Ladypool Primary School, formerly Stratord Road Junior and Infant School, built for the Birmingham School Board to designs by Martin and Chamberlain in 1885
Reason for Listing
* Architect: one of the best of the surviving schools by Martin and Chamberlain, one of the leading architectural practices in late-Victorian Birmingham;
* Historical: the former Stratford Road School is one of twenty-six surviving schools built by the Birmingham School Board, which together form one of the most important groups of board schools in the country;
* Design and materials: a particularly inventive interpretation of the established board school manner, displaying a variety of doorway and window arches, and of gable treatment, in combination with a rich and effective use of materials, including terracotta and mosaic;
* Intactness: the original school building remains largely as built, with later additions not encroaching on the historic plan; internally, the plan is little altered, and many of the most important internal features survive, including the cast iron arches spanning the halls, and much original joinery;
* Group value: the school forms part of a strong architectural grouping, with WH Bidlake's adjacent 1899-1901 Church of St Agatha (Grade I), and with the church's former rectory (Grade II*), standing opposite.
The Birmingham School Board was brought into being by the Elementary Education Act of 1870; the Act, which empowered school boards to create new schools and pay the fees of the poorest children, was largely the result of campaigning by the Birmingham-centred National Education League. By 1902, when the Education Act abolished school boards and passed the responsibility for education to local authorities, the Birmingham School Board had built fifty-one new schools, as well as the Board's offices. All but four of these schools were designed by the architectural practice Martin and Chamberlain - from 1900 Martin and Martin - appointed Architect to the Board in 1870.
John Henry Chamberlain (1831-83) and William Martin (1828-1900) formed the practice Martin and Chamberlain in 1864; following Chamberlain's death, Martin was joined by his son, Frederick William Martin (1859-1917). The board schools operated as focal points within each district, serving as symbols of municipal pride and civic achievement; Martin and Chamberlain created a house style for their schools, which were characterised by their red-brick construction, tall ventilation towers, proliferation of gables, and decorative use of tiles and terracotta, sometimes displaying naturalistic forms. Chamberlain believed that beautiful and well-planned school architecture might offer children some compensation for drab, cramped homes, and in 1894 the Pall Mall Gazette commented that, `In Birmingham you may generally recognise a Board School by its being the best building in the neighbourhood... with lofty towers which serve the utilitarian purpose of giving excellent ventilation, gabled windows, warm red bricks and stained glass, the best of the Birmingham Board Schools have quite an artistic finish'.
J. H. Chamberlain, the leading creative force within Martin and Chamberlain, was profoundly influenced by Ruskin and his promotion of Venetian Gothic; Chamberlain played a unique role in defining Birmingham's civic architecture during the 1860s and 1870s, helping give shape to the city's celebrated movement of social and artistic improvement. He designed a number of other important public buildings, including libraries, baths, and hospitals, but in setting the style for the board schools he made an especially significant and lasting contribution to Birmingham's built environment.
Frederick Martin, who took over much of the practice's design after Chamberlain's death, was responsible for a variety of public and commercial buildings, and housing, as well as the board schools. Martin developed the established mode of the schools' design, introducing a greater freedom in referencing historical styles and, as a leading practitioner of Birmingham's 'terracotta school', an increased use of terracotta.
The first board school built by Martin and Chamberlain after Chamberlain's death was Stratford Road School, now known as Ladypool Primary School, which opened in 1885. There was some objection to the building of the school in an area which was thought already to be relatively well-provided for educationally, having four schools already. The junior mixed and infant schools were originally designed to accommodate 981 pupils. A Higher Grade class for girls was established in 1886. The building has remained in use as a school since its opening. The school formerly had a prominent ventilation tower, reminiscent of the Campanile di San Marco in Venice, but given a more Northern Gothic flavour by its complex louvred slated spire. In 2005 the tower was severely damaged by a storm, and the remains were taken down; the surviving fabric is currently in storage, pending restoration (2011).
DESCRIPTION: School, 1885, built by Martin and Chamberlain, for the Birmingham School Board. Of red brick, with steeply-pitched tiled roofs with decorative ridge tiles, moulded brick stacks, and painted bargeboards; embellishments include terracotta, polychromatic plasterwork and mosaic. The majority of the timber windows in the older parts of the building appear to be original. The historic part of the school is composed of two blocks set at right angles, the larger (junior school) on a north-west/south-east axis, the smaller (infant school) on a south-west/north-east axis. The junction of the two blocks forms an entrance courtyard to south-east. Each block consists of classrooms arranged around a hall. An attached caretaker's house stands by the main gates, opening on to the entrance courtyard. Small extensions have been made to the original plan, with a large extension having been constructed in the late C20; this lies to the south-west of the site, and is largely detached from the main building.
EXTERIOR: All frontages are irregular, being composed of ranges of gables of varying heights, with corresponding variety in window form and decorative treatment. The richest decoration is concentrated in the angle of the entrance courtyard, accessed from the road. The entrance takes the form of a glazed arcade of oriental inspiration, the upper part being faced with terracotta. A pair of doors is flanked by windows, each of the four ogival openings being of equal height and surrounded by a billet moulding with foliate finial. The arches are separated by quatrefoils, containing coloured mosaic foliate designs. The central pier, between the doors, takes the form of an engaged column with leaf capital. The adjoining double-storey elevation, to north-west, has paired double-height lancet window embrasures, divided horizontally by terracotta panels with relief mouldings depicting poppies, tulips, primroses, narcissi and bulrushes. This elevation also contains the entrance to the caretaker's house, in which a half-timbered gable with curved bressumer contains diagonally-patterned polychromatic plasterwork, as well as more terracotta panels - these depict poppies and bulrushes. On the remaining elevations, double-height classrooms are lit by grouped windows echoing those found in the entrance courtyard: to south and east the more ornate windows - groups of four cusped ogees with quatrefoils containing stained glass, the windows separated by engaged columns; on the west elevation, facing the playground, tripartite lancets joined by hood moulds. Gables contain rectangular windows, and are decorated with half-timbering, tiles, and terracotta, in various combinations, and surmounted by terracotta apex finials. There are dormer windows to the south-west corner. Besides the late-C20, single-storey extension to the south-west, interventions include a modern porch added to the north-west end and a small single-storey extension to the north-west corner of the south-west block; in the south-west angle between the blocks, a first-floor staff room has been created by breaking through the slopes of one gable, inserting tile-hung flat-roofed dormer projections and new windows.
INTERIOR: Internally, the main hall runs along the centre of the north-east block, with the smaller hall occupying the centre of the south-west block. Both halls are spanned by cast-iron blades with pierced decoration, forming pointed arches. The north-west end of the larger hall contains a wide, decorated Gothic window with original stained glass into which a small panel commemorating a late-C20 head -teacher has been inserted; the window is set high up to allow for two classrooms which occupy the north-west end of the school. The classrooms are also spanned by decorated cast-iron pointed arches. Internal doorways and window openings have segmental or pointed arches. The school retains much original joinery throughout the ground floor, including boarded dado panelling, a staircase with turned newel posts, and doors with chamfered rails and muntins, most with glazed panels; segmental doorways have moulded timber frames, and there are parquet floors. Upstairs, the former headmaster's office retains a stone fire surround with moulded rails. The former caretaker's house has been altered internally, but retains panelled doors, and a plain stone fire surround.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: The school is separated from Stratford Road by original decorative cast iron railings containing trefoil arches, on triangular copings with fish-scale mouldings. Set on low brick walls, these were made by WM Ward & Co of the Limerick Foundry, Tipton.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.