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The Facading Of The White Hart

April 10, 2017
by the gentle author

Over the past year, a carbuncle has appeared on top of the ancient White Hart in Bishopsgate. It is the creation of Amsprop, a company belonging to entrepreneur Sir Alan Sugar, who began his career nearby in Petticoat Lane and for whom this will serve as his monument in the East End.

The White Hart (1246-2015)

Charles Goss, one of the first archivists at the Bishopsgate Institute, was in thrall to the romance of old Bishopsgate and in 1930 he wrote a lyrical history of The White Hart, which he believed to be its most ancient tavern – originating as early as 1246. “Its history as an inn can be of little less antiquity than that of the Tabard, the lodging house of the feast-loving Chaucer and the Canterbury pilgrims, or the Boar’s Head in Eastcheap, the rendezvous of Prince Henry and his lewd companions.” – Charles Goss

In Goss’ time, Bishopsgate still contained medieval shambles that were spared by the Fire of London and he recalled the era before the coming of the railway, when the street was lined with old coaching inns, serving as points of departure and arrival for travellers to and from the metropolis. “During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, The White Hart tavern was at the height of its prosperity.” he wrote fondly, “It was a general meeting place of literary men of the neighbourhood and the rendezvous of politicians and traders, and even noblemen visited it.”

The White Hart’s history is interwoven with the founding of the Hospital of St Mary Bethlehem in 1246 by Simon Fitz Mary, whose house once stood upon the site of the tavern. He endowed his land in Bishopsgate, extending beneath the current Liverpool St Station, to the monastery and Goss believed the Brothers stayed in Fitz Mary’s mansion once they first arrived from Palestine, until the hospital was constructed in 1257 with the gatehouse situated where Liverpool St meets Bishopsgate today. This dwelling may have subsequently became a boarding house for pilgrims outside the City gate and when the first licences to sell sweet wines were issued to three taverns in Bishopsgate in August 1365, this is likely to have been the origin of the White Hart’s status as a tavern.

Yet, ten years later in 1375, Edward III took possession of the monastery as an ‘alien priory’ and turned it over to become a hospital for the insane. The gateway was replaced in the reign of Richard II and the date ‘1480’ that adorned the front of the inn until the nineteenth century suggests it was rebuilt with a galleried yard at the same time and renamed The White Hart, acquiring Richard’s badge as its own symbol. The galleried yard offered the opportunity for theatrical performances, while increased traffic in Bishopsgate and the reputation of Shoreditch as a place of entertainments drew the audience.

“Vast numbers of stage coaches, wagons, chaises and carriages passed through Bishopsgate St at this time,” wrote Goss excitedly, “Travellers and carriers arriving near the City after the gates had been closed or those who for other reasons desired to remain outside the City wall until the morning, would naturally put up at one of the galleried inns, or taverns near the City gate and The White Hart was esteemed to be one of the most important taverns at that time. Here they would find small private rooms, where the visitors not only took their meals but transacted all manner of business and, if the food dispensed was good enough, the wine strong, the feather beds deep and heavily curtained, the bedrooms were certainly cold and draughty, for the doors opened onto unprotected galleries – but apparently they were comfortable enough for travellers in former days.”

The occasion of Charles Goss’ history of The White Hart was the centenary of its rebuilding upon its original foundations in 1829, yet although the medieval structure above ground was replaced, Goss was keen to emphasise that, “When the tavern was taken down it was found to be built upon cellars constructed in earlier centuries. Those were not destroyed, but were again used in the construction of the present house.” This rebuilding coincided with Bedlam Gate being removed and the road widened and renamed Liverpool St, after the Hospital of St Mary Bethlehem had transferred to Lambeth in 1815. At this time, the date ‘1246 ‘- referring to the founding of the monastery – was placed upon the pediment on The White Hart where it may be seen to this day.

“This tavern which claims to be endowed with the oldest licence in London, is still popular, for its various compartments appear always to be well patronised during the legal hours they are open for refreshment and there can be none of London’s present-day inns which can trace its history as far back as The White Hart, Bishopsgate,” concluded Goss in satisfaction in 1930.

In 2011, permission was granted by the City of London to demolish all but the facade of The White Hart and in 2015 the pub shut for the last time to permit the construction of a nine storey cylindrical office block of questionable design, developed by Sir Alan Sugar’s company Amsprop. Thus passes The White Hart after more than seven centuries in Bishopsgate, and I am glad Charles Goss is not here to see it.

The White Hart by John Thomas Smith c. 1800

The White Hart from a drawing by George Shepherd, 1810

White Hart Court, where the coaches once drove through to the galleried yard of the White Hart

Design by Inigo Jones for buildings constructed in White Hart Court in 1610

Seventeenth century tