Former Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool
List Entry Summary
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
Name: Former Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool
List entry Number: 1279733
HARDMAN STREET, LIVERPOOL
Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), it is declared that the following are not of special architectural or historic interest:<br /><br />the visible C20 service equipment and a large plastic water tank on the roof of the entrance range; <br /><br />the later-C19 and C20 extensions attached to the rear of the eastern side wing;<br /><br />the later external wall stacks, metal fire escapes, ventilation ducts have been added to the wings in places, as well as single-storey constructions in the north-west rear yard, which infill much of the space between the entrance range and west wing;<br /><br />the late-C20 lift shaft with corrugated cladding attached to the west side of the south wing;<br /><br />the single-storey and 2-storey late-C20 extensions attached to the north side of the far rear wing;<br /><br />the interior of Minoprio & Spenceley's 1930-2 extension is also not of special interest, except for the former school shop on the ground floor overlooking Hardman Street and various parquet floors where they survive.<br /><br />
The building may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District Type: Metropolitan Authority
Parish: Non Civil Parish
National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.
Date first listed: 14-Mar-1975
Date of most recent amendment: 09-Sep-2013
Legacy System Information
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System: LBS
This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.
List entry Description
Summary of Building
Former Royal School for the Blind, 1849-51, by Arthur Hill Holme. Ashlar with brick rear wings incorporating red sandstone dressings, classical Greek style, mainly 2-storeys plus basement and attic to the entrance range and 2-storeys plus full basement to the rear wings. 1930-2 extension by Anthony Minoprio and Hugh Greville Spencely in stripped classical style, Portland stone, 3-storeys.
Reasons for Designation
The former Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool on Hardman Street, designed by Arthur Hill Holme and constructed in 1849-51 with later alterations, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: the school, which was founded in 1791, was the first blind school in Britain and the second in the world, and the Hardman Street premises represent its second purpose-built premises. The school provided practical training in trades in order to equip pupils to be self-supporting and independent, as well as a general education and accommodation, and the Hardman Street building is an important and rare surviving early example of this type of specialist education institution;
* Architectural interest: the entrance range has an imposing and dignified design in classical Greek style that suitably reflects the school's status and is complemented by the addition of Minoprio & Spenceley's stripped-classical 1930s extension, which incorporates sculptural reliefs reflecting the work of the school. The rear ranges, which are more utilitarian in style, nevertheless also incorporate an attention to detail above the purely functional, including the use of curved external stairs and large arched windows;
* Planning: it has a workhouse-style radial plan that survives largely intact and incorporates an entrance range to the front with four wings radiating out from a domed rotunda behind; an arrangement that was dictated by the school's technical function, but also facilitated the segregation of the sexes;
* Degree of survival: despite some later alteration and changes of use the building retains a clearly readable floor plan and many original and early features, including decorative plasterwork in the entrance hall, some fireplaces, door and window architraves, and an imposing main stair.
The Liverpool School for the Indigent Blind was founded in 1791 in two houses on Commutation Row by a group of eight men, including John Christie, a blind musician, and William Roscoe and Edward Rushton who were both poets, writers and slavery abolitionists. Like Christie, Edward Rushton was also blind, having contracting ophthalmia whilst working as a sailor on ships transporting slaves from Africa to the West Indies. The school was the first of its kind in Britain and the second in the world after the Institution Nationale des Jeunes Aveungles (National Institution for the Young Blind) in Paris, which was founded in 1785/6 by Valentin Hauy. The Paris institute was also where Louis Braille (1809-1852) attended as a pupil and later as a teacher.
The Liverpool school moved to purpose-built premises designed by John Foster Junior on London Road in 1800. In 1806 the Prince of Wales (later George IV) and the Duke of Clarence (later William IV) visited Liverpool as guests of the Earl of Derby and during their stay they paid a visit to the school where they were entertained by the choir. The prince was so impressed with the school that he agreed to become the school's patron; thus the school's royal patronage began and it subsequently became known as the Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool.
The school moved to Hardman Street in 1851 when the enlargement of Lime Street Station required the demolition of Foster's building. The London & North Western Railway company provided the land for the new building, which was constructed in 1849-51 to the designs of Arthur Hill Holme at a cost of £11,650, and was erected by his brother's construction company. The Hardman Street range was originally single-storey with a central two-storey pavilion but the wings were soon enlarged in matching style. The school provided its pupils with practical training in trades in order to equip them to be independent and self-supporting. These activities included spinning and basket making, worsted weaving, and music; the latter skill was taught to enable pupils to become music teachers, piano tuners or church organists. The school's technical function dictated its design, which included the provision of workshops, music rooms, dormitories, exercise yards and a rope walk. A shop was also provided near to the main entrance where the pupils' work was sold.
