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Violet Melchett Centre

A Grade II Listed Building in Royal Hospital, London

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Latitude: 51.4869 / 51°29'12"N

Longitude: -0.1666 / 0°9'59"W

OS Eastings: 527391

OS Northings: 178035

OS Grid: TQ273780

Mapcode National: GBR 6P.S4

Mapcode Global: VHGQZ.2W8H

Plus Code: 9C3XFRPM+Q9

Entry Name: Violet Melchett Centre

Listing Date: 17 April 2019

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1462868

Location: Royal Hospital, Kensington and Chelsea, London, SW3

County: London

District: Kensington and Chelsea

Electoral Ward/Division: Royal Hospital

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Kensington and Chelsea

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Tagged with: Architectural structure


Former infant welfare centre integrated with a Mothercraft Training Home and day nursery, built between 1930 and 1931 for the Chelsea Health Society and the Chelsea Day Nursery, designed by FJ Buckland of Buckland and Haywood in a neo-Georgian style.

The brick gate piers and gates to the north, and the later low brick boundary walls are not included.


Former infant welfare centre integrated with a Mothercraft Training Home and day nursery, built between 1930 and 1931 for the Chelsea Health Society and the Chelsea Day Nursery, designed by FJ Buckland of Buckland and Haywood in a neo-Georgian style.

MATERIALS: red brick with Portland stone and tile detailing, and tile roofs.

PLAN: the building has a symmetrical double-courtyard plan with a single-storey range to the south, three two-storey wings and a three-storey range to the north. The building consists of a central hall with rooms either side and a linear arrangement of corridors and rooms within the other ranges and wings. To the south are the remains of former administration rooms and pram stores (the former stores have become enclosed). The western side of the building was originally occupied by the Mothercraft Training Home; it includes the remains of former staff rooms, and patient accommodation and wards. The eastern side of the building was originally occupied by a day nursery; it includes the original nursery rooms (north range), and the remains of former staff rooms and accommodation. In the middle of the north range are the remains of a shared kitchen and services. Now (2019) an NHS clinic and consultation service, with clinic rooms and offices, occupies the western half of building and the Violet Melchett Children's Centre occupies the eastern half of the building. There are offices on the north range second floor. There is a basement under the north range which contains the boiler.

EXTERIOR: most of the windows are six-over-six horned sashes with tile or stucco sills and topped by flat-arched voussoirs; the ground-floor windows also have projecting brick keystones. A few windows have been replaced, most notably in the north range. Apart from where stated below, all of the ranges and wings have a brick plinth. The main doors are double-leaf, multi-panel timber doors.

South range: the single-storey street elevation has a central doorway flanked by five windows to either side, and is topped by an ashlar parapet and cornice. The main entrance has a large ashlar architrave flanked by stylised Corinthian pilasters. Above is a rounded pediment containing an inscription reading: THE/ VIOLET MELCHETT/ INFANT WELFARE/ CENTRE/ CHELSEA HEALTH SOCIETY. The range is topped by a roof garden covered in later paving tiles and a modern central sprung surface; modern metal fencing has been added to the parapet. The main range is flanked by ramps that lead to two enclosed porches with timber doors. The doors are decorated with ironwork and topped by a tiled archway supported by rusticated brick pilasters; there are also blind brick roundels in the spandrels.

Outer wings: the two-storey, hipped-roof wings are near symmetrical, with stacks at the south end. Each has clasped rusticated pilasters to the corners and is topped by a brick parapet with an ashlar cornice. The west-wing's south return has two small ground-floor casement windows joined by an arched niche; below the windows is the foundation stone. The east-wing return has a canted-bay window flanked by two casement windows. Both returns have a first-floor sash window with an ashlar surround and a balcony. The eight-window street elevations have an off-centre entrance with an ashlar surround with a moulded architrave flanked by narrow pilasters and topped by a corniced entablature containing carved lettering. The west-wing lettering reads: MOTHERCRAFT TRAINING HOME, and the east-wing: CHELSEA DAY NURSERY. The sash windows above the doorway have ashlar surrounds with scroll detailing. The courtyard-side elevations have a projecting semi-circular stairtower with a central nine-over-nine sash.

