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Save Norton Folgate

February 8, 2015
by the gentle author

(Click on this image to enlarge)

I learnt recently that British Land’s slogan is ‘Creating Places People Prefer’ yet this shows what they want to do to Norton Folgate in Spitalfields – demolishing more than seventy per cent of the buildings on a site which sits entirely within a Conservation Area.

In 1977 the newly-formed Spitalfields Trust, including Dan Cruickshank and with the support of Sir John Betjeman, stopped British Land from redeveloping Elder St in Norton Folgate, but now British Land have come back again to obliterate the neighbourhood under a hideous corporate plaza.

Their plans show no respect for one of the last fragments of distinctive Spitalfields streetscape which has evolved over centuries, replacing it with bland corporate office blocks of up to thirteen storeys, offering little to the tech industries and small businesses which thrive in the East End.

Next week, Dan Cruickshank and The Spitalfields Trust launch a campaign to stop British Land and save the Ancient Liberty of Norton Folgate – and it is my pleasure to curate an exhibition at Dennis Severs House, opening next Saturday, to which you are all invited.

The display illustrates stories of Norton Folgate’s rich cultural and social history, and showcases the Trust’s alternative scheme, devised by Architect John Burrell, whose alternative scheme for Smithfield Market was key to saving the market. Also, Adam Dant is unveiling his Map of Norton Folgate which will serve as the centrepiece of the show.

The focus of The Spitalfields Trust’s vision for the future of Norton Folgate is one that respects history – preserving the existing buildings and providing a wide variety of  spaces suiting businesses of different scales which can deliver jobs for local people, and increasing the amount of housing, including affordable housing.

Alongside the exhibition at Dennis Severs House, there will be series of talks, readings and walks announced over coming weeks that explore Norton Folgate’s lively history, celebrating the presence of Christopher Marlowe, Charles Dickens and Sir John Betjeman in Norton Folgate.

British Land were responsible for the destruction of the northern half of Elder St in the seventies

Elder St in 1977 after demolition commenced

Dan Cruickshank shows the destruction to John Betjeman

Bishopsgate Without viewed from Norton Folgate, 1912 (Photo by Charles Goss)

Bishopsgate Without viewed from Norton Folgate, 2012

Colour photographs © Simon Mooney

Archive images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

This is a simple guide to how to object effectively to the British Land Application to redevelop Norton Folgate, produced by The Spitalfields Trust.

Although the deadline is 12th February, Tower Hamlets Council confirm they will accept emails and letters until the Hearing of the Application, which is likely to be in April. Please send comments by mid-March to be sure they are included in the planning officer’s report.

It is important to use your own words and add your own personal reasons for opposing this development. Any letters which simply duplicate the same wording will count only as one objection.

Be sure to state clearly that you are objecting to the application.

The following points are known as material considerations and are valid reasons for Councils to refuse Applications.


British Land’s Application proposes the demolition of approximately 75% of the existing buildings on the site, yet the Application lies entirely within the Elder St Conservation Area – including the site of a scheduled Ancient Monument, and numerous listed and locally-listed buildings.

The Tower Hamlets Conservation Area Appraisal states, “Overall this is a cohesive area that has little capacity for change. Future needs should be met by the sensitive repair of the historic building stock.”


British Land’s Application proposes buildings of 11-13 storeys in a Conservation Area where the predominant height is only 3-4 storeys.

British Land’s Application replaces the fine grain of courtyards and distinctive buildings, the result of complex historical evolution, with inflexible monolithic structures based on large floorplates – focusing merely on short-term maximum return on investment.

These plans ignore the viability of the area in its current built form.  Small-scale regeneration has worked in Shoreditch and Tech City.

Although there a consented (but universally disliked) previous scheme for the site, these new proposals greatly exceed it in height, in massing, in the loss of open space and in the mistreatment of the remaining historic buildings.


British Land’s Application undervalues the importance of the existing historic buildings, reducing them to shells.


The design of new buildings on Norton Folgate, on Fleur de Lys St and on Elder St fail to reflect local character – and are much taller than the existing buildings, reaching a uniform 9-13 storeys, with little graduation.


British Land’s consultation process failed to respond meaningfully to local objections, despite their claims to the contrary. From the first public meeting, it was clear that the scheme was already fully-formed.


The proportion of housing is too low and the proportion of affordable housing is disappointing.  British Land’s Application aims to make money at the expense of the needs of the local community.

British Land’s focus is on office jobs for non-local people – primarily high-income commuters.  The percentage of retail use, which might provide local jobs, is hugely outweighed by office use.


