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25 August 2011

Fire consumes historic schools: In just the last two years at least four Victorian school buildings in London have suffered from fire. One has been completely lost.

On Thursday 30th July 2009, fire broke out at Thomas Fairchild Community School, Napier Grove, Hoxton, London N1 7HX.  At least half of the ground floor and part of the first floor were severely damaged.  This school in the London Borough of Hackney, originally known as Napier Street School and built in 1885 and thus probably a late Robson building, is to be demolished.

Thomas Fairchild Primary School before the fire

Napier Street School before the fire in 2007 (c) James Hall

On Tuesday 6th April 2010, fire broke out at Haberdasher's Aske's Hatcham Temple Grove Primary School, Hunsdon Road, New Cross, London SE14 5RD.  Formerly known as Monson Road School and then Monson Primary School, this was a splendid 1882 Robson building with interesting additions in 1885 and 1900 by Bailey.  All floors were considerably damaged, and the roof and second floor "badly damaged."  At the moment the school is roofless, with burnt rafters open to the elements on the second floor.  It is unclear whether the building will be refurbished or demolished.

Monson Road School before the fire

Monson Road School before the fire in 2009 (c) Tim Walder

On Tuesday 29th August 2010, fire broke out at Stillness Primary School, Brockley Rise, Forest Hill, London SE23 1NH.  Formerly Stillness Road School, this was a fine later Bailey school from 1905 with particularly resplendent gateways.  Fire spread quickly and consumed most of the north wing.  It is again unclear whether this building will be refurbished or demolished.

Stillness Road School after the fire

Stillness Road School on the morning after the fire in 2010 (c) Tim Walder

On Sunday 30th January 2011, fire broke out at the disused Union Street School in Beresford Street, Woolwich in the London Borough of Greenwich.  This Robson school dating to 1884 had been disused for some time and the schoolkeeper's house had already suffered a fire prior to 2007.

Union Street School before the fire

Union Street School before the fire in 2007 (c) James Hall

These events are not as isolated as might be hoped, indeed they form part of a pattern.  A spokesman for the London Fire Service has noted: "Every year, one in eight schools suffers a serious arson attack. The cost of school fires is around £65 million with London accounting for over a third of the cost."

The common thread is that all of these buildings were empty at the time.  At Napier Street School the fire occurred during the school holidays.  The fires at Monson Road and Stillness Road Schools occurred both during the holidays and during building works.  Union Street School was an abandoned building.

In the light of the current devastating loss of historic school buildings due to fire, Victorian Schools in London calls on local authorities and others to take the following steps:

  • Undertake proper facilities management to avoid school buildings becoming empty
  • Physically guard and provide full-time security for any empty schools