D-Day For The Marquis of Lansdowne
In response to the notorious comments by Geffrye Museum Director David Dewing at the recent public meeting to discuss his controversial development plans that include demolishing The Marquis of Lansdowne, Adam Dant has produced this tea-towel “In Celebration of the Culture of the Labouring Classes.” He describes it as “A satire fashioned in the National Trust style, upon our national obsession with class stereotypes, and printed to the highest standards on linen by craftsmen in Bethnal Green.”
Today at 6:30pm, Hackney Council Planning Committee meet to decide the fate of The Marquis of Lansdowne, the Regency era public house which has stood on the corner of Geffrye St since 1838. Despite overwhelming public opposition, including a petition of well over two thousand names, the Geffrye Museum has persisted in its plan financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund to demolish the pub and replace it with a concrete cube. How can it be that a museum which exists to protect our heritage wants to use public funds to destroy an historic building?
Already more than half a million pounds of our money has been spent to arrive at this perverse decision. Museum Director David Dewing is adamant that a modernist concrete box, which will serve as a winter garden extension to his new designer restaurant, is more valuable to the museum than renovating The Marquis of Lansdowne. He has revealed that there was an earlier design, also developed with Heritage Lottery Funding, incorporating the pub – but this was dismissed before the general public were permitted to see it. Once a coherent neighbourhood, Haggerston suffered devastating slum clearance programmes in the post-war era and now, with equal high-handedness, the Geffrye Museum wants to finish the job by demolishing the last old building in Cremer St.
It is obvious to all that The Marquis of Lansdowne presents a wonderful opportunity to include a traditional East End pub within the museum complex and David Chipperfield, the architect under commission, has a distinguished record when it comes to incorporating existing structures into his designs. So why is the Geffrye Museum so stubbornly resistant to this notion?
The answer lies in the first sentence of the museum’s policy as outlined on their website “The Geffrye focuses on the urban living rooms and gardens of the English middle classes.” Established a century ago as a museum of the furniture trade, at the a time when this industry filled the surrounding streets, the Geffrye Museum has evolved in the current policy direction based upon an interpretation of the nature of the collection, which is primarily furniture produced for the middle class market. Yet the assumption that it is appropriate to become a museum of middle class culture is a false one, since a full understanding of the furniture must also take into account those who made it. I would hope that such partial thinking might have had its day and, if you visit a stately home now, you will commonly discover as much emphasis placed on those who worked below stairs as upon the aristocrats who owned the property.
Thus, although deeply disappointing, it comes as no surprise that, as a museum emphatically focused upon the middle classes, the Geffrye finds The Marquis of Lansdowne to be of low historical significance and seeks to demolish it. Their actions and words are of a piece. Yet, in their blinkered vision, they are excluding the story of those who manufactured the furniture in their collection and denying any relationship with the social history of Haggerston. It raises the question whether the current social focus of the museum upon the middle class is acceptable in the East End, the heartland of working class culture.
David Dewing’s avowed concern is to furnish a fancy concrete box as a terrace where visitors to his new restaurant can sip a glass of chardonnay, he shudders at the very thought of restoring an East End pub and serving pints. Yet within a mile of the Geffrye, two old pubs that had almost been given up – The Crown & Shuttle in Shoreditch High St and The Well & Bucket in the Bethnal Green Rd - have reopened within the last month and both met with immediate commercial success. If restored, The Marquis of Lansdowne could provide both an enhancement to the Geffrye Museum and a valuable source of revenue.
To anyone that underestimates the cultural significance of The Marquis of Lansdowne, I refer them to the choice of name – honouring the crucial role that Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice the Third Marquis of Lansdowne played in passing the Reform Act of 1832, an important step towards universal suffrage, and his passionate support for the abolition of slavery. No wonder he was a popular figure to celebrate in the naming of a public house.
So today, on May Day, it is up to the people of the East End, as represented by their elected councillors in Hackney, to make a stand against those who think they know what is best for us. We do not want to see any more old buildings destroyed. We want to preserve the culture of the East End. We want to remember where we came from and respect those who came before us.
The Marquis of Lansdowne in its magnificence.
The Crown & Shuttle in Shoreditch High St has just reopened as a pub after being derelict for years.
The Well & Bucket in Bethnal Green Rd has just reopened as a pub after being used as shops for years.
The Geffrye Museum’s proposal to replace The Marquis of Lansdowne with a concrete cube.
The same view with The Marquis of Lansdowne restored.
The Crown & Shuttle and The Well & Bucket photographs copyright © Alex Pink
Show your support by attending the planning meeting at Hackney Town Hall tonight at 6:30pm
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