Portman Day Nursery, NW8

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The former Portman Day Nursery in Salisbury Street, London, NW8

The centre in Salisbury Street, Marylebone, was opened by Lord Stonehaven on 13 July 1939. Its one of London’s least known art deco buildings. It was constructed for the St Marylebone Health Society.

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The centre as originally built in 1938.

Its not easy to see this is the same building as constructed. Its architectural significance goes unrecognized and few have written about it.

The unique bay windows and portholes are reminders of art deco, sadly recent extensions to the roof mar its original design.

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Today a somewhat more bland, main entrance with mis-matching doors compared to the 1930s.

The structure made extensive use of concrete, a trend seen at many of London’s bus and tube stations of the 1930s.

The architects for the Portman were Stanley Hall Easton & Robertson, responsible for Liberty’s, the Savoy Hotel, Claridge’s, 52/53 Cornhill EC1, Dulwich College, Great Ormond Street Nurses’ House, the Laboratories at New River Head, additions to Sadler’s Wells, the Avenue Close estate and Loughton tube station, one of the few art deco structures not designed by Holden.

Outside London Hall Easton & Robertson’s work featured additions to the Ashmolean museum, Bourneville, and Caius College in Cambridge, as well as the huge British Pavillion for New York’s 1939 World’s Fair.

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News of the centre mentioned in Dr Murrell’s obituary, Dec 1933.

The building itself is a memorial to Dr Christine Mary Murrell (1874-1933.) She ran an Infant Welfare Clinic in Salisbury Street for many years. Dr Murrell was president of the Medical Women’s Federation from 1926-28 and strongly believed in equality. Her book Womanhood and Health (pub 1923) is her own contribution to women’s rights. The Portman Nursery is built on the site of her former clinic and there’s an inscription dedicated to Murrell upon the centre’s Broadley Street frontage.

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The Broadley Street side of the centre commemorating Dr Christine Murrell.

The Portman Day Nursery as described in the Architects’ Journal 10 Nov 1933: “…the large cot balcony on the first floor forms the chief feature of the main front of the building. It is constructed of steel standards with reinforced obscured glass panels. The standards are supported at intervals by steel stays and both are embedded in the concrete curb forming the edge of the balcony. This curb has a teak boarded fascia and the soffit of the balcony is cement rendered. The balcony itself is covered with patent buff-coloured asphalt tiles. A gas-barrell handrail runs the length of the balcony inside the balcony front supported by steel stays, and this helps to prevent anyone from climbing the railings.”

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The building’s unusual brickwork & curved walls.

Many wonder what type of brickwork’s used. Unlike the normally oven fired brick, the centre’s one place to find these rare concrete bricks.

“The exterior is faced in two shades of brown concrete bricks bonded in a special form of Flemish bond.”

Today the building is known as the Portman Early Childhood Centre and is managed by both the City of Westminster and Westminster Primary Care Trust.

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