Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Pelican House on Peckham Road is a recent development of 80 apartments where a 1930s façade has been retained from the previous factory building and integrated into a modern new build. The developers had planned to demolish the entire 1930s building, but with pressure from the Peckham Society, planning permission was only granted on the proviso the existing façade was saved. The new development, completed in 2008, incorporates a café/art gallery called the Peckham Pelican that in particular shows work by students from the nearby Camberwell College of Arts.
Pelican House and its site have a long history. It’s believed the original Pelican House was built toward the end of the seventeenth century and got its name from models of pelicans that stood on brick pilasters at the entrance gates. A girl’s boarding school was established in the building in the 1820s which had previously been occupied by a gentleman who was active in local affairs by the name of Miles Stringer. By 1881 the school had moved to Grove Park and ten years later was at Cleve Hall in Champion Hill.
Pelican House next became a workshop for the Surrey Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind (which later became the London Association for the Blind and is now known as Action for Blind People). This organisation was founded in 1857 to instruct the blind how to read in their own homes but training was subsequently introduced as a means for the blind to earn their own living. In 1885, twenty-nine men and seven women were employed at the institution based at the workshop, with eight more women employed at home. They worked at making and repairing baskets, making and redressing mattresses, re-caning chairs, domestic woodwork, producing fish and poultry baskets, totalling over 6,800 items, as well as chopping 126,000 bundles of firewood. The workshop was gradually expanded and was rebuilt in 1936 when the existing façade was erected. In 1972 the factory and offices moved to Verney Road in nearby Bermondsey and Pelican House sold in 1976.
For a while, the building was renamed Winnie Mandela House and Southwark Council had offices there. It was eventually sold to the present owners, Amicus Horizon who developed the site to provide shared affordable housing.