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The Ruins Of The Fruit & Wool Exchange

September 11, 2015
by the gentle author

This is a view I never expected to see – Christ Church, Spitalfields, peering through the ruins of the London Fruit & Wool Exchange. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, is personally responsible for this tragic scene, by overturning the unanimous democratic decision of Tower Hamlets Council to reject the new development.

A dignified edifice of brick and stone, constructed to complement the historic buildings which surround it and which was entirely capable of reuse, is being destroyed and replaced by an overblown generic block of undistinguished design. More than two hundred small local businesses have been displaced for the sake of one international corporate law firm who have already leased all the office space in the new building.

It is paramount that Boris Johnson does not become the agent of destruction of Norton Folgate in the same way, by also overturning the decision of the Council to refuse British Land’s scheme which replaces the historic warehouses there with corporate blocks of fourteen storeys, destroying 72% of the fabric of their site which sits entirely within a Conservation Area.

Boris Johnson has British Land’s Norton Folgate planning application in front of him now and he has until 25th September to decide whether to get involved. If you have not already done so, please write to Boris Johnson and ask him not to interfere in Norton Folgate.

This is a simple guide to how to write to the Mayor of London, asking him to show respect to the people of the East End by upholding the decision of Tower Hamlets Council and not intervening on behalf of British Land.

You can write by email (please also provide your postal address in the email) or by post to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, Greater London Authority, City Hall, The Queen’s Walk, London, SE1 2AA

Please quote application numbers PA/14/03548 & PA/14/03618 and write in your own words giving your own reasons why you think Boris Johnson should not interfere with Norton Folgate, but you might like to consider including the following points.

1. The decision to reject British Land’s application was made democratically by Tower Hamlets Strategic Development Committee with 4 votes against, 4 abstentions and o votes in favour.  This is what the people of East London want.

2. There were more than 550 letters of objection but only 7 in favour.

3. The site is entirely within the Elder St Conservation Area which is protected by the Council’s own Conservation Policy, recommending repair of the buildings – not wholesale demolition as proposed by British Land.

4. The Spitalfields Trust has produced a viable alternative scheme which addresses local housing and employment needs, and preserves the heritage assets for future generations.

Note the troughs of plants along the top of the blue hoardings to compensate us for the demolition

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17 Responses leave one →
  1. September 11, 2015

    Very sad pictures. Boris Johnson will go down in history as a greedy and destructive vandal. Valerie

  2. September 11, 2015

    What else can we expect from an old Bullingdon boy. The man’s a Philistine.

  3. Sharon Carr-Wu permalink
    September 11, 2015

    It beggers belief, Gentle Author, the destruction of London’s architecture by property developers (not my favourite breed), corporate interests and a politically belligerent Mayor – Boris Johnson. Cannot say this development is for the benefit of the local community but rather for the overseas guys who flash a bit of cash, network at politically corporate dos and do the deal. Tower Hamlets Council does not have an outstanding record in preserving local architecture but on this occasion, the Council made the right decision only for it to be overturned by someone who has no commitment to the local area and community. Boris Johnson ain’t got anyone’s interests at heart except his own and those of his cronies. This is a very shameful act and unfortunately, the virus is spreading to other cities in the UK. Very shameful indeed.

  4. Gary permalink
    September 11, 2015

    He will also be remembered as the mayor who raised the co2 emissions to unbelievable high levels and bringing London to a virtual standstill with CRACKPOT road schemes.

  5. September 11, 2015

    These pictures make me weep. I am totally against the vicious destruction of the Fruit & Wool Exchange. The graffiti in the basement is real working class history of local folk sheltering from the bombing of WWII. Amenities in the shelter were installed by local communists, government not interested in the welfare of Eastenders. I am convinced this sound block would’ve made excellent & much needed council housing. I am writing to Boris re: Norton Folgate. OUR history in architecture is vital!

  6. Jane Jones permalink
    September 11, 2015

    I walked past sad example of vandalism last night and couldn’t understand why such lovely buildings were being blitzed to make room for the ugliness of greed. It was extremely disappointing as I was taking a friend around some of my favourite spots in the area, one of which is the lovely Georgian house at No 5 White’s Row. What an awful view they’ll have in future!

  7. Ann Barney permalink
    September 11, 2015

    I don’t live in London but abhor the destruction of those old buildings.If the decision was made to preserve the buildings then what right does Boris Johnson have to overturn it and destroy London’s heritage.

