The Thomas Simpson Plaque
IMAGE CREDIT: Brighton Bits
SIMPSON SCHOOL BUILDINGS
All but one of the Victorian former board school buildings still standing in Brighton and Hove were designed by Thomas Simpson (1825-1908). Most remain in educational use, with three converted to flats. Six are Grade II listed and a handful of others, although lacking statutory protection, are considered local heritage assets and so, with luck, will be safe for the time being.
Unfortunately, many of Simpson’s school buildings have gone, as have all his churches, and all but one of his chapels, whilst some schools are threatened with demolition in the near future.
The Brighton Society stepped in six years ago to save the Connaught Centre in Connaught Road, Hove, originally designed by Simpson as the Connaught Road Board Schools (1884). As a result of research carried out by Brighton Society trustee, Ninka Willcock, the school was awarded Grade II listing in 2009, the building was then refurbished, reopening in 2011 as the Connaught annexe of West Hove Infant School. Adam Trimingham mentions in his article in the Argus of 21.1.15 that West Hove Junior School had grown so big that it is using the former Connaught Road school. Had the Brighton Society not stepped in to get the building listed it would not be in use as a school today.
The Brighton Society, with the City’s Commemorative Blue Plaques Panel, have commissioned a blue plaque dedicated to Simpson to be afixed to the Connaught School. Funding for the plaque has been provided by the Simpson family, trustees of the Brighton Society, the Regency Society, Hove Civic Society and the Brighton & Hove Heritage Commission. The plaque has now been erected.
All but one of the Victorian former board school buildings still standing in Brighton and Hove were designed Thomas Simpson (1825-1908). Most remain in educational use, with three converted to apartments. Six are Grade II listed and a handful of others, although lacking statutory protection, are considered local heritage assets and so, with luck, are safe for the time being.
Ninka Willcock has traced living descendants of the Simpson family, Elsa and Melanie Simpson, who took part in the unveiling. Elsa married into the Simpson family and Melanie, her daughter, is the great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Simpson and, also, the great-granddaughter of Sir John William Simpson, who worked with his father on Elm Grove and Stanford Road schools in Brighton before going on to design Roedean School and many other prestigious public buildings throughout the country.
The Brighton Society has long considered that the life and work of architect Thomas Simpson, 1825 – 1908, deserves permanent recognition in the City. From 1856 to his death in 1908 he had a prolific and successful career in Brighton and Hove and his work is surely as important and representative of the Victorian era as that of Wilds and Busby of the Regency.
Thomas Simpson was first articled to his uncle James Charnock Simpson in Brighton. This was followed by a period with the ecclesiastical architect Joseph Butler of Chichester, and then an appointment as Principal Assistant to the great architect of Gothic Revival, William Butterfield, in London. In 1856 Simpson went into practice in Brighton in succession to his uncle and much of his early work in the town focussed on dissenting chapels and churches. His Belgrave Street Chapel and School still stands and is listed, although converted into flats.
Like his contemporary, the famous London Board School architect E.R.Robson, Simpson studied in Germany, then considered at the cutting edge in its provision for mass education in the late 19th century. In 1871 he was appointed Surveyor and Architect to the newly formed Brighton and Preston School Board in which post he remained for over 35 years. He designed in the course of that career, all but one (Richmond Street) of Brighton’s Board Schools and many others in Hove, Portslade and Seaford.
He played no small part in the material shaping of Brighton and his knowledge of its history and value was probably unique. His Board Schools brought major changes to the education of 19th century children. And not only were his school buildings highly esteemed at the time, but a century later the they continue to play an essential part in the life of the city which is a testament to their design and quality of their construction.
To commemorate this remarkable career the Brighton Society proposed to the City’s Commemorative Plaque Panel that a plaque be placed on the western façade of the Connaught Road School and it is now in place. This is a conspicuous position and the Connaught Road School is felt to be particularly appropriate as the last of the Simpson schools to be listed as a result of the Brighton Society’s campaign, and an outstanding example of his Queen Anne revival style.
A SELECTION OF SIGNIFICANT BUILDINGS IN BRIGHTON AND HOVE DESIGNED BY THOMAS SIMPSON
Belgrave Street Congregational Chapel and school (1862)
Preston Road Board Schools (1880). Now part of City College. Sadly City College has now put this up for sale. The gables look so good as you walk down Springfield Road. The Brighton Society fears that it may well be demolished to provide more flats on the site, though some would be very close to the viaduct.
Finsbury Road Board Schools (1881). Now flats
York Place Higher Grade Schools (1884). Now part of City College and threatened with demolition.
Connaught Road Board Schools (1884). Now part of West Hove Infant School.
Central National Infants’ School, Upper Gardner Street (1887). Now flats.
Ditchling Road Board Schools (1890). Now Downs Junior School.
Elm Grove Board Schools (1893)
Stanford Road Board Schools (1894)
School for Afflicted Children and Cookery School (1898). Now part of City College and threatened with demolition..
St Luke’s Board Schools (1903)