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Catalogue Of Destruction

June 2, 2014
by the gentle author

Bulldozers move in on the Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital

Recently – as I walked down Cheshire St – I discovered a great hole on the south side, where the week before there had been an unbroken run of nineteenth century buildings between Brick Lane and the Pedley St bridge.

Meanwhile, demolition of the much-loved Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital in Hackney Rd has commenced, in preparation for replacing it with a disproportionate building of inferior design that has been approved without any significant public consultation. Later this year in Spitalfields, we also anticipate the demolition of the Fruit & Wool Exchange – against the unanimous wishes of the local council in a scheme pushed through by Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Yet this is only the beginning of the destruction that is impending because, like a hungry dog taking bites from a cake, great chunks of the East End are vanishing fast. So I asked Contributing Photographer Simon Mooney to make a survey of just a few of the buildings that are being destroyed, under threat of imminent demolition, or at risk, to highlight the crisis that is at hand.

All around us, characterful nineteenth or early-twentieth century buildings, constructed of brick and stone with featured craft elements, are being replaced with low-quality generic structures designed to maximise profit, to the detriment both of the environment and the quality of life for those destined to inhabit them. Most disappointing is to see proud nineteenth century edifices which embody social purpose replaced by cheap-jack commercial developments that erase the memory of past altruistic endeavour.

Only the facade of the Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital will survive in a monster development pushed through without any significant public consultation.

Sunflower frieze upon the oldest part of the hospital constructed in 1874

Georgian terrace in Sun St currently being demolished after years of neglect with only the facade retained

Neglected window frames and fascias in Sun St

When the demolition starts shortly, the Gun pub will be destroyed and the central part of this facade is all that will remain of the Spitalfields Fruit & Wool Exchange designed by in 1927 by  Sydney Perks

The new development will replace both Fruit & Wool Exchange and the multi-storey carpark behind

The brick work of the Fruit & Wool Exchange harmonises with the Spitalfields Market next door

In Toynbee St, a terrace of shops with workshops above neglected for decades by Tower Hamlets Council. A consultation for redevelopment, replacing these with a much larger building that straddles the site as far as Commercial St, took place in 2011

Silwex House, Quaker St. A remarkable nineteenth century stable and horse depot containing horse lifts descending to the railway line at the rear

Travelodge is currently undertaking consultation to reduce this building to a facade with a large hotel of generic design behind it. Planning application will be submitted imminently. Click here to see the proposal

113-114 Bethnal Green Rd, a rare pair of eighteenth century weavers’ houses that have suffered many years of neglect

Dignified nineteeth century furniture factory that has been left to rot in Great Eastern St

Warehouses of 1878 in Blossom St destined for demolition as part of a huge development by British Land that will  consume this entire block if it goes ahead

Eighteenth and nineeenth century terrace in Bishopsgate threatened by the British Land scheme

The former Nicholls & Clarke art deco showroom in Bishopsgate is at risk

London Chest Hospital is to be sold to developers

Photographs copyright © Simon Mooney

Follow the East End Preservation Society

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You may also like to take a look at

Remembering The Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital

So Long, Spitalfields Fruit & Wool Exchange

Victory for the East End Preservation Society!

The East End Preservation Society

41 Responses leave one →
  1. Molasses permalink
    June 2, 2014

    Sadly it happens in my home city of Vancouver as much as it happen in London – a global phenomena of short term thinking and lack of thought for future generations.

  2. Glenn permalink
    June 2, 2014

    So much destruction to old buildings in the east end, to be replaced by nondescript boxes to make the rich richer. To retain the facade of these buildings is an insult. It’s a complete ‘facade’!!
    Thank you GA for highlighting this problem. Help retain the heritage and history of East London by retaining the buildings.

  3. June 2, 2014

    Boris Johnson and all others who destroying history because of their greed and ignorance should be ashamed of themselves. Valerie

  4. June 2, 2014

    Apparently, then, we’ve learned nothing from the 1960s, when so many fine buldings went, to be replaced by egg-box type structures. That’s widely criticised now…. but apparently to no purpose.

  5. Greg Tingey permalink
    June 2, 2014

    Where is today’s Betjeman?
    { I know “nooks & corners )of the new barbarism)” still runs in “Private Eye” … and the late Sir John was an original contributor/writer, but …. we need a new voice for this, of suffciently high a public profile, don’t we?