  8. September 11, 2015

    Did they save nothing of the wonderful interior? Those staircases? The auction hall doors?
    I truly hope so.

  9. Peter Holford permalink
    September 11, 2015

    We kid ourselves that we live in a democracy. When one man has unlimited power and uses it as he alone sees fit there is nothing to differentiate us from any reviled autocracy. The same con is being perpetrated in the northern cities. I live in Greater Manchester and we had a referendum asking us whether we wanted a mayor. The answer was a resounding ‘NO’. So this government have seen fit to impose one instead riding rough-shod over a democratic wish. If the Scots decide to have another referendum the same government will bleat about the fact there has already been one in which the public rejected the offer of independence.


  10. Kate permalink
    September 11, 2015

    I have had a response from the Mayors office to my email so please email or write in with your objections. The more they get, hopefully will mean that they listen and Boris the Butcher in conjunction with British Land doesn’t get their way. Let’s make it as uncomfortable as possible for them!

  11. Jane permalink
    September 11, 2015

    Tragic and criminal. Another lovely building gone forever. So sad.

  12. September 13, 2015

    I am an American Tourist, Californian since Kindergarten. Out here, our few “old” buildings give visitors and dwellers alike nothing of the sense of history and connection with our past like the wonderful old brick buildings of London do. I don’t mean the tourist attractions, either. I mean the sense of place, what London is at its heart.

    I was dismayed to find the “entertainment” and restaurant chain names of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf in Picadilly Circus during my last visit (really? Bubba Gumps? Why?).

    I have great sympathy and empathize with your sense of outrage and loss.

    I have no pull with Mr. Boris, but this to say: Don’t Americanize this lovely City. We already have an America and we’ve seen how that’s gone. You can’t recreate the kind of character that comes with age and history without it being a bit Disneylandish. Or at least crass.

    Keep fighting the good fight. Please write those letters.

  13. Maddie permalink
    September 13, 2015

    I thought the scheme was a facade retention? I don’t say that as a justification of the scheme, I have no sympathy with the argument that that facade retention is a form of conservation, it’s merely a developer’s way of saying that beauty is only skin deep, it’s as bad as total demolition in my mind. I am just confused as I thought the artist impressions included the original facade?

  14. September 21, 2015

    Just about to send my email.

    I can’t believe we’re here again. I thought Norton Folgate was saved. Now I am even more afraid than I was at the planning committee judgement – I don’t trust Boris one inch.


  15. Andrea Murphy permalink
    September 24, 2015

    So it has actually happened. How terrible. I dislike that mayor intensely. Fight on, good people.
    –from a Canadian.

  16. Tom permalink
    October 14, 2015

    I flatly refuse to believe that this is justifiable. If the council votes it down, the public are against and it’s a structurally sound piece of conservation architecture that can comfortably be reapropriated as a mixture of medium business, textile, tech, entrepreneurial space (Berlin is poaching this now from London) with a satisfactory amount of social housing ensuring it remains a vibrant, mixed area that serves us all – then this is greed.

    What the point of following procedure if Boris seduced by international mega bucks squashes it all anyway?

    I genuinely believe the only key to saving the amazing Norton Folgate warehouses and having them protected and reapropriated and the bishopsgate good yard development being drastically scaled down and more responsible is to get Prince Charles on it. Seriously, pressure to release his private letters to MPs showed he had a huge part in saving smith fields market and was furious about the demolition of bishopsgate station in 2005. I believe if we campaigned to bring this to his attention with a mind time protecting these streets and original buildings, it might work? Capitalism needn’t be incompatible with conservation and building on the vibrant life and work ecology already existing in this historic part of east london.

    Kate. Please let me know who/where to write to.

  17. Sally Brown permalink
    December 9, 2015

    I complained to the Mayor’s office & here follows an extract from the reply I received from the Senior Strategic Planner: “The Mayor’s London Plan recognises the importance of London’s heritage which include listed buildings, registered historic parks and gardens and other natural and historic landscapes, conservation areas, World Heritage Sites, registered battlefields, scheduled monuments, archaeological remains and memorials. London Plan policies help ensure that London’s heritage is maintained and enhanced.” It would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

    I was 100% behind Boris at the start but my admiration has turned to horror and dismay. I totally agree with the comments above: the man’s a Philistine and a greedy and destructive vandal.

    I am currently composing an email to Boris’s office with ccs to The Guardian, the Evening Standard, the local Councillor, the local MP and the Daily Mail (for what it’s worth). And a very good idea to get Prince Charles on to it – I will try that too (

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