I first looked at the at former St Mary’s Teacher Training College in Fenham which closed its doors in 1985 and had been empty for some 6 years, when a client contacted me in 1991 to see if I might come up with any ideas on its future use.
The original Fenham Hall, built by Daniel Garret in 1745 for John Ord an early Mayor of Newcastle with later additions by William Newton was in a derelict condition and suffering seriously from dry rot infestation. Other parts of the former college particularly the Grade 2 Star Listed West Wing built by London Architect, Leonard Forbes in 1903 were also suffering badly, the leadwork having been stolen by vandals with water ruining the original interiors.
My client, Percheron Properties, the property division of Vaux Breweries in Sunderland had acquired the site when they acquired a Nursing Home company but the development they had envisaged wasn’t feasible.
In 1991 there was an upsurge in student numbers coming to Newcastle and when asked what I thought could be done with the buildings I introduced them to Newcastle University, another client, who were desperate at that time for student accommodation to house the growing numbers of students (there were tales – I’m not sure if these were true – of students sleeping in the University corridors).
Following this introduction there followed a £6M (£13M at today’s figures) development over three years that brought the buildings back into use as one of the first student accommodation schemes which have become so commonplace nowadays.
Part of the property was unsuitable for conversion to Student Accommodation and in 1994 The South Annex including the Original Art Room and Refectory was acquired and developed by our Architect’s practice Peter Lambert Associates into Studio Offices.
The setting was unique for our growing practice. Tranquillity had always been an important feature, from the days when this was the garden of the Lord Mayors house, through the period when the nuns were guardians of the many student teachers that passed through the college.
Nothing has changed today, despite being only a few minutes from the centre of town and from the A1 ring Road the only sound is from the birds in the tops of the 250 year old Yew trees which date from the first planting when the Hall was built.
In 1998 a Design company who had been renting part of our offices wanted to take over the whole of the converted space.
We obtained planning permission and listed building consent to build a new self-contained office and the practice moved in in 1999.
The new building was designed with views of the grounds and the Hall in mind using 3D design software.
From the time of the first conversion in 1994 part of the Refectory and the Dormitory rooms above had been leased to Newcastle University as part of the Student Accommodation scheme (A six bedroom flat at first floor and a wardens flat at ground floor). The 23 year lease expired in 2016 which presented some interesting difficulties.
When this space was leased as part of the University Halls of Residence the only access was internal from the adjacent University property. Agreement was reached to close up the interconnecting doors and make the remaining part of the property fully a part of Fenham Hall Studios by forming a new entrance into the South garden area and by building a new stair to the first floor.
Studio I is the last in the list of earlier Studios from Studios A, B, C, – the former offices of the original architects, D, E, F and G (and H) – the new building in the grounds and Finally Studio I .