A new museum focused on drawing and illustrations has received a grant to convert some derelict industrial buildings in Clerkenwell into its new home.

New River Head buildings (c) ianVisits

The 300-year-old former waterworks in Clerkenwell was mainly a pumping site for sending clean water into London and was also one of London’s first major pieces of urban infrastructure. However, its 18th—and 19th-century buildings have been locked up and left empty for over 70 years.

The Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, formerly the House of Illustration in King’s Cross, acquired the site in 2019 with the expectation of opening the museum in 2022. However, the pandemic and construction cost inflation delayed the work while they completed the £12.5 million fundraising needed to open the museum.

Now, work can get started as the project has been awarded £3.75 million by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. On top of previous fundraising, the new grant will allow building work to start later this year.

Once completed, the heritage site will be opened up as a permanent public space, offering new galleries, learning areas and gardens. When it opens, there will be four galleries, a project base, a learning studio, gardens and play space, a café and a shop.

Illustrator impression of the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration (c) Nora Walter

Made possible by National Lottery players, philanthropists, charitable foundations and local partners, the project realises Quentin Blake’s long-held vision for a permanent national centre for illustration: exploring the heritage of art that is used every day, all over the world to tell stories, capture discoveries, inform and persuade.

The project will also secure a permanent home for Blake’s archive of over 40,000 works created over the past seven decades.

For the museum, Tim Ronald Architects, a Clerkenwell-based practice that has won awards for projects including Wilton’s Music Hall, Ironmonger Row Baths, The Landmark Ilfracombe, and Hackney Empire, is leading the conversion of the buildings.

In the meantime, the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration has been working with illustrators, researchers and community groups to explore New River Head’s history before opening. Installations and information panels around the Centre will use illustrations to tell the stories of New River Head and its connections to more than 400 years of urban development and social change.

(c) ianVisits

The museum has raised £11.5 million so far, but still needs a final £1 million to complete the project.

Lindsey Glen, Director of Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, said: “We’re overjoyed to be bringing the national centre for illustration to Clerkenwell, restoring and opening up hidden heritage with help from The Heritage Fund. The Quentin Blake Centre will breathe new life into New River Head’s atmospheric engine house, windmill base and stores, offering exhibitions, creative projects, gardens and play. It will be a welcoming, vibrant place where everyone’s stories and ideas matter, and every visitor leaves looking differently at the world around them.”

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