Saturday, 25 April 2009

Caius House, Battersea - rebirth of a youth club


Back when I lived in North Battersea, I grew a bit curious about an old (and rather run down) church, lost in a tangle of industrial units and luight warehousing in the unfashionable bit of Battersea. As a bit of out-of-place Victoriana it was a bit of an architectural curiosity, that seemed to have survived long after all its neighbours were bombed, demolished or redeveloped between the 1940s and 1980s. Caius House (variously known as Caius House, Caius Mission, Caius House Church and Caius College Mission Church) was on Holman Road in Battersea - and as of January 2009, Caius House is no more.  

Even when I lived there, the rapidly gentrifying nature of North Battersea means that Caius House was increasingly surrounded by new developments of flats and offices, and looking increasingly isolated among the building sites. It was demolished to make way for a new development of 73 one-and-two bed flats, which will incorporate a new and larger mission, still called Caius House, on the ground floor - with flats above (there will be river views from some of the flats). There are details & artists' impressions on the Thornsett Group website here. the last I heard, foundation work was scheduled to start at the end of February 2009.

Much of the original building dated to 1892-3, when Caius House opened as a joint venture between St Mary's Church in Battersea (just up the road in the more fashionable Battersea Square) and Caius College, Cambridge. It remained in the parish of Battersea, St. Mary. The mission seems to have started earlier than the building housing it, in 1882. An extension was built in 1897, and a further extension in 1906 (source: www.churchplansonline.org). There was a newer (1970s?) extension around the entrance area, at the front in the top picture.  


Caius House housed an assortment of clubs and activities, including being the meeting place of the celestial church of christ. People spending Christmas Day alone were usually invited to join in celebrations at Caius House. It briefly hit the news in January 2002 when Patrick Burgess, treasurer, in Battersea, was made a MBE for services to the community, in particular the Caius College Mission.  


There was, and is, almost nothing about Caius House online. Edward Wilson - the artistic scientist who died with Captain Scott - briefly took up residence in the Caius Mission house in Battersea, where he became engaged in youth clubs and Sunday school classes for the children of the Battersea slums. Occasionally, he took services, "talking, praying and singing in a positive reek of 250 Battersea children", who sare reported as suffering from fleas, lice and numerous medical afflictions.


Some insight into the development of Caius House, and associated de velopment by other colleges, is given at www.imperial-london.me.uk:
"The Settlements, as they are called, [are] where educated men and women, putting theory into practice, take up their abode with the poor, striving by force of example to raise the moral tone of the district in which they have settled. [...] The University of Cambridge has taken charge of the vast population on the south of the Thames, as Oxford has done in the East-end. Cambridge House and Hall is their headquarters in a district said to present the largest area of unbroken poverty in any European city; and, as in a semi-circle, South London is apportioned to various colleges; for instance, St. John's works in Walworth; Caius, in Battersea; Clare, in Rotherhithe; Corpus Christi, in Christ Church district, Camberwell; Pembroke, in Newington; and - chief of them all - Trinity, in St. George's Park, Camberwell."
The surroundings can best be described as fairly bleak - featuring a couple of office/retail buildings that didn't really take off and were converted to self storage warehouses, some light industrial units, and a large branch of Travis Perkins. However the area is dominated by a series of 1960s estates and tower blocks. The picture to the right shows the gate to Caius House from the neighbouring park, below is part of the Yelverton Road estate and the view south from Caius House towards the towers of the enormous Winstanley estate.  

There is a fairly large electrical substation to the north, and another one to the east (not pictured) opening onto Lombard Road, built in 2003-4.The building still had most of its original windows towards the end, though some of the panes seem to have fallen out over the years. The general state of repair was fairly good, given that it was in a fairly run down area, though seemed to vary between different bits of the building.



Details of the Historic Building recording and Field Evaluation that was carried out in January 2008 at Caius House (immediately prior to the demolition, by AOC Archaeology Group) are available here. I quote: 

The most impressive feature of the building was a stained glass window located in the western gable on the first floor. It has been identified as a design by Sir Edward Burne-Jones by the Victoria and Albert Museum. Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833 - 1898) was an English artist and designer closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This window commemorates the lives of four young men who died tragically in a drowning accident in Saltdean in August 1912 while the Caius Summer Club was in session at Rottingdean near Brighton. Lady Georgiana Burne-Jones had a home in Rottingdean and, upset by the tragedy, offered to release an Edward Burne-Jones memorial window to the memory of the four boys (Edward Burne-Jones had died in 1898). It is intended that the window will be removed carefully during demolition and reinstated in the new building.

Post Script (2014) - Just when it looked like it was all over, Caius House is back!  In a vast new building, taking the club from a church hall type setup to something that's right up to date.  It's been a long journey (not helped by a global recession and short property crash), but when I cycled oast a few weeks back building work was pretty much complete.   I'm hoping to have a look around, but for the meantime, there's lots more detail here on the clubls website. And here's the artist's impression of the new building (which has taken over the old site as well as the outdoor pitch next door, and added several floors of flats above) - 

Caius House, new edition - image courtesy Caius House

My first photo of Caius House approximately corresponds to the viewpoint from the left hand parked car in the right hand picture above.  What a change...

1 comment:

Tony Sanders said...

Hi, you have a very interesting site here and a nix of information regarding old and more recent Caius House history.
If it's at all possible I'd like to meet with you to discuss this history and see if there is any way we can safeguard the past while building for the future.
I am the CEO of Caius House and as you may know we are about to return to the site, albeit with a much larger, safer and more practical building.
Please email me at tony.sanders@caiushouse.org
Very many thanks, Tony

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