The former Alexandra Priory School was completed c1978 as a special school for children with severe mental disabilities. Interconnected with the school is the youth club, known as the Alexandra Resource Centre. The school and youth club were designed by Neave Brown of the London Borough of Camden Architects' Department as an integral part of the Alexandra Road Estate, which is separately listed at Grade II* (List Entry Number: 1130403).
Where the fabric of the buildings described here is shared with the parts of the estate which are listed at Grade II*, the higher grade shall apply.
Reason for Listing
The former Alexandra Priory School, a school for severely mentally disabled children, and the adjacent youth club, both of 1972-78 by Neave Brown and forming part of the Alexandra Road Estate, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: Brown's creatively rational response to a highly specialised brief and confined site results in a school of ingenious design and meticulous execution;
* Planning interest: in its single-storey, inward-facing plan, and generous provision of garden space, the school responds to the needs of its users, creating a sense of enclosure at a child-friendly scale as well as allowing an easy relationship between its internal and external space;
* Quality of materials: the simple palette of concrete, timber and glass is used to strong effect, with bold, well-executed detailing, typical of Brown's oeuvre and used across the Alexandra Road Estate;
* Educational interest: designed in 1968 as a junior training centre, the school is an early example of a purpose-built school for children with the most severe mental and multiple handicaps, who prior to 1959 received no state provided education, occupation or training;
* Group value: the school and youth club are physically, aesthetically and conceptually integrated elements of the Grade II* listed Alexandra Road Estate, the most celebrated of Camden's pioneering post-war period housing schemes.
The history of the former Alexandra Priory School and interconnecting youth club is inextricably bound up with the development of the Alexandra Road Estate, designed from 1968 by Neave Brown of the London Borough of Camden Architects' Department and built in 1972-78. From an early date the scheme was hailed as amongst the most ambitious, and the last, of the comprehensive housing developments realised by local government under the 1957 Housing Act. Yet despite the dominance, and international reputation, of the three monumental residential terraces, Alexandra Road was from the outset much more than a housing scheme. A public park, community centre, junior training centre, youth club, shops and a pub were incorporated into the planning brief from an early stage. To these were added, in January 1969, proposals for a reception centre for children taken into care and a home for young physically disabled adults, designed by Evans and Shelav, and still later, a children’s play centre.
The original parts of the scheme were designed together as a single project by a team of architects led by Brown. The social buildings were grouped on the eastern portion of the site in a compact and layered arrangement which grew out of the limited acreage, high density of development, and Brown’s complex, interlocking planning. The hall and kitchen of the school are slotted in underneath the community centre, and connectivity between the two was intended to allow a sharing of facilities. The connection between the school and the youth club intended, again, to allow shared use of facilities, as well as to encourage integration between the children. The whole of Brown's scheme was covered by a unified set of design and production drawings, and is visually linked by a common palette of materials and detailing.
The Alexandra Priory School was first designed not as a school, but as a ‘junior training centre’. The distinction is a significant one, which marks an important step in the regularisation of state provision for children with severe mental disabilities. Where previously this group were cared for at the level of the individual, under the 1959 Mental Health Act their education and care became a social responsibility. The Act empowered local health authorities to provide ‘care and training’ for those children deemed ‘incapable of receiving education at school’ as defined by Section 57 of the 1944 Education Act. The responsibility for provision of junior training centres in London originally rested with London County Council, but with the reorganisation of London's local government in 1965, the responsibility passed to the inner London boroughs. However, with the Education (Handicapped Children) Act of 1970 (implemented 1971) the legal concept of ‘ineducability’ was abolished, placing all children within the ambit of the education service. Staff and buildings of junior training centres were transferred to the local education authority, and were reclassified as Special Schools for the ‘severely educationally subnormal’ (ESN(S)).
Alexandra Priory School was therefore initially designed c1969 as a junior training centre for the health authority, but by the time of its completion in 1978, was a special school under the auspices of the education authority. It was designed for 90 children between 3 and 16 years of age with mental disabilities, with a special care unit for a further 24 children with severe or multiple disabilities including physical disabilities. The design was developed by Neave Brown in consultation with the original client Dr. W. G. Harding, Camden’s Medical Officer of Health. Brown recalls that the architect-client relation was a strong one and the design emerged out of the detailed brief and the ensuing collaboration. The plan was a fairly straightforward translation of the brief into a row of seven classrooms linked by a hall and other facilities to a parallel wing of three classrooms housing the special care unit. Soft landscaping was a major feature of the external spaces and this was designed by Janet Jack in 1976 (who also worked on the rest of the Alexandra Road Estate). On the south edge of the playground there was a series of outdoor 'rooms' with sheltered seating, and a covered outdoor play area. A speech therapy room, a late addition to the brief, was carefully sound-proofed as a ‘box within a box’ by consulting engineer Max Fordham.
