Chippenham College – Why we believe the original building should have been saved from demolition.
22rd March 2018
Plans have been approved to demolish the former Chippenham College in Cocklebury Road. Part of the old college complex is the original Chippenham Secondary and Technical School Building which was constructed in 1900.
We see this as a lost opportunity and another example that Chippenham’s heritage is as much at risk as it was in the 1960’s. Had this been Salisbury or Oxford we are sure efforts to retain it would have been greater.
Many people in the town also feel that buildings with history and character like this should be restored for community use or at least retained within any new development. A good architect with the right remit can do this easily. What is not so easy is persuading the developers or the Council to make the effort, rather than seek short term capital gains.
We all want to see Chippenham prosper and continue to be an attractive place to live. One of the reasons given by developers for building retirement apartments in the town centre is that it is a thriving and attractive town with many local amenities. New buildings should not be at the expense of the very character that makes Chippenham a special place for those who already live here.
As an example of late Victorian design for the state secondary education sector, the original building represents a significant step change in the provision of education facilities in Chippenham at the turn of the 20th Century.
After the Technical Instruction Act of 1889, local authorities were empowered to set up schools to provide instruction in the principles of science and art as applicable to industry and agriculture. By the late 1890s, the growing number of pupils attending the existing school in Chippenham, forced the Rural District Council to construct this purpose built Technical and Secondary School in Cocklebury Lane. The building has fulfilled this function for over a 100 years and its loss would leave a significant gap in the history of Chippenham’s growth.
Plans for the Chippenham District Technical and Secondary School in Cocklebury Road were first submitted to the Rural District Council in 1898 as part of a building design competition.
The project was overseen by Alderman John Coles, a noted local benefactor and townsperson who also provided money for the local park named after him. The chosen design was a scheme submitted by Robert Brinkworth (born 1871), who worked for the Bath architect Thomas Hall Silcock. (Silcock and Reay of Bath). The building was opened in 1900 and the first chair of governors was Alderman John Coles.
Robert Brinkworth was articled to the Bath company of Silcock and Reay, who were responsible for many other churches and local schools in the South West, including Swindon Technical College which has many similar characteristics and has been recently listed and saved from demolition.
Robert Brinkworth commenced his practice in Chippenham in 1896 and completed not only the Chippenham Technical School, but also Secondary Schools in nearby Malmesbury (now demolished) and Devizes (later Devizes Grammar School, now owned by Wiltshire Council).
Its construction was made possible by using both local council money and public subscriptions. (The latter amounted to over £1170 – nearly 25% of the total cost).
At the turn of the 20th Century the Borough Council intended to name and dedicate the school building to the memory of King Alfred the Great who is associated with Chippenham both by residence and by important events in his reign exactly 1000 years previously.
The Chippenham Secondary and Technical School building represents a style of architecture much in favour when secondary technical education was introduced in Chippenham at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Building work began with the laying of the foundation stone on 7 October 1899 by Lady Dickson-Poyner. The building costs were fixed at £3,500 but the total to build and equip the school amounted to over £6000. The school was built of red brick and the roofs were to be covered in green slate. This was later changed in favour of red tiles due to costs. The proposed plans show a rear assembly room but this was never built.
The Building has been boarded up for several years but when fully functional was an attractive and important building and can be seen from the windows of the frequent London to Bristol Trains. It therefore has a significant visual presence for visitors as well as for local people who have been educated there.
This style of public building, built as it is in red brick, is unique in Chippenham where the predominant construction material in older buildings is Bath Stone. It is the oldest building left on the original Chippenham College campus, part of which has recently been redeveloped. It was described in the Chippenham Area Appraisal of 2007 as a ‘building of note’. It is mostly in original condition inside with parquet flooring throughout the classrooms, although it has been deliberately neglected in recent years.
The front windows are large and imposing, letting light flood into the main classrooms. An original arched doorway to the front has been blocked up, but could be reinstated. It has architectural merit in that it is well proportioned and has elements of the then popular Arts and Crafts movement in its design, namely the overhanging eaves, and ventilation louvers on the imposing roof.
It has an additional lean-to extension to the rear of the East side and is attached to large modern extensions to the west and south elevations. These were built in the late 20th century and could be demolished.
Cultural and Community Value
The teaching of practical lessons continued in the building from its early days right through to the 21st Century. The loss of this important building now would remove a central part of Chippenham’s cultural heritage.
The building is included in the Chippenham Conservation Area and is noted in the Conservation Area Appraisal document dated 2007 as one of the few buildings of architectural note in this area of Chippenham; the other main buildings being the 1856 Railway Station, the 1935 Public Telephone Exchange and the art deco Westinghouse building across the railway line.
The present day college continues in a brand new building on the adjacent site, but this original building forms a backdrop to the modern world of education and is a vital part of Chippenham’s social identity. This building should be retained for use and could be converted to become the historical gateway to a new development at the rear of the complex as was achieved when the college extensions were built.
We therefore oppose its demolition and would encourage the owner to incorporate it with a more sympathetic development at the rear of the site.