Former technical schools and gymnasium, 1896-7, by Joseph Cawley. Ruabon brick laid in English bond with terracotta dressings, slate roof, cast-iron rainwater goods. Mainly 2-storeys. Eclectic Renaissance style.
Reason for Listing
The former Verdin Technical Schools & Gymnasium, Northwich, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural quality: the building's external elevations, carried out in Eclectic Renaissance styling, possess a high level of architectural distinction with well-defined and carefully articulated detailing seen in the use of octagonal turrets, shaped gables, and the extensive use of terracotta decoration and sculptural work reflecting the building's uses. The polygonal roof and cupola set over the principal corner entrance is a particularly striking focal point that acts as a visual anchor for the building within the surrounding area;
* Building type: it is a good example of a late-C19 technical school funded by a wealthy benefactor, Sir Joseph Verdin, for the population of his home town, and is atypical in being constructed in a small rural town rather than the larger industrial towns and cities most often associated with this building type;
* Degree of survival: it survives with minimal alteration overall both externally and internally and retains many original interior features;
* Interior quality: the interior incorporates a high level of attention to detail and decorative embellishment and is particularly notable for its two main stairs and abundant stained glass, which includes: the massive gymnasium window depicting the various games played in the space, as well as the building's initials and emblems of the Verdin family and Northwich; and the Empire and Victorian Windows, which commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the British Empire, and notable male figures of the era representing science, politics, engineering, literature and art;
* Planning: the building's specialist functions remain clearly readable internally and are denoted by differing treatment and particular features within the building, such as the large north-light windows in the former art rooms in the north-west range, hard-wearing concrete floors in the technical workshops and classrooms in the more functional rear ranges, and the large double-height gymnasium with a viewing gallery at one end.
Verdin Technical Schools & Gymnasium was constructed in 1896-7 to the designs of local Northwich architect Joseph Cawley. The building was erected at a cost of £12,000, which was entirely funded by Sir Joseph Verdin, a local salt manufacturer, who had already provided another technical school in nearby Winsford (Grade II listed) in 1894. The Winsford school was constructed as a precursor to the larger Northwich schools, as the Northwich opening ceremony booklet records: 'if any mistakes were made they might be rectified in the subsequent erection of similar buildings at Northwich'. The Northwich schools (two schools - Art and Technical - in one building) were provided to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and were constructed by William Molyneux of Northwich. The foundation stone was laid on 29 June 1896 by Miss Verdin, Sir Joseph Verdin's sister, and the building was opened on 24 July 1897 by the Duchess of Westminster. The school was latterly in use as Cheshire School of Art and Design, which closed in 2012.
PLAN: the former Verdin Technical School is aligned north-west - south-east and has a quadrangle plan with the main entrance set to the east corner and an additional entrance located on the north-east side. The former gymnasium is located on the south-east side of the building.
EXTERIOR: the building retains the majority of its original fixed-pane and casement windows, some of which contain leaded glazing and stained glass; those windows to the front (north-east) elevation are of terracotta. The north-east and south-east elevations also incorporate a terracotta eaves cornice and hoodmoulds above the windows, some of which are continuous. Tall chimneystacks and cupola-style roof vents surmount the ridgeline. The principal front ranges have green Westmorland slate coverings, whilst the rear ranges have plain Welsh slate roof coverings.
