At 37 Spital Square
Drawing of 37 Spital Sq by Joanna Moore
What could be a better showcase for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings than the fine eighteenth century house they restored in Spital Sq which serves as their headquarters? This magnificent tottering pile is the last surviving Georgian mansion of the entire square once lined with such dwellings, which traced the outline of the former Priory of St Mary Spital that was established in 1187. Indeed, pieces of Medieval stonework from the old Priory buildings are still visible, tucked into the foundations of 37 Spital Sq.
Originally constructed in the seventeen-forties as the home of Peter Ogier, a wealthy Huguenot silk merchant, the house has been through many incarnations both as dwelling and workplace until the Society took it on in a rundown state in 1981 and brought it back to life. As a Society that counted William Morris, John Ruskin, Thomas Hardy, Beatrix Potter, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John Betjeman among its members, the SPAB is irresistible to any writer with a passion for old buildings, and 37 Spital Sq certainly does not disappoint.
Neither museum or showhouse, the building has preserved its shabby charm as a working environment where people sit absorbed at their desks in elegantly proportioned rooms, surrounded by all the clutter of their activities and a few well-chosen paintings and pieces of old furniture. With staircases that seem to ascend forever, plenty of hidden corners and architectural idiosyncrasies, 37 Spital Sq is a house that invites you to ramble around – which is exactly what I did yesterday, matching up pictures in the Society’s archives of the building in 1981 with the same spaces as they are now.
Huguenot silk weaver Peter Ogier is believed to have built 37 Spital Square in the seventeen-forties.
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