Letters and emails should be addressed to

Beth Eite


you can post your objection direct on the website by following this link

Quote applications: PA/14/03548 and PA/14/03618

Town Planning, Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, London, E14 2BG



Follow the Campaign at facebook/savenortonfolgate

Follow Spitalfields Trust on twitter @SpitalfieldsT

The Spitalfields Trust’s SAVE NORTON FOLGATE exhibition is at Dennis Severs House, 18 Folgate St, E1 6BX,  from Saturday 14th February.

Saturday 14th February 10 – 1pm
Sunday 15th February 10 – 12pm
Tuesday 17th February 4 – 7pm
Thursday 19th February 4 – 7pm
Saturday 21st February 2 – 5pm
Sunday 22nd February 10 – 12pm
Tuesday 24th February 12 – 2pm
Thursday 26th February 12 – 2pm
Saturday 28th February 2 – 5pm
Sunday 1st March 10 – 12pm.
Admission is free
46 Responses leave one →
  1. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    February 8, 2015

    I haven’t been in Dennis Severs house for over 20 years, but assuming I’m still alive in a week’s time (because you ever know) I will be attending the exhibition – and sending in an OBJECTION.

  2. February 8, 2015

    If I lived in London I’d be there. So sorry to hear they are destroying more and more heritage.

  3. Glenn permalink
    February 8, 2015

    I live in Folgate Street. Please help save our historic area. Thanks GA.

  4. February 8, 2015

    I would just like to thank everyone involved in trying to save even one area that retains a personality and is of historic value. Everywhere architecturally in London is now bland and gives little reflection of what made London interesting not only to Londoners but also tourists. Many thanks Ann Meacher

  5. Greg Tingey permalink
    February 8, 2015

    I mean, what will the film & advertising industry do witout it?
    I’ve been “on set” there three times & I’m just an “occasional / extra” ….
    IIRXCseveral buildings there are listed, as well.

  6. February 8, 2015

    This is really sickening, and I cannot believe how much greed and corruption is ruining London and its heritage. Valerie

  7. Chris Ashby permalink
    February 8, 2015

    These sort of greedy, insensitive proposals make me so angry! I’ve just sent my objection. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.
    Best of luck!
    Chris Ashby.

  8. Jude permalink
    February 8, 2015

    A depressing post from the gentle author today. I really cant believe that planners have so little thought and vision. It makes you want to scream!

    Sadly, its probably three quarters into happening and they inform, giving the least possible time to protest. They will be blinkered in what real people want and see only £ signs.

    As an example Manchester. During its wealth of cotton and mill owners, the city grew with beautiful buildings each trying to outdo the others. Even Georgian houses were still intact. In the 1960’s / 70’s these beautiful structures were deemed old fashioned. Great swathes weredemilished and replaced with monstrous ugly buildings that people still hate to this day.
    The cotton industry was Manchester’s history and legacy and would have remained a two-bit town without it. Now Manchester’s sister city Salford is following suit.

    Dont let Spitalfields be wiped out.

  9. Howard T.M. Kenward permalink
    February 8, 2015

    This destruction of this Historically significant property is both a) stupid, and b) ill thought out. Either the Government department concerned, or the local council, should ensure that this plan is thrown out instantly – and one has to ask what on earth they were thinking in allowing a developer to suggest any such thing… This is corporate bullying of the most unpleasant kind – and should NEVER have been allowed to get to this stage in the first place.

    More power to all who stand in the way of this vandalism…

    Howard T.M. Kenward

  10. Pauline Taylor permalink
    February 8, 2015

    This level of vandalism is unbelievable and utterly disgraceful. Destruction of our heritage is going on everywhere in the name of greed. Thank you for all your efforts to try to halt these redevelopments in your own area as we do, with some success thankfully, where we live.


  11. February 8, 2015

    Best of luck in your preservation efforts–from a fan in America, where buildings over 25 years old are looked upon as annoying impediments to sterile computer-generated streetscapes. Oh, the history we’ve lost–and it’s really nothing compared to what you have to lose over there. Rally on!

    I’ve been in London many times, but the next time–thanks to your wonderful blog–I’m devoting myself entirely to exploring the East End. Thank you, gentle author.

  12. Sarah Thompson permalink
    February 8, 2015

    I will definitely be sending in my objections. London is changing so rapidly , all in the name of progress but it’s so wrong to destroy years of history and culture. Every day I read about another piece of London being bulldozed . These are not improvements, when will the council start listening to local people.

