Snaresbrook Crown Court (former Wanstead Infant Orphan Asylum)


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
75 Hollybush Hill, Snaresbrook, London, E11 1QW


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Statutory Address:
75 Hollybush Hill, Snaresbrook, London, E11 1QW

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Redbridge (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Former children’s orphanage, now crown court. Built in 1841 to 1843 to the design of the architects (Sir) George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt by the builder William Jay of London Wall with a rear assembly hall added in 1862. Converted into a crown court and extended from 1973 to 1974 by the architects Mayell, Hart and Partners before further alterations in 1978 to 1981.

Reasons for Designation

Snaresbrook Crown Court (former Wanstead Infant Orphan Asylum), built in 1841 to 1843 to the design of the architects (Sir) George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* as an early Victorian purpose-built infant’s orphanage, providing an important example of C19 philanthropy and illustrating changing attitudes to child welfare in England, which was transformed into the largest stand-alone crown court centre in the country in the late C20; * as a foundation by (Sir) Andrew Reed, a leading philanthropist of his day who created five major charities, with a systematic fund-raising formula formed of a combination of donations from city merchants and royalty; * as one of England’s foremost orphanages, which received the highest patronage, with the Duke of Wellington assisting its establishment, Prince Albert laying the foundation stone, King Leopold of the Belgians opening the orphanage, Queen Victoria acting as the first of a long line of royal patrons, and (Sir) Winston Churchill serving as a governor.

Architectural interest:

* as the largest, most expensive, and most prestigious commission by the notable architectural practice of (Sir) George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt in 1841, the former becoming one of England’s greatest architects who designed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Midland Grand Hotel and Albert Memorial; * for the carefully-detailed, well-executed and accomplished external facades, which survive well and form an impressive Jacobean Revival composition, including ‘gatehouses’ with turrets flanked by long wings with elaborate Dutch gables; * for the chapel interior, including a roof with arched braces resting on corbels decorated with foliage carving, decorative oak panelling to the chancel, and stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes by William Morris of London.

Group value:

* with the Grade II-listed former gatekeeper’s lodge built in about 1841 and former indoor swimming pool built in about 1880.


A detailed history of the Snaresbrook Crown Court building is provided in the Snaresbrook Conservation Plan (Fielden and Mawson 2009) and this overview is largely based on that account. In 1813 the Congregational minister and philanthropist, (Sir) Andrew Reed founded the East London Orphan Asylum in Clapton, which accepted fatherless children over the age of seven who were ‘respectably descended’. The fund-raising formula, a systematic combination of city merchants and royalty, is considered to have been innovatory. It was followed by the founding of the Infant Orphan Asylum for children under seven in 1827, initially based on Hackney Road. The orphanage soon reached capacity and a new site was required. The Duke of Wellington helped Reed acquire Crown land between Snaresbrook and Wanstead in 1841. The design competition for Wanstead Infant Orphan Asylum, as it became known, was won by the architects (Sir) George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt. Moffatt and Scott were relatively unknown at the time but had served in the office of the architect James Edmeston, a friend of Andrew Reed, who was on the first committee of the Infant Orphan Asylum. Moffatt designed the plans and Scott the elevations in Jacobean Revival style. At this time, it was the largest, most expensive, and most prestigious building the architects had undertaken, and was exhibited at the Royal Academy. Scott went on to run the largest architectural practice in Europe, and to design the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Midland Grand Hotel (St Pancras) and Albert memorial, among some 879 works or more. He won the RIBA gold medal and was involved in works to almost every medieval cathedral in England and Wales, as well as Westminster Abbey.