Mid-late C19 educational reform, which culminated in the 1870 Education Act, led to the introduction of school inspections, which raised standards in education, accommodation and equipment. However, many schools were unable to meet these new standards; amongst them the Hardman Street premises, which were found to be lacking in their provision for young children. Consequently, a new junior school was constructed at Wavertree, Liverpool in 1898. Further educational reform in the C20 led to additional changes at the school: following the Education Act of 1944 general education, which had previously been rather limited at the school, became compulsory and 'housecraft' classes were introduced to teach the pupils about cookery, laundry, personal hygiene, and care of clothing.
In 1930-2 a large extension designed by Anthony Minoprio and Hugh Greville Spencely was added to the Hope Street corner of the building on the site of the school's Greek Doric-style chapel of 1818-19 by John Foster Junior, which had been moved from the school's London Road site in 1851 and was demolished in 1930.
During the Second World War the school was evacuated to Rhyl in north Wales and the building was requisitioned by the RAF; part of the building was also used by the Thames and Mersey Marine Insurance Company for the duration of the war. In 1958 the building was sold to Liverpool Corporation for £47,000 and the school transferred completely to Wavertree where it still remains today. Following the school's move the Hardman Street building became Liverpool City's Police Headquarters until 1982 when it became the Merseyside Trade Union, Community and Unemployed Resource Centre. Facilities at the centre included conference and function rooms, a small theatre, nightclub, and a basement recording studio. The centre closed in 2004.
PLAN: the former school has a workhouse-style plan with an entrance range fronting Hardman Street with four wings located to the rear radiating from a domed rotunda. A long additional rear wing is attached at a right angle to the south wing alongside Back Hope Place. A 1930-2 extension is attached to the eastern end of the front range and runs alongside Hope Street. Set in between the rear wings are four former male and female exercise yards.
EXTERIOR: the building has slate and lead-covered roofs, along with some corrugated-metal coverings on later extensions, and a concrete rotunda dome.
Front (north) elevation: the principal front elevation faces Hardman Street and is of a long 13-bays with a carved plinth and entablatures above the ground and first floors. The elevation is faced with Bath stone and has architraved sash windows of various configurations, including 2-over-2, 2-over-4 and 6-over-6 sashes. Set to the centre of the original building is a pedimented pavilion with rounded inset corners with curved windows that are also repeated on the pavilion's rear corners. The pavilion has an attic level that is not expressed externally, and the roof is largely hidden by a parapet; visible C20 service equipment and a large plastic water tank on the roof are not of special interest*. Set to the centre of the pavilion's ground floor are panelled double doors flanked by paired antae, which also flank the adjoining windows, which have replaced glazing. The first floor has a pierced balustrade and a central window crowned by a consoled pediment. The pavilion is flanked by side wings, which were originally single-storey and of 3-bays, but were extended by a further bay and an additional storey in the mid-late C19. Bays 3 and 11 project and have tripartite windows with slender plate-glass side lights set behind fluted Ionic colonnettes and flanked by paired antae. The end bays are pedimented and also project with paired windows to both floors, again set behind a fluted Ionic colonnette and flanked by paired antae. The rear elevations of the side wings are plainer and are in brick with red-sandstone sills and lintels to the windows. The eastern side wing has later-C19 and C20 extensions attached to the rear that are not of special interest: these include an original 2-storey projection to the centre that has been rebuilt and altered on the upper storey, a 2-storey infill section to the right and a first-floor link to the left with corrugated cladding*.
A 3-storey, 5-bay, flat-roofed, 1930-2 extension by Anthony Minoprio and Hugh Greville Spencely is attached to the left of the entrance range via a 2-storey, 2-bay link extension of the same date. The extension, which is built on the site of John Foster Junior's demolished Greek Doric chapel, is in stripped classical style with Portland-stone facings and a second floor expressed as an attic level and set above a cornice. The front elevation facing Hardman Street incorporates fluted pilaster strips that echo the portico of Foster's chapel with rose motif reliefs set above the two outer strips on each side; relief lettering to the centre above the pilaster strips, which is believed to have originally said 'SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND' has been removed. Each bay is also decorated with a small sculptured panel by John Skeaping set between the ground and first floor, which depict the school's activities, including brush-making, basket work, piano tuning and reading Braille. The windows contain original aluminium window frames with later secondary glazing visible internally; three of the four ground-floor windows to the front elevation have alterations to the lower panes. The 11-bay east return elevation facing Hope Street is similarly styled, but with shorter ground-floor windows, and has a stepped corner, which displays a further panel by Skeaping depicting knitting and also has an altered ground-floor window. Adorning a plain frieze below the cornice are rose motif reliefs and bronze numerals bearing the dates '1850' and '1931'. The extension originally had a set of bronze double doors to the front and a single bronze door to the Hope Street elevation by James Woodford, which incorporated reliefs symbolising the life and work of the school, as well as an image of Christ healing the blind and one of the cured giving thanks to the heavens. Both sets of doors were removed to the school's Wavertree site in 1971 and have been replaced by panelled doors. Above the Hope Street entrance is the inscription 'CHRIST HEALS THE BLIND,/ FOR WHO DENIES/ THAT IN THE MIND/ DWELL TRUER SIGHT/ AND CLEARER LIGHT/ THAN IN THE EYES?'. The stepped corner also incorporates an inscription recording that the extension is constructed upon the site of the chapel. The rear elevations are of brick and are plain with mainly multipaned casement windows.
