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The East End Preservation Society Launch

December 1, 2013
by the gentle author

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

Thanks to David Pearson for designing the typographic logo and Truman’s Beer for providing refreshment to The East End Preservation Society

If you would like to join The East End Preservation Society and be kept in touch with the society’s plans please email eastendpsociety@virginmedia.com

You may also like to read about

The East End Preservation Society

Remembering The Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital

The Pub That Was Saved By Irony

Row Over Demolition at the Geffrye Museum

So Long, Spitalfields Fruit & Wool Exchange

So Long, Mother Levy’s Nursing Home

Save the Rochelle Infants School at Arnold Circus

The Haggerston Nobody Knows

The Lost Squares Of Stepney

22 Responses leave one →
  1. Jeannette permalink
    December 1, 2013

    please let your farflung correspondents, among whom i am honored to count myself, know what we can do to help. i will think of it as the abdul mukthadir/doris lessing memorial city walk society, to preserve the actual community built into the old layout. the paving over of the heroic east end by carpet baggers really is shocking.

  2. December 1, 2013

    With such energy, enthusiasm and expertise, and committed organisation behind you, I hope we’ll all be hearing more success stories in the future. Good luck!

  3. December 1, 2013

    A positive, important and necessary fight!
    ACHIM

  4. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    December 1, 2013

    well done ! Very necessary -the planners aren’t always right .

  5. December 1, 2013

    It sickens me that so much is being destroyed, so many people to be displaced, for ‘the greater good’ of those whose only motives are greed and avarice. Good luck to the newly formed society! Valerie

  6. Vicky permalink
    December 1, 2013

    It was a very positive evening, upsetting of course, but we now have a stronger voice. One distressed elderly lady said to me at the end “I’m so shocked, I had no idea this was happening, all these plans for round here. I just can’t believe it, I’m going home to tell all my neighbours!”

  7. December 1, 2013

    Good write up.

  8. December 1, 2013

    The immoral and unwanted Goldrush must be stopped!
    Good natives need to unite against the Bad Boris and these Ugly development cowboys.

  9. Ian permalink
    December 1, 2013

    How incredibly heartening to see what appears to be a full house – may the Marquis of Lansdowne prove to be the first of many victories!

  10. Jeannette permalink
    December 1, 2013

    i have to add it seems obvious the time has come to end bojo’s greed-is-good anti-democratic end runs. we began to do the same here in albuquerque by electing a city councilor who would create a 5-4 majority against the mayor and his faust metropolis plans. i hope the EEPS will mount a similarly hard hitting strategic campaign against your mayor, who seems even more awful than ours.

  11. Ros permalink
    December 1, 2013

    It was a memorable evening, sobering and inspiring in equal measure. The whole of London is on the point of being marched over by developers/commercialisation, ‘opportunities’ which local authorities go cap in hand for having had so much of their financial power removed from them And now they can also have the Mayor overriding their decision making at any time.. I suppose parallel head-shakings could be recorded at any time of London’s history but boy are we up against it now. All the more inspiring to hear the sequence of passionate and knowledgeable speakers and all the more credit to you for your part in saving the Marquis of Lansdowne and to Hackney for their decisive vote.

  12. Walter Blackstock permalink
    December 1, 2013

    It maybe stating the obvious, but sentiment alone, however noble, will not prevail. You have to prioritise, compromise no doubt and marshal professional fire-power, pro bono if possible, paid if essential, to take on powerful developers. I cannot understand the statutory basis on which the Mayor can override planning decisions, seemingly in one direction only. Truly a “collapse of local democracy”. I live in another part of England where similar vigilance is needed and I wish you well in this important endeavour.