On 24 June 1841 Albert, the Prince Consort, laid the foundation stone of Wanstead Infant Orphan Asylum. Orphans were brought from a temporary home in Dalston to attend the ceremony and sang a hymn: ‘Hail to the Prince whose noble hand erects the orphans’ home’. The builder William Jay of London Wall was appointed to construct the orphanage but the following year went bankrupt. An additional £5000 had to be raised bringing the total cost to nearly £30,000. The completed building was sparely fitted out and described in The Builder as lofty and lacking comfort. It was designed for 500 children. Reed had insisted that the bedrooms and nurseries should be high and well ventilated to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. An 1842 plan indicates that: the south wing contained the dormitories, nurseries, chapel (extended by 1876) and sick wards; the north wing contained the school rooms and day rooms; whilst the central range contained the main services such as the kitchen, washing room, dining hall and stores, including two narrow ranges extending to the rear (later demolished). A steam engine operated in the basement, pumping the water supply from the nearby Eagle Pond and driving the washing and wringing machines. These, with the cooking equipment in the kitchen, were fitted out by Messrs. Haden of Ironbridge.

The orphanage was opened on 27 June 1843 by King Leopold of the Belgians, Queen Victoria’s uncle, because Prince Albert was unwell. Queen Victoria served as the first of several monarchs to become Patron. Andrew Reed had resigned from the Board of Governors by this point because he favoured nondenominational philanthropy and the Board had decided that Anglican doctrine must be taught. He went on to create three further charities and raise £130,000 before he died in 1862. Subsequently one of Reed’s notebooks was found with a sketch of the orphanage beneath the words: ‘A structure of hope built on the foundation of faith by the hand of charity’, a phrase later inscribed above the main doorway. Several further buildings were later added to the site: an infirmary in the 1850s (demolished), an assembly hall in 1862, an indoor swimming pool in 1880, a gym in 1898 (demolished) and a dormitory block in 1934. It was renamed the Royal Infant Orphanage by King George V in 1919.

In 1939 the orphanage became the Royal Wanstead School at the request of King George VI. During the Second World War it was occupied by British troops and Italian prisoners of war, the children being evacuated, including to a mansion known as Rochetts, South Weald, Essex, at the arrangement of Winston Churchill. The south west corner of the school suffered bomb damage and was rebuilt in 1948. After the 1944 Education Act, the school changed from a grammar school to a secondary modern. In the late 1960s Local Education Authorities favoured placing pupils locally rather than at Wanstead, and a drop in pupil numbers and also income led to its closure in August 1971. The charitable role of the school carried on as the Royal Wanstead Foundation, now (2019) the Royal National Children’s Springboard Foundation. The school building was subsequently leased by the Department of the Environment to become a crown court and £1.6m of conversion work began on this in 1973. The need for a crown court followed a report of the Royal Commission on Assizes and Quarter Sessions chaired by Lord Beeching, and the subsequent Courts Act of 1972. This brought the hearing of cases of indictable offences above the level of the magistrates and into the control of central government through a network of crown courts.

Snaresbrook Crown Court included five new crown courts to serve North East London, which required major renovations to the building. The roof was re-slated and the gable ends strengthened. Two extensions; a new courts block and a kitchen and service block, were added running to the rear of the main building. These were designed by the architects Mayell, Hart and Partners and constructed of steel frames clad in pre-cast concrete panels. A new plant room was also built below the service area extension. A security area with cells was created in the south wing where defendants would be brought before being transferred to Courts 1 to 3 (in the new court block) via a new system of underground concrete tunnels. The former assembly hall was converted at ground floor level into Courts 4 and 5 with offices and waiting rooms above and a new staircase attached to the north side providing access between them. A ground floor link was built to connect the block with a prototype court (6) in the 1934 former dormitory block. During the conversion, a new entrance drive was also constructed off Hollybush Hill to the south of the old school gates and a car park laid out on the old playground. The building work was completed in 1974 and the new crown court opened by the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Widgery, on 26 November that year.