Behind the front range are the rear wings and rotunda, which are more utilitarian in design and styling than the entrance range, with brickwork laid in Flemish bond. The rotunda has round-arched windows to the ground floor and square-headed windows to the first floor, and the concrete dome, which was possibly rebuilt after the Second World War, incorporates a cupola. The short links that connect the rotunda to the rear wings have barrel-vaulted roofs with lead coverings. Curved brick external stairs with sandstone treads, slender wrought-iron wreathed handrails and stick balusters lead down from the rear of the east and west wing links into two of the rear yards; a doorway accessing the east stair has been bricked up and some of the stair's balusters are missing.
The rear wings have a mixture of timber, metal and cast-iron sash and fixed multipaned windows (many have been altered or replaced) with brick lintels and red-sandstone sills, except for the north wing windows, which have red-sandstone sills and wedge lintels. The windows to the east and west wings have round-arched heads to the ground and first floors; a few unaltered, fixed 28-pane, arched windows survive and some have original ventilator openings to the centre (other thicker ventilator openings are later insertions). Later external wall stacks, metal fire escapes, ventilation ducts have been added to the wings in places, as well as single-storey constructions in the north-west rear yard, which infill much of the space between the entrance range and west wing, and are not of special interest*. The north wing is of 3-storeys plus basement due to the inclusion of a mezzanine level between the ground and first floor, which carries the internal corridor leading to the music room. The east wing is now twice as long as it was originally, having been extended by 4-bays in 1930-2 in order to connect to the Minoprio & Spenceley extension. The extension is in a matching style to the original part of the wing, but with the brickwork laid in English garden wall, rather than Flemish bond. The south wing has rounded corners, as do the east and west wings where they adjoin the rotunda links. A late-C20 lift shaft with corrugated cladding is attached to the west side of the south wing where it adjoins an additional rear wing lying alongside Back Hope Place and is not of special interest*.
The long wing attached at a right angle to the south wing and backing on to Back Hope Place was originally for rope making. It is of a lower 2-storeys and is constructed of brick laid in English garden wall bond with a brick corbel table and red-sandstone sills and lintels to the windows; many of the windows have been altered and some on the first floor overlooking Back Hope Place have been bricked-up. Single-storey and 2-storey late-C20 extensions relating to the wing's use as the Flying Picket nightclub, including a double-height glazed extension, are attached to the north side of the wing and are not of special interest*. A late-C19/early-C20 lean-to shelter with cast-iron supporting columns incorporating foliated capitals exists to the western end of the wing.
INTERIOR: internally the building retains door and window architraves, some fireplaces, and deep skirtings and has mainly floorboard and concrete floors, with an encaustic tiled floor in the main stair hall. Various areas are in poor condition.
The entrance hall, which originally contained the school's shop, has a timber draught lobby, paired pilaster wall decoration and classical plasterwork, including a heavy cornice and a coffered ceiling (partly collapsed at the eastern end) with rosettes. A pedimented doorway with decorative consoles is located to the centre of the rear wall and leads through into the main stair hall, beyond which are the four rear wings radiating from the domed rotunda. Two similarly styled doorways at each end of the entrance hall lead into the side wings. The west side wing contains the former committee room, which is a large room with a dentil cornice, moulded architraves, panelled undersides to the windows, and window shutters. A chimneybreast and marble fireplace at the western end of the room are believed to have been inserted when the wing was enlarged in the mid-late C19, replacing a bay window. The fireplace at the eastern end of the room has been heavily damaged and mostly removed. A later C19 doorway inserted into the rear wall accesses the north-west rear yard. A smaller room at the western end of the wing, which is a mid-late C19 addition, is plainer, but has similar detailing to its windows; the room's fireplace has been removed. The east side wing contains the former female work room, which has been sub-divided, but retains a timber and cast-iron fireplace, simple moulded cornicing, architraves and windows that share the treatment of those in the former committee room. A doorway in the rear wall with a damaged architrave leads into a small, extended former toilet block; the doorway is believed to have been moved from its original central position when the room was subdivided. Like the committee room, a chimneybreast and timber and cast-iron fireplace at the eastern end of the room are mid-late C19 additions when the wing was extended. An adjacent wide, arched opening leads to a small room in the mid-late C19 extension and also a flight of steps accessing the 1930s link, with a further flight accessing the main part of the Minoprio and Spenceley extension.