FRONT(NORTH-EAST) ELEVATION: this elevation, which fronts London Road, is of 7-bays with an additional bay forming the building's main entrance located to the far left of the elevation on the splayed eastern corner. A modern timber platform and steps access the main entrance (the original sandstone steps survive underneath), which consists of a segmental-arched doorway containing 6-panel double doors flanked by mini corbelled pilasters with composite capitals. The pilasters support pedimented panels and a central carved terracotta panel above the entrance with a scrolled pediment and relief lettering that reads 'THE VERDIN/ TECHNICAL SCHOOLS/ & GYMNASIUM'. Above the entrance is a square cross-window containing stained glass, which lights the main stair and is flanked by octagonal turrets that rise from the pedimented panels and pilasters below; the turrets are topped by domed caps and ball finials. A low terracotta parapet is scrolled on this corner, but is plain to the side returns where it continues for a single bay on each side, along with turrets in the same style as those above the entrance. A polygonal roof rises above and behind the parapet and is surmounted by an octagonal cupola with a tall weathervane. The first bay on the north-east elevation forms the north-east return of the main entrance corner and has a large commemorative granite plaque to the ground floor set within a decorative terracotta surround and flanked by seated classical figures, the male of which is possibly the Roman god, Vulcan representing trades and industry (the head of the female is missing and is believed to be in storage within the building) set above two small windows. To the first floor above is a large 9-light, stained-glass mullion and transom stair window with replaced plain glazing to the three bottom lights. The next 4-bays have 6-light mullion and transom windows to the ground floor containing plain glazing, which has replaced the original leaded glazing depicted in a historic photograph of the opening ceremony. The first floor has alternate 2-light mullion and 9-light mullion and transom windows with shaped aprons and stained and leaded glass; the larger windows rise above the eaves with gables incorporating stepped scrolled sides. The original entrance to the building's Art School is contained within bay-6 and consists of a tall doorway in the same style as that to the main entrance with 6-panel double-doors and a large carved and pedimented terracotta panel by Jabez Thompson of Northwich above, which is enriched with foliate and festoon decoration and incorporates relief lettering that reads 'SCIENCE & ART.'. To the left is a small cross window with stained-glass upper lights and plain replaced glazing to the lower lights. Above the entrance is a 2-light mullion window in the same style as those to the neighbouring bays. The bay to the far right of the elevation projects forward underneath a shaped gable with pilasters and turrets to the two outer edges in the same style as those to the main entrance. 6-light mullion and transom windows with leaded and stained glass exist to both floors, separated by a large carved terracotta panel depicting figures in a scene representing Science and the Arts and entitled 'Painting, Sculpture, Music and Science', which is also believed to be by Jabez Thompson.
SOUTH-EAST ELEVATION: this elevation, which fronts The Crescent, is of 5-bays with terracotta stringcourses at various levels. The 4-bays to the left are slightly lower in height and form a double-height gymnasium, which is lit by large 9-light first-floor windows set within arched recesses and with panels below. Each bay is separated by pilaster strips that incorporate shaped brickwork to their upper part and rise above the eaves line as an angled square turret surmounted by domed caps and ball finials (one of the finials is missing). The bay to the far right of the elevation forms the south-east return of the corner entrance and has small paired, cross windows to the ground floor and two sets to the first floor, which contain leaded and stained glass and light the main stair.
NORTH-WEST ELEVATION: this elevation is plainer and fronts a narrow yard area accessed off London Road through decorative cast-iron gates and piers, flanked by low side walls topped by ramped railings. The elevation is buttressed and has a series of seven 6-light windows to the ground floor with ashlar lintels, with a smaller window to the first-floor left and four large north-light windows rising through the roof with replaced uPVC glazing. A later fire escape exists to the right of centre with an ornamental roof dormer above. A late-C19/early-C20, single-storey extension with a hipped roof projects forward at a right angle from the right (western) end with paired sash windows and an enclosed entrance porch, and connects to a further smaller, mid-C20 single-storey extension aligned with the main building, which is not of special interest and is excluded from the listing.
REAR (SOUTH-WEST) ELEVATIONS: the rear elevations are largely hidden from view by neighbouring houses, but the south-west gable end of the gymnasium is visible and has a large round-headed, multipaned, stained-glass window to the centre and a keyed oculus to the gable apex. The single-storey south-west range has two decorative roof ventilators. The internal courtyard area contains a small, later-C20 extension, which is not of special interest and is excluded from the listing.
INTERIOR: internally there are predominantly parquet and floorboard floors, with additional tile and concrete floors (the concrete floors are found in the technical areas of the building), and some later coverings. Deep skirtings are present in many areas, along with some moulded cornicing, and chimneybreasts survive, but no fireplaces are visible. Cast-iron radiators with decorative relief moulding, ventilator inlets, and 6-panel doors (some with small glazed insertions) survive throughout, along with some original door furniture. All the stained glass within the building is by Messrs W G Sutherland Ltd of Manchester.
