ABOUT ROCHELLE

 
 

Established in the late 1990s by James Moores, Rochelle School is a cluster of three Victorian School buildings erected in 1895 in the heart of East London.

Located on Arnold Circus, Rochelle occupies a key position at the heart of the Boundary Estate Conservation area.

The former classrooms, old gymnasium and bicycle shed are now home to a thriving community of artists and creative industries housed and a world-renowned Canteen run by Arnold & Henderson.

 

ROCHELLE HISTORY

 
 

The site which Rochelle now calls home has enjoyed a colourful, and sometimes turbulent history.
From its days on the periphery of the city to being at the heart of a groundbreaking exercise in social development, life in our neighbourhood has never been dull.
Click the links below for more information about our past - and how we now look towards the future with relish.

 
 

Rochelle History

18TH AND 19TH CENTURIES

 
 

One of the capitals’s most notorious slums, the colourful history of The Old Nichol, more or less coterminous with today’s Boundary Estate, reflects in extreme form the changing social scene across Britain over the past two centuries: from gentle rural hamlet hard up against the walls of the City to thriving centre of industry dominated by the silk weavers who had fled Europe. By the eighteenth century, it had also become the rumbustious and over-crowded haunt of rakes, artists and villains. Later still, it was notorious as a den of vice and poverty that so shocked nineteenth century reformers and philanthropists.

The Old Nichol’s reincarnation as a model of social engineering is still visible in the high quality, solid apartment blocks and wide avenues of the Boundary Estate that replaced the twisted streets and foul alleys that had characterised the area.

The Boundary Estate was London’s – maybe Europe’s – first public housing estate, built in the late-nineteenth century on the site of The Old Nichol. It occupies the north-east corner of Tower Hamlets, not far from Old Street Tube station and is a Victorian philanthropists dream, grand in scale and with its red brick mansion blocks still imposing. A far cry from the stinking streets and hovels of London’s East End described by Charles Dickens, or even more graphically, in the barely disguised portrait of the area in Arthur Morrison’s A Child of the Jago of 1896.

The London Count Council approved a scheme to clear and redevelop the area in 1890 and by 1900 the Boundary Estate scheme was completed – now the oldest surviving development of rented housing built by a local authority.

The position and size of Arnold Circus at the heart of the Boundary Estate was determined by the pre-existing school buildings in the area including Rochelle School and Club Row, which both pre-date the Boundary Estate buildings.

Under the supervision of architect Owen Fleming the original design for a series of rectangular plots was re-conceived as a central open area (Arnold Circus, a circular raised garden within a ring road) from which seven tree-lined streets radiate, this seven-pointed design echoed those built in other areas of London such as Seven Dials in Covent Garden.

Planned as free-standing blocks, separated by open spaces for light and fresh air, each building was designed for its situation rather than the architectural uniformity typical of terraces and other existing social housing estates of the time such as the Peabody Trust.

The architectural language of the Arts and Crafts movement was adopted as the common theme and the estate accommodated a live/work community, with small workshops included in the design to promote local business and employment.

EDUCATION FOR ALL

The Elementary Education Act passed in 1870 made it compulsory for all children between the ages of five and twelve years old to be given basic, publicly provided education. Prior to the Act, education had been voluntary and provided on a charitable basis or privately. The Board Schools were to be absolutely free for the poor.

Consequently, boards were set up across the country to provide and run the new schools. In London, it was initially calculated that 100,000 new school places were needed, yet this was a massive underestimate, and by the end of the century half a million school places had been created.
The architect who oversaw this huge building enterprise was E.R. Robson, a student of celebrated architect George Gilbert Scott and undoubtedly influenced by John Ruskin in his passion for high quality craftsmanship in the school buildings.

The two former London Board schoolhouses at the heart of todays Rochelle campus are fine examples of Robson’s early work and stand testament to his passion for artisan craftsmanship.


AN AREA OF REFUGE

London’s East End has, for centuries, been a refuge for those fleeing poverty and persecution at home. French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in the seventeenth century settled in what had once been home to Jews until their expulsion from England in 1290. With their skills as 
Europe’s pre-eminent silk weaves, they brought prosperity and employment to the area and integrated comfortably with the local population. 

The Huguenot heyday is commemorated by the remaining master weavers’ houses in Spitalfields, a stone’s throw from Rochelle. But within a century, the trade had declined and those same grand houses were subdivided into tenements, a pattern that has repeated itself to this day as successive waves of new immigrants and refugees seeking sanctuary from persecution elsewhere, made the area their home.

