The Cleveland Street Workhouse


The Cleveland Street workhouse was originally built in 1775 and it is the best preserved Georgian era workhouse in Central London, one of only three remaining in the Capital.

Had the building not been in use by the NHS until 2006, it would automatically have obtained listing protection. Its London brick structure is original. The H-shaped oldest central building is the core of the original structure that precisely matches the footprint shown on the earliest maps, and of an 1856 description.

The building has witnessed a unique evolution in the medical care of the sick and poor, being a workhouse infirmary for most of its existence, with purpose-built Nightingale wards added a century after its inception. Then, at the end of the workhouse era in the 1920s, it became part of the charitable Middlesex Hospital. State-of-the-art surgical and maternity facilities were housed there between the Wars, and it was an important local facility during the Blitz. Until 2005 the same building served sick Londoners under the National Health Service, as the Middlesex Hospital's Outpatient Department, until the hospital's closure and demolition.

Complete redevelopment of the workhouse site has been proposed. If these plans go ahead, this important historical building will be totally demolished.  A very large-scale private residential development, quite out of character with the street and its historical surroundings, will take its place.

The Cleveland Street Workhouse has survived largely unchanged since the Georgian era. Its austere appearance is a rare testimony to the bleak and utilitarian institution it was designed to be. Its back yard was a graveyard for the poor, full of dead to a depth of at least 20 feet.

Changes made to its internal fabric over time - like safety windows and fire doors, skylights, water closets, and showers - were part of the evolution of hospital architecture over the centuries it has served. The building embodies the evolution of health-care for ordinary Londoners since the days of King George III.

Recent research has revealed that the building was the likely inspiration for Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, since the famous author lived on a few doors away, on the same side of the road, for nearly five years of his young life, before he became famous as 'Boz'.

Dr. Joseph Rogers - the most active and successful reformer of workhouse medicine of the 19th century - was the workhouse medical officer there in the mid-19th century. Charles Dickens was an active supporter, as was Louisa Twining, the famous medical journal The Lancet, and (behind the scenes) Florence Nightingale.

Important architects have been involved in the building's design: the well-known Georgian architect Thomas Hardwick (responsible for the Grade I listed St. Mary The Virgin church in Wanstead among many others) was responsible for two of its wards, while Giles & Gough (who also designed the Grade II listed Langham Hotel) were the architects of the fine pavilion wards now standing at the rear of the building.

Curiously, an initial listing application submitted in 2008 was refused, almost certainly on political grounds, rather than the building’s lack of merit.  The then minister Margaret Hodge rejected English Heritage's recommendation that the building be listed after lobbying by her colleague Frank Dobson.

Virtually every other Georgian property in the country has already been listed, on the basis of the age of the building and the fact that in percentage Georgian properties are rare. Only 2% of English Heritage's recommendations for listing are usually refused at ministerial level.

Justice needs to be done! The planning application for demolition of the workhouse currently being considered by Camden Council, and the application to have it listed by DCMS, so time is really upon us to save this important building, part of the London historic fabric for over 235 years.

Please view our website to find out more about this fascinating piece of London’s history!



The Workhouse is listed!


We applaud the decision of the both the Minister for Heritage and Tourism, John Penrose, and the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, to list the Cleveland Street Workhouse at Grade II, and therefore reverse the decision of the previous government. Their action will ensure this unique heritage asset, one that has served the health care needs of Londoners continuously for over 230 years, is retained for the generations to come. Whilst development may still take place, the building’s special architectural and historic interest must be taken account of in any future plans to alter or redevelop it.