Irony, glorious irony: Workhouse that inspired Oliver Twist to be converted into luxury flats
- Credit: workhouses.org.uk
After reviewing the situation, Camden Council gives green light to luxury development on the site of former poor house.
Planning permission has been granted by Camden Council to convert the disused Middlesex Hospital Annex in Fitzrovia into luxury apartments. The was flooded with angry responses from locals, heritage conservationists and literary fans alike when the application was lodged in January. The building, disused since 2006, was once home to the Strand Union Workhouse, said to be the inspiration behind Charles Dickens’ 1837-9 serialised novel, Oliver Twist.
Commissioned by the University College London Hospitals (UCLH) Charity, the plans were approved on 6th July and are yet to be listed on the council’s website. Over 150 letters were reported to have been received in rejection of the plans, with consideration given to the literary heritage of the site and to the preservation of the historic Nightingale Ward, named after Florence Nightingale.
The planning application and listed building consent, both dated 25th January of this year, asked for approval for a mixed use development, including 12 residential units and the demolition of some of the 18th and 19th century parts of the building to make way for an eight storey building comprising 4,535sqm of commercial floor space and 38 further units. The proposals make no mention of the paupers’ graveyard but do mention ‘landscaping works’.
In a letter (now redacted) to the council Mr Dickens’ great-great-great-granddaughter, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley wrote with dismay that another application had been lodged, despite an earlier rejection in 2010.
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She wrote that: “The site is an essential part of London’s social and literary history. Our city is overrun with apartment blocks full of flats no Londoners can afford to buy (despite all the promises of “affordable housing”…)”.
Indeed, the Evening Standard reports that the new development will include a so-called ‘poor door’ for the minimal ‘affordable’ homes included in the new project in the new part of the development.
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It reported that profits will be recycled into the NHS and that affordable homes will be marketed to NHS workers. UCLH Charity argues that the long term protection of the disused site relies on its development in an attempt to take it off the Heritage at Risk Register.
The building has stood on the site since 1776, where it operated as a workhouse from 1778. Charles Dickens lived at 22 Cleveland Street just moments from the workhouse between 1815 and 1816, and then again between 1828 and 1831.
The street was also famed for the Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889 where young boys were prostituted to elite gentlemen, and is said to have played a role in the Jack the Ripper murders.
Workhouses came about as a result of the 1834 New Poor Law which shifted the emphasis of the poor laws from handouts to deterrence, and established the terror of the workhouse as the last possible refuge of the destitute.
Earmarked as an area of special architectural and historical interest, the Grade II listed status of the former Strand Union workhouse means that the façade will likely have to be maintained.
It seems that to the planning committee that in this life, one thing counts: in the bank, large amounts. With price tags in W1T averaging out at £1,758,952 (a three bedroom flat on Cleveland Street is currently on the market with Hamptons International for £2,150,000) it seems that the homes will be unaffordable for most. Well, you’d better pick a pocket or two.