In the mid-nineteenth century, it was Irish immigration escaping famine; by the end of the century, a new generation of Jews fleeing pogroms in Europe arrived in the area. In the 1930s, it was joined by the last great Jewish exodus, this time fleeing Nazi persecution. Today, the area is home to much of the UK’s Bangladeshi community who have been moving into the area since the 1960s and 1970s.

The local mosque, Jamme Masjid, sums up the changing face of the area: originally founded as a church for the Hugenots, it was later used by Methodists. In the late-nineteenth century, when the area became the centre of the Jewish East End, it was converted into the Machzike Adass, also known as the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. With the dispersal of the Jewish community and the influx of Bengali immigrants, it became the Jamme Masjid or Great London Mosque in 1976. 

 
 

Rochelle History

 

20TH AND 21ST CENTURIES

 
 

HISTORY IN THE MAKING


When squatting in residential buildings was recently criminalised in England and Wales, the many positive aspects of squatting as a social movement were drowned out or ignored. Since the late 1960s, as in previous times, squatting has enabled diverse groups to house themselves.  It has also supplied the opportunity structure for many different projects to come to life.

There are many positive stories from this hidden history of resistance, of which the Boundary Estate around Arnold Circus is one.

In Tower Hamlets in the 1970s, male Bangladeshi immigrants found it hard to get access to Council housing. They were caught in a catch-22: single men were not given housing unless they had a family, but they could not bring their families from Bangladesh to London unless they provided proof of accommodation. Yet there were derelict Council-owned properties everywhere. As a response to this housing situation a squatting movement sprang up in the East End, through which hundreds of families were housed in areas such as Whitechapel and Bethnal Green.

Originally from Liverpool, Terry Fitzpatrick, an anti-racist organizer, set up the Tower Hamlets Squatters Union. Recalling those defining times Fitzpatrick has said “It was 1974-80 that shaped the community the way it is today, without a shadow of a doubt. Had the squatting movement not happened, I don’t know what would have happened. Something would, but it might just have come later.” The area around Brick Lane, for example, would look and feel very different today.

Today the legacy of the East London squatters movement echoes in institutions such as Shelter and the Big Issue, located in the East End, and in vivid, small-scale neighbourhoods saved from Thatcher-era redevelopment.

CULTURAL REGENERATION

In the early noughties, the American urbanist Richard Florida coined the phrase “the Creative Class” to describe the young, trendy and creative who regenerated previously run-down inner city areas.

Shoreditch in the 1990s was a good place for artists and designers to base themselves: centrally located and isolated from the 1980s property boom by its location on the “wrong side” of a major one-way system. In the late 1980s it was characterised by run down buildings – ideal accommodation for artists and fabricators in former warehouses. The potential of the area was recognised as it became increasingly colonised and slowly regenerated by artists.

Owner James Moores bought the Rochelle School buildings in 1999. Friar’s Mount House and Robson House were originally schools and had at one time operated as Russian Brothel, but by 1999 the buildings were derelict. 

As the founder of the Liverpool Biennial of Art in that same year, James Moores encouraged his friends, people like the choreographer Michael Clark, to use the buildings for rehearsal space. Fashion designer Luella Bartley moved in soon after, then Giles Deacon. Rochelle attracted people from fashion, arts and music doing interesting things – and slowly a community emerged.

Art and culture have been the chief catalysts for the economic regeneration, not only of Arnold Circus, but for much of the rest of Shoreditch and the surrounding areas of Spitalfields, Hoxton and Bethnal Green. Today Shoreditch is one of the most sought after areas in the city, with upmarket bars, cafes, galleries, clubs and residential conversions, and high profile residents.

Partly thanks to the success of the artist led regeneration, land values in the area have soared and consequently many of the artists who created the Shoreditch experience have also moved on. Despite many buildings being turned over to loft-style living, Shoreditch manages to remain a vibrant creative hub.

21st CENTURY RESTORATION

In 2014 owner James Moores and architect Laurence Quinn devised a conservation-led scheme for the restoration of a former infants school on the Rochelle site, now known as Robson House, to create workspace for creative businesses and reinvigorate a local icon.

The building opened in July 2016 to new tenants drawn from various creative fields: architecture, digital design, fashion and events.

Restoration of the Robson House building was subject to much local interest. It had become badly deteriorated as a result of long-term neglect and for the building to remain viable long-term, these significant issues had to be addressed. Ideally, any plans to repair and restore a historic structure like the building should balance respect for its architectural heritage with the need to ensure it continues to play a productive role in the local community.

The scheme devised by Quinn Architects and James Moores has not only created exciting new accommodation for a creative community but also safeguarded the future maintenance of the building by dramatically improving rainwater provisions. 

All new internal spaces have been designed with tenants in mind and incorporate over 10-years experience providing an environment in which creativity can thrive.