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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

21 Prescot Street blog

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17/01/2013 15:06:45

Introducing 21 Prescot Street

Thursday, 17 January 2013


Welcome to the 21 Prescot Street blog – a regular update on the building that will become the College’s new headquarters this autumn.


The College has resided at its current HQ, 17 Belgrave Square, since 1974 when the leasehold to the building was purchased for just £725,000. Over the years, the College has expanded its operations so much that we outgrew Belgrave Square – spilling out our exams operations into number 15, and leasing a building in Aldgate to house our Centre for Quality Improvement. With the lease on number 17 due to expire in 2034, last year saw the hunt for new premises begin – with the aim of finding a building large enough to bring all our staff together under one roof.


Prescot Street exterior


After visiting many buildings, College Officers finally alighted on 21 Prescot Street in E1 – a stone’s throw from the city of London.

Boasting an impressive 50,000 sq ft of space spread over six floors, the new building offers all the space we need to provide enhanced facilities for our members, trainees and visitors.


Until the end of 2012, the building was occupied by Santander, one of the world’s largest banks. Walking through the building today, it’s hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago the building was operating as a busy call centre, the floors abuzz with around 600 staff.


There is certainly a lot of work needed to turn this empty shell into a medical royal college fit for the future. That’s why the College is gearing up for an ambitious refurbishment programme, and we’ll use this blog to update you every step of the way.


Much still has to be decided – including the design and layout of a dedicated members’ area and information service on the ground floor. Do let us know if you have any thoughts about what you would like to see in this area – you can share your ideas using the comments form below. 

"A lot of work is needed to turn this empty shell into a medical royal college fit for the future."



21 Prescot Street - ground floor


The 21 Prescot Street site, and the local area, has a fascinating history. Check back soon for our next blog on the history of the road, steeped in tales of taverns and brothels – and a bit of medicine, too...

22/01/2013 14:12:49

The history of Prescot Street

Thursday, 24 January 2013


In the last blog entry, we promised to share with you the history of our new building – which at first glance appears quite short. Built in 1988, the building is only just celebrating its 25th birthday. But delve a little deeper and we uncover a fascinating past that reveals we are certainly not the first medical establishment to occupy the site.


As London’s population grew in the 18th century, the city expanded rapidly. Once known as Great Prescott Street, Prescot Street was one of the first London streets in which the houses were given numbers instead of names.


In 1741, the single house at Number 21 became the site of the 24-bed London Infirmary – later known as the Royal London Hospital. The Infirmary was funded by wealthy businessmen and philanthropists to care for ‘sick and diseased manufacturers, seamen in the merchant service and their wives and families’ from the East End of London.


According to The Royal London Hospital archives, the house was rented fMagdalen Passage as it looks todayor 24 guineas a year. But soon the Infirmary needed to expand and took out leases on another four adjoining houses. By the mid 1740s, the row of five houses was becoming increasingly run-down and in 1757, just 16 years after it arrived, the Infirmary relocated to a new purpose-built hospital in Mount Field, Whitechapel.


New tenants were sought for the Prescot Street site and, in 1758, the Magdalen Hospital for the Reception of Penitent Prostitutes moved in. The hospital took a seven-year lease on the building, pledging ‘to provide for women and girls on the streets a safe, desirable, and happy retreat from their wretched and distressful circumstances'.


A decade later the Magdalen Hospital made plans to move south of the river, and the only reminder of the hospital is the narrow Magdalen Passage which runs down the side of Number 21 (see photo).

"In the 18th century, the Prescot Street area had a shady reputation ... Today, we enjoy the company of altogether more polite neighbours."

Over the years, the houses on the site on 21 Prescot Street received a succession of different occupants, including the National Cigar Makers & Tobacco Workers Union.


In the Blitz, the buildings were badly damaged. They stood derelict until the 1970s, when they were demolished and the current 21 Prescot Street building was erected on the site.


In the 18th century, the Prescot Street area had a shady reputation – notorious for its bawdy brothels and troublesome taverns. Today, we enjoy the company of altogether more polite neighbours. The 5-star Grange Tower Bridge Hotel is directly opposite, while the Premier Inn London City (Tower Hill)  is at Number 24. Just down the road, at Number 9, are based a number of corporate departments of Barts Health NHS Trust.


But don’t despair. For those yearning for a taste of traditional Victorian London, a trip to the historic Princess of Prussia pub at Number 15 may help.

If you would like to post a comment on the Prescot Street blog, please email the Website Manager, who'll be happy to upload it for you.