  13. MIRIAM DELORIE permalink
    February 8, 2015

    Good Afternoon,
    I presently live in South Africa and have been researching my roots in this area of the East End that for some strange reason certain bodies wish to eradicate and destroy for the advancement of ? I am not sure for what, but definitely in South Africa certain historical areas and buildings are labelled part of our heritage and are not permitted to be destroyed for whatever reason. I have been researching my father’s birth place and his upbringing from immigrants to England who made their home in the United Kingdom. To my knowledge my grandparents passed away in the East End where they made their home – and you, the authorities, are simply sweeping all this history, sacred to so many people who lived and still live in the East End. Have you no respect for those who created a part of London which today cannot be recreated? I strongly object to any of the changes. I believe it is a desecration of a valuable history and being of the past.

  14. Simon French permalink
    February 8, 2015

    Our heritage is important to the UK economy as no one comes to this country for the weather.They come here for our old building and history. Glass and steel building can be seen anywhere in the world, but not Georgian terrace housing. It is criminal to see perfectly good 150 years plus character buildings, been replaced by bland, soulless glass and steel buildings, that in 40 years will be replace by something else. London needs to make a plan of what we need to save and conserve and what can go, needed very soon as developers have no sense of historical worth.

  15. February 8, 2015

    Why shouldn’t HRH PRINCE CHARLES OF WALES be involved here? I think it would be HIS topic!

    Love & Peace

  16. February 9, 2015

    Objection sent! Thank you for this information. The value in the area is its charm its history its local people! The value is already there it doesn’t need to be brought in.

  17. Jane Hughes permalink
    February 9, 2015

    Don’t let them erase so much history for short-sighted commercial reasons. Look how grateful we are now that much of Spitalfields was saved from the bulldozer. It’s too quickly destroyed and can never be replaced.

  18. February 9, 2015

    I’m so glad I noticed a tweet linking to this article. The Nicholls & Clarke buildings of Norton Folgate were the sit for my final project while studying architecture. I’ve photographed the fascinating interiors extensively. Looking forward to the exhibition at Dennis Severs House and to a successful campaign.

  19. Shawdiane permalink
    February 9, 2015

    I wish I could be there but I do not live on the mainland anymore. After a wonderful eleven years living in London, I am heartbroken to see how developers are being allowed (Money,
    Money, Money) to turn our treasure troved City in to one big ugly set of OFFICE clerical buildings. On my last visit to our great City, I was appalled to see the irrevocable damage – yes London is our Capital but in the last 20 to 30 years it is becoming less of a place to live & enjoy, but a mass office comglomerate of ugly glass & hidious strange looking buildings with no form or character.
    I have studied the History of London & it makes me cry to see so much of the Historic London (that made our London a world treasure) has vanished.

    Good Luck with your project & wish I could be there. You have a beautiful website which I am
    enjoying. Thank you

  20. February 9, 2015

    can you write and object if not living local?

  21. the gentle author permalink*
    February 9, 2015

    Yes you can!

  22. Helen Sheehan permalink
    February 10, 2015

    My son and I visited London from Australia only last November and stayed in the East End. Had a great time in the area. Can’t believe that so much history can be treated so flippantly. Have emailed my objection to the planning authority

  23. Matthew Southwell permalink
    February 10, 2015

    I object to the historic weaver’s houses being knocked down. We should be preserving historic buildings and trying to find a way of using them for today’s way of living.
    We do not need more soulless hi rise office blocks, which will probably be demolished in twenty years time anyway. #
    This is history. It is very important. These buildings are in a conservation area, therefore they should not be facing demolition.

  24. Andrea Kirkby permalink
    February 15, 2015

    Can someone tell me what is the point of a Conservation Area, if British Land can just apply for permission to knock everything down?

  25. Mary Salter permalink
    February 15, 2015

    As a member of a family who had a business in the area I feel it is wrong to destroy the heritage of London

  26. Matt Johnson permalink
    February 18, 2015

    Objection sent but, sadly, due to the awful ‘London Plan’ even if local communities are able to somehow persuade their local authorities to stand up to these greedy developers and reject such wholly inappropriate schemes, then these developers just run off to their friend the Mayor of London and he conveniently over-rules the local authorities and waves the scheme through.

    The London Plan is nothing short of a national scandal and has pushed the citizens of London further and further away from the decision making process that affects the fundamental quality of life in their own neighbourhoods.

    East London is currently reeling from one grotesque over-development after another and unless major changes are made to our planning laws soon there will be nothing left of the historic London we love but sepia-toned photographs.

