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Uffculme School, Birmingham

Description: Uffculme School

Grade: II
Date Listed: 16 January 2013
Building ID: 1411681

OS Grid Reference: SP0726882493
OS Grid Coordinates: 407268, 282491
Latitude/Longitude: 52.4403, -1.8945

Locality: Birmingham
County: Birmingham
Postcode: B13 8QY

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Listing Text


The principal buildings of the former open-air school at Uffculme, built in 1911 to a design by Barry Peacock - namely the main block with attached classroom, and the three pavilion classrooms. The latest addition to the north-west of the main block is not of special interest. The eastern block of the current school site, comprising the former rest shed with extensive attached later building, is not included in the listing, and nor are the small detached former cloakroom and lavatory blocks.

Reason for Listing

The main 1911 buildings at Uffculme School are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Historical: as the most important of England's surviving early open-air schools, and probably the only such school remaining from before the First World War;
* Design Interest: Uffculme's permanent pavilions with folding glazed screens instead of walls, set on a staggered plan, represent an original response to open-air requirements, and were influential in school design both in England and on the Continent;
* Legibility: despite a number of alterations, the essential structure and purpose of the buildings, their relationships with one another and with their setting, remain legible. Areas of the complex that are too compromised by alteration have not been included in the listing.


The movement for outdoor schooling began on the Continent in the late C19; the first Waldschule (forest school), designed as an 'open-air recovery school' for debilitated children, was founded at Charlottenburg, a suburb of Berlin, in 1904. Considerable improvement was observed in the health of the pupils and the school, and its immediate successors, these were regarded with interest by English educationalists. In England, ill-heath, particularly amongst inner city children, was a matter of grave concern, partly for reasons of national efficiency; poor nutrition and housing, together with pollution, were found to contribute to levels of tuberculosis which killed over 31,000 children in 1907, and the practical importance of better ventilation, diet, and exercise in schools was increasingly recognised. The concept of 'open air', which was frequently associated with health, freedom, and the moral value of life in the countryside, was one to which Edwardian reformers were receptive, whilst ideas about the benefits of education centred on the well-being of the child were gaining ground. England's first open-air school was an experimental and temporary one, opened by the London County Council in the summer of 1907 at Bostall Wood, Plumstead; its success led to three further schools being set up in London in 1908, and in the same year schools opened in Bradford and Halifax. By 1914, there were examples in ten towns and cities outside London, and a number of others appeared between the wars, with Birmingham becoming a notable centre; by 1939 there were 127 open-air schools. The advent of antibiotics and decline of tuberculosis hugely ameliorated the conditions out of which the open-air schools had grown, and few examples were built after the Second World War, though many existing schools continued to function, making provision for children with special physical or educational needs.

The buildings of the early open-air schools were very simple. Often such schools were established in the grounds of large houses, with existing buildings being adapted and groups of huts erected of timber or other materials; this reflected the views of the progressive educationalist Margaret McMillan, who advocated cheap shelters over complex and expensive buildings. Three more permanent, architect-designed schools were built in England before the First World War – Reginald Kirby's 1909 school at Bradford, Uffculme School in 1911, and in 1913, R J Williams's school at Kettering. Between the wars, a number of new schools appeared, many on the pavilion plan which maintained the intimate relationship between inside and out, and allowed cross-ventilation. The contribution of the open-air schools to the wider movement for better-ventilated and lit schools, particularly through the use of separate-block planning and light, framed buildings, together with an increased emphasis on fresh air and informal teaching methods, continued to be felt in the post-war period.

Uffculme School, opened on 18 September 1911, was Birmingham's first open-air school. Barrow and Geraldine Cadbury, who gave part of the grounds of Uffculme House, and provided the new buildings, were closely involved in the project. The philanthropy of the local Quaker chocolate-manufacturing dynasty extended beyond provision for their own workforce at Bournville, and Barrow and Geraldine Cadbury took a particular interest in the education and welfare of children and young people; Geraldine Cadbury opened Birmingham's first kindergarten in 1904. Their own son's ill-health had responded well to a programme of regulated exposure to the open air, and Mrs Cadbury wished to make a similar treatment available to children suffering from the effects of malnutrition and poverty. Uffculme House (now listed at Grade II as Uffculme Hospital) – which took its name from the Devon village from which the family originated – was built by Barrow's father Richard in 1891, and inherited in 1908 by Barrow and Geraldine; they never lived there, but used it for philanthropic purposes, and donated it to the City of Birmingham in 1916. The site was considered ideal for an open-air school, providing a south-facing slope, with the grounds of the house available for nature study and recreation and trams running by the back gate to deliver children from their inner-city homes. The architect chosen was F Barry Peacock, of the local firm Cossins, Peacock and Bewlay, who had previously worked for the Cadburys on the Bilberry Hill Tea Rooms (1904), a Children's Court (1905), and a Remand Home for Juveniles (1910); in 1922-5 Peacock would adapt the Cadbury's home, Cropwood, in the Lickey Hills, for conversion to a residential open-air school. The Uffculme project was endorsed by Dr George Auden, Birmingham's Chief School Medical Officer, who selected the children who might most benefit from attending the school, which provided places for 100 children; it was hoped that a stay of three to four months would produce a marked improvement in health, though in fact a much longer attendance was found to be necessary in many cases. Auden insisted that this improvement was the primary object of the open-air school, with the educational aspect being of secondary importance. The school provided regular and substantial meals, while exercise, sleep, and ablutions formed part of the routine. Lessons took place either in the pavilion classrooms – the children being appropriately wrapped in cold weather – or outdoors. Besides academic study, pupils engaged in activities such as gardening and 'handwork' or craft.

