Save The Marquis Of Lansdowne
Tim Whittaker, Director of the Spitalfields Trust on the threshold of The Marquis of Lansdowne
Since 1839, The Marquis of Lansdowne has stood on a quiet corner in Hoxton round the back of the Geffrye Almshouses (which became the Geffrye Museum in 1914) and it is not unlikely that a few pensioners from the almshouses might have frequented the Marquis on occasion.
It is a quintessential London public house and, as in so many East End streets, forms the lynchpin of the neighbourhood. Historically, pubs stood as a counterpoint to the church – offering temples where men sought solace from the pressure of their working and domestic lives. Yet in recent years hundreds have gone, taking away community meeting places and impoverishing social life.
The Marquis of Lansdowne closed in 2000 and now belongs to the Geffrye Museum which describes itself as “the museum of the home.” Disappointingly, the Museum wants to demolish the pub and clear the site for a new building by architect David Chipperfield. They are passing over the opportunity to restore this dignified Regency building and include it as part of the museum, enriching their collection and broadening the story they tell of the lives of working people by showing “the home from home.” According to the Museum’s current plans, The Marquis of Lansdowne and the history it represents are destined to be erased, giving way to pavement widening and a plant room for the new structure.
In November, Tim Whittaker, Director of the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust (who won the Country Life Restoration of the Century Award for his outstanding work in renovating two modest early nineteenth century terraces in Whitechapel) wrote to the Geffrye Museum asking them not to demolish The Marquis of Lansdowne, and offering to take on the pub and restore it to its former glory. The Spitalfields Trust proposal included the option to work in partnership with the Museum or to buy The Marquis of Lansdowne, renovate it and lease it to a tenant. Since the Geffrye’s Museum’s projected edifice on this site is to include a bar and restaurant, you might hope that an architect could embrace the opportunity to make The Marquis of Landowne the starting point for the design of the new structure, finding a sensitive and ingenious way to connect the pub with the existing Museum buildings.
Yet the Geffrye Museum rejected the option of retaining The Marquis of Landowne, pursuing instead the notion of another signature building by a star architect to add to the one they opened in 1998. However, the application for £16.3 million funding for the new building has yet to be approved by the Heritage Lottery Fund and maybe questions will be raised about the validity of using Heritage Lottery money to destroy our heritage? Equally, Hackney Council Planning Department has not yet given its consent to the demolition of The Marquis of Lansdowne which they have identified as a “heritage asset” within a Conservation Area.
The Geffrye Almshouses were originally built by the Ironmongers’ Company in 1714 and the Museum itself was created as a result of a public petition when these historic buildings were threatened with demolition after the Ironmongers moved their almshouses to Kent one hundred years ago. In their enlightenment, the London County Council responded to the petition by creating the Geffrye Museum dedicated to the history of the furniture industry that thrived in Hoxton and Shoreditch at the time.
A century later, there is a new public petition addressed to the Geffrye Museum itself – asking them to grant a reprieve to The Marquis of Lansdowne, showing respect for the culture of the working people of London by integrating it into the museum, and thereby acknowledging the significance of the public house in all our histories.
I urge you to spread the word to your friends and family throughout the festive period.
The Marquis of Lansdowne on the corner of Cremer St & Geffrye St
A local landmark in Hoxton since 1839.
Sketch by Tim Whittaker of The Spitalfields Trust illustrating his proposal to renovate the Marquis of Lansdowne.
The concrete box on the right is the proposed replacement for The Marquis of Lansdowne.
Colour photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien
Black & white photographs show former London pub interiors
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