In the late 1970s, a continual increase in the number of cases heard at Snaresbrook meant further court space was required. The empty north wing was converted to create five more courts and ancillary accommodation from March 1978. This required the removal of the flues and chimneys at the east and west ends of the wing to provide uninterrupted space and the installation of fibre glass replicas on the roof. Additionally, the stone parapets were replaced, new lead roofing installed to the arcade and the main roof of the wing re-slated using Westmorland slates taken from the same original seam of the Burlington quarry. The interior was cleared for the new courts, walls underpinned, a new basement created and three lifts installed. The five courts (8 and 9 on the ground floor and 10, 11 and 12 on the first floor) started sitting in January 1981. Also from June 1978 a former pay office was converted into a courtroom and two pre-fabricated courts (Courts 13 and 14) were built on a cleared site behind the main building and adjoining the prototype Court 6. These were first used in September 1979. However, in November 1981 a fire destroyed Courts 1, 2 and 3. These were rebuilt to their original designs but with natural day lighting incorporated. In about 1990 an Annex block was also constructed, providing six additional courts to increase the total to 20 courts at Snaresbrook, making it the largest stand-alone crown court in England and Wales, handling around 7000 cases per year.


Former children’s orphanage, now crown court. Built in 1841 to 1843 to the design of the architects (Sir) George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt by the builder William Jay of London Wall with a rear assembly hall added in 1862. Converted into a crown court and extended from 1973 to 1974 by the architects Mayell, Hart and Partners before further alterations in 1978 to 1981.

MATERIALS: original ranges constructed of London stock brick with a coursed, squared and hammer-dressed Sneaton stone facing and Bath and Caen stone dressings to the front and side elevations. Westmorland slate and lead roof coverings. Cast-iron beams support timber floors internally. To the rear the former assembly hall added in 1862 is constructed of London stock brick with slate roofs.

PLAN: originally designed to an H plan with a central range joining a north and south wing. The central range provided the orphanage service rooms; the south wing contained the dormitories, nurseries, chapel; and the north wing the school and day rooms. Two narrow ranges extended to the rear of the central range containing further services (demolished) but an assembly hall was built between them in 1862. Following conversion to a crown court, the central range now contains the entrance hall, jury assembly hall and judges’ rooms; the south wing contains the defendants cell block, interview rooms, chapel and offices; and the north wing contains five court rooms (Courts 8-12). The former assembly hall now accommodates Courts 4, 5 and 7. The 1970s and 1980s rear infill ranges* and extensions* contain Courts 1 to 3, a café, kitchen and public canteen; these ranges and extensions are not of special interest. At the far rear, in the 1934 dormitory block* and a 1978 extension* are Courts 6, 13 and 14; this block and extension are also not of special interest.

EXTERIORS: the former orphanage is situated in an area of open parkland and orientated NNE to SSW (Note: the following description is simplified to the cardinal points; for example, south range rather than SSW). It is built in a Jacobean Revival style and faced in Sneaton stone with Bath and Caen stone dressings.

The CENTRAL RANGE faces east and forms a near symmetrical entrance front with north and south wings attached and further additions to the rear. This central elevation is 20 bays long and two storeys high with attics but the centrepiece is a projecting three-storey ‘gatehouse’ with four-storey turrets topped by leaded ogee domes and finials. A stone plinth carries around the range and the attached wings and there are ashlar quoins to the corners and projecting bays. The gatehouse is five bays wide; the central bays project three bays forward of the elevation whilst the flanking bays project only a single bay. At the centre is an ashlar round-arched doorway with moulded impost blocks and faceted voussoirs. Above it is an oriel window topped by a cornice with a scrolled pediment, a further window, a cornice supported on consoles and then an elaborate Dutch gable surmounted by three obelisk finials. The bays flanking the doorway comprise three storeys of single-light casement windows separated by string courses, then deep cornices supported on consoles topped by octagonal turrets with single-light windows, moulded cornices, ogee domes and elaborate ironwork finials. The neighbouring bays also have single-light windows, string courses, cornices and an ashlar parapet topped by obelisk finials. Extending to each side of the gatehouse are a further seven bays of two and three-light cross windows containing casements. An arcade of Tudor arches with hoodmoulds and facetted keystones forms a walkway at ground floor level and is topped by an ashlar parapet and finials. The walkway on the north side has been infilled with large fixed windows with narrow glazing bars. The fourth bay on each side projects forward and has a round arch to the arcade, a three-light cross window surmounted by a cornice and scrolled pediment at first floor level, and then a shaped gable containing a window, which is topped by three obelisk finials. The second and sixth bays are placed under a segmental pediment and finial. A gabled slate roof covers the range. The rear elevation is faced in stock brick and given a plainer treatment with cross windows and a stone cornice.

