Inside Playfair

Sometimes you get access to places you’d never get access to, without of course “discovering” them by hiking a fence or breaking in. Some people make it their hobby to find places that have fallen in to silent disrepair, forgotten to the annals of history with things left abandoned in situ. Anyway, this is not one of those times, instead I was inside on “official business” as the building sits mid-way through being transformed into ultra-luxury accommodation.

Donaldson’s College has an interesting history. Built in 1850 by philanthropist Sir James Donaldson, it was originally opened as a school and offered bursaries for poor children; a benefaction that there must be 200 boys and 200 girls and deaf children catered for. By 1938 all pupils were exclusively deaf and the same year the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Dumb merged with Donaldson’s Playfair. However in 2003 the Donaldson family concluded it wasn’t able to continue the pursuit of helping deaf and dumb children, it was too expensive. They decided to open the college up for sale and was bought over by a luxury development firm to transform the college and the land behind the college, into extremely expensive residences.

One of the more interesting historical moments was during the Second World War. Donaldson’s was home to German and Italian prisoners of war, and indeed inscriptions, graffiti and ephemera was found in the upper levels. It certainly was pretty unsettling as I walked around there today, in a strange way as there was lots of stuff going on with work continuing on the development. Every now and again a hi-vis jacket would flash past a doorway or a noise in the far distant corridor would remind you of how vast, old and eerie this place is.

A really interesting building and one that, upon completion, I probably won’t ever be in again. They’re retaining a lot of the period features, reusing a lot of the wall panelling and highlighting the architectural features, which is nice. The placement in our Capital is second to none and I’d love to own one of the flats, but at a starting price of roughly £250k for what amounts to a cupboard in modern standards of living, I doubt it would be a worthwhile investment…maybe better served as a weekend city retreat or a launchpad for the kids! Maybe not.