Elliott School, Putney: comprehensively outstanding
Since January this year the Grade II-listed Elliott School in Putney has become a major case for the Society. Plans to convert it into an academy have brought a wave of proposals, including an upgrade of indoors sports facilities, Disability Discrimination Act compatibility requirements and a much-needed total refurbishment. With the Building Schools for the Future programme discontinued, earlier refurbishment plans were abandoned, and Wandsworth Council now argue that the only way to find the required funds is to sell off part of the school’s prime-location grounds for residential development. The sale, it is argued, will cover the cost of bringing the school up to contemporary standards, but almost no information has been made publicly available to justify the proposals.
Elliott School is a very rare example of a listed post-war school, recognised both for its overall planning and for its wealth of decorative detail. The building was added to the Statutory List following the Post-War Steering Group’s thematic surveys in the early 1990s. It is one of the earliest listings recommended by the PWSG, part of a select group that was to set the bar for subsequent post-war listings. The PWSG praised it highly, describing it as ‘the outstanding LCC in-house comprehensive of the 1950s’. It made special mention of its cruciform plan, its debts to Lubetkin and the Royal Festival Hall, and its tile panel at the back. Designed by a team led by G A Trevett, the school is noteworthy as a rare surviving listed example of John Bancroft’s work (part of his early involvement in the schools division of the LCC). Twenty years on, the school building and surrounding fields survive virtually in their original form, making it even more important to safeguard this historic structure for future generations.
The Society first heard about the current proposals from the architectural press. We were deeply concerned to discover that the land sale was being pushed through with no consultation on the impact of the proposed changes on the listed building and its setting, while the proposals also included demolition and replacement of the gym block, one of the four wings of the school’s cruciform plan. Representations to the Local Planning Authority in February and May stressed the significance of the school building and our concerns about procedure. In July – with English Heritage and DoCoMoMo UK – we led a deputation to the Council’s Finance and Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The architectural and local press have followed the case closely, as has Time Out magazine, their interest triggered by a vigorous ‘Save Elliott School’ campaign led by former pupils, some of whom have gone on to make their names in the music industry.
The sale of the land is apparently going ahead, but we have made some progress, as the percentage of land to be sold has dropped from more than half to 41 per cent. Clearly, though, the fight is far from over: we remain deeply concerned by the lack of information on the site’s heritage value. There has been no condition survey of the fabric, no options appraisal regarding its maintenance and upgrade, and no cost estimates of the proposals. We are still pressing to be included in pre-application consultation, and want to see the gym block refurbished, not replaced.