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CORDELLA STREET E14 (South side),
Susan Lawrence and Elizabeth Lansbury Schools
Primary School and adjoining nursery school. Built 1949-1951 and 1951-1952 respectively, to the designs of Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall (F R S Yorke job architect, K W Grieb and J Sofaer respective assistants) for the London County Council. Light welded Hills' 8'3" steel frame, clad in concrete panels, brick and stone. Copper roof to assembly hall and nursery ranges, flat felted roof to rest. The Hills' 8'3" prefabricated system developed with Hertfordshire County Council for its enterprising post-war schools programme, then at the peak of its achievement, imposed its grid on the floor plan as well as the proportions of the elevations.
Plan form. Two-storey central classroom spine, with infants on ground floor and juniors above, clad in concrete panels (renewed). Infants'floor with covered play area and cloakrooms (one now with swimming tank) on one side, and five classrooms on the other, of a spinal corridor with small glazed toplights. Junior school floor with eight classrooms in pairs reached via glazed links from corridor placed over cloakrooms. Entrance hall next to ground floor kitchen and dining hall a cross passage between front and back of school, with adjoining staircase. At eastern end original entrance hall and pair of assembly halls, set one above the other, faced in brick and Hornton stone and with copper roof. Projecting block of staff rooms and offices towards Cordelia Street forms formal entrance corner to original entrance with granite setts. To west brick kitchen yard and boiler house with chimney. Beyond this the Elizabeth Lansbury Nursery School is single storey, and `L'-shaped, with two playrooms; extended early 1970s by GLC Architect's Department in identical style. All floors of precast concrete, ceilings of wood wool, with the steel trusses exposed in the larger spaces.
Elevations. Extruded aluminium windows with opening casements in wooden frames respect the 8'3" grid and are set behind deep eaves. Glass and timber doors. Assembly range similarly fenestrated to sides, with Hornton stone infill panels between and brick ends. Entrance with five bay full-height glazing, with mullions and transoms forming square pattern between. Nursery range with decorative fascias and blinds. Full-height glazing in two or three tiers (the latter for playrooms), with swivel-opening toplights and sliding casements below. Deep timber eaves.
Interiors: open well staircases with slender steel balustrades typical of the `Festival of Britain' idiom. Tilework panels in the original entrance hall, dining hall and nursery playrooms by Peggy Angus an original and much admired part of the composition.
Ancillary Features. Stock brick wall bounds playground on Kerby and Ricardo Streets, adjoining assembly hall to north. On Ricardo Street Yorke deliberately adopted a curved or `crinkle crankle' form in order to skirt and preserve mature trees (since lost).
History. These schools replaced the Ricardo Street Schools of 1913-1914, bombed in 1940 and 1944. The Susan Lawrence School was the first building to be reconstructed as part of the 'Live Architecture' exhibition of the Festival of Britain, for the site of which the Lansbury area was chosen in 1949. The Stepney/Poplar area was identified in 1943 as in particular need of urgent reconstruction in the post-war period, when the County of London Plan devised by J H Forshaw and Patrick Abercrombie identified eleven neighbourhoods. The area of the exhibition site was selected as corresponding to the catchment area of an infant school, and for its proximity to river transport.
The Festival of Britain (May-September 1951) was a nationwide celebration of United Kingdom arts, industry and technology. It marked the centenary of the Great Exhibition and aimed to encourage a sense of national pride and optimism for the country’s post-War recovery. The main Festival site on London’s South Bank, visited by some 8.5 million people, included the Royal Festival Hall (Grade I) and a suite of pavilions, cafés and sculptures and the Festival Gardens in Battersea Park (Grade II*). Festival events were organised by communities across the country, whilst Royal Navy vessel Campania was converted into the Festival ‘Sea Travelling Exhibition.’ The ‘Live Architecture’ Exhibition was intended to illustrate reconstruction and redevelopment through neighbourhood planning. Co-ordinated by Frederick Gibberd, the new Lansbury estate comprised a range of housing and building types including the schools, Crisp Street Market Clock Tower and Festival Inn, the Church of St Mary and St Joseph and Trinity Methodist Church (all Grade II-listed).
Susan Lawrence (1871-1947) was a Poplar Alderman and LCC councillor, and MP for East Ham; described as a 'zealot in the cause of education' Lawrence is the only woman to have represented both the Conservatives (Municipal Reform) and Labour on the LCC. Elizabeth Lansbury was the wife of George Lansbury (1859-1940), twice mayor of Poplar, its MP (1922-1940) and leader of the Labour Party 1931-1935. The Lansbury exhibition site was the first large-scale reconstruction scheme for the East End, and served as a model for later developments, particularly in the New Towns. Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall went on to build large numbers of schools but this, their second, remains among the most adventurous. It was the first to incorporate tiles by Peggy Angus, a distinctive feature that was repeated in much of their later work. The Elizabeth Lansbury School was the first post-war nursery school in London, and perhaps nationally.
Assessment. Of all the buildings in the Lansbury Exhibition, the Susan Lawrence School was the most admired at the time. 'It seems to have passed its searching test with dazzling success', wrote Building in July 1951, regarding this as a great refinement of ideas explored only tentatively at Barclay School. 'It has urbanity, it has an elegant unity of planning, it is something new in London's East End.' The Architectural Review admired the tilework as a way of providing a colourful, hard-wearing finish, and saw the school as an unusually architectural example of the new interest in child-size, practical spaces. For Ian Nairn it was one of the best buildings of the exhibitions and 'one of the best things the firm has done, large-scaled and relaxed' (Modern Buildings in London, 1964, p.25.)
Included as a demonstration of the Hertfordshire prefabricated system adapted and refined by a private firm of architects, which has the special interest of its association with the Festival of Britain 'live' architecture exhibition. It forms a strong group with Frederick Gibberd's adjacent shopping precinct.
Listing NGR: TQ3769381255