One of our recent instructions was to carry out a Building Fabric Survey for the London Borough of Hackney on the Clapton Portico, formerly known as the London Orphan’s Asylum.
It is a striking building and has a fascinating history, steeped in Victorian philanthropy.
The London Orphan Asylum bought the site in Hackney in 1821 and held an architectural competition to design a new building to house and school orphan children. Mr Inman, an architect from Lincoln’s Inn Fields won the commission and the foundation stone for the new orphanage was laid in 1823 by the Duke of York. The building was completed in 1825.
In common with many public & charitable institutions of the time, the London Orphan Asylum was built on a grand scale and heavily influenced by historical building styles. The imposing structure is a terastyle doric pedimented portico with doric colonnades to the North and South elevations. In simple terms, the Portico has four columns which creates an odd number of openings, allowing an opening directly into the central door. The colonnades to either side have simple columns and capitals with no bases. At the heart of this design, is the use of stone and traditional lime renders; the Clapton Portico is a testament to the durability of these materials.
Hackney expanded rapidly in the Victorian era, but the supporting infrastructure struggled to keep up and The London Orphanage left the site in 1867 following a typhoid outbreak caused by the inadequate drainage system.
In 1882 the building was sold to the newly formed, Salvation Army. After its purchase the Salvation Army demolished the orphanage chapel and roofed over the original quadrangle (central courtyard) to create a massive Congress Hall capable of seating more than 4,700 people. The hall was used by the Salvation Army until 1970 when a new citadel was built on Lower Clapton Road.
The Borough of Hackney acquired the Portico in 1975, when much of the original building was demolished to accommodate the expansion of the adjacent Clapton Girl’s School. The remaining portion, deteriorating steadily, was subsequently added to the ‘Buildings at Risk Register’; it remained unused for more than 25 years. Although, it temporarily attracted attention in 1999 when the Portico was the site of an art installation by Turner Prize winning artist Martin Creed; the front gable pediment featuring a large, temporary neon sign which read, ‘Everything is going to be alright’. Mr Creed may have been psychic!
In 2003, the Hackney Learning Trust secured funding, mainly from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore the Portico and build an extension to the rear. In 2006 the restored portico with contemporary rear addition was opened as the Portico City Learning Centre, a place for pupils and teachers to access the most up to date computer technology. The new structure extending from the rear of the Portico, in the location of the original chapel, is contemporary in design and clearly distinguishable from the Victorian Portico, its aluminium louvres providing a sharp visual contrast to the original stonework.
The Clapton Portico has undergone many changes and alterations during the last 200 years. It is testament to how buildings can be adapted to meet the demands of new users as requirements change. It is something in which the team of Quantity Surveyors, Architectural Technologists and Building Surveyors at DCP have a wealth of experience. If you have a renovation or re-modelling project in mind, give us a call, we would be delighted to help.