Open House Festival

The Wash Houses


Wright & Wright Architects, 2002

25 Old Castle Street, E1 7NT

RIBA award-winning building. Part listed frontage with purpose built archive and exhibition building added to the rear in 2002. The building now houses the University's Special Collections & Archives

Getting there


Whitechapel, Liverpool Street, Aldgate, Aldgate East


Liverpool Street


242, 205, 25, 115, 15, 254

Additional travel info

Please note - access on Friday is via the 25 Old Castle Street entrance.





The Wash Houses - located in the Aldgate area of London and designed by architects Wright & Wright - is so-called because it stands on the site of one of London's oldest public washing facilities (opened in 1846). With the aid of Heritage Lottery funding, this RIBA award-winning building was erected between 1999 and 2001 in order to house the collections of The Women's Library, and was formally opened in February 2002. With the transfer of these collections to the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2013, the University moved its Special Collections into the Wash Houses. These include the University Archive, alongside the Library Collections of the Trade Union Congress, the Frederick Parker Collection, and the Archive of the Irish in Britain.

For more information about the history of the Wash Houses, see Survey of London.

The Library Design

The architects appointed were Wright and Wright and they incorporated the façade of the former washhouse into their designs for the Library; a reminder of what life had been like for women in the past. The façade consisted of seven bays with simple rounded windows and was completely without ornament except for the word ‘Wash Houses’ and the date, ‘1846’, over the entrance.

Adjusting their building to the scale of those around it, Wright and Wright opened up the interior to provide an airy space, with access to it at several levels from a series of large rooms set back from the washhouse wall. Control of the internal environment, both from the point of view of privacy and security and from considerations of energy conservation, figured largely throughout the design.

The facilities included an exhibition hall, a seminar room, a reading room (the only symmetrical room in the building), archives, offices, a café, a friends’ room and a garden. The more public rooms are on the lower floors, with privacy and security being more important issues at the higher levels.

The new building has a reinforced concrete frame clad in fair-faced brick and represents an investment in long-life, low maintenance, heavy-weight materials – stone, copper, steel, oak and glass. These materials, together with the form and mass of the building also contribute to environmental control, as do the following. Natural ventilation and daylight are used wherever possible. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is passively reduced. Exhibits are housed in well-sealed cases, so there is no need for mechanically-mediated humidity and air quality control. Reduction in energy consumption is achieved for example in the archives, where a vapour barrier separates them from the rest of the building, representing an energy saving of 80% over more conventional systems of care.

Eight artists were invited to contribute to panels for the staircase, each one representing a well-known woman, however these were not included in the final building.

Current use

The seminar room (formerly centrally placed in the exhibition hall) was removed as part of the preparation for housing the University's Special Collections & Archives and this removal created a large hall which is used for events and houses part of the Frederick Parker Collection.
The Special Collections Reading Room is open by appointment to members of the public wishing to consult any of the collections housed in the building.
The building also contains a suite of offices which house Library Staff engaged in acquisition, cataloguing and digitisation of resources for both the main libraries and the Special Collections.
For more information on the Special Collections please refer to the web page

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