The NORTH WING has a symmetrical showfront set upon a landscaped terrace facing the Eagle Pond. It is approached by stone steps and given a similar treatment to the central range; two-storeys and attics except for a three-storey turreted gatehouse at the centre. There are 19 bays including four projecting bays under shaped gables; those nearest the ends of the wing with full-height canted bay windows. Four projecting rectangular flues of the stone chimneys separate the windows of the other bays. The gatehouse has a round-arched entrance containing a panelled door beneath an oriel window to the first and second floor topped by an ashlar parapet with a small segmental pediment. Flanking it are two four-storey octagonal turrets under ogee domes and finials (although one is currently (2019) missing). The roof at the ends of this wing are now topped by tall fibreglass chimneys replacing the stone originals following the internal conversion to crown courts. The side elevations are of three bays with shaped gables; the west end with a round-arched doorway with panelled doors and the east end approached by a stone staircase. The elevation facing the former assembly hall at the rear is largely faced in stock brick but the ground floor has been rendered.

The front elevation of the SOUTH WING is a two-storey asymmetrical composition, 19 bays long. There are three projecting bays with cross windows under triangular or shaped gables and, near the centre, the projecting chapel with a canted apse. Original plans show a smaller chapel but it had been considerably extended by 1876. The current chapel is two-storeys high and six bays long by five bays wide. It has a quarry-faced plinth, ashlar quoins and stepped buttresses between Perpendicular windows to the ground floor. These are placed under pointed arches with hoodmoulds and divided into two or four trefoil-headed lights with ogee tracery beneath quatrefoils. The chancel window has four trefoil-headed lights beneath more elaborate curvilinear tracery. At first floor level are square-headed casement windows set in moulded surrounds. The side elevations are of three bays of cross windows; the east with a shaped gable but the west having been rebuilt following bomb damage in 1948 with a plain parapet. Attached to the west end are the rendered walls of a rectangular security yard* added in the 1970s, which is not of special interest. The rear elevation is faced in stock brick and given a plainer treatment.

The former ASSEMBLY HALL extends to the rear of the middle of the central range. It is three-storeys high, 10 bays long and four bays wide. This block is built of London stock brick with square-headed window openings, now containing fixed and top-hung PVC windows, beneath an ashlar cornice and brick parapet. A tall 1973 stock brick semi-glazed stair and service tower is adjoined to the west end of the north wall. Also extending on the north side is an irregular 1973 single-storey block* containing the kitchen, canteen and other services opening onto service yards*. It is built of stock brick and pre-cast concrete panels with exposed aggregate finishes beneath a flat roof. This 1973 block is not of special interest. Between the assembly hall and south wing is a court block* erected in 1973 but re-built after a fire in 1981 (Courts 1 to 3). It is of a single storey but partly double-height and constructed of pre-cast concrete and lead panels with a flat roof. This 1981 block is not of special interest.

At the far rear, beyond the former assembly hall, is the 1934 former dormitory block*; a two and three storey block constructed of ashlar with square-headed windows. Extending from it on the north side is a large pre-fabricated single-storey court block* (Courts 13 and 14) built in 1978 with top-hung clerestory windows and a flat roof. Adjoined to the west is a covered walkway*. The 1934 dormitory block, 1978 pre-fabricated block and adjoining covered walkway are not of special interest.

INTERIORS: the CENTRAL RANGE formerly housed the orphanage service rooms but was largely stripped out and refurbished in the 1970s. The main entrance leads into a hallway that has an original cantilevered quarter-turn stone staircase with decorative cast-iron balustrade and wooden handrail leading up to the first floor. Adjacent to the entrance is a 1990s reception desk* and security offices*, which are not of special interest. A corridor leads off left from the hall, past 1970s service rooms* and interview rooms* and a judges’ room to the south wing. On the right of the reception hall is the jury assembly area, including a café with a modern servery and fittings* which are not of special interest, and an arcaded walkway leading to the north wing. The first floor of this range was partitioned and fitted out in 1973 to form a series of judges’ rooms: a robing room*, lounge*, retiring room*, libraries*, kitchens*, dining rooms* and offices*; these 1970s room partitions* and the fixtures and fittings* are not of special interest.

