The East End Preservation Society Launch
Main Hall at the Bishopsgate Institute, 27th November
In recent years, as I found myself writing the same story about the loss of old buildings in the East End, its repetition dishearterned me.
First, there was the threat to demolish the Jewish Nursing Home in Underwood Rd and, in spite of a petition and widespread opposition, it went ahead. Then, there was the proposed redevelopment of the Spitalfields Fruit & Wool Exchange which was rejected twice by the elected members of Tower Hamlets Council but Boris Johnson, Mayor of London overturned the decision. And most recently, the overbearing housing project that will entail razing the Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital in Hackney has been given the go-ahead, again by the Mayor, ignoring the wishes of the local community.
Yet The Marquis of Lansdowne was the joyous exception, in which a campaign was successful in articulating the strength of public feeling and the consequent refusal of permission by Hackney Council for the demolition of the building was sufficient to save it. This example gave me hope and inspired the notion that it might be possible to bring everyone together to fight these battles more effectively.
It was a hope that was kindled into something larger last week, as an excited crowd packed the Main Hall of the Bishopsgate Institute for the launch of The East End Preservation Society. Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Simon Mooney was there to capture the drama of the night and Contributing Filmmaker Sebastian Sharples made the films which accompany this feature.
Dan Cruickshank, Architectural Historian & long-term Spitalfields resident, gave the inugural address and William Palin, ex-director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, delivered an illustrated historical survey of buildings lost and saved in the East End. Beyond this, Marcus Binney reported on the fate of the Spitalfields Fruit & Wool Exchange, Matt Johnson & Brad Lochore reported on the looming outsize developments in Shoreditch, Lucy Rogers reported on the proposed demolition of the former Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital and, rounding off the evening, Saif Osmani reported on the monster scheme for Whitechapel.
The drama of the event came from the fact that no-one knew what anyone else was going to say. And, once we in the audience learned of the breakdown in the democratic process that will permit large-scale, destructive plans to be imposed upon the East End if we do nothing, there was an accumulating sense of horror as the list of imminent developments became apparent. Yet this was counterbalanced by the realisation that each of the reports by the different speakers shared a common thread, whether Dan Cruickshank speaking of the loss of eighteenth-century weavers’ cottages or Saif Osmani revealing that the future development plan for Whitechapel, of over one hundred pages, does not include a single mention of the Bangladeshi people.
The common thread was that of a respect and affection for the East End and its people, and how this culture has become manifest in the evolution of the built environment that we inhabit today. On this fundamental point, all the existing conservation groups are in accord, from The Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields to The Friends of Queens Market, and from The Friends of the Old Spotted Dog to The Friends of Arnold Circus. So now we must come together to support each other’s campaigns, swelling the numbers and making ourselves heard to preserve what we hold dear in the East End.
It is my hope that, in future, when I find myself writing stories about old buildings under threat, they will be accounts of how The East End Preservation Society saved them.
Willam Palin summarises his introductory speech for The East End Preservation Society
Archivist Stefan Dickers welcomes The East End Preservation Society to the Bishopsgate Institute
Dan Cruickshank makes the inaugural address
Clive Bettinson of the Jewish East End Celebration Society
Bob Rogers of the East London History Society
“This is not just a debate about what kind of places we want our cities to be, but about who controls the process of change. Is it you – that is local people and communities – or is the developers, with their short-term interests, aided by highly-paid planning consultants and supported by the Mayor? The East End Preservation Society is about wresting back control and the fight-back starts tonight.” Will Palin
Marcus Binney founder of SAVE Britain’s Heritage on the loss of the Spitalfields Fruit & Wool Exchange
Matt Johnson speaks of the threat of the Bishopsgate Goodsyard development to Shoreditch
Brad Lochore speaks of the encroaching towers from the City of London into Shoreditch
Lucy Rogers explains the crisis with the former Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital
Saif Osmani of the Friends of Queens Market reveals the overbearing development for Whitechapel
Photographs copyright © Simon Mooney
Dan Cruickshank’s Inugural Address for The East End Preservation Society
“It should now be possible to protect our historic buildings, to maintain and improve our conservation areas, to represent and reinforce traditional communities and to create and sustain well-balanced new communities – ones that build on the rich and inclusive cultural tradition of East London.
But it seems that all these worthy expectations will not be realised without drastic, radical action. East London has reached a critical time in its long and rewarding history. Massive new developments such as the one proposed for Bishopsgate Goodsyard (which includes a series of towers from twenty-eight to five-five storeys in height) threaten to overwhelm adjoining conservation areas and infrastructure, cast shadow over communities and cause irreparable damage to established areas which have a strong character.
There is no strong evidence that developers are actually acting on opinions expressed through the consultation process – and the feeling is that the welfare of many is to be sacrificed for profits for a few.
The sound and handsome nineteen-twenties London Fruit & Wool Exchange in Spitalfields is to be largely demolished for a scheme which includes no housing, and which entails the destruction of the popular local pub, The Gun, and the eradication of the important late seventeenth-century street, Dorset St. The site could hardly be more sensitive, located in a conservation area, and opposite Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, one of most moving historic buildings in London.
After much debate and local opposition, the scheme was originally rejected by Tower Hamlets Council – a victory for community action and local democracy – but the Mayor of London intervened and, after acting as judge and jury, overturned the local authority’s decision and granted development consent. An alternative scheme – drawn up by local groups and which kept the important existing buildings and street pattern, which built on the history of the site – which proposed some housing and which would have created local employment – was dismissed out of hand.
This story represents a collapse of local democracy, and a cynical disregard of local people and opinion. So much for democracy when it comes to the protection and enhancement of East London! So much for the opinions of local communities! So much for history!
To me, it is obvious that an East End Preservation Society is needed a) to gather and represent local opinion b) to help East London people stand together c) to give them a voice and make that voice count (to ensure it is not only heard but also that it is acted upon) and d) to reveal and promote an urban vision which is not governed by short-term and personal profit, but which evokes and embraces more worthy and more communal aims – and which enshrines the spirit and character of East London.
Our opinions – the opinions of ordinary Londoners – matter, and must not be cast aside by corporations or corporate politicians. United we stand, divided we fall.
If we become a coherent pressure group, national and local politicians and planners will be obliged to listen to us. We have much to lose but – if we stick together – much to gain.”
Dan Cruickshank with John Betjeman on a visit to Elder St during the battle to save the eighteenth century houses from demolition by British Land in 1977
If you would like to join The East End Preservation Society and be kept in touch with the society’s plans please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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