Both principal entrances lead into entrance vestibules containing partly-glazed, inner double-doors, which in turn lead into large entrance halls containing main stairs and communicating with corridors that continue around the building following its quadrangle plan. Both vestibules, and also the main entrance hall, have decorative tiled floors by Mansfield Brothers of Burton. The main entrance hall is a particularly large polygonal space that originally contained a brass and walnut tablet recording the building's opening (it is unknown whether this survives under later boarding). A wide pitch-pine and walnut (now painted) stair rises from the north-west corner of the entrance hall and sweeps up and around the hall, incorporating two half-landings and a large first-floor landing with a concave balustrade. The stair has a bracketed open string, turned balusters incorporating tapering central sections, and substantial tapering newel posts; that to the bottom of the stair incorporates the school's initials, 'VTS' and the Verdin coat of arms. A highly decorative 9-light 'Empire Window' lights the first half-landing and depicts a portrait of Queen Victoria at the centre surrounded by references to the British Empire, including the shields of Ceylon, Jamaica, New Zealand, Tasmania, the Arms of the West Indies and the Arms of the Cape of Good Hope; the window's three bottom stained-glass panels, which depicted the Arms of Australia, India and Canada respectively, have been removed and replaced by plain glazing. The second half-landing is lit by the 4-light 'Prince's Window', which depicts portraits of the Prince and Princess of Wales; the light underneath the Prince of Wales bears his Royal Arms and the motto of Richard I, whilst the light below the Princess of Wales bears Arms incorporating both the quarterings of the Danish Royal family and the insignia of the Order of the Golden Elephant, and the motto of the Royal House of Denmark. An additional group of four cross windows by the first-floor landing also incorporates stained glass, including stylised depictions of a lion's head (two of the lion's head lights now have plain glass and inserted ventilators).
The Art School entrance stair is similarly styled, but is of a narrow open-well design with a large 11-light stained-glass window on the half-landing and an arcaded first-floor landing. This 11-light 'Victorian Window' depicts notable men associated with the building and with Queen Victoria's reign. The window's centre panels are wider and the largest light bears the Arms of Sir Joseph Verdin encircled by a wreath of foliage and fruit; the other centre lights depict the portrait and Arms of the late Prince Albert, and the portrait and Arms of the Duke of Westminster, both on elaborate cartouches. The remaining lights depict the portraits of the Marquis of Salisbury, the Right Hon William E Gladstone, Lord Leighton, Lord Tennyson, Michael Faraday, George Stephenson, Sir Joseph Verdin and Robert Verdin MP, all on smaller cartouches with foliage and fruit. The initials, 'VTS' are also depicted in a stained-glass overlight in the ground-floor rear corridor.
The room set to the centre of the London Road range on the ground floor, midway between the two stairs, is believed to have originally been the committee room. The room has plain moulded cornicing, but has lost its stained glass depicting the two Arms of Chester and Northwich, which originally were present in the windows. A fireplace with a large decorative timber overmantel is believed to survive behind later boarding. Four classrooms with panelled dados occupy the ground floor of the north-west range and are separated by two folding, glazed partition screens; a further screen towards the south-western end has been removed. The south-west range and the rooms on the single-storey, north-west side of the gymnasium corridor originally housed former workshops, and a cookery room and laundry; some of the spaces have been altered, but their layout remains intact. The south-east corridor adjacent to the gymnasium is lit by skylights.
The double-height gymnasium is 60ft long and over 31ft wide with walls lined with a brown glazed-tile dado, which is now largely painted over, but is still visible in one of the former changing rooms at the north-east end. A balcony/gallery is located at the north-east end and is accessed off the first-floor landing of the main stair; a partition wall has been erected behind the gallery front to create a storage area/former art shop, and a central clock on the gallery front has been removed, but its pedimented housing remains. The ladies and gentlemen's dressing rooms are situated underneath the gallery (those to the right are altered), along with a wide blocked-up, segmental-arched doorway off the main entrance hall. A large arched stained-glass window at the south-west end of the gymnasium depicts the various games and sports played in the gymnasium, as well as the initials of the school and emblems representing the Verdin family and Northwich.
The first-floor of the north-east range fronting London Road contains the former chemical laboratory, prep room and lecture room, whilst another former laboratory is located on the other side of the corridor at the rear of the range; some of the spaces have incurred later alteration, including inserted and blocked-up openings, and an inserted kitchen in one of the spaces. The former Art School rooms, with replaced uPVC north-light windows, occupy the first floor of the north-west range, along with the art master's room and art store.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURE: enclosing the site on the north-west and south-west sides is a stepped Ruabon-brick wall with panelled sides incorporating sawtooth decoration.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.