The project's new client after 1971, was the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), and work is thought to have started in late 1972. By 1978, after several years in temporary premises in Sans Walk, Clerkenwell, Alexandra Priory Special School had moved to its new building. The first head teacher was Miss E.E.P. Gray. The school was renamed the Jack Taylor School in September 1991 in memory of the founder of the London Taxi Drivers’ Fund for Underprivileged Children. The Jack Taylor School closed in July 2012, and the places transferred to the new Swiss Cottage Specialist SEN School as part of a reorganisation of special educational needs provision in Camden.
The school has undergone some alteration since its construction, including the removal of the outdoor 'rooms', the in-filling of the covered outdoor play area to provide a soft play room and a sensory room, and some rearrangement of the staff, homemaking/craft, and cloakroom/lobby areas. The original patterned paving of the gardens and outdoor areas has also been covered, and much of the soft landscaping removed.
Interconnected with the school site through a doorway at the north-east corner of the playground, is the youth club. This is a much smaller building, with its principal access from an external spiral stair which leads up from Morley Way. Originally comprising a single large room with kitchenette, an office, and WCs, the youth club has undergone some minor alterations but remains largely as built.
The buildings are constructed on a single level, and stand on a concrete deck which compensates for the downward slope of the site from south to north. The space beneath the deck was originally designed for car parking, but is now used as a self-storage facility. The community centre for the estate (listed Grade II*) sits above the school's hall and kitchen, and one of the estate's raised walkways (listed Grade II*) forms the roof of the youth club.
FORMER ALEXANDRA PRIORY SCHOOL:
MATERIALS: the building is flat-roofed with a shuttered concrete frame; walls are white Forticrete block and shuttered concrete; the joinery is chunky stained timber.
PLAN: the classrooms are arranged in two parallel ranges: a shorter and longer range to the north and south respectively, linked to the west by the entrance foyer, hall, kitchen, and staff accommodation. The classrooms are accessed from a glazed corridor which looks into a central courtyard planted with trees. Gardens for each of the classrooms are arranged on the outer side of the ranges. The playground takes up the north-east corner of the site; from the far north-east corner, double doors give access into the youth club.
EXTERIOR: the school site is heavily screened from outside, with its only outward facing elevation to the west; this has a projecting canopy and deeply recessed windows, providing a ledge on which there are large shuttered concrete planters. The entrance to the site is to the left, and this is in the form of a wide pivoted timber gate, the view through which is abruptly terminated as the entrance-way turns sharply to the left.
Within the site the elevations of the building are largely glazed. The fascias and soffits of the overhanging eaves are shutter-marked concrete with planters set behind and within. The classroom gardens are separated from one another by blockwork walls with large sliding timber gates (several of which have been removed). The boundary walls of the site are a combination of cast concrete or blockwork with over-hanging planters, and timber fencing set within a concrete framework.
INTERIOR: on entering the main foyer through the discreet, right-angled, entrance-way, the basic elements of the plan are readily in evidence. The hall opens to the left through full-height multi-leaved sliding timber doors, which can be pulled right back to join the hall and foyer spaces; the two classroom ranges lead off to the right; and the staff rooms and home-craft room are behind. The glazed walls of the foyer and the corridors bring large amounts of light into the building, and give views and access out into the central courtyard. The brief demanded a higher than usual level of sanitary provision and plenty of storage space. The classrooms are well-equipped, each one reached through its own lobby with WCs, and having a low-level sink unit and walk-in storage cupboard. A number of the classrooms have large sliding timber partitions so they can be interconnected with the adjacent classroom, and children of the same age group taught together as a larger group. The end walls of the classrooms are composed entirely of a large sliding window on a block-work plinth, and a glazed bi-fold door into the garden. The mullion-less meeting of the window and door allow the classrooms to be opened up to the gardens, and the position of the sink units means that children can arrange themselves right around it – some in the garden, some in the classroom. Internal doors are generally fully glazed with a deep-section timber framework, and wall finishes are predominantly exposed block-work and shutter-marked concrete. Extensive use of south-facing skylights of varying size brings additional light into rooms and spaces throughout the building.
MATERIALS: the building has a concrete frame, with shuttered concrete walls, chunky timber and glass doors, and aluminium-framed windows.
PLAN: the building is sandwiched between the raised deck on which it stands, and one of the estate's elevated walkways which runs above. The deck and walkway are supported on concrete pillars, which form the structural framework of the youth club walls. The main entrance to the building is from the west, via an external spiral stair which runs up from street level.
EXTERIOR: the building's two externally visible elevations are to the north and east; these are formed of shutter-marked concrete walls infilling the spaces between the structural concrete columns. Aluminium-framed clerestory windows run along the north elevation.
INTERIOR: the interior comprises a single large room, with columns supporting the walkway above; WCs; a kitchenette; and what was originally an office, but is now a recording studio. A sound-proofed rehearsal room (which is not of special interest) has been built in light-weight timber construction adjacent to the former office. The main room is lit by the clerestory window and a large south-facing trapezoid skylight glazed in glass bricks. A door in the south east corner of the room gives access directly into the school playground.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.