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Spiegelhalters Is Saved

April 29, 2015
by the gentle author

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


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 to reserve your place

16 Responses leave one →
  1. April 29, 2015

    Great to see Spiegelhalters has been saved, this is a victory. Let’s hope for more successes fighting against the other projects of wanton destruction and vandalism in the East End. Well done David Collard and all who supported him! Valerie

  2. April 29, 2015

    Heartening news to wake up to. Glad the petition worked and the facade at least is saved.

  3. Carole Godfrey permalink
    April 29, 2015

    Can the developers be trusted not to accidently demolish the building?

  4. April 29, 2015

    Congratulations for this achievement!

    Love & Peace

  5. Barbara permalink
    April 29, 2015

    Congratulations to everybody who helped save this fragment !

  6. Vita permalink
    April 29, 2015

    Bravo! Onwards and upwards. Saving Norton Folgate is within our grasp.

  7. April 29, 2015

    Would it be too much to suggest common sense can prevail?

  8. Suzanne Keyte permalink
    April 29, 2015

    This is great news – well done to all of those involved in this campaign. Another beautiful building saved (within reason) and a little bit of heritage preserved.

  9. April 29, 2015

    Congratulations to all involved in preserving this building.

  10. Annie S permalink
    April 29, 2015


  11. April 29, 2015

    It seems to be a day for the planners to be finally standing up to the developers. Westminster Council have ordered developers who tore down a Maida Vale pub without planning permission to rebuild it brick by brick:

  12. David Collard permalink
    April 29, 2015

    Many thanks to you, Gentle Author, and your many readers for your and their support and good wishes, which made all the difference. The campaign is all but over, although we haven’t yet seen the architect’s revised proposals and there will be further public consultation once they are submitted to Tower Hamlets Planning Department. We’ll see what comes up. The artist’s impression perpetuates the Dept W nonsense and what looks like some large wording in the lobby, which seems out of scale. We are continuing to press for spot listing of the entire frontage as this will secure the futures of the plucky little structure for years to come.

    A thought. My suggestion for the ground floor of the site would be a glass frosted entrance (possibly recessed) on which an image of the Spiegelhalters shop could be etched (based on the 1920s photograph of the business in its heyday). Suitably lit, it would allow visitors to pass through a spectral residue of the original and contentious facade – a ghost building. This would be unique, and beautiful , and appropriate. The technology exists and (I hope) the combination of good taste and determination that characterise thoughtful and appropriate development.

    Compared with what’s under threat down the road at Norton Folgate, the survival of Spiegelhalters may seem small potatoes. But perhaps we can agree to see it a a potent symbol of continuing opposition to thoughtless development, and a rallying point. Spiegelhalters is the Spartacus of East End buildings!

    many thanks again to all.


  13. Neville Turner permalink
    April 29, 2015

    A good result from a good campaigh.Good for future optimism and other heritage campaigns.Keep up the good work.

  14. April 30, 2015

    That’s a darn good idea! And it is really something new – since I’ve seen it done a few places here in Seattle lately. Society is finally paying homage to the ‘karma’ of the 100 years that a building accumulated as it was lived in. So it’s wonderful when structures can be kept on like that.

  15. Fay Cattini permalink
    April 30, 2015

    I popped down to Spiegelhalters from Fenchurch St in my lunch break and had my ears pierced, 50 years ago!

  16. Shawdian permalink
    July 7, 2016

    This simply would not happen today with the big conglomerates getting their way. How funny that Mr big stuck to his big guns making a mash of that otherwise lovely specimen of a Victorian building and Mr Little stuck by his with his little shop. Glad this little bit of excentricity is saved. Far too much these days is about bulldozing away perfectly good strong buildings only for some ugly glass frontage horror that look the pits and be pulled down within ten years. Too much these days is Throw Away! with new horrid buildings looking plastic and not at all permanent. Me, I like somthing that says ‘I will still be here in … ‘

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