  6. June 2, 2014

    So what can be done?
    Who are the MPs to write to, which councillors?
    Any live planning consultations we can contribute to?
    Which groups to join to keep abreast of news?
    Please advise GA!

  7. sbw permalink
    June 2, 2014

    Boris Johnson will surely be remembered as Boris the Butcher of London – he who sold London to the highest bidder, lining his own pockets and the pockets of his friends as he did so. But it’s not his to sell. He is a public servant, and we need to call him to question. Too late I fear, for the destruction is now truly underway. The regret he must surely one day feel will be profound, just as we feel it so deeply today. sbw

  8. June 2, 2014

    What a profoundly depressing prospect. I very much liked your argument that getting rid of old buildings which had a social purpose will erase the memory of that activity. You are absolutely right – soon, the impression will be that the area is solely concerned with commerce, and charity, philanthropy and socially-minded endeavours have no place there…

  9. Vicky permalink
    June 2, 2014

    This is all so heartbreaking, I’m weeping into my early morning cuppa.
    Fight on, nothing to loose, all to gain.

  10. Ken permalink
    June 2, 2014

    I thought the Sun St terrace was being restored.can you check?

  11. Jose Cadaveira permalink
    June 2, 2014

    It’s sad how the city of London is slowly becoming a city without character, style and a single trace of it’s glorious past, similar to dozens of others that are scattered around the world.
    I always thought that the Canary Wharf development had been planned and constructed to maintain glass skyscrapers out of the historic centre. I was completely wrong.
    I was in Paris a couple of days ago, after 10 years absence, and was pleased to see how it has remained virtually unchanged, especially maintaining low building heights in the centre, with the only exception of the distant La Defence.
    A real shame that this couldn’t have happened in London, it’s a little late to rectify now.

  12. Barbara permalink
    June 2, 2014

    I am in tears and so , so angry ! What are we to do ? I am already a member of the East End Preservation Society, can we start raising funds to launch a counter attack ? I would willingly contribute a regular monthly sum to help mount a defence of these sites . Any other suggestions ?

  13. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    June 2, 2014

    erasing the past-very sad , at lest we have some sort of record ……………..

  14. Jon permalink
    June 2, 2014

    The central problem this highlights: London is too in love with money, at the expense of everything else.

  15. June 2, 2014

    They say, the global economic crisis is “over now”. But immediately the ugly grimace of the filthy capitalism comes back! It’s all about money and power… — I think a Revolution against this is necessary!!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  16. June 2, 2014

    So sad to read this. I’m afraid the city will lose its soul if it goes on like this. I took pictures of the sunflower friezes on the Queen Elisabeth Hospital once because they’re so lovely and now I’m glad that I did. Sad that such details will be going…

  17. Cathy permalink
    June 2, 2014

    I am absolutely stunned that in this day and age, one where we are supposed to have some kind of respect for our architectural history, that THIS could be happening – what utter, utter vandalism! Londoners need to take to the streets over this, or London will be utterly unrecognisable and without ANY of the character it is famous for in a few years!

    I could weep, that beautiful hospital.

  18. Ann Featherstone permalink
    June 2, 2014

    Here in a small corner of the industrial Midlands, we’re regularly faced with this, I’m afraid. It’s no consolation to know that the might of business corporations reaches far afield and that they are very difficult to overcome. Councils and planning committees run scared because, if they turn down an application and cannot prove that the development is detrimental when the developer appeals, they are left with a huge bill they cannot pay. There are also ‘pay-offs’ to the council which are quite legitimate and legal. It’s depressing.

  19. Sally Baldwin permalink
    June 2, 2014

    I’m stunned to read this, I truly thought that everybody had learned a lesson after the late 50′s – 60′s when the rush to tear down the old and replace it with flimsy ticky-tacky destroyed so much… This is heartbreaking.

  20. Joan Halliday permalink
    June 2, 2014

    Why have are these buildings been allowed to fall into such disrepair? Who owns them?
    Who are the officials responsible? It is surely not all down to one man? There are elected officials on councils who should be approached. Who makes the decision on the new design
    of these buildings? Are the public privy to these designs and decisions?
    If the buildings are left empty and falling into disrepair it is no wonder someone will take them over and develop. Action has to be taken much earlier before they become so derelict.
    The character of the area will be gone forever, but graffiti strewn walls are not too attractive either!

