The Goldsmiths’ Centre – Clerkenwell, London
500-year-old property gift pays for Goldsmiths’ Institute
By Gordon Hamme
LONDON, July 2011 – As a result of astute property management 500 years ago, Agas Harding (a widow whose second husband was Robert Harding, a Goldsmith and Alderman of the City of London) left an estate comprising tenements and gardens to the Goldsmiths’ Company by her will of 22 January 1514. The property was situated to the north of Fleet Street between Shoe Lane to the east and Fetter Lane to the west.
Development of the estate by individuals, who purchased leases from the Company, began in earnest in the mid 17th century with the creation of a new road (New Street) from Shoe Lane into the gardens and tenements which made the estate more accessible. As the City expanded westwards before and after the Great Fire of 1666 so these properties grew in popularity for tradesmen supplying retail shops in Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill.
The Harding name proliferated as the network of streets and roads expanded.
In the late 19th century the area was popular with the printing trade, including newspapers and book publishers, and, in the latter half of the 20th century, with the legal profession.
New Street Square has been built on the Agas Harding estate. This new development is located in the heart of Midtown; the site comprises 700,000 sq ft of office, ancillary and retail accommodation in five buildings.
Income from this real estate has provided the £17.5 million now being channeled into the new Goldsmiths’ Centre and Institute opening this autumn
A small group of journalists were invited to see the new Goldsmiths’ Centre under construction in Clerkenwell, London.
What became rapidly obvious was not just the huge amount of effort that had gone into the physical planning of the enterprise but the philosophical input of the luminaries at the Goldsmiths’ Company, in particular Past Prime Warden and silversmith Stuart Devlin and Peter Taylor, the Technical Director.
The Goldsmiths’ Institute will address the perceived problems of a lack of technical and design training for the silversmithing and jewellery industries.
The Centre aims to become a world-class organisation for every aspect of skills training and business development so as to launch the next generation of jewellers and silversmiths onto the world stage.
Established companies coming to the new building sign up to agreements which request that they pass on skills and advice which will benefit the associates and trainees of the Institute, in lieu of rent.
And so the Goldsmiths’ Company are not just developing a working building but planning a complex of business relationships with internal and outside organisations which will be of mutual benefit.
The Goldsmiths’ Centre represents the largest ever-single investment by the Goldsmiths’ Company in support of the craft and industry. With a total capital investment of circa £17.5 million, this project is a marvellous example of an ancient livery company in partnership with the public sector (the London Development Agency which provided the land for the development), and is taking a fundamental interest in not only preserving the past but also investing in the future.
When finished the Centre will comprise a multi-faceted amenity, and will be home to a new training and education facility to be known as the ‘Goldsmiths’ Institute’: this will offer a range of education and training opportunities including a pre-apprentice course for young people who are interested in pursuing a career as a goldsmith, a post-graduate Professional Design Programme concentrating on developing creative design-led goldsmithing businesses, in addition to other specialist training opportunities for the wider industry.
The Centre will also provide workshops, studios, conference, seminar and exhibition space and a café. A regular programme of related specialist exhibitions and events, which will be open to the general public, will run throughout the year.
The purpose-built facility incorporates an existing Victorian grade II listed structure, one of the first London Board Schools built in 1872. Architect John Lyall was challenged to successfully and sympathetically combine a restoration project with a new build of a five-storey adjoining block.
The new building has been designed as a contemporary addition that contrasts the existing listed school building. Clad in stone and patinated brass, with windows that punch out of the façade, it is joined to the restored school via a glazed atrium.
The Centre is scheduled to open in the autumn of 2011 with a fine jewellery mounting workshop, a silversmithing workshop and tool room areas, all housed on the ground floor of the Institute. Also with a prototype workshop and technology area on the first floor, the facilities will be available not only to the Institute’s trainees but also to the Centre’s workshop occupants and others from the wider craft and industry.
The formation of the Goldsmiths’ Centre represents a radical and interventionist approach on behalf of the Goldsmiths’ Company to the issues currently facing education and training in the jewellery and silversmithing industries.
Mr Martin Drury, Chairman of the Trustees of the Goldsmiths’ Centre, said: “There are lots of young people in the country today who would like to embark on careers as jewellers and silversmiths but are finding it increasingly hard to identify suitable avenues of training.
“The Goldsmiths’ Company has more than 700 years of experience of providing vocational training and is responding to the current situation by supplying the Centre which has been specifically designed to provide a unique range of high quality and relevant education and training opportunities to meet the needs of aspiring young craftsmen in the 21st century.”
Over the past six years the Goldsmiths’ Company has been developing plans for a major investment in the future of design, silversmithing and jewellery making.
Since the polytechnics became universities in 1992, the Company has watched with dismay the rapid reduction in the number of courses available to young people wanting to make a career in the precious metal and jewellery sector.
The vocational courses traditionally offered by the polytechnics have closed and no pre-apprenticeship courses in silversmithing and jewellery are now offered in the London metropolitan area.
This is seen as a serious situation for the future of the craft.
There is no shortage of BA (Bachelor of Arts) courses aimed at developing designer-makers who will later work on their own or in small studio-workshops, but there has been a sharp decline in the number of courses for students with the potential to become versatile designers of objects for manufacture on a large scale.
As a result, fewer students trained in creative design are taking up careers in the industrial manufacture of silver and jewellery.
The Goldsmiths’ Institute aims to become a centre of excellence to address these fundamental issues.