05/02/2013 16:35:43

Taking a tour of the new building

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


Today, staff from Belgrave Square and from Standon House visited 21 Prescot Street for their first glimpse of the new building.


Our archivist, Francis Maunze, explores the new building

They had a tour of all six floors, taking the opportunity to see how the space is laid out and where they will be working after the renovation work is complete.

Our archivist, Francis Maunze, was delighted to find rows of mobile shelving located in the basement of the building - and a quick test (see left) was enough to show they are in good working order.

Currently, at 17 Belgrave Square, we have very limited storage space - and although a dedicated, climate-controlled archive room was built a few years ago, it is already full.  Francis hopes that these existing mobile shelves can be refurbished to provide improved repository space for our extensive archives and records collection.

Work on the building is progressing apace. We are delighted to be working with Watts Group PLC, who have been engaged by the College to manage the project for us. Richard Love is our Project Manager, ably assisted by James Pilborough. Mechanical and electrical surveys have been conducted, and we are planning to commission consultants to advise us on IT solutions and infrastructures.


A New Building Steering Group has been set up to review and oversee the project's progress. Initial floor plans showing the layout of office space, meeting rooms and member facilities have been drawn up, and will be finalised very shortly.


Staff from the Publications Department try out the second floor for size



Staff try out the second floor for size

Thanks to everyone who got in touch about our last blog on the history of the area. Someone rightly observed that we missed out another aspect of the area's history - the infamous Whitechapel murders. The last of the 11 Whitechapel murders, that of 25-year-old Frances Coles, took place on 13 February 1891 and her body was discovered at Swallow Gardens, a passageway running under a railway arch just behind Prescot Street. Today, the railway arches house rows of garages, while the busy DLR line into nearby Tower Gateway station runs along the top.


If you would like to post a comment on the Prescot Street blog, please email the Website Manager, who'll be happy to upload it for you.
18/02/2013 15:12:14

Plans for the ground floor

Monday, 18 February 2013


Plans for 21 Prescot Street are steadily taking shape. Major surveys and inspections of the building have now been completed, which will give us a clearer idea of what work needs to be carried out during the renovation process. This week, we’ll be going out to tender to some ‘design and build’ firms, to find the company who will turn our many ideas for the new building into reality.


21 Prescot Street ground floor

One of the most important floors will be the ground floor – which at the moment comprises a relatively plain marble-clad entrance hall and one large open-plan space (see left).


 We plan to remodel the hall to create a more welcoming environment, and one that leads into a modern, flexible space for our members and visitors.



Although the floorplans are still under discussion and not yet been finalised, we hope to provide a comfortable lounge and members’ area with tea and coffee facilities. The Library is likely to occupy a large space in the centre of the ground floor, with plenty of seating and workspace. Designing a new library space from scratch is an exciting opportunity and the College’s two Librarians, Beverley Berry and Shaun Kennedy, have been visiting library services in other organisations to pick up ideas.


Beverley says: "In the new building we are planning to have more of a 3D Library, with book promotions on free-standing shelves, arranged by subject or decade.  All College publications will be available for reference, and leaflets and reports will be more accessible. We felt that the Information Centre at the Kings Fund Library was a potential model for our services, and the Heritage Centre at the Royal Society of Medicine is a good model for our Heritage and Archives section. Services at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales were also excellent."

We also hope that the the College’s valuable Antiquarian Collection, which contains over 1,000 rare psychiatric books and dissertations (see below), will benefit from its own dedicated space on the ground floor. At the moment the collection is stored in cupboards in a front room at 17 Belgrave Square, and sadly hidden from public view. In the new building, we aim to have a special exhibition space where we can display items of interest from our archives and Antiquarian Collection for everyone to see.

"We plan to have a special exhibition area at 21 Prescot Street, where we can display items of interest from our Antiquarian Collection of over 1,000 rare psychiatric books and dissertations"


Example of dissertation from Antiquarian Collection


The ground floor is also likely to feature a number of meeting rooms of varying sizes, as well as one large room big enough to accommodate our regular Council Meetings and occasional dining.


Do let us know if you have any thoughts about what you would like to see in the 21 Prescot Street members' and Library area – you can email your ideas to the Website Manager, who will be happy to upload them to this blog.

01/03/2013 14:34:21

Video-conferencing comes to the College

Friday 1 March, 2013


The first phase of the relocation project is now complete. Space plans for all six floors have been finalised, and included in the tender documents that have been sent out to four design and build contactors. The contractors have been given four weeks to respond, after which a final decision will be made.


Members of College Council discussed the building project in detail at their last meeting on Friday 22 February. At this meeting, Council approved the budget for the refurbishment work, which will include installing a new air conditioning system and replacing the existing windows (see picture below), for which we have submitted a planning application.


