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Historical gems that don’t seem to matter so much

07 December, 2018 — By John Gulliver

Stained-glass windows in Maria Fidelis School, seen from inside the library

WITH great fanfare the Town Hall appointed a Heritage Champion responsible for the conservation of old and beautiful buildings
and fittings in the borough.

But a question mark hangs over the demolition of the historic 19th-century Maria Fidelis School in Somers Town.

Beautifully crafted fittings and stained-glass windows in the school library appear to have been thrown into skips.

It is to be hoped that two large, outstanding stained-glass windows may have been saved – but that appears to be due to the love and care shown by teachers and parents at the school who have arranged to keep them until they can be properly restored.

Apparently, they have recently crowdfunded several thousand pounds to pay for the restoration.

But other pieces of Victoriania – statues, tiles and fireplaces – appear to be at risk.

Campaigners believe responsibility for the preservation of the special features in this grand old building lie with Camden Council because it was the Town Hall which “listed” the building.

The library’s exterior

A local listing would not give a building the protective shield of a Historic England listing but once the Town Hall categorise a building as listed does that not make it responsible for it?

And if so, to what extent did the council vigorously oversee the demolition of the building?

The school has been demolished as part of an arrangement with the rail operator HS2 to build a new school in exchange for their use of the site of another wing of the school off Drummond Street, a mile away,

“No attempt was made to salvage important items – and they were seen to be chucked in the skip,” Diana Foster, chairwoman of the Somers Town History Club told me.

“We question what happened to the statue but local residents say the wall on which it hangs went down so it’s presumably gone.”

Veteran ward councillor Roger Robinson told me he is pressing for an investigation into the apparent slipshod way the old school is being demolished amid fears that it has caused “pollution” in the area, possibly involving the removal of asbestos.

Many Somers Town residents cynically believe that whatever their dreams and hopes for the area the powers-that-be ride roughshod over them. And that far too often any attempt to preserve a building such as Maria Fidelis – its history goes back to the early 19th century when French Catholics sought refuge in Somers Town – is ignored by council officials.

They wouldn’t be able to get away with that sort of thing in Hampstead, they ruefully say.

Here is the cry of Somers Towners that goes back to the 1950s – too many of them feel voiceless.

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