  21. Sonia Murray permalink
    June 2, 2014

    I do hope the Art Deco showroom can be protected, the magnificent Grecian pediment saved, and the beautiful Georgian windows of other buildings salvaged from the destruction! Sadly, the photos make it clear that the derelict shop fronts of Toynbee Street are beyond redemption and need to be replaced. Fight for the buildings that are worth saving!

  22. Pauline Taylor permalink
    June 2, 2014

    I agree with everyone, the neglect and destruction of these buildings is a national disgrace as is pressure put on councils to allow developers to build on greenfield sites. All we can do is to fight and fight every planning application as my son has been doing in the town where we live. Boris and his greedy cohorts need to be brought to heel but controlling developers is not easy, we have had a succession of very impressive buildings being neglected and eventually burnt to the ground within developments here.

    Valerie is quite right when she attributes this to ignorance and greed.

  23. frank hadley permalink
    June 2, 2014

    the way old london is being demolished to make way for the new faceless glass monstrosities. is soul destroying. good -bye old london at least we have our memories and pictures of the past.

  24. frank permalink
    June 2, 2014

    destruction is a form of creation,
    destruction and reconstruction makes the eastend what it is – dynamic if not beautiful
    lets try to embrace it sometimes, if not always

  25. Lucy permalink
    June 2, 2014

    This is absolutely tragic and needs further publicising. Could you perhaps ask the Evening Standard to run an article on it? Is there a petition we can sign? Together with the hundreds of gargantuan, cheap and shoddy skyscrapers which are planned over the next decade, London is going to turn into some horrible monstrosity like Dubai or Shanghai, losing its soul to money. Very depressing.

  26. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    June 2, 2014

    As a man born in East London where I still live, I naturally agree with the comment’s of sadness being expressed by most people, but being very much a realist, as I am, while I have deep regret at the loss of many of the building’s featured in this article I feel no justification for pointing the finger of blame solely at the currant incumbent’s (or I could say incompetent’s) at the local authority’s and above, many of the building’s mentioned hear have been in a serious state of neglect and disrepair not just for year’s, but decade’s, unfortunately it may sound harsh to say, but to many people seem only to appreciate what they had, after it has gone, there has been ample opportunity to save many of these building’s over the year’s but the fact it not enough people cared enough to be bothered, apparently, until now, when it’s to late, however, to inject a positive note, maybe the sadness of this feature will now inspire more people (myself included) to get actively involved in the excellent East End Preservation Society, because it may be to late to save the building’s mentioned hear but if action is not taken now, the theme of this posting will I fear become just the first of many more to come.

  27. Bricklanemafia permalink
    June 2, 2014

    i feel sickened with the yuppie take over of east london

  28. Miriam permalink
    June 3, 2014

    It’s sad to see these solid, beautiful, historic buildings being destroyed. Am I correct in thinking that the decisions are being made by people who don’t even live in east London?

  29. June 3, 2014

    They’ve done the same in Manchester. They’re still demolishing potential tourist attractions to build Travelodge hotels and tacky apartment blocks. Last year the site of the famous Northern Soul club the Twisted Wheel was bulldozed. It had previously been part of the Victorian Piccadilly Station. But when everything’s gone (and there really is very little of integrity left now) who will want to visit or live in Manchester city centre?

  30. Mos permalink
    June 3, 2014

    It’s very sad to see such wonderful buildings being pulled down in the name of ‘progress’… Although I have never personally lived in Spitalfields or the surrounding areas, my family were there from the 1500s to the 1900s. Where I lived, in North West London, the beautiful buildings have also been torn down with boxes built in their place… Really ugly boxes…

    I know things cannot remain the same but why the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, would want to destroy the history and character of London, which is why 20 Million tourist, and their money, come each year, just because he wants ‘modernization’ and ‘development’…

    Sadly, Brent Council are doing exactly the same thing in the Willesden/Harlesden/Wembley areas of London, and despite the community’s objection, they are going ahead with their demolition plans, so good luck to you all in helping to preserve this extremely historic region of Olde London Town…

  31. sprite permalink
    June 3, 2014

    The fate of the London is very sad indeed if it falls to developpers. It was built as a sanatorium and with tuberculosis on the come back, it might well have still a role to play in health… but it seems that the sale was planned ages ago with the redevelopment of the Royal London and Barts.

