Spiegelhalters Is Saved
In response to the campaign launched by David Collard and supported by readers of Spitalfields Life, the developers have decided to retain the facade of Spiegelhalters so that the legend may live on
Spiegelhalters, Mile End Rd
Five years ago, you could look through the metal shutter and see Spiegelhalters’ nineteenth century shopfront intact with its curved glass window and mosaic entrance floor spelling out “Spiegelhalters.” Since then, with disdainful arrogance, the owners of the building have destroyed this, leaving just the front wall of the building – and were ready to proceed with demolition to create a glass atrium when the campaign to Save Speigelhalters was launched in January of this year.
At first, the developers claimed fatuously that the void in the terrace left by the demolition would be a ‘homage’ to Speigelhalters but – after a petition signed by two thousand seven hundred people and objections by the East End Preservation Society, Victorian Society and English Heritage – Resolution Property have revised their planning application as you see below.
Demonstrating modesty worthy of Uriah Heep, the architects’ spokesman admitted, “we are not arrogant enough to believe we are right and everyone else is wrong,” then qualifed his statement by adding, “we still feel it is a slightly missed opportunity to create something more interesting.” So, although the development that is proposed for Wickham’s itself remains hideously overblown and the nineteenth century fabric of the Spiegelhalter building and its beautiful shopfront should never have been destroyed, we have been granted this small mercy.
Resolution Property have abandoned their proposal to replace the historic Spiegelhalters with a void
The revised proposal for Spiegelhalters by architects Buckley Gray Yeoman
Resolution Property’s scheme for Wickham’s
THE STORY OF SPIEGELHALTERS
Observe how the gap-toothed smile of this building undermines the pompous ambition of its classical design. Without this gaping flaw, it would be just another example of debased classicism but, thanks to the hole in the middle, it transcends its own thwarted architectural ambitions to become a work of unintentional genius.
Built in 1927, Wickham’s Department Store in the Mile End Rd was meant to be the “Harrods of East London.” The hubris of its developers was such that they simply assumed the small shopkeepers in this terrace would all fall into line and agree to move out, so the masterplan to build the new department store could proceed. But they met their match in the Spiegelhalters at 81 Mile End Rd, the shop you see sandwiched in the middle. The first Mr Spiegelhalter had set up his jewellery business in Whitechapel in 1828 when he emigrated from Germany, and his descendants moved to 81 Mile End Rd in 1880, where the business was run by three Spiegelhalter brother who had been born on the premises. These brothers refused all inducements to sell.
I wish I could have been a fly on the wall of the office of those developers because there must have been words – before they came to the painful, compromised decision to go ahead and build around the Spiegelhalters. Maybe they comforted themselves with the belief that eventually the gap could be closed and their ambitions fully realised at some later date? If so, it was a short-lived consolation because the position of the Spiegelhalters’ property was such that the central tower of Wickham’s Department Store had to be contructed off-centre with seven window bays on the left and nine on the right, rather than nine on either side. This must have been the final crushing humiliation for the developers – how the Spiegelhalter brothers must have laughed.
The presence of the word “halter” within the name Spiegelhalter cannot have escaped the notice of bystanders - ”Spiegel-halter by name, halter by nature!” they surely observed. Those stubborn Spiegelhalters had the last laugh too, because the lopsided department store which opened in 1927, closed in the nineteen sixties, while the Spiegelhalters waited until 1988 to sell out, over a century after they opened. I think they made their point.
As self-evident testimony to the story of its own construction, the Wickham’s conglomeration is simultaneously a towering monument to the relentless ambition that needs to be forever modernising, and also to the contrary stick-in-the-mud instinct that sees no point in any change. Willpower turned back on itself created this unique edifice. The paradoxical architecture of Wickham’s Department Store inadvertently achieves what many architects dream of – because in its very form and structure, it expresses something profound about the contradictory nature of what it means to be human.
Wickhams seen from Whitechapel
Spiegelhalters in 1900
The Spitalfields Trust presents ELECTION HUSTINGS at 7pm on Tuesday 5th May at Toynbee Hall, Commercial St – discussing British Land’s proposals for Norton Folgate with Parliamentary Candidates. No booking required
The East End Preservation Society presents HERITAGE ACTIVISM, A FORCE FOR GOOD a talk by Loyd Grossman at St Botolph’s Church Hall, Bishopsgate at 6:30pm on Tuesday 26th May. Admission is free but email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place