The SOUTH WING formerly housed dormitories and nurseries. It now provides offices and detention rooms on the ground floor to the east of the chapel, largely with original partition walls but modern fittings*. To the west of the chapel are the defendants interview rooms*, cells* and security area, partitioned up and fitted out in 1973; these 1970s room partitions* and the fixtures and fittings* are not of special interest. On the first floor are further cells* and offices* with modern partitions* and fixtures and fittings*, which are also not of special interest. A set of stairs lead down to concrete tunnels beneath the buildings. These tunnels lead to further stairs back up to the court rooms, allowing defendants to be securely moved to and from the cell block. At the centre of the south wing is the chapel, which was originally smaller but was extended by 1876. It is entered from the north where there are three pointed-arched doorways containing timber-boarded doors with decorative wrought-iron strap hinges on their outside faces and carved blind tracery internally. The chapel roof has arch braces resting on corbels decorated with foliage carving beneath which are engaged columns supported on further corbels decorated with angel carvings. The tie beams of the roof support eight chandeliers running the length of the chapel. It is furnished with rows of oak benches and an oak pulpit, which are enriched with foliage carving, blind tracery and quatrefoils. A Tudor arch at the south end leads to the chancel of the chapel. It has a parquet floor, oak panelling carved with heraldic shields, a wooden altar and a reredos with niches containing statues of four saints. The chapel windows contain stained glass depicting scenes from the Life of Christ and Acts of Mercy, including work by William Morris of London of about 1920. There are memorial plaques to the chapel walls, including a plaque commemorating those that lost their lives during the First World War. The first floor above the chapel was partitioned in 1973 for offices* and meeting rooms* and have 1970s room partitions* and fixtures and fittings* which are not of special interest.

The NORTH WING formerly contained the orphanage school and day rooms but was stripped out and fully refurbished in 1978. It is now partitioned up to contain a waiting area*, jury rooms*, interview rooms*, judges’ rooms* and five court rooms* with 1970s room partitions* and modern fixtures and fittings*, which are not of special interest.

The second floor of the gatehouses to the central range and north wing contain storage rooms and an office. The basements beneath these ranges contain plant rooms, oil storage tanks*, defendants tunnels* and cells*, largely with 1970s or later fixtures and fittings*, which are not of special interest.

Adjoining the rear of the central range is the former ASSEMBLY HALL, which was refurbished in 1973. It contains jury* and judges’ rooms*, interview rooms*, witnesses’ rooms* and Courts 4* and 5* to the ground floor, with a further smaller court on the first floor (Court 7*), all with 1970s partitions* and modern fixtures and fittings* which are not of special interest. The first and second floors have largely been partitioned to provide offices; the 1970s room partitions* and modern fixtures and fittings* are not of special interest.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES Adjacent to the entrance to the north wing are stone steps flanked by ashlar dwarf walls topped by a moulded coping and stone piers, which are included in the listing.

EXCLUSIONS * Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned structures and/or features are not of special architectural or historic interest. However, any works to these structures and/or features which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent (LBC) and this is a matter for the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine.


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Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Cherry, B, O'Brien, C, The Buildings of England: London 5 East, (2005), 351
‘Infant Orphan Asylum’ The Builder, Volume 1 1842 pp 459-460
DPP, Heritage Appraisal: Snaresbrook Crown Court (Reference: 787606-3) (June 2009)
Feilden and Mawson, Conservation Plan for Snaresbrook Crown Court (June 2009)
Grist, D, ‘A Victorian Charity’: The Infant Orphan Asylum at Wanstead (1974)
HMCS: The History of Snaresbrook Crown Court (leaflet)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 17 Sep 2005
Reference: IOE01/14002/32
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Stewart Monk. Source Historic England Archive
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