Out with the old... Council has approved the budget for the refurbishment work, which will include replacing the building's existing windows



Windows on the side of 21 Prescot Street

Members of our IT department, headed by Gordon Malcolm, have been working hard to identify our IT requirements in the new building. We are very pleased to report that 21 Prescot Street will have video conferencing equipment in four meeting rooms,  including the Council Room. The necessary cabling will also be installed in other meeting rooms, which will allow us to extend our video conferencing facilities in the future if needed.


Many members have made requests for video-conferencing facilities over the years, but unfortunately we have not been able to provide these at Belgrave Square or Standon House and have instead relied on telephone conferencing. This really is a very exciting development for the College, and we hope that it will allow many more members to get involved in College activities without the need to travel to our London HQ.


The refurbishment project is currently on schedule, and we are working towards a moving date in the first week of October. Check back soon for further updates.


If you would like to post a comment on the Prescot Street blog, please email the Website Manager, who'll be happy to upload it for you.
14/03/2013 17:30:32

Reflecting on Belgrave Square - our HQ for 39 years

Thursday, 14 March 2013


In our last blog, we reported that we’ve gone out to tender with four design and build contractors. While we are waiting for the next phase to begin, it seems like a good time to pause and think about the building that has been our HQ for the last 39 years – 17 Belgrave Square.


17 Belgrave Square

For those who haven't visited Number 17, it is a stucco-fronted Regency house built in the early 1830s (see left).

The area we know today as Belgravia started being developed by the Grosvenor family in the early 19th century.

Previously, it had been a rural area between Westminster and the village of Knightsbridge, but it soon turned into a high-class residential area.

Today, the building is owned by The Grosvenor Estate, a portfolio of businesses, rural estates and other assets owned by trusts on behalf of the 6th Duke of Westminster and his family.

According to the archives, Number 17 was first tenanted in 1839 by Sir Ralph Howard, a Whig MP for Wicklow. In the 1841 census he was living here with his wife, seven female servants and four male servants. The next tenant was Pandeli Ralli. He too was an MP, a Liberal who represented Bridport and then Wallingford.


The third tenant was Leontine, Lady Sassoon, who lived here from 1929 to 1942, but retained the tenancy until 1955. She is said to have kept an open house for soldiers during the Second World War, and used part of the property as a Red Cross supply depot.  


Number 17 was taken over by the Institute of Metals in 1956, before the College bought the leasehold for £725,000 in 1974. Thus, in the 174 years since it was first occupied, 17 Belgrave Square has only had five different tenants.


Many visitors to the College are impressed by the beautiful period detail of our formal rooms – the Council Room, Library, Members’ Room and Dining Room. These rooms, with their high ceilings, marble fireplaces and elegant wood paneling, were sympathetically refurbished in the late 1990s.


The crowning glory of our entrance hall is a stunning English crystal chandelier, dating back to the 1890s (see photo below). It was donated to the College in 1976 by The Priory Hospital and  Dr Wilfrid Warren, who was Vice President of the College at the time, thanked the Board of Directors for their generosity and kindness.  We are busy thinking about how the chandelier, along with our collection of portraits, paintings, busts and antiques, can be incorporated into the new building.


This beautiful English crystal chandelier, made in the 1890s, currently takes pride of place in the entrance hall of 17 Belgrave Square. A new home will need to be found for it after the move.



With the move to east London later this year, the College is about to start a new chapter in its long history. And so, too, will 17 Belgrave Square, as it prepares to welcome a new tenant.


If you would like to post a comment on the Prescot Street blog, please email the Website Manager, who'll be happy to upload it for you.
25/03/2013 16:03:19

Furniture ideas

Tuesday, 26 March 2013


Last week, our Chief Executive, our Head of Facilities and members of the 21 Prescot Street staff representative committee visited a furniture showroom for a taster of what our new offices might look like. Although we may not be getting the exact items we saw, it was still exciting to see the latest in office solutions.


 Staff try out new office chairs for size

The team particularly enjoyed trying out the office chairs, which are now so ergonomically advanced that a technician is available to make sure each chair is individually adjusted to its new user when it is delivered.

This is particularly important for staff who spend a lot of the day sat at their desks – in the new building we will all be models of good posture!.


The new building will also include small, informal breakout areas, and the possibilities for more casual seating in these areas seem endless. We quickly learnt that looks and comfort do not always go hand-in-hand. For example, something that looked suspiciously like a large grey brick was surprisingly comfortable to sit in. But a stylishly curved and visually very attractive chair forced the user to sprawl backwards in a manner reminiscent of Henry VIII, in his later years, at his most regal.


