Historic Brickwork Peabody Estate Battersea | Look Up London

History in the Brickwork at the Peabody St John’s Hill Estate

I’ve come to expect that there’s nearly always an historic reason behind things you spot in London.

From street names to sculptures, there’s always a story! Such is the case with this curious brickwork on the Peabody St John’s Hill Estate.

Historic Brickwork Peabody Estate Battersea | Look Up London

On the face of it, quite a boring new build block. However, look up and you’ll spy some amazing artwork hiding within the brickwork

Historic Brickwork Peabody Estate Battersea | Look Up London

The artwork was commissioned by The Peabody Trust, who asked sculptors Rodney Harris and Valda Jackson to create a series of pieces for their new housing estate, known as St John’s Hill.

This Peabody Housing was originally built in the 1930s but is undergoing major restoration

As ever, even with a new build housing block, there’s history to be found.

Royal Masonic Girls School

The current site was once occupied by the Royal Masonic Girls’ School.

Founded by Bartolomeo Ruspini in 1788, an Italian-born Surgeon and Dentist. Ruspini was doing well enough in business and society to be a founder member of a Masonic Lodge and then knighted (gaining the title of Chevalier) in 1789.

Credit – CC BY 4.0 / Wellcome Collection

Originally the school was in Somers Town, today’s St Pancras, and its aim was to educate daughters of Freemasons who couldn’t support their own families. The school today say they have no links with freemasonry.

They moved to Southwark and then in 1853 to Battersea Rise, a location referred to by the school girls as Clapham J and surrounded by fields.

As you can see from the map above, 19th century Battersea and Clapham didn’t stay as leafy for long and soon the school needed to move again. In 1918 the Junior girls left for Surrey and in 1934 the rest went to Rickmansworth where the school is still based.

The piece below, one of four on the estate, is titled simply ‘uniform’ by the artists. It’s a bit too masculine to be a girls’ school uniform so I assume it must be a reference to Peabody residents who left to fight during the Second World War.

Credit: Jackson and Harris via Instagram

With the initial piece I spotted, I had assumed it related to the Royal Masonic School, but Jackson and Harris instead say it reflects the pinafores worn by early 1930s residents of the Peabody Estate.

Historic Brickwork Peabody Estate Battersea | Look Up London

So it looks like I’ll have to return when they’re finished to spy the other artworks!

Also thank you to the lovely Twitter sleuths who helped me uncover this story, you’re the best.

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  • Wendy Johnson


    How interesting. It pays to look up!

    June 8, 2022 at 3:42 pm
  • Myra Fryer


    Hiya Katie
    I so enjoy your blogs. I keep them for Sunday mornings with a cup of tea. Congratulations on the book. Hope you and Bub are safe and well. I don’t know how you get the time but don’t stop!!
    Kind regards
    Myra xx

    June 12, 2022 at 10:53 am

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