  27. Barbara Shackley permalink
    February 18, 2015

    I fully support the aim to save this conservation area. Our towns are losing their individuality as developers wish to maximise the value of the land. These houses of great character should be refurbished if necessary and used as they were planned. Too much of our heritage is disappearing.
    Barbara Shackley

  28. Pepe Miranda permalink
    February 24, 2015

    I fully support the conservation of this area. It will be totally devastating to let the heritage of this part of London go. Please save this area from developers!

  29. Jackie Keith permalink
    February 25, 2015

    Thank you Gentle Author for a wonderful exhibition at Dennis Sever’s house, which I visited with my partner on 21st February. I’ve passed on the links to friends and family so that they can lodge objections. As a (great-great-great-grand) child of the Jago, here’s hoping we prevail.

  30. Elaine Parker permalink
    March 3, 2015

    I have just viewed Dan Cruickshanks’ video I live in Devon but my childhood was spent near to
    London and my Grandparents were born and lived in Shoreditch. I am so sad that these evocative wonderful buildings with so much history have to be destroyed because of peoples’ greed.
    I hope that your campaign will be a success otherwise what will be left for future generations.

  31. March 5, 2015

    The proof that this unique area is of vital cultural importance is that the area attracts tourists from all over the world, young people and those in the creative industries. They go to feel the historic atmosphere and derive pleasure from seeing the beautiful old buildings. London will lose a vital, irreplaceable architectural treasure. No one is going to visit a British Land development.

  32. March 10, 2015

    I have written and objected – oh boy have I objected! I am incredulous that British Land’s scheme is even being given consideration. London’s old areas are so precious, and if respectfully developed are a huge asset, culturally AND financially – think Covent Garden, Camden, St Pancras, Hoxton……
    Our blog this week will be devoted to Save Norton Folgate. I will do all I can to bring it to people’s attention. Good luck to you all.

  33. Graham Yates permalink
    March 15, 2015

    Visited Dennis Severs House today and was both touched and moved by not only the house itself but also the piece on the proposed redevelopment by British Land and the passion that the gentleman who was there to talk to us about it showed – have been aware of the ongoing battles for some time as a result of my love of Madness (and if you think they’re a 3 minute single “nutty” band then please check out the 9 minutes 42 second “The Liberty Of Norton Folgate” which is essentially a tribute to the area and a masterpiece to boot) but had not realised that they were still ongoing until recently.

    I am disgusted by the plans and have raised my objection with Tower Hamlets and urge anyone else to do so by following the link above – I only hope that Tower Hamlets has the sense to see that conservation is more important than profit.

  34. Stephen permalink
    March 16, 2015

    Great that you are highlighting this – very best of luck in the battle! Let us know if there is an occupation to take part in!

  35. Peter Clark permalink
    April 1, 2015

    I am a descendant of several of the famous Spitalfields Silk Weavers, and I have recently discovered that one of them actually lived in Norton Folgate. About 20 years ago I was lucky enough to be able to visit the area, Fournier Street in particular, and savour some of my Huguenot heritage. I am appalled that any demolition is being contemplated at Norton Folgate, and support any moves to prevent this occurring.
    To think that the “powers that be” would even consider destroying any part of historic Spitalfields that survived The Blitz fills me with disgust, and puts me in mind of the Bamiyan Buddhas. No doubt the desire for money will be at the root of this move.
    Peter Clark

  36. Elaine Steadman permalink
    April 8, 2015

    How can they be considering demolishing these buildings?!! It’s an outrage. Do we not have enough office blocks and modern buildings in London! This cannot be allowed to happen. This whole area is part of London’s heritage and must be preserved.

  37. Hilary James permalink
    June 9, 2015

    History seems to be repeating itself, except that this time there’s hope.

