14 March 2011

Chief Executive welcomes Grade II London workhouse listing

Welcoming the news of the listing of the former Strand Union workhouse in Cleveland Street today (14 March 2011), Simon Thurley Chief Executive of English Heritage said:

"English Heritage recommended this 18th century workhouse for listing in 2007, but the   government declined to list it.  We believe that the building is a rare and special survival, offering an important insight into London's past and are delighted that the Heritage Minister agrees with us and has listed the building at Grade II.

Much has been made of the building being a literary inspiration for Charles Dickens, in particular for his novel, Oliver Twist.  Certainly we know that the author lived close to the workhouse during an early period of his life and such proximity could have informed his well-known views on the workhouse system. Whether or not a direct connection can ever be established between Dickens' works and the former Strand Union Workhouse, the building remains a reminder of that important part of London's social history.

Above all, today's listing recognises the indisputable association between the former Strand Union Workhouse and a major figure in 19th century workhouse reform, Dr Joseph Rogers, whose direct experience, as Chief Medical Officer, of the appalling conditions there, launched him into the vanguard of reform of healthcare provision for the poor, a significant step towards the socialisation of medical care in Britain.

Built between 1775 and 1778, the building is also one of only three parish workhouses to survive from 18th century London.  Despite being much altered internally, its austere yet imposing exterior is essentially unchanged, and eloquently announces the building's original purpose.

We are confident that an imaginative approach to retention of the building could enhance the redevelopment of the former Middlesex hospital site."