Devonshire House, South East London
Located in the Union Street conservation area and adjacent to two other conservation areas, Thrale Street to the north and Borough High Street to the east, Devonshire House is a magnificent Grade II listed building constructed c.1835.
Devonshire House was constructed in London stock brick in Flemish bond with stucco-faced facades scored to imitate ashlaring, and with timber sash windows and with mid-19th century style shop fronts. Arranged over three floors, it has floor space totalling approximately 3,100 square feet, and houses a bakery, restaurant, wine bar and room for private events. It underpins the wider Flat Iron Square Project that has delivered a live music venue, different food and bar offerings and a small acoustic theatre.
The property and the adjoining arches are recognised for their historical importance. They represent a key 'staging post' along the route of the Low Line, a regeneration project to create a walkway following the railway viaducts that have been part of Bankside's heritage for over 150 years. The Low Line is coordinated by Better Bankside and brings together a range of stakeholders including Network Rail, Southwark Council and the Bankside Neighbourhood Forum.
The Bankside area was famous for hats, furs and leather clothing. The first reference to Devonshire House is in 1850 when it is described as a London Hatter's shop making top hats and cokes (bowlers). Later, in the 1980's Devonshire House traded as a whole food shop and restaurant serving a range of local produce and high quality British cuisine.
By the end of the 1980's it had become a jazz club and a popular evening entertainment venue. In 1994 Devonshire House was awarded Grade II CA National Heritage listing 1994; however, during Jubilee Line extension surveys, significant structural issues were identified and Devonshire House was vacated.
Restoring Devonshire House
Following this the building fell into disrepair and continued to deteriorate rapidly, suffering from fires and vandalism. Consequently, Devonshire House was added to Historic England’s Buildings at Risk Register (List Entry Number: 1386010). The building was identified as being structurally unsound and inaccessible and in need of substantial structural steelwork along with dynamic stabilisation techniques to prevent its collapse.
Network Rail Infrastructure Limited is the Freehold owner of Devonshire House. Together with the adjoining arches, it is leased to Benjamin Scrimgeour, who started his association with the area back in 1987 growing mushrooms to sell on Borough Market out of the railway arches where Flat Iron Square now operates.
Economically it was difficult to demonstrate a viable business case for the restoration of the building in isolation and existing structure and form. Network Rail therefore embarked on a proposal linking Devonshire House to the adjacent arch premises to deliver a commercially viable solution which facilitated the restoration of Devonshire House to its original condition and configuration.
Contribution of the historic elements to new function of the area
Elevations were rendered and painted in order to match the local decorative ethos and return Devonshire House to its former glory. In particular the use of hardwood shop fronts and window frames to produce a direct replica of the existing design, retention of important internal design features such as fireplaces, staircase and all other elements capable of salvage and re-use. In addition to Devonshire House the scheme encompassed the refurbishment of a further seven railway arches providing in total some 13,324 square feet of accommodation.
The traditional shop fronts overlooking Flat Iron Square entice customers into the venue and upstairs to the understated wine bar which retains and exposes many original features creating a dishevelled Dickensian pose. The cosy corners adapt well to the current use and offer a throwback to the days of friends and traders engaging in conversations on social and business affairs.
New commercial use of the historic area
Flat Iron Square sits within Bankside and has added to the wealth of cultural and community amenities it has to offer. Theatres such as Menier, Southwark Playhouse and Shakespeare’s Globe are complemented by art galleries including Tate Modern and Hayward Gallery.
The wider location has seen dramatic change over recent years. It's fast becoming a creative, design and gastronomic hub.
Bankside has had a remarkably consistent history as a place of often bawdy entertainment. It is thus perhaps fitting that Devonshire House and the Flat Iron Square scheme has been transformed into a new venue having a sense of casual informality and diverse range of offers.
The restoration of Devonshire House and completion of the Flat Iron Square project created a new dynamic, eclectic and unique venue and people are free to walk around sampling and enjoying all the many different aspects of what’s on offer. The many food and beverage outlets within Devonshire House provide employment for approximately 20 people, plus a further 80 or so across the whole of Flat Iron Square. Situated on the Low Line, it reinforces the vision of Bankside providing independent businesses the opportunity to thrive in a burgeoning neighbourhood, and cement the area as a cultural hub.