Uffculme continued to operate as an open-air school through both world wars and into the 1950s, though adapting to changing needs. In the 1960s the school pioneered education for autistic children, and today Uffculme provides 125 places for pupils aged between three and nineteen, diagnosed within the autistic spectrum, or with communication and social skills disorders. The main block, with the dining room and offices, and the classroom blocks, continue to serve their original functions. The timber former 'rest shed' has been converted to provide additional educational accommodation, with extensive additions forming a large block to the east. The site also contains small detached former cloakroom and lavatory blocks. The site is bounded to the north-east by part of the late-C19 wall which defined the grounds of Uffculme House, in which is the original gateway to the school, as well as a more recent opening, now used as the main entrance.


Open-air school. Built in 1911 by F. Barry Peacock of Cossins, Peacock and Bewlay for Barrow and Geraldine Cadbury, with later alterations and additions.

MATERIALS: red brick, with slightly swept pyramidal roofs of green slate. The original large folding glazed timber screens to the classrooms and main block have been replaced by fixed screens – glazed, boarded, or a combination of both.

PLAN: the school consists of a number of blocks, arranged on a north-west/south-east axis. At the north-west end is the main block, with the cloakroom block - not included in the listing - behind to the east. At the centre of the group are three square classroom pavilions laid out corner to corner on a staggered alignment designed to catch the maximum sunlight; the classrooms are now linked by small boarded blocks. Metal-framed covered walkways - which do not form part of the listing - connect the main buildings on the north-eastern side. The former 'resting shed' stands to the south-east. There are now extensive additions to the resting shed, which is not included in the listing. The small former lavatory blocks to the north-east are also not included.


EXTERIOR: originally T-shaped in plan, with a two-storey central block extending from south to north, and single-storey wings extending at right-angles from the south end, the building had an extension to the north-west corner by 1937 in a similar style to the original buildings, which has now been further extended. The south elevation is framed by two brick piers, with a wide opening to the dining room at ground-floor level, and two sash windows above. Between the windows is the original metal clock. The corners of the buildings are marked by curved bricks; there are recessed panels at the top of each pier, and the tops and bottoms of the windows are defined by reeded strips. The wings to east and west contain continuations of the dining hall, with a classroom at the east end of the east wing. The openings to these spaces, as elsewhere in the school, now contain large fixed glazed panels. Above the central opening is the fixing for one of the awnings which once sheltered the area in front of the dining hall. The west elevation has a central gabled bay, with an external stack rising to the left. Several of the windows on this elevation have been replaced. On the north and east elevations, some arched window openings with shallow brick aprons, and original sash frames. At the north end of the east elevation, a narrow arched doorway originally led to the doctor's room.

INTERIOR: the dining room remains an open space, with boarded piers between the openings to the south. There is a false ceiling. The first floor is reached by a stair with an iron hand rail and newel post. Above the dining room are offices, which were originally the teachers' common room and headteacher's room. To the north are the kitchens, placed on the upper floor to prevent the encroachment of cooking smells. The kitchens retain their original divisions, together with their brown glazed dado tiles, and terracotta floor tiles, laid in herringbone pattern; the chimney alcove is intact, though the original gas stove has been removed. The two-storey block retains a number of original doors with horizontal recessed panels. The northern ground-floor areas, which originally housed the slipper and spray baths do not retain any features indicative of this early use, and internal partitions and false ceilings have been inserted.


EXTERIORS: each of the three classroom pavilions is square in plan, the structure consisting of a brick pier at each corner to the front (south), and a brick wall to the back (north), with curved bricks to the corners. The interstices were originally filled by folding glazed screens, which have now been replaced with fixed screens. Small windows have been inserted in the rear walls. A shaft rises from the north-west corner of the central block, associated with the original central heating system, by which hot water pipes ran around the classrooms beneath a grille. The apex of each polygonal roof is marked by a simple finial. The conversion of the buildings which replaced the folding screens also saw the pavilions linked by small boarded blocks, which are not of special interest.

INTERIORS: the interiors were originally completely plain, the only detail being the bare brick dado with painted render above. The classroom interiors are still plain, with the piers visible between the new screens. The walls are painted, and false ceilings have been inserted.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.