Grammar school, built 1966-1967 to designs by Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall & Partners; partner in charge, Maurice Lee.
Exclusions from listing are shown on the map or made clear in the text below.
Reasons for Designation
St Olave’s Grammar School, 1966-1967, by Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall & Partners is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* For its combination of pared-down elevations and creative massing which form a series of sophisticated architectural compositions;
* For its generous planning with an informal collegiate quality, incorporating open spaces and punctuated by impressive set-pieces such as the cloistered First Court, Great Hall and raised chapel;
* For the handsome, refined interiors of the Great Hall, chapel and fives court building, which use a consistent palette of good-quality materials, extending to the simpler interiors around the school.
* As a creative and ambitious example of progressive post-war secondary school design;
* As a strong work by the nationally renowned RMJM, a practice with roots in innovative education buildings of the early post-war period.
The grammar school of St Olave was founded in Southwark in the 1560s. By the end of the C19 it was housed in a school building of 1892-93 by EW Mountford (listed Grade II), but even before it was built the headmaster remarked on the limitations of the Tooley Street site: ‘how severely we are handicapped by our locality: with the river at our back, and a ring of modernised Endowed Schools admirably equipped for secondary teaching, intercepting the pupils who used to come to us from a distance.’ In 1957 it was resolved, against the wishes of the London County Council, to move the school to the rapidly developing area of Orpington in Kent, and in 1962 the assent of the Minister of Education followed. By the time the school was built the chosen site lay within the newly-created London Borough of Bromley; it was officially opened in March 1968 and the chapel was dedicated the following month by the Bishop of Rochester. About 65 per cent of the £646,300 cost of the building was raised by the governors from endowments and the sale of the former building to the Inner London Education Authority; the rest was contributed by the Department of Education and Science and the Bromley Education Authority.
The architectural firm chosen by the governors for the new school was that of Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall and Partners (RMJM), whose southern office was then busy at work on the Universities of York and Bath. Maurice Lee, the partner in charge, was, like Johnson-Marshall himself, a former Hertfordshire schools architect. Johnson-Marshall also led the Ministry of Education’s Architects and Building Branch where he introduced dispersed, informal, planning to a number of new schools. St Olave’s adopted this type of planning, but its arrangement around ‘quads’, or courts, gives it a collegiate quality. The building’s palette of red brick with bands of white-painted concrete is a possible nod to Mountford’s red brick and stone banded building which the school left behind. Adjacent to the squash and fives court had originally been an open-air theatre on the Greek plan, built using some of the chalk excavated to make the foundations. This has since been lost under a new building containing changing rooms.
Later additions to the school include a large L-shaped science block which partially enclosed the Third Court, and the sixth form and music block which encloses the Second Court and part of the Third Court. These additions are of different date to one another but are detailed in the same red-brown brick and reference the original design of the building to varying degrees. The internal court to the crafts block has been infilled and the building extended towards the science block. Temporary prefabricated classrooms have been placed in the Hall Court, although these have remained in situ for a number of years. Other alterations include the infilling of the swimming pool to create a sports hall and the blocking up of the full-height windows which lit the pool to form clerestory windows. Approximately 30 per cent of the full-height timber-framed classroom windows have been replaced in uPVC.
St Olave’s was built in a period during which school building was both a symbolic aspiration, as well as an urgent national need, driven by the ‘baby boom’, the raising of the school leaving age, planned new towns and estates and the reconstruction of bomb-damaged buildings. Programmes of new schools were co-ordinated and designed by local education authorities with loans and oversight from central government. Demand was fed by prefabricated ‘kits of parts’, but, where bricks and bricklayers were readily available, traditional techniques were adapted to incorporate large windows and flat roofs. Collaboration between architects and educationists could result in expressive plans which facilitated patterns of learning and movement. The requirement for abundant daylight and outdoor access led to dispersed layouts and in some examples child-scaled proportions, landscaping, bright colour schemes or works of art combined to create a distinctive visual aesthetic.
The 1944 Education Act divided schooling into primary and secondary stages with a break at age 11. Most authorities implemented selective schemes, building secondary modern schools with smaller numbers of grammar and technical schools, with non-selective education becoming increasingly widespread from the mid-1960s. Compact or multi-storied blocks were favoured for their small footprints and architectural potential, although educationists generally favoured informal, single-storey layouts where space permitted. Larger schools could support more specialist subjects and a large sixth form. Pastoral care and dining were sometimes organised around mixed-age ‘houses’, horizontal year groups or lower, middle and upper schools. In response to the 1963 Newsom report, the raising of the leaving age to 16 and the trend for more pupils to stay on, secondary schools became more college-like in character, with more private study, centralised resources and the integration of sports and community facilities.
Grammar school, built 1966-1967 to designs by Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall and Partners; partner in charge, Maurice Lee.
MATERIALS: the building is of concrete and red brick. Windows were originally dark-painted timber with pivoting top-lights picked out in white; some have now been replaced with uPVC.
PLAN: the building is predominantly flat-roofed and has two storeys in the main teaching blocks, with double-height elements such as the Great Hall, former swimming pool (now - 2017 - the sports hall) and gymnasium. It has a principal circulation spine which runs south-west/north-east, but for ease of reference a north/south axis will be assumed. To the west of the circulation spine are three successive courts: the enclosed, cloistered, First Court and the semi-enclosed Second and Third Courts (as they are termed on the architects’ plan). These courts are framed mainly by blocks of classrooms and former science labs (now regular class rooms), but where they were originally open to the west (Second Court) and west and north (Third Court), they are now more tightly enclosed by the newer blocks and extensions which are excluded from listing.
