It’s breathing, I murmur, as I try to express the sense of oneness with atmosphere and place that seems almost to animate the ship-long building opposite me. It’s a school, set up in 1884 as a blue plaque tells us, and the faded stonework inscription over the entrance suggests a community of classrooms for widely different ages, Connaught Road Council Schools. Such is the size of the whole one imagines the entire age-range at the time pouring in, pouring out. Now it doubles as an infants’ school and adult education centre, only the first in action at the present time and that only partially. How good it will be to see the school-going generation out on its daily ways again, once the blight in the air is seen off!
But as one looks at the calm and capable façade opposite, it’s hard to believe the good old norms won’t re-assert themselves soon. With a pink restored-stone motif offsetting the brickwork and lightly containing the long narrow windows, it’s at once authoritative and welcoming; formal but with a hint of warmth; anything but severe. It settles into the surround – and how much that must have changed over the time – with a quite wonderful composure. The blue plaque commemorates the architect, one Thomas Simpson, who seems to have combined something of the imposing Queen Anne style with a utilitarian outlook, so that all has its place. A quiet and unobtrusive harmony is at one with the road.
With the changing weather and light it constantly takes one by surprise, especially for me when the sunlight suddenly illuminates the brickwork. In these strange times I’ve found it a symbol of reassurance and hope, of life that will soon return in a good air, when we are more at ease again. Perhaps far and wide, when we can breathe more freely, we can be a little more on good terms with the environment, as this old building seems to be now.