Oppidan Apartments

Oppidan Apartments brochure, West Hampstead
Oppidan Apartments, West Hampstead
Oppidan Apartments, West Hampstead

We know Oppidan Apartments

Over the past couple of decades, London has seen a huge number of glorious ‘reinventions’ of old buildings – imaginative, stylish, stunning conversions of factories, schools, chapels, warehouses that have helped increase the richness and diversity of the capital’s housing stock.

Oppidan Apartments is probably one of the finest examples of the trend, creating something dramatic and new but still preserving the essence of what it used to be. It started life as a school in 1881, the original plaques on the wall declaring its origins: the ‘School Board for London’ and ‘Netherwood Street School’.

As soon as it opened, it was full. Were the children – the 300 boys, 300 girls and 400 infants – drawn in by the marketing spiel of the day? For the school was described as a ‘three storey palace’ and ‘a place of moral and cheerful training and of enjoyment’. We’d all have liked a school like that one! Interestingly, it later became known for its evening classes and cookery centre, so maybe this was one place that really did live up to its billing.

In the early 20th century, when it was owned by the London County Council (LCC), the school was known as the ‘The Public Elementary School’, and had places for 1,455 children. In 1931 the school became the Harben Secondary School for Boys and was later known variously as Harben Senior School, Harben LLC, Harben Secondary School, and Harben Comprehensive School. When the children from this school later formed the nucleus of Hampstead Comprehensive, the building that became Oppidan Apartments was used as an annexe to St George’s Roman Catholic Comprehensive Lower.

For over a century, this was a place of teaching, learning, tests and exams, jokes and play, friendships and fights, thousands of hearts, hands and feet leaving a little bit of themselves on the fabric of every wall, in every room.

In 1989 the school, in need of renovation, was transferred from the Inner London Education Authority to Westminster Council. In 1995 it was ultimately declared surplus to requirements.Before any decision could be taken on its future, it was damaged by fire in an arson attack, and Westminster subsequently sold the site on the open market. At the time a youth club was using the ground floor of the school four days a week but otherwise the building was empty.

In 1996 the building was bought by Safeland PLC with the object of converting it into a block of private luxury flats, together with a community hall to replace the youth club. After extensive negotiations with the planning authority, Metropolis London Limited (Metropolitan Development) acquired the property in 1998. Conditional planning permission was granted in 1999 for 31 residential flats and 31 parking spaces but only on the agreement that the developer pay £150,000 for affordable housing on another site and £150,000 for a community hall – or use this sum to improve local community facilities.

So while the conversion of the school into Oppidan Apartments meant an end to the site’s educational ties, it still left a legacy for the area’s children.

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