    But with Queen Elizabeth now gone, perhaps an effort should be made to save that little patch of green and the main magnificent building. Part of the old Mile End Hospital was salvaged when it was redevelopped a few decades ago so surely the London Chest could be.

    With the Jewish hospital long gone, Queen Elizabeth, Bethnal Green Hospital (long demolished) and a big part of the Royal London already razed to the ground when I thought it was a listed building, most of the history of health care delivery buildings is gone already.

  32. Janet M permalink
    June 3, 2014

    A sad story.

  33. aubrey permalink
    June 3, 2014

    The air pollution and essences of all the old industries which were prevalent in the old East-end was driven out along the Thames by the prevailing westerly winds. That’s one of the reasons why, through the centuries, London’s industry was based (and kept) there. It kept the western part of London more or less free of foul air which emanated from, and occupied the East-end through the millennia. When the traditional heavy industry all but vanished there was nothing to stop the more affluent from moving in to buildings such as re-converted warehouses and ‘taking up the slack’ so to speak!
    I just hope that the designers and developers of the proposed buildings that come along will be sensitive to the ‘little people’. But somehow I doubt it.

  34. Chris Love permalink
    June 4, 2014

    Why do the likes of Boris Johnson and his cronies insist on destroying our beautiful old buildings that have stood for many, many years only to be replaced with “faceless buildings” that have no character or interest to anyone other than the fat cats that can get fatter by the building of same. England is world known for its architecture and as a nation we should be protecting any heritage that we have remaining, enough damage was done in the 1960′s by the destruction of many fine buildings countrywide!!!!! What these developers and the Boris’s have to do is consult what the people of London and indeed this country wants, not keep making decisions for us about our heritage !!!

  35. john garwood permalink
    June 4, 2014

    So sad to see these old building disappear to be replaced with eyesores what can we do to get rid of this buffoon who has absolutely no idea of what Londoners want or need!!! as Greg Tingey previously mentioned we need another Betjeman with his efforts we managed to save Liverpool Street Station and Kings Cross.
    John Garwood

  36. Susan Cooke permalink
    June 8, 2014

    The so called developers are causing more destruction to London then what was seen during two world wars. I am very upset to see Blossom street is included in the next round of lets knock down our heritage. My Beavis family rented 10 blossom street for many years were they run their Engine Loom Making buisness very inportant part of Spitalfields Silk Weaving Industry.This is all very sad news for people like us who love London with it’s wealth of history which is being pulled down and loss forever before our very eyes.

  37. Derek Yates permalink
    June 9, 2014

    I love this website but sometimes it brings sad news such as this.

  38. June 28, 2014

    This subject is dear to my heart. My Grandfather ran a shop at number 7 Toynbee Street for a number of years (one of the streets mentioned above) until he sadly passed away in 1966. I also have a family connection to number 15 “Conway Trading” which is where the business moved to when he died. Number 7 stood untouched for over 40 years, with number 15 and the other shops in the parade referenced above standing still for decades as well. Toynbee Street has been like a little time capsule, buried away in the hustle and bustle of Spitalfields. With the pending redevelopment ahead I feel compelled to capture as many stories as I can about the street. This is why I have set up http://doccler.com/user/FindingFrank. If anyone knows any stories about the street or has any connections to it, please get in touch findingfrank@outlook.com

  39. Sambalsotong permalink
    July 23, 2014

    It is shocking, saddening and all too predictable in this day and age, unfortunately.
    I don’t know how effective things like this are but it might be worth starting a petition and giving 38Degrees a go – http://www.38degrees.org.uk

  40. Simon C permalink
    February 5, 2015

    As ever, people fail to “follow the money”. This is not a matter of urban decay and reconstruction, it is not a matter of a failure of aesthetic judgement, it is a calculated raid on public or historical assets for private purposes. Johnson (the humorist, the wit, the “harmless buffoon”) is part of a class ripping Britain apart for its own enrichment. They see such booty capitalism as a right… But so many fools lap up the tabloid rubbish about Milliband being unelectable, forgetting that the tory filth are desecrating every principle, every social value, every week… Welcome to The Bullingdon Club.

  41. touchstone permalink
    July 6, 2016

    There are still naive people who think writing to MPs and petitions will make any difference whatsoever….if we want to live in a society that remotely resembles the one we grew up in, the people doing this are going to have to start decorating lamp-posts.

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