Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We use cookies to personalise your experience; learn more in our Privacy and Cookie Policy. You can opt out of some cookies by adjusting your browser settings; see the cookie policy for details. By using this site, you agree to our use of cookies.

Sandy Wilson’s 1980s Essex school library listed

  • 1 Comment

Ministers have granted heritage protection to a 1980s school library in Essex designed by the architect behind the British Library

Colin St John Wilson’s modernist Bishop Wilson Memorial Library in Chelmsford received Grade II-listed status from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Circular in plan, the Essex building forms part of the Bishops’ Church of England and Roman Catholic Primary School. It represents a memorial to Henry Wilson, the architect’s father and Bishop of Chelmsford for more than two decades (1929-1950).

Bishop Wilson Memorial Library was built between 1983 and 1986 and constructed concurrently with the more illustrious British Library in central London, which ‘Sandy’ Wilson designed with MJ Long (sketch below).

However, the London landmark, which houses 170 million items from every age of written civilisation, did not complete until 1998.

Recommending the Chelmsford building for listed status, Historic England praised the library’s ‘accessible modernist design’.

The heritage body added that the library’s red brick exterior hid a ‘remarkably vibrant and colourful interior’ that ‘survives in its original form including fixtures and fittings’.

‘Internally, the library’s constellation-pierced canopy provides a Soane-ian lighting effect, spilling daylight from the cylindrical lantern above onto the reading desks,’ according to the official list entry for the project.

‘Just as Wilson’s aim at the British Library was to create a pleasurable reading environment in a building that fitted sensitively into its context, at a completely different scale he intended his peaceful memorial library to inspire the primary school pupils while meeting their practical needs in a busy school environment,’ it added.

‘In this sense the memorial library exemplifies Wilson’s alternative modernism […] and is one of a number of library designs in which Wilson and his partner Mary Jane Long came to specialise.’

Historic England regional director Tony Calladine said: ‘The Bishop Wilson Memorial Library has inspired children for over 30 years with its vibrant and exciting learning space. Listing the library celebrates its importance to the story of Chelmsford and ensures that it is enjoyed by generations to come.’ 

British Library Colin St John Wilson  2

British Library Colin St John Wilson 2

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Compare this with the University of Durham's unfortunate request for a certificate of immunity from listing to facilitate the flattening of ACP's inspirational modernist 'brutalist' but human scale 1960's student union building (Dunelm House) spectacularly sited adjoining Ove Arup's superb grade 1 listed Kingsgate footbridge across the Wear to the cathedral precinct on the promontory formed by the bend of the river.
    Immunity was duly granted in 2016 and the following year the Culture Secretary of the time reiterated her decision that the building 'does not possess special architectural interest' and that it was 'not stylistically or structurally innovative' - thereby demonstrating her limited grip on the notion of 'culture'.
    Arups were the structural engineer for Dunelm House, but although the architects were less famous this shouldn't count against listing if the pros and cons were to be fairly and intelligently evaluated - as has surely been achieved in the case of Sandy Wilson's little library.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.