We also saw some 'pebbles' for informal perching in lime green - pictured below in a more discreet grey.  We weren't sure about these but will keep an open mind , and await the designers' suggestions. And of course all chairs recommended by the office designers will get a thorough testing before the College buys them. 


There are lots of different options for informal seating - including these 'pebbles'



Informal 'pebble' seating

21 Prescot Street, with its large open spaces, will be a very different environment to the smaller, more enclosed office spaces at Belgrave Square. The furniture showroom demonstrated clearly how open spaces can be visually coherent, as well as quiet and comfortable. Working areas can be partitioned by means as simple as having different coloured dividers between desks, or by using different coloured flooring to distinguish between the main thoroughfares and departmental areas.


Ideas gained from the showroom will be fed into the detailed design plans for the new building – which we will share with you when they’re available.


If you would like to post a comment on the Prescot Street blog, please email the Website Manager, who'll be happy to upload it for you.
28/03/2013 12:25:34

Design & build company appointed

Thursday, 28 March 2013


The Project Group met yesterday to review the four tenders received from Design and Build companies towards the refurbishment of 21 Prescot Street. The companies were invited to price discrete parts of the project such as design, demolition, partitioning, audio-visual equipment, as well as come up with ideas for the redesign of the reception area and front of the building. These tenders were scrutinised in great detail by the Project Management company, Watts, and each submission went through a very thorough comparison and analysis.


Prescot Street E1


There were two close contenders, however the Project Group was particularly impressed by the experience, resources and team structure, the proposed methodology and approach to Health and Safety of one organisation, Area Sq.


The Project Group met the team from Area Sq yesterday and they were delighted to take on this major and exciting project. Area Sq’s team will be meeting with our project management team from Watts early next week to start working on plans and planning permission for the project.


The next few weeks will be a busy time for the Project Group, College Officers and for the College members and staff who sit on our consultive groups. Major decisions will need to be made promptly on the design of the building, surface finishes and decorations, including the more major structural and architectural works such as the new windows and reception area.

02/04/2013 14:47:43

Prescot Street - far more important than it looks

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

In our second 21 Prescot Street blog entry, we talked about some of the history of Prescot Street - including the fact that it was one of the first London streets in which the houses were given numbers instead of names.

Over the Easter weekend Neil Balmer, one of the @rcpsych's Twitter followers, sent us a link to this interesting blog post by Mark Pack. Titled 'Prescot Street: far more important than it looks', Mark's blog entry shares some additional information about numbering as well as some nice photographs of the street.

Mark describes Prescot Street as "a fairly bland, unexceptional street", with "plenty of office architecture that could be from just about anywhere in the UK".

Hopefully the Royal College of Psychiatrists will bring a little more character to the neighbourhood when we finish our refurbishment of number 21 and move in to the building in October!

If you would like to post a comment on the Prescot Street blog, please email the Website Manager, who'll be happy to upload it for you.
02/05/2013 08:58:19

Building work begins

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Although we haven’t blogged recently, a huge amount of work has been going on at 21 Prescot Street.

As we reported a few weeks ago, we have appointed Area Sq as our design and build contractors. We invited thirteen companies to tender for the contract and we shortlisted four.  We were very impressed by the enthusiasm and track record of Area Sq, and you can see the kind of work they undertake on the gallery of images on their website.

Area Sq are already on site at Prescot Street – starting two weeks earlier than scheduled. The whole building is now a "hard hat" area and access is under their control. The photo below shows how work is progressing on the fourth floor. Scaffolding is being erected on the outside of the building, which will allow work to begin on the windows and the exterior. 

The building is now a "hard hat" area and work has begun on the fourth floor



Work begins on fourth floor

We are in the midst of a series of intensive meetings with Area Sq while they finalise the designs for the whole building. During this process, the Building Steering Group has met with the Members’ Advisory Group to discuss the ground and first floors, and the Staff Advisory Group to discuss the office accommodation.

It is important that the new building meets our needs, so a detailed audit of our storage needs at both Belgrave Square and Standon House has been carried out by a contractor. The results of this audit will help inform the design and layout of the new building.

We are also very excited to have appointed an art consultant, David Gryn. He will be advising on which works of art already in the College should go to Prescot Street, and whether we need to acquire any new forms of art. 

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About this blog


21 Prescot Street is a regular blog charting the refurbishment of the College's new headquarters, located in London E1, near Tower Hill.

21 Prescot Street


The College bought the freehold of 21 Prescot Street in January 2013, and aims to move in to the building in the autumn.