  13. Barbara permalink
    December 1, 2013

    What struck me after I left the launch – if this is to truly be about the East End – we need to support the whole of what that encompasses. With Saif’s presentation as the exception, all of the campaigns were very much Hackney/Shoreditch-centric. I’m concerned about what’s going on in Stratford, and can only compare it to the vast urban sprawl seen in China or the US. The work there is post-modern anoymous, buildings far too large in scale for the neighbourhood which in no way reflect the River Lea, the industrial history of the area, the East End… It boggles my mind what has been allowed to happen here. Because this area has no strong voice, no affluent outspoken voices, Newham/Waltham Forest/Hackney/Tower Hamlets seem to have had carte blanche to give over everything to the highest bidders. When they built the Barbican, so much provision was made for the Museum of London, the Barbican Arts Centre, the Guildhall School of Music…. I can’t see any of this social planning in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Yes, luckily there is a new school. And they’ve built…one cafe according to the website. I love Shoreditch, and have worked there for years, but I think there are other neighbourhoods that really desperately need support right now too.

  14. Keith Chilvers permalink
    December 1, 2013

    I agree with Barbara’s point about the appalling 1950′s sci-fi comic vision of hell that is now Stratford and to fight these things local groups need to link in to London wide and nation-wide networks, such as the one provided by the CPRE, with its 80 or 90 years of experience in these matters.

  15. Luke Moloney permalink
    December 1, 2013

    Bon courage!

  16. Allison & Peter Cranmer permalink
    December 1, 2013

    So happy to see this important step in preserving the older buildings of London. The saying “United we stand, divided we fall” is surely applicable to all those involved! Although we live many, many miles away when we do return to my husband’s former home we are saddened each time by the evolving skyline that seems to reward those with a vision that evokes the more odd and incongruous the architecture the better. (Reminded of the Beijing skyline where crazy experiments in architectural design are built while old neighbourhoods fall). In what seems to be a headlong desire to emulate the New York skyline London leaders seem to have lost their way about what makes London and the City beautiful and unique.

    We will continue to sign petitions that come our way even though we are unable to actually participate in a broader way. Best of luck.

  17. Andrea permalink
    December 1, 2013

    Best wishes to the EEPS, from Canada. It is good to read about people getting together to care about something.

  18. Jonathan Rickard permalink
    December 1, 2013

    It may be cheeky for a Yank to make suggestions, but I’ve been involved in preservation issues in the states and care about such things. You might find an ally in the Museum of London.

  19. December 2, 2013

    One of the biggest campaigns to save a very special piece of the East End has been raging for the past 3 years http://www.savekemp.org.uk. So sorry you seem to have missed it

  20. Akhtar permalink
    January 3, 2014

    Does the East End extend only up to the Bow flyerover? In my experience the East End boundary has widened and the EEPS needs to look further into neighbouring boroughs and even Essex to really understand what they are to be fighting againt and what they are retaining. The East End is starting to look a lot like mainland China with its tower blocks which is both disorientating and disturbing. I don’t know when we all decided we wanted the same shops across the whole of the nations high streets. I quite enjoy the walk to different areas of London to get a feel of the place, the local people, what they eat and how they experience life.

  21. Bernice Selvey permalink
    August 5, 2014

    If only we could make them see sense, they are going to close the existing businesses in the area to make way for what? People with money and the Developers who give us the spin on the plans talk a good talk, but sadly it will be an area for the rich to live and the poor to visit. A complete turn around on history.

    If the council were honest (God forbid) then they would say that they the area will be slashed and burnt and within 5 years it will be the fashionable place to live and who cares about the little person that has built a life there and the history in the area that makes the East End so very special.

  22. Stuart Grist permalink
    January 16, 2015

    On my mother’s side, my family has lived in this area for as far back as she can trace. My grandad worked in the goodsyards at Bishopsgate until he retired. Now I live in Hackney and it is heartbreaking to watch everything which makes this part of London worth living in being systematically trashed by big money, and substituted with monstrous penile obscenities in concrete and glass. Change is inevitable, of course, but must we really continue stand by and weep while a criminal overclass drives to crush the human spirit with every chance they get?.

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