The main stair is top-lit by a rectangular roof lantern and is of painted stone with heavy vase balusters to the lowest flight and decorative cast-iron splat balusters and a timber handrail to the cantilevered upper flights. The stair's lowest flight rises from a central position as if commencing an imperial stair, but then turns to the left and rises as an open-well stair. The building contains many differing floor levels and the main stair's lowest flight rises to a half-landing that has an arched opening leading through to a mezzanine level corridor in the north wing, and the rotunda and additional rear wings beyond. The corridor was originally intended to carry visitors straight through to the school's music/concert room in the south wing; thus there are no doorways into the rooms on each side, which are set on different floor levels and are accessed independently from the rotunda end; that to the east side of the corridor is accessed via a short curved stair, whilst a corresponding stair leading into the western rooms has been blocked-off. The western first-floor rooms of the north wing are accessed through another arched opening on the main stair's second half-landing, with an adjacent doorway providing access into a room on the eastern side of the wing.
Set to each rear corner of the entrance pavilion and flanking the stair hall are two small rooms that were originally the matron's parlour (left) and the governor's office (right). Both rooms have lost their fireplaces and have been reduced in size through the insertion of later corridors connecting into the side wings. A doorway has also been inserted in the rear wall of the governor's office to connect into the former female music rooms on the ground floor of the north wing, which have been altered and opened-up to form one large room, but retain a series of original grilles along the eastern wall.
The first-floor rooms in the entrance range are plain, including in the side wings, with some later cornicing. A small room above the former governor's office retains a painted-timber fire surround, and a corresponding room above the former matron's parlour retains the damaged remains of an identical painted-timber fire surround with a cast-iron insert. The rest of the entrance range's fireplaces have all been removed, but chimneybreasts survive. The east side wing incorporates an altered projection and later extensions to the rear, which are not of special interest. The attic rooms are also plain and are lit by modern rooflights.
Minoprio & Spenceley's 1930-2 extension retains some parquet floors and the school's shop, which was re-located to the extension's front ground-floor room overlooking Hardman Street, retains some built-in display cases to the south wall. However, the rest of the interior is plain and has been altered, and is not of special interest*. A lift shaft and stair are located on the Hardman Street side of the building, with a further stair located on the Hope Street corner.
The rotunda is lined with arched doorway and window openings on the ground floor and square-headed openings (both true and blind examples) on a first-floor gallery. The gallery has a classically decorated cast-iron balustrade, and a replaced concrete dome decorated with a partly-damaged 1986 mural by the artist Michael 'Mick' Jones (son of the trade unionist Jack Jones) depicting Socialist Realist images relating to the Merseyside Trade Union, including marching Liverpool workers, the Halewood car factory, a dock crane and ship yards, as well as a central image of Edward Rushton, one of the co-founders of the school. A companion piece by Mick Jones entitled Unemployment on Merseyside - Campaigning for the Right to Work (1993), which was formerly in the People's Centre on Mount Pleasant is now displayed in the Museum of Liverpool. On the ground-floor level the short links connecting the rotunda to the east and west wings provide access to the external stairs leading to the yards, although the doorway to the east stair has now been bricked-up. The western link also has an elliptical spiral stair off to the north side with a wrought-iron handrail and stick balusters.
The ground-floor of the east wing originally contained the dining room, whilst the west wing contained the male work room, and the south wing contained a music/concert room, all with dormitories above. All the spaces are plain and open-plan and are of lesser interest, although the first-floor room in the west wing retains a timber fire surround with a cast-iron insert and grate. The south wing's ground-floor music room was where the pupils performed and has since been altered, with the former stage area now subdivided, a later stair inserted, and a doorway knocked through to provide access into a modern lift that is shared with the far rear wing adjacent to Back Hope Place. The basement rooms in each wing have been altered and modernised; the former kitchens are located in the south wing. The far rear wing has been heavily altered internally following conversion into a nightclub in the late-C20 and its interior is not of special interest*.
* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.
Books and journals
Giles, C , Building a Better Society: Liverpool's historic institutional buildings, (2008)
Royden, M W, Pioneers and Perseverance: A History of The Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool 1791-1991, a Bicentennial Celebration, (1991)
Sharples, J, Pevsner Architectural Guides: Liverpool, (2004)
Rushton, Edward (1756-1814), poet and slavery abolitionist, accessed from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/24286
P de Figuereido. May 2012. Former Royal School for the Blind, Hardman Street, Liverpool. Heritage Statement. ,
The Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool, The Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool 214th Annual Report 2004/05, 2004/05,
National Grid Reference: SJ 35516 89842
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