Central range: a two-storey range, with a brick parapet and ashlar cornice, which extends between the north and south range. At first-floor level on the south side, and opening onto the south range’s roof garden, is an enclosed colonnade of five arches supported by square brick pillars on ashlar plinths and with blind roundels in the spandrels; there are multi-pane glazed doors into the rooms behind. The wing's east and west elevations, lit by six windows, face into the adjacent courtyards; the west elevation includes a pair of partially-glazed ground-floor timber doors with ashlar surrounds.

North range: the range has a central three-storey block with a first-floor ashlar band course, an ashlar cornice and a hipped roof with two stacks on the south side. The north elevation, lit by 15 windows, has two rear entrances and near the centre is a single basement window with a railed lightwell. The three-storey block’s south elevation has a five-window central section topped by a brick parapet and attached at ground and first-floor level to the central wing. The upper-floor windows either side of the central wing are in recesses topped by reverse-ogee arches, and at ground-floor level are partially-glazed timber-panel doors with brick surrounds. The central section is flanked by four-window blocks with ashlar-band courses between the first and second floor. Either side of the three-storey range are two-storey links that join to the outer wings. Attached to the eastern link is a three-bay, two-storey roofed veranda; the decorative ironwork has been removed and the first-floor railings have been replaced. There are three sets of partially-glazed timber doors that give access to the veranda from the nursery rooms behind on each floor (originally a room for babies on the ground floor and toddlers on the first floor). There is also another stack over the roof at the north range’s east end.

Courtyards: the west courtyard is covered in paving slabs and a tarmacadam pathway. At the centre is a memorial garden surrounded by a low wall which replaces a walled sand pit. There are concrete planters, as well as concrete benches which have been relocated from the east courtyard. The east courtyard retains the original geometric arrangement of white and pink paving slabs with green borders; areas of the courtyard are covered in modern playground surfaces. Modern fencing has been added within both courtyards.

INTERIOR: the three main entrances have small internal porches and vestibules with internal double-leaf timber doors with patterned glazing to the upper panels. The original corridor, hall and stair floors and skirting are green-and-white terrazzo; areas of the original flooring are visible around the edges of the central hall, main entrance ways and the upper levels of one of the north range staircases. The rest of the floor is largely covered by a later vinyl material, in both imitation terrazzo and wooden floorboards; there is evidence for the removal of terrazzo skirting where the vinyl has been recently lifted. Other original decoration in the principal spaces includes green-terrazzo dado rails along the walls; the rails in the nursery section have been painted blue. There are further original partially-glazed timber-panelled doors within the corridors.

There is a curved staircase to each of the outer wings with triple-arch colonnaded landings with decorative wrought-iron railings, and two sets of dogleg staircases in the north range. All have solid balustrades with polished green terrazzo handrails, and metal handrails on the opposite wall. Some of the staircases have later gates and metal barriers; one set of stairs in the north range has a later steel-wire barrier.

On the ground and first floor many of the original door surrounds survive, taking the form of stepped architraves with plinth blocks. Most of the room doors have been replaced by later fire doors throughout the building. There is an original bell in the ground-floor corridor. Within the rooms the visible original ceilings are slightly coved; some of the rooms retain a simple picture rail. One original tiled fireplace survives in a first-floor nursery room at the east end of the north range in the east outer wing; the other fireplaces have been blocked or removed. There are later false ceilings above various rooms and corridors throughout, and a lift has been inserted into the north range.

