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At 37 Spital Square

May 15, 2013
by the gentle author

Drawing of 37 Spital Sq by Joanna Moore

What could be a better showcase for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings than the fine eighteenth century house they restored in Spital Sq which serves as their headquarters?  This magnificent tottering pile is the last surviving Georgian mansion of the entire square once lined with such dwellings, which traced the outline of the former Priory of St Mary Spital that was established in 1187. Indeed, pieces of Medieval stonework from the old Priory buildings are still visible, tucked into the foundations of 37 Spital Sq.

Originally constructed in the seventeen-forties as the home of Peter Ogier, a wealthy Huguenot silk merchant, the house has been through many incarnations both as dwelling and workplace until the Society took it on in a rundown state in 1981 and brought it back to life. As a Society that counted William Morris, John Ruskin, Thomas Hardy, Beatrix Potter, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John Betjeman among its members, the SPAB is irresistible to any writer with a passion for old buildings, and 37 Spital Sq certainly does not disappoint.

Neither museum or showhouse, the building has preserved its shabby charm as a working environment where people sit absorbed at their desks in elegantly proportioned rooms, surrounded by all the clutter of their activities and a few well-chosen paintings and pieces of old furniture. With staircases that seem to ascend forever, plenty of hidden corners and architectural idiosyncrasies, 37 Spital Sq is a house that invites you to ramble around – which is exactly what I did yesterday, matching up pictures in the Society’s archives of the building in 1981 with the same spaces as they are now.

1981

2013

Huguenot silk weaver Peter Ogier is believed to have built 37 Spital Square in the seventeen-forties.

You may also like to read about

Philip Venning, former Director of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

Bill Crome, the Window Cleaner who sees Ghosts in Spital Sq

and these other renovations in Spitalfields

The Last Derelict House in Spitalfields

Before & After in Fournier St

A Renovation on Fournier St

All Change at 15 & 17 Fournier St

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Vicky permalink
    May 15, 2013

    I looked around this house last year during Open House weekend and found it fascinating. If it’s open to the public again this year (21-22 Sept) I would definitely recommend a visit. Loved the courtyard garden.

  2. Ros permalink
    May 15, 2013

    another excellent post, very well put together. Really liked the before and after pictures and admired Joanna Moore’s lovely drawing. I too visited 37 Spital Square in Open House weekend last year and agree with Vicky above.

  3. Ree permalink
    May 15, 2013

    What a marvelous revamp…I could live there…GORGEOUS…

  4. May 15, 2013

    Fantastic to see these old photos – I especially loved the ones of the courtyard as I’m the SPAB gardener. I’ll be there tomorrow planting herbs mentioned by 17th century local resident Nicholas Culpeper. We’re restricted to ones that can cope with shady conditions though! That glass building at the back stops the direct sun reaching the garden…

  5. Burçin Altınsay permalink
    May 15, 2013

    I am an SPAB scholar from 1989. This is such a dear place to me, your post took me back to memories all the way from Istanbul. And so exciting to see the old photos. Thanks.
    Ps: this www is a good thing! No?

  6. Catherine permalink
    May 16, 2013

    Wonderful before and afters. There’s a beautiful portrait of William Morris (my personal hero!) there too.

  7. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    May 17, 2013

    Isnt that hulking glass monolith awful & totally out of scale.What an amazing restoration,bit of a shame it isnt a house though.I love reading Spitalfields life.

  8. Christine Swan permalink
    May 19, 2013

    How wonderful to see a building alive again! Full of light and smiling faces. :)

  9. Cherub permalink
    May 20, 2013

    What a lovely piece. My very last job in London before I returned to Scotland was working as Secretary to the SPAB Mills Section, I was in the office right at the top of the building. I can remember sometimes having to climb up the little wooden steps into the attic space to look for old Mills Section Newsletters and pamphlets. The building used to creak at night so could be quite creepy – I don’t miss being last one out and having to set the alarm!

    The drawing of the building is lovely, just as I remember the interior from my days there and I passed many a pleasant lunch break sitting in the garden. An oasis of calm in a mad city. I was in London with my husband the week before Easter and took a walk round Brick Lane and Spitalfields in the dark, it was nice to see this elegant building again. It felt very much like a house when you were working there despite being offices.

    Spitalfields was a happy time for me and I was glad to pay a recent visit to old haunts.

    Thanks for the memories Gentle Author.

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