The Seven Ages of Waterlow Hall
As work gets underway to transform the Waterlow Hall, our archivist takes a look back at the history of the site and the buildings that went before.
The Waterlow Hall – from 1876 to 2019
South Hampstead High School opened in 1876 on a site in Winchester Road. As the school grew there was a severe shortage of space so, in 1882, the present site in Maresfield Gardens was acquired. Shortage of space was still a problem on this cramped site, but nothing was done to extend the school until 1926. Next to the main building were some courts used for the game of Fives, a game played across the Girls’ Day School Trust schools at this time.
The school was fortunate to acquire the next door house in 1921 which was the home of the artist, Sir Ernest Waterlow. His granddaughters later attended the school. He was an important local figure, giving his name not only to the new acquisition, but also to Waterlow house and Waterlow park in nearby Highgate. This new building now became the Junior School which had until then had to use the main building. His artist’s studio was used by the seniors as well as an Assembly Hall for the juniors.
In 1926, to celebrate the first 50 years of the school, a new wing was added to the Main Building, thus becoming very close to Waterlow Hall. This wing was used for the Gymnasium, the Library, geography rooms and chemistry labs.
So from 1921 to 1957, Waterlow was used as a Junior School. By 1957, there were 500 pupils at the school, and at last, the school was able to acquire 12 Netherhall Gardens so that the Junior School could have premises of its own. The seniors, particularly the Sixth Form, now had full use of Waterlow, and the artist’s studio was once more solely used for Art.
In 1971, the science block was erected opposite Waterlow, and some porta cabins were acquired at the far end of the playground for music and some sixth form lessons.
The limitations of Sir Ernest Waterlow’s original house soon became apparent. Once again, money was raised from the GDST trust and also from generous parents and alumni. In 1986, the original Waterlow House was pulled down and the present building was erected during the Headship of Averil Burgess. With the purchase of Martin’s Garage next door and after a struggle with Camden Council, it was finally finished in 1988 when it was opened by the Duchess of Gloucester.
A new dining room and kitchens were built in the basement, and on the ground floor, a huge new assembly hall was created. This would be used not only for assemblies, but also as a Gym and for musical performances and for school examinations. A small theatre was later put into the basement. Classrooms and an Art Studio were built on the floors above, and were used mainly for Modern languages, Art and Geography. In 1991, the school acquired Oakwood for a new Sixth Form Centre, and later, Oakwood was joined to Waterlow by new corridors and staircases.
In 2010 the school embarked on a huge building programme of the main school. A sports hall was constructed in the basement of the new main building and plans were drawn up to transform the existing Waterlow Hall into a new assembly and performance space. With the completion and opening of the new Senior School building in 2014, the school embarked on a fundraising campaign to fund the development work on the existing Waterlow Hall but the plans were put on hold during the leadership changes that occurred over the next four years.
When Vicky Bingham took over as the new Head, the plans for the hall were reviewed and revised and planning permission was secured. A major fundraising campaign is currently underway to secure the £3 million needed for the project and work started on the transformation over the summer.