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Historic Harker’s Painting Studio must be saved!

A Grade II-listed Victorian painting studio in Southwark is threatened by proposals to turn it into luxury flats. Southwark council approved the controversial plans last month, despite the building’s listed status.

Hawker's Studio, interior and exterior

The studios are a rare survival of a theatrical scene-painting workshop – there are only 6 that survive in the whole of London - and is therefore of great historical importance. The approved conversion and second floor extension into 6 luxury apartments and one office unit would severely damage the historical and architectural importance of this historic building.

The painting studio on Queens Row was built by Joseph Harker in 1904, one of the preeminent artists of the Victorian age who made his reputation through his designs for Henry Irving’s productions at the Lyceum Theatre. The name Joseph Harker became internationally renowned through fiction, when his good friend Bram Stoker named a character after him in his novel ‘Dracula’.

The 2-storey studios are open plan in order to accommodate vast theatrical canvases. They were built by Harker to his own unique specifications and remarkably still hold many of the original features. The ground floor is currently occupied by Flints Theatrical Chandlers, keeping in tune with the building’s original intention, and many of the original winches and pulleys remain as well as a patch of wall signed by Harker himself as well as his family and colleagues.

By filling in this large open building with modern accommodation, everything that is unique and historically relevant about this building will be lost. What makes it remarkable is the miraculously conserved interiors which perfectly convey the story of Harker’s work. Everything from the largely glazed roof (suitable illumination was essential for scene painting) to the large moveable frames which supported the suspended canvases, tell us crucial information about theatrical life in the 19th century. Its supreme importance is not initially declared from the outside – you have to venture in to discover its distinctive nature and truly understand its historical importance as one of the last great Victorian painting studios.

James Hughes, Senior Conservation Adviser at the Victorian Society, said, “The studio’s exceptional rarity, its impressive degree of intactness and its historical interest should be enough to protect it from harm. Joseph Harker was a pioneer in 19th century theatre scene design and these studios are a monument to his achievements and must be protected.”

Friday 20 January

More recent item: Historic Bushell’s building set for demolition to save loss of 6 parking spaces
Earlier item: Harris Museum in danger of mutilation

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