    As a Londoner from the west side, I first went to Spitalfields in 1963 (thanks to an art school party), yearned to live there, and finally made it in early 1969, to a tiny (but pleasant) room at the top of 12 Fournier Street, sublet by a friend. (Someone had told me back in ’63 that a weaver’s apprentice used to sleep there). By the end of the year, I’d moved to larger rooms there & in no 10, then moved in with my new boyfriend to a really big one; an ex-furriery workshop at ‘The Stables’, behind 33 Folgate Street. (Needing a street number for the bills when he had a phone put in, he chose the most logical one, 33⅓ Folgate Street, despite the protests of the GPO’s new computer!).
    I can send more description if you’re interested, and/or some 1960s/70s photos of Spitalfields I’m scanning. But briefly, 33 was an empty end-of-terrace house on the north side of Folgate Street, with its own lane at the side to a row of old stables behind, rented by little one-man businesses. The furriery place was one of a pair of workshops on top of them. It ended in an empty yard (with traces of previous buildings). One of our windows had a view over it (and other unbuilt spaces) of the houses of Fleur De Lys Street (another one where some artists had chosen to live).
    Officially, 33⅓ was only a studio (not for living in), so I can’t imagine we could have been sitting tenants. But we were still harrassed into leaving the next year, along with the other Stables people (and there was no easy way to check out the situation in those days). There was no proper procedure. Just little things like being woken in the small hours by bright light through the big window our bed was against, & seeing the main house in flames a few yards away (thanks to that phone, the Fire Brigade stopped it before our place and the stables went up as well). And the time a lorry driver chose that precise spot to have a careless moment, & broke the power cable to the Stables.
    We two were able to cope ok without electricity, and held out longer than the others, but it seemed a good idea to find somewhere else to live, and we did (back in Fournier St). The next we knew, everything behind no. 33 had disappeared (hastily demolished before some enthusiast with any power noticed it and got it preserved, we concluded). The sadness and anger still hasn’t gone away. Even in these upmarket days I can imagine the place still in use, e.g. as an enclave for little craft shops etc, with shared workspace above. Easy security at night, even, with the high wall that ran along the other side of the lane; just add a gate, & maybe get the house lived in again…..
    But that’s spilt milk now (sorry about the rambling!).
    Back then, we ordinary citizens didn’t have much influence on the powers-that-be (or the information to), and the preservation movement was just a fledgeling one back then. Over the years, campaigners like yourself have improved the situation immensely.
    I’m living in Ireland now, so probably don’t have any voice in the matter, but I’m behind you all the way. I don’t want to see yet another bit of my London destroyed next time I’m there!

  38. marilyn middleton permalink
    June 17, 2015

    I love the fact that these buildings still have the old lights outside on the front and look frozen in time my mum is Deptford born and bred so look what happened there when will councils learn from their enormous mistakes of the past leave the buildings alone most of these new apartments are never even lived in let alone by Londoners I thought the craze for tower blocks was past its sell by date use the empty buildings let them live again and put back some London plane trees back it can work watch secret history of our streets fabulous programmes and lets get emotional and get some good old british pride back in our wonderful old London town

  39. Michael Coleman permalink
    July 22, 2015

    This is a historic stunning characterful piece of old London that needs to be preserved with dignity and be a valuable gem in the area which is priceless heritage and loved by all rather than these sick nondescript monstrosities that so called architect’s with absolutely no skill or vision blight our surroundings and everybody’s so sick of and hasn’t anyone learnt yet from the many mistakes of the past desecrating areas of beauty and history like these ???? Unbelievable !!! Shame on companies like this ‘ British Land . ‘ More like ‘ BRITISH DESTRUCTION !!!!’

  40. John permalink
    December 18, 2015

    The wanton despoilation of heritage sites is cause for much sadness. All of us, especially those who live in and love London, should join you in your protest. The developers are powerful, but few in number; we are many.

  41. January 18, 2016

    Once it’s gone – it’s gone !
    Too late to weep then over spilt dust

  42. Dominic Gauden permalink
    January 18, 2016

    Look up the journalist that led the campaign to save Covent Garden. The had the same modernisation plan in the seventies. And the campaign won whish is what is there today. total success for London against developers & real estate piranhas.

  43. Helen Burgess permalink
    January 21, 2016

    Please let me know if there is any hope for Norton Folgate and if I can email to help

  44. Edward Miller permalink
    February 15, 2016

    This has to be saved to protect the culture heritage and environment of the area with years and years of tradition that cannot be replaced. The buildings are of such quality that they have to be protected and take the example of Sir John Betjeman, at St Pancras which I regularly admire.
    A recent Saturday visit was a marvelous experience and proof of how much such a large crowd value the area.

  45. Nel Romano permalink
    April 9, 2016

    It is only too easy to destroy, but MUCH more difficult to preserve and protect.
    The whole area of Spitalfields (and Norton Holgate) is one of the richest parts of London in terms of cultural heritage and history, with great wonders such as the Severs House still extant.
    We must not let the wreckers do their worst – we must protect this area and preserve it for others in future generations to enjoy. There is more than enough high-rise in that particular square mile: we do not need more.

  46. Annie S permalink
    May 10, 2016

    Very, very sad news this afternoon 🙁

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