The central double-height hall has a coved ceiling with a decorative multi-arched plaster frieze below, and the room is topped by a queen-post truss roof with clerestorey windows on either side; some of the original glazing has been replaced. In the centre of the east wall is a marble surround with a central decorative ironwork grate in front of a cast-iron radiator. The top of the surround is inscribed ‘LOOK FOR ME IN THE NURSERIES OF HEAVEN’. Above the surround is timber-framed painting, fixed to the wall, of Lady Melchett with a dedication to the former chairwoman below. There is also a wooden plaque on the northern wall which includes another dedication and a central bronze bust of Lord Melchett, designed by Charles Sergeant Jagger (1885-1934) and added in 1932. A former platform at the north end of the hall has been removed and part of the hall has been in-filled by a single-storey set of rooms. The hall is flanked by former ground-floor rooms which are now (2019) consulting rooms; this original room arrangement has seen modification with the removal and replacement of many partitions. At first-floor level the hall roof is flanked by the former babies’ wards, now nursery rooms; they have each lost an internal glazed partition but remain open spaces.

There have been other incremental changes to the original room arrangement. On the ground floor a large proportion of the original room arrangement survives in the north, south, west and east ranges. At first-floor level more original partitions have been removed, particularly in the north range where the first-floor central service area has been largely reconfigured and some of the regular partitions between the former mothers' bedrooms have been removed. The second-floor north range has been completely refurbished in recent years and the original plan has been substantially reconfigured.

Some doorways have also been relocated and added throughout the building and reception desks have been inserted on the ground floor. There also are later false ceilings and fire doors added throughout, and a lift has been inserted into the north range.


In the 1900s there was growing concern about the general health of the population including the mortality rates for infants. In 1906 George Eric Campbell Pritchard (1864-1943) founded the first infant welfare centre in London at the St Marylebone Dispensary. In 1912 the National Association for the Prevention of Infant Mortality was created, and in 1918 the Maternity and Child Welfare Act was passed, forming the foundation of today’s child welfare services, including advising on the provisions of welfare centres and day nurseries. 1920 saw the publication of the Interim Report of the Ministry of Health Consultative Council on Medical and Allied Services, chaired by Lord Dawson of Penn. Their report provided a recommendation to the ‘systematised provision’ of ‘medical and allied services’, including designs by architect CH Biddulph-Pinchard for primary health centres and allied services on three different scales; his designs were all in a neo-Georgian style but were intended for modification in light of local conditions. One of the earliest specialised purpose-built inter-war maternity and infant centres was the former Shoreditch Maternity Child Welfare Centre, later known as the Shoreditch Health Centre, Hackney (1923, Grade II) designed by notable hospital architect FD Smith in a neo-Georgian/ neo-Wrenaissance style.

The Chelsea Health Society (CHS) was founded in 1911. Also known as the Chelsea Health Society and School for Mothers, it worked in cooperation with the public health department to promote maternity and infant welfare. Between 1911 and 1928 the CHS occupied various premises including 1 Manor Street from 1922. In 1926 Violet Mond, Baroness Melchett (1867-1945) became the Society’s chairwoman. In 1928 the CHS recognised the need for purpose-built premises. In 1929 Lady Melchett’s husband, Alfred Moritz Mond, Baron Melchett (1868-1930), donated the site on Flood Street for the use of CHS. That same year designs were approved for a new centre. Lord Melchett also donated the £43,000 construction costs, reported at the time to be ‘the largest benefaction to maternity and child welfare ever made in this country’ (Western Morning News and Mercury, 1 February 1931).The Violet Melchett Centre was built between 1930 and 1931. The centre was designed by FJ Buckland of Buckland and Haywood; the firm's founding partners were W J Haywood (1876-1957) and HT Buckland (1869-1951), the architect's father. Buckland and Haywood also designed Swan Court (unlisted, 1931) to the north which also stands on land formerly owned by Lord Melchett. FJ Buckland, exhibited one of his perspective drawings of the welfare centre at the Royal Academy in 1931 and the design was critiqued by The Architect and Building News as showing ‘distinguished qualities of design. This group has its parts subtly disposed and, although not very large dimensions, give an effect of scale and balance’ (8 May 1931). The Times considered it with the adjacent Swan Court as ‘a fine articulation of massing and so charming in detail’ (7 February 1931).

