spite of the Statement of Significance which determined that:

“There is limited capacity for new development within the grounds of the original school buildings.”

The council’s proposal claims, without substantiation, that this area of the site it proposes to sell is “surplus” to the educational needs of the school. However, it is clearly not surplus to the historic and architectural significance of the school and its buildings.  For example the Statement of Significance says:

“The landscape design is an integral part of the interest of the listed building, and should be considered as part of any proposals. Not only does the landscape provide a setting for each distinctive element of the school buildings but also has significance as spaces designed to facilitate the educational use of the listed building.”

“The hard and soft landscape setting of the main Elliott School building is a part of the special interest of the listed building; illustrating how the outdoor spaces were originally used by the school. The buildings and spaces within the site were designed to function together to provide both indoor and outdoor teaching spaces for the comprehensive school and to provide a landscape setting for the buildings. The existing sports pitches and courts, for example, retain their original layout and have a close functional and visual relationship with the east gymnasia wing of the main school building. The original open air amphitheatre is closely associated with the nearby drama hall within the north end of the main teaching block and takes advantage of the topography of the site. This is an innovative feature of particular interest.”

Yet more than half of this setting, and the most important half including the open air stage amphitheatre and sports facilities, is proposed to be sold. The council’s consultation document does not mention that these features will be lost.

Under the council’s proposals the Gymnasium and Technology wing, an integral part of the school building of “important interest” is also under threat of total demolition. Once again the council chooses to ignore the recommendations of the Statement of Significance. The Statement of Significance (DPP 2009) determines that alteration of this wing (although not complete demolition) “may be justified by the retention of one or more workshop and or gym hall space as originally planned as a legible record of the 1950’s layout.” The document even allows for demolition of this part of the listed building but demands that “justification would have to demonstrate that the significant costs of repair and building maintenance cast doubt on its continued use.”

Bearing in mind that the building is still in continued use, and given the lack of credible evidence provided by the council for the assertion, to justify demolition, that the Gyms are “unsuitable for modern sports usage”, we contend that the council has put forward no justification at all for the demolition of this wing.

It is perhaps no surprise that Wandsworth Council is insensitive to the listing of Elliott School buildings (1993) and the recommendations of the Statement of Significance (2009). Back in 1993 at the time of listing, the then Leader of Wandsworth Council wrote to the Department of National Heritage, describing “aesthetics” as “an essentially subjective matter” and Elliott School as “not unique”, as having “an extensive repairs liability”, and that “the listing will inevitably increase the future difficulties of re-developing what is likely to be an underused site.” (letter 20th April 1993: Councillor Edward Lister to the Department of National Heritage)

It would appear that Wandsworth Council have long had their sights on asset stripping Elliott School regardless of its local and national importance.  Their proposals cut the site in half, demolish one arm of the building and sell off more than 50% of the site for private development. In the context of the Grade II listing and the Statement of Significance this is totally unacceptable.

National Heritage’s reply (10th June 1993) to the Leader of Wandsworth Council explained that the listing “followed detailed research by English Heritage into post-war educational buildings” and that Elliott School was one of a small percentage which “represent some of the finest educational buildings of the period”. The subsequent Statement of Significance fully supports this original assessment:

“[Elliott School] is one of only a small group amongst thousands of post war primary and secondary schools which has been recognised as being of national importance for their architectural innovation and creative expression”

Wandsworth Council should be immensely proud to have such an important school within its borough. And could be even prouder if they would rescue it from its current state.

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