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Former French Protestant Hospital (later Cardinal Pole School)

A Grade II* Listed Building in Hackney, London

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Latitude: 51.5392 / 51°32'20"N

Longitude: -0.0423 / 0°2'32"W

OS Eastings: 535864

OS Northings: 184066

OS Grid: TQ358840

Mapcode National: GBR K2.L0S

Mapcode Global: VHGQV.6KZY

Entry Name: Former French Protestant Hospital (later Cardinal Pole School)

Listing Date: 4 February 1975

Last Amended: 28 August 2014

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1235554

English Heritage Legacy ID: 426302

Location: Hackney, London, E9

County: London

District: Hackney

Electoral Ward/Division: Victoria

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Hackney

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St John of Jerusalem South Hackney

Church of England Diocese: London

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Bethnal Green


Hospital and almshouse, later school; 1864-5 by Robert Lewis Roumieu.


Hospital and almshouse, later school; 1864-5 by Robert Lewis Roumieu.

MATERIALS: red and black brick with Bath stone dressings; slate roof with lead-covered timber belfries etc.

PLAN: the hospital is built on a roughly cruciform plan, with the entrance wing forming a short north-south axis that bisects a much longer east-west axis, the main stairwell forming the intersection. Roumieu’s plans show the original functions of the various rooms. On the raised ground floor, the shorter axis comprises an entrance hall and steward’s office to the south and the men’s day room to the north. A broad galleried corridor runs west, giving access to the library, committee room and dining hall, with the court room (presumably for meetings of the hospital charity) at the far end; a narrow corridor runs eastward, flanked by the women’s day room, workroom and lavatories, and terminating in the chapel. A similar arrangement obtains on the first floor: the north-south range contains the steward’s apartment and infirmary, while the spine corridors give access to a series of four-bed dormitories for the inmates – women to the west, men to the east The basement is an extensive complex of utility rooms, separately accessed via a tradesmen’s entrance, and again featuring a spine corridor that connects kitchen, pantry, larder, scullery, wine and beer cellars, servants’ hall, coal cellars, boiler room and – beneath the chapel – the laundry and mortuary.

EXTERIOR: the style is High Victorian Gothic – the strident, beetle-browed variety that HS Goodhart-Rendel labelled ‘rogue architecture’. Here it is given a strong French accent by the use of corner turrets and steep pyramidal roofs with swept eaves, creating a châteauesque roofscape that was originally further enlivened by massive corbelled stacks (now truncated), patterned slates (now replaced) and spiky wrought-iron cresting (now mostly lost). The main elevation is to the south, and here the chief emphasis is on the central tower. This contains the main entrance, raised and set off-centre to the right within a heavy Gothic surround having four orders of marble shafts and a corbelled and gabled hood. A scroll here describes, in French, the founding of the hospital in 1718 and its transfer to Hackney in 1864; at the apex is an open book inscribed ‘Sondez les Ecritures’ (‘search the scriptures’ – John 5:39). Above, a polygonal bay rises the full height of the tower, terminating in an acutely-pitched roof with deep corbelled eaves and a broach-spired belfry and weathervane perched atop the ridge.

The tower is flanked by three-bay wings, the brickwork here acquiring a strong diaper pattern which is maintained, with variations, in the other parts of the building. The lower floors have big three-light mullion and transom windows, while the dormitories above have half-dormers with quatrefoil heads and corbelled-out Gothic hoods. Each wing terminates in a projecting bay or turret – that to the left polygonal, that to the right square but set at 45 degrees to the main elevation and supported on columns below. On the far left, the north-west range has its own symmetrical elevation, with a broad projecting centre bay (lighting the court room) and an elongated wall-shaft that sprouts an elaborate first-floor oriel bearing a scroll inscribed ‘Dominus Providebit’ (‘the Lord will provide’ – Genesis 22:14). On the far right is the chapel, aligned with the main range but set well back and terminating in a polygonal apse and a little belfry; the vocabulary here shifts from domestic to ecclesiastical Gothic, with offset buttresses and two-light traceried windows. The rear (north) elevation is irregular, the main points being the polygonal right-hand turret (matching that on the south front) and the glazed clerestory and lantern roof over the stairwell.

INTERIORS: these are well preserved, despite the long and complex history of institutional use, with most of the room divisions intact and a number of important fittings still in situ. The entrance hall is floored in a complex pattern of encaustic tiles, which continues up the walls to dado height; a plaque above records, in English, the laying of the foundation stone in March 1864 and the building’s completion in April 1865. The hall is overlooked on the west by a stone oriel belonging to the steward’s office, while to the north a double archway and a flight of steps lead through to the main stair hall. This is a square top-lit space rising the full height of the interior. The stair itself is of complex form, with separate flights for men and women (reflecting the segregation of the infirmary and dormitories above) and further flights descending into the basement; all have heavy timber balustrades with cast-iron vine-scroll panels. There are also two secondary staircases with simpler iron balustrades: one in the entrance tower, connecting the various levels of the steward’s accommodation, and a servants’ stair next to the refectory at the end of the west wing. The ground-floor corridors have tiled floors and patterned brick dados, and the doorways to the principal rooms have Gothic-arched heads with banded voussoirs and polychromatic tiled tympana. Many of the original boarded and chamfered internal doors survive.