To the east of the plan are the headmaster’s office and staff rooms, opening onto a small enclosed garden. The attached headmaster’s house is also at this corner of the building; this is a flat-roofed courtyard bungalow, echoing the architecture of the school and with its own private enclosed garden and garage. Further to the north the kitchen and boiler house, Great Hall and former swimming pool frame the Hall Court. This court is now partly occupied by two prefabricated classrooms*. To the north and west of the former swimming pool is the gymnasium and changing room block.
The main entrance to the school is at the south end of the circulation spine, beneath the raised pentagonal, chapter house-like, chapel. The entrance leads through to the enclosed cloistered walk on the east side of the First Court and into a galleried foyer giving access to the Great Hall. The first-floor library, on the east side of the First Court, and the gallery of the Great Hall, can be reached from the foyer via a spiral stair. An off-set corridor continues on the north/south axis from the foyer, past the Great Hall (east) and Small Hall (west) to the original science block which divides the Second and Third Courts. A cross-axial corridor links the former science block with the Hall Court to the east via a short external stretch of covered walkway.
Detached elements of the original school include the single-storey art and craft block on the edge of the Third Court; this originally had a central open courtyard which has now been enclosed by a glazed roof, and the building extended by half its width to the north. To the north of the art and craft block is the building containing the squash and fives courts; this has a single storey with squash courts to the four corners, and two pairs of fives courts across the centre beneath a butterfly roof. At the far south end of the site is the small groundsman's bungalow and garage, which faces into its own private enclosed garden.
EXTERIOR: the building has a pared-down rectilinear expression across its expansive plan. Sitting on a shuttered concrete plinth, its aesthetic is dominated by the white horizontal bands of the concrete edge beams which mark the storey heights, and the red brick panels irregularly interspersed with full-height panels of glazing held in timber joinery which breaks the elevations down vertically. The asymmetric arrangement of the panels reflects the internal room planning. Within the First Court the elevations are more formal, with double-height, closely-spaced, brick piers, whereas the staff room, which looks out onto a small private garden, has a more intimate domestic character. In contrast, the near-detached chapel and the Great Hall provide foci for greater compositional and geometric drama.
The chapel is sited in front of, and over, the main entrance, linked to the building’s front elevation by a glazed first-floor link. Pentagonal in plan, the chapel is raised on piers which hug the corners of the building in the manner of angled buttresses, separating central panels of blind brick from full-height dalle de verre traceried windows at the angles. The copper-clad roof has a lantern and spire. The area beneath the chapel is paved in brick.
The hall is a double-height space with its principal external elevation to the east. It is lit principally from above by a large square lantern with pyramidal roof covered in copper. This is a feature which, like the chapel roof, is glimpsed from various points around the building’s intricate footprint, along with its carefully composed north and south elevations.
Around the building are various areas of hard landscaping, the largest being the concrete and brick paving and cast concrete benches of First Court, and Hall Court, which includes concrete paving, planters and retaining walls-cum-benches. Smaller areas include that to the west of the changing room block, which includes concrete paving, retaining walls and steps, and the timber and steel canopy over the walkway between the former science block and Hall Court. Original boundary treatments include stretches of red brick wall, which steps in and out in vertical panels. This surrounds the headmaster’s garden, staff garden, and part of the service yard. Elsewhere the service yard is surrounded by a concrete wall, and the groundsman’s house is partially surrounded by a tall, dark-stained, horizontally boarded fence.
INTERIOR: internally, the majority of the school is simple but well-detailed with a consistent use of hardwood joinery and glazed timber screens to share light between corridor and classroom spaces; walls in shared areas are a mixture of bare red brick and plaster, with stairwells being top-lit with skylights. Boarded hardwood ceilings are used selectively and on the soffits of the cloisters, which links internal and external space.
A principal interior of note is that of the Great Hall. It is approximately 65 feet square with a gallery on all four sides. The ceiling is lined in timber and has a large square lantern with an inverted pyramid in the centre which directs light down into the space. The hall functions as an assembly hall, dining room, theatre and concert hall and therefore was planned to work flexibly, allowing proscenium, apron or arena stage arrangements, and the central part of the floor can be lowered to create and orchestra pit. The gallery houses an organ of 1900, brought from the previous school. There is also a fine bronze and polished stone wall-mounted war memorial to the First and Second World Wars.
The chapel has a vaulted ceiling lined in timber and walls are of exposed brick. There is some fixed bench seating to the sides. The main foci are the five dalle de verre windows by Susan Ashworth, a student at the Royal College of Art (RCA) under the tutelage of Lawrence Lee. The windows represent the triumph of the Christian spirit (yellow) over the four elements of the material world: earth (green), air (blue), fire (red) and water (white). The altar is moveable and can be placed under the yellow window or in the centre of the chapel according to liturgical preference.
Another particularly strong interior is that of the block containing the fives courts. Here, again, is a material palette of brick, timber and concrete; light is brought in from above and a raised viewing platform gives spatial drama to this simple sports building.
Other interior features of interest include the spiral stair in the main foyer by the hall, which has cantilevered concrete treads around a large central newel and a steel and hardwood balustrade; and the spinal corridor on the east side of the cloistered court, which has stained glass windows by Yvonne Martin, another student of Lawrence Lee.
* Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that prefabricated classroom buildings placed in the Hall Court are not of special architectural or historic interest.