The centre was designed to combine the work of the Chelsea Health Society with a day nursery and Mothercraft Training Home. The Chelsea Day Nursery was established in 1915 in a building near to the Chelsea Health Society. The design of the Violet Melchett Centre included a purpose-built centre for the sister organisation, providing day care facilities for 50 babies and toddlers of working mothers. The Mothercraft Training Home had facilities including bedrooms and wards for mother and babies with nutrition issues. The centre also included accommodation for seventeen pupil nurses being trained in accordance with the principals evolved by the Mothercraft Training Society (MTS) which was established in 1917; the Mothercraft Training Home was affiliated with the MTS when it opened in 1931.

The centre's opening ceremony was attended by Queen Mary on 26 March 1931 and was widely reported. After the opening, the centre was described as marking 'a new development in the Child Welfare Movement' by locating the three services in one building, and also as having an interior ‘finished with a view of simplicity and cleanliness’ (The Architect and Building News, 27 March 1931). An historic plan of the building shows the original layout of the facilities. The ordinary practice of the welfare centre was conducted in the south range with waiting rooms, offices and pram stores, and in the central range, a waiting hall flanked by consulting, isolation and dressing rooms, and a dispensary. The Mothercraft Training Home included two wards for babies, six bedrooms for nursing mothers, as well as rooms for nurses and matrons, and isolation rooms. The Chelsea Day Nursery included nursery rooms for babies and toddlers which opened onto a two-storey veranda and waiting rooms, staff rooms and caretakers accommodation. The centre of the north wing had kitchen and service facilities on the ground and first floors which were shared by the three units. The second floor contained accommodation for 17 pupil nurses and unmarried mothers working as maids. There were also two playground courtyards and a roof-top terrace.

From 1948 the centre was aided by London County Council. In 1966 a family planning clinic was established. In around 1958 part of the resident toddlers' nursery ceiling collapsed. In 1967 the centre transferred to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Mothercraft Training Home closed; the welfare centre and day nursery continued to operate. The oil-fired boiler was replaced with gas in 1969. The welfare centre, by then a more general medical clinic, passed to the National Health Service (NHS) in 1974. In around 2000 the building was re-roofed. It is understood that the hipped-roof structures were replaced. However, the hipped roofs match the form and size of the original roof profile, as well as using similar covering material. The original chimney stacks were also retained. Other incremental internal modifications, refurbishment schemes, and change of room use were made during the C20 and C21, including the refurbishment of the second-floor north range.

Reasons for Listing

The Violet Melchett Centre, formerly the Violet Melchett Infant Welfare Centre, Chelsea, built 1930-31 to designs by FJ Buckland, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:
* as an inter-war, purpose-built infant welfare centre with the unusual inclusion of a Mothercraft Training Home affiliated with the Mothercraft Training Society and a day nursery, reported at the time of its construction as a new development in the child-welfare movement by being the first to incorporate these separate welfare provisions in one building.

Architectural interest:
* an accomplished exercise in neo-Georgian design, making good use of scale and massing as well as using good-quality materials and careful detailing;

* a well-planned building, utilising a stepped composition to maximises the opportunity for naturally well-lit external and internal spaces, as well as providing each of the three services with a good entrance elevation;

* internally, despite incremental modifications, the building's overall plan and circulation remain legible, and it also retains evidence of the original simple and clean decorative scheme.

Group value:
* it forms a good group with nearby civic and public buildings including Chelsea Town Hall (1906-18, Grade II, 1224630), Old Vestry Hall (1886, Grade II*, 1294164) and Former Public Baths (1900, Grade II, 1080716).

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