The court room retains its wainscot panelling, inlaid wood floor and decorative plaster ceiling, as well as twin fireplaces with elaborately-carved stone chimneypieces displaying coloured medallions of Virtues. Elsewhere the fireplaces have for the most part been removed. The committee room has wainscot panelling and a walk-in safe with slate shelving and a wood-grained iron door. The chapel lost most of its stained glass during WWII – though the figures and mottoes in the upper lights survive – and the pine pews have now been taken out; there remains the encaustic tiled floor, the west gallery and the complex roof with arch-braces and king-posts, supported on outsize, opulently-carved stone corbels. (The present stone altar with its tabernacle and pietà relief was introduced by the Companions of Jesus.) The main feature of the first floor is the gallery in the west corridor, which has a balustrade similar to that of the main stair; the glazed roof above rests on elaborate iron brackets springing from another set of luxuriantly-carved corbels. The basement corridor has a brick-vaulted fireproof ceiling but few other features of note.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the entrance lodge was rebuilt in 1934, as were the adjoining gate-piers. The boundary wall has been largely renewed or demolished, although parts of the original north and south walls remain. None of these structures is of special interest, and all are excluded from the listing, as are the modern school buildings on the site.


The Edict of Fontainebleau, issued by Louis XIV in 1685 in revocation of the 1598 Edict of Nantes, effectively outlawed Protestant worship in France, and the ensuing persecution led up to half a million French Protestants, or Huguenots, to seek sanctuary abroad. About 50,000 refugees eventually came to England, where the Protestant succession (and a measure of religious tolerance) had been assured with the arrival of William of Orange in 1688. The majority settled in London, where they famously came to dominate the silk industry, establishing a close-knit community of weavers and merchants centred on Spitalfields. Like other immigrant communities (such as the Sephardi Jews, who also arrived in large numbers at around this time), the Huguenots established charities to take care of their less fortunate brethren, and in 1718 La Providence, a hospital and almshouse for the poor, elderly and infirm, was established by royal charter at Bath Street off the City Road.

In 1862 the trustees resolved to move the hospital out of the now-overcrowded inner-city district of Finsbury to the ‘salubrious village’ of Hackney. A three-acre site was acquired between Well Street Common and the newly-opened Victoria Park, and the architect RL Roumieu, himself the descendant of Huguenot refugees and a director of the hospital charity, drew up plans for an impressive new building in a French Gothic manner. Built in 1864-5, it contained accommodation for some 40 female and 20 male inmates along with a steward, nurses and servants.

In 1934 the western part of the site was acquired by the London County Council as part of a new housing estate, requiring the original entrance lodge and boundary wall to be demolished and rebuilt in their present form. The main building suffered bomb damage during the First World War, when most of the stained glass in the chapel was destroyed. After the war, La Providence moved out of London altogether, eventually settling in its present home in Rochester. The buildings were sold to an order of Roman Catholic nuns, the Faithful Companions of Jesus, and reopened (following conversion work in 1949 by the architects Walter and Kerr) as the St Victoire Convent Girls’ Grammar School. This in turn gave way to another Roman Catholic secondary school, Cardinal Pole’s, which occupied the site between 1983 and 2013. In 2014 the main building underwent conversion to form part of a new Academy school.

Robert Lewis Roumieu (1814-77) was born in Harrow into a prosperous Huguenot family – his grandfather, Abraham Roumieu, having also been an architect. In 1831 he was articled to Benjamin Dean Wyatt, and between 1836 and 1848 he was in partnership with Alexander Dick Gough, with whom he designed the Islington Literary and Scientific Institute (1837 – now the Almeida Theatre) and the nearby Milner Square (1841-3) as well as restoring London's ancient St Pancras’ church (1848). Roumieu’s best-known building is the Hill and Evans vinegar warehouse at 33-5 Eastcheap in the City of London (1868), a wildly top-heavy Gothic concoction that led the historian HS Goodhart-Rendel to number him amongst the ‘rogue architects’ of the High Victorian period.

Reasons for Listing

The former French Protestant Hospital, of 1864-5 by Robert Lewis Roumieu, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a showpiece of High Victorian 'rogue' Gothic, and a major work by one of the architectural extremists of the age;
* Historic interest: an evocative reminder of the long-standing Huguenot presence in London;
* Interiors: a well-preserved ensemble with surprisingly lavish decorative work in timber, cast iron, patterned tile and carved stone - the main stair, galleried circulation corridor, chapel and court room being of particular note.

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