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The Last Derelict House In Spitalfields

May 14, 2018
by the gentle author

This is the view of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s spire of Christ Church seen from the weaver’s loft at the top of two Wilkes St – the last derelict house in Spitalfields – which is current up for sale.

Once upon a time people used to wander in these streets surrounding the shabby old church, savouring the romance of these ancient Huguenot houses that had seen better days and were then used as workplaces or left empty. Those days are long gone – since Spitalfields got toshed up, the church was scrubbed behind the ears, the sweatshops moved out, skips appeared as renovations began and the value of these dwellings went through the roof.

Most recently two Wilkes St served as a warehouse for Star Wholesale cash & carry. Previously, it had been a workplace with boards nailed over panelling, false ceilings added and layers of flooring concealing the original floorboards. Behind all these accretions, the old structure remained intact and when the additions were removed, along with some of the fabric – in a former abortive restoration attempt – no-one bothered to dispose of any of the timber from the house. The piles that lie around comprise the missing pieces of an enormous three dimensional jigsaw just waiting to be put back together. Elsewhere in Spitalfields, old properties have been turned upside down and stripped out, removing all evidence of the previous occupants, yet as a consequence of benign neglect, two Wilkes St exists today as an eighteenth-century time capsule.

Stepping through the door, I was amazed by the multilayered textures that are the result of human activity throughout the long history of the building, especially the flaking paint that reveals every single coat taking you back three centuries. The house has a presence that halts you in your step and you lower your voice without knowing why. You stand and gaze. The reflected light from the street falls upon dusty old floorboards visibly worn beside the windows where people have stood in the same spot to look down upon Wilkes St since the seventeen-twenties – when the house was built by William Taylor, who was responsible for the house next door and several others in the vicinity.

Ten years ago, the central staircase of the house was rebuilt with the original treads on wooden bearers that support each step in the traditional method, starting at the bottom and working all the way up – just as a joiner would have done in the eighteenth-century when all carpenters did their work on site.

Descended into the dark musty cellar by torchlight, I could see my own breath in the air as I entered a kitchen where the beam of light fell upon eighteenth-century matchboarding and a flag floor. The torchlight caught portions of an old dresser and a stone sink, beneath layers of dust, grit and filth – abandoned since the nineteenth century.

On the first floor, an intermediary space off the stairwell links rooms on either side, divided from them by partitions – this is a rare example of a powder room. Any of Henry Fielding’s characters would recognise this space.

Of all the old houses in Spitalfields I know, this is the one that has most retained its soul. The house holds its own silence and the din of the contemporary world is drowned out by it. Two Wilkes St possesses the authentic atmosphere of old London that Fielding and Dickens knew, yet which can all too easily be destroyed forever. It is waiting for someone with the knowledge, money and patience to repair it and bring it back to life without erasing its history.

Click here if you are interested to buy two Wilkes St

Eighteenth century staircase spindles

The view along the back gardens of Fournier St

2 Wilkes St

You may also like to read about

Before & After in Fournier St

A Renovation in Fournier St

All Change at 15 & 17 Fournier St

At Anna Maria Garthwaite’s House

At Ben Truman’s House

18 Responses leave one →
  1. Mary permalink
    May 14, 2018

    If only I had the money………..

  2. Peter Holford permalink
    May 14, 2018

    An amazing relic in an era of stratospheric property prices. As you say it is waiting for somebody to restore it sympathetically. It is nothing short of a crime that there is no guarantee that a new owner cannot just gut the place to install a 21st century interior. But let’s live in hope.

  3. May 14, 2018

    Fingers crossed. Because your postings always inspire such optimism, I trust that the right person will discover this unique property via Spitalfields Life, and will go forward with a preservation effort that will make everyone proud. Please keep us up to date about the fate of
    this building, now that we are ALL under its spell.

    Thanks for always shining a light.

  4. Pennie Limming permalink
    May 14, 2018

    LOVE those stairs. I too wish I could buy it to keep and and restore and love. Looked at the agent for a guide price but nothing showing however it made me smile that the brochure link came back here!

  5. Helen Breen permalink
    May 14, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, here’s hoping that the right person with deep pockets comes along devoted to the authentic restoration of this property.

    Loved the view of Christ Church through the old window…

  6. Jill permalink
    May 14, 2018

    Perhaps we could have crowd funding to buy it as a ‘Spitalfields Life’ house?

  7. May 14, 2018

    I loved this and the feeling it evoked of the excitement of going into an old, derelict building. Reminded me of a visit several years ago to 19 Princelet Street, after reading Rachel Lichtenstein and Iain Sinclair’s Rodinsky’s Room. At the time they were showing their suitcase exhibition which I found particularly poignant – especially when visitors were given a tiny price-tag and a pencil so that we could write down what we would take if we had to leave our homes suddenly.

  8. pauline taylor permalink
    May 14, 2018

    What a wonderful project awaits the right person with limitless money to spend, fingers crossed that that person is out there somewhere and that this very special house will be saved.

  9. Jude permalink
    May 14, 2018

    Needs someone with money and a sympathetic eye. Oh and fit, to go up and down all those stairs :)

  10. Fay Cattini permalink
    May 14, 2018

    Over the years I have complained about this house being allowed to deteriorate – shame on the owner! It has been empty for so many years, I can’t remember how many – 20, 30? I’m surprised that the Spitalfields Trust did not do something to force him to either sell or restore the house.

  11. May 14, 2018

    Ah..if only.

  12. Geoff Stocker permalink
    May 14, 2018

    Just keep going back to look at the photos seems to stir something in a lost memory and makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up . I am sure I am not alone in this.

  13. redandblackmanthinks permalink
    May 14, 2018

    Wow. I really hope that someone with a sympathetic eye and deep pockets takes it on. Amazing photos, and I really envy you having the opportunity to have a look around.

  14. VANDA HUMAN permalink
    May 15, 2018

    If only I lived in the UK and had the money I would purchase this house in an instant. I hope someone buy and restores it to its former glory.

  15. May 15, 2018

    What an incredible opportunity for the right person…hope someone with the resources and a knack for restoration finds it. How would someone find out more? Do you know which company has it listed? Many thanks!

  16. Alex Piddington-Bishop permalink
    May 15, 2018

    Having been to visit with wires friends at Dennis Severs House yesterday, I have become very interested in the good work of the The Spitalfields Trust. The wonderful buildings are an important part of of history and heritage. I really support the work to the true and its commitment of the area. I have many found memories as a child being taken to Spitalfields as a child by my mother whom has been a great influence on appreciation of great design and buildings.

  17. May 15, 2018

    A wonderful project for someone with imagination, and the funds that go with it. Wish it was me ☼

  18. James Buchanan permalink
    May 19, 2018

    I was interested to find that I had a relation with the name of Abraham Lincolne who was born in Wilkes Street in 1765, the Christ Church register describe his father and namesake as a weaver. Abraham Lincolne senior who was born in Norwich where there was a community Of Huguenot clothworkers. Abraham’s elder sister and mother died, his father re-married and moved to Norton Folgate. I was a student at the London College of Furniture and worked for some time as an upholsterer, so I have some sympathy with this district where my Georgian forbears toiled from dawn to dusk, it is intriguing to find the buildings so well preserved and cared for.

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