Here is a statement from David Mayer, emeritus professor of drama at Manchester University, regarding Harkers Studio:
As a theatre historian concerned to preserve the legacy and artefacts of the Victorian stage, I recognise the historic and cultural importance of Joseph Harker’s scenic studio at 39 Queens Row, Walworth. There’s no other surviving building like it, and it must be preserved as a rare national industrial site.
Harker’s 1905 scenic studio, even from the outside, declares its identity: tall doors, so large that they rise for two floors, confirm that gigantic scenic pieces passed from Harker’s workshop onto long-bodied wagons drawn by three in-line teams of horses from narrow Queens Row onto the Walworth Road toward the West End and its leading theatres, Sir Herbert Beerbohm-Tree’s His Majesty’s in the Haymarket, Sir Henry Irving’s Lyceum in Covent Garden.
Inside, the building’s unique purpose is even more apparent: vertically mobile paint-frames which, sinking into and rising from a cleverly-engineered floor-well (which managed to stay dry despite London’s disastrously high water-table), allowed scenic artists to raise and lower flats and drops and to paint the furthest margins of these scenic pieces without having to stand on ladders. Additionally, a large studio floor, illuminated by a vast glass skylight, provided work space for the construction of three-dimensional “built” pieces.
From this nondescript building, Joseph Harker, realising his own designs for stage sets or executing designs by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema for Beerbohm-Tree’s Nero, supplied the West end stage and the UK’s touring theatre companies. Where Harker was once one of a number of noted Victorian scenic artists, the workplaces of the others – the Grieve family, Walter Hann, Hawes Craven – have disappeared. The Harker studio is a unique survivor. Its preservation is in the national interest.
1. To see Harkers Studio retain its purpose as a building serving the production of theatre and creativity, as a modern co-working space suitable for the needs of a 21st century Arts sector, practitioners and the local community.
2. To raise awareness about the pressures and lack of basic affordable space to fulfill our jobs as technical backstage theatre professionals and for freelance artists across the Arts sector.
3. To raise awareness about the general marginalization of the Arts, and the effect it is having across the capital for those who live and/or work frequently within London.
Harkers Studio is a purpose built, Grade II listed Victorian scene painting room which has been situated off the Walworth Road in Southwark for 110 years. It was built by Joseph Harker who made his name producing work for Henry Irving at the Lyceum, and whose name was immortalised in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. You may know the building better as Flints Theatrical Chandlers.
The building is unusual in that, while there used to be a lot of such spaces, very few survive. And, when they do, none of them are still in use as scene painting rooms – apart from Harkers.
The way that these spaces were built means that they provide excellent conditions for large-scale painting: a glazed roof means diffuse light all-year round, and the vast space, designed specifically to accommodate backdrops for major West End theatres, allows flexibility of scale. These kinds of conditions are unrivalled in London.
This unique building is one of a dying breed of scenery painting studios in London, as well as an important part of Southwark’s local history. It is currently home to a local business that serves both the theatrical industry and wider artistic community.
Southwark Council has approved planning permission to develop the building into flats and office space. While we are certainly supportive of forward-thinking change, we believe that the creation of unaffordable flats is detrimental to both the existing Walworth Road community and the heritage of the building itself.
The importance of “retaining some Low Threshold Enterprise Space because it is very difficult to re-provide such spaces…councils are encouraged to explore Article 4 directions to gain exemptions from permitted development change of use to residential.”
...in its report: "Regeneration Guide 2 – Creating Open Workspace.”
We do not believe that this has explored thoroughly in this case. On a broader scale, such proposals are reflective of the marginalisation of the Arts in the capital.
London’s landscape being taken over by luxury accommodation. As a result of this change of use formerly occupied by industrial building/workspaces, we are finding that artists and creative industries in all fields are being marginalized and unwillingly pushed further and further out of the city.
It is vital that we act now.
The great man himself in action
And what potential!
We would like to do this by bringing local and theatrical communities together, providing facilities for artist, makers & designers in backstage theatre and across the creative industries. Creating workshops space and activities for professionals and local groups, continuing the tradition and vitality of theatrical life in this part of the city.
By celebrating, utilising and developing Southwark’s theatrical heritage, we believe that such endeavours enrich the urban fabric, working with the Council’s plans, rather than against them.
Joseph Harker, along with his family and colleagues, signed this wall when the studio opened
What Can You Do?
We are working on this. Unfortunately, since planning permission was granted in December 2016, we are too late to appeal.
Despite the building’s Grade II listing, the ad hoc nature of scenic practise has resulted in very few people knowing about its history and integral role in the development of British theatre, thus the heritage value of this building has been significantly overlooked.
But you can help! Here’s how:
2. Use the building. Save Harkers Studio is running a pilot co-working space scheme for artists to use the unrivalled space on the first floor.
3. Visit the building. Again, Save Harkers Studio welcome visitors, the curious, and the interested!
4. #saveharkersstudio / @saveharkersstudio. Any time you post/tweet/Insta anything to do with scenic artistry, please tag us. The more we can come together as a united industry, the stronger we will be.
5. Like/Follow Us on Facebook here.
If you think you can help further, or if you would like any more info, please contact us: email@example.com
Where are we?
You can catch the 68 or 176 from Waterloo – or the 40, 68, 176 or 468 from Elephant & Castle station - and get off at Westmoreland Road. Or it’s a 15 min walk from Kennington station.
Who Are We?
The Core Team consists of three informed and engaged individuals:
Grit Eckert is a practising scenic artist, Southwark resident and PhD student, researching the historical development of scenic artistic practise.
Louise Calf is a buildings conservationist, actress and step-great-great-great granddaughter of Joseph Harker.
Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey is a practising scenic artist, props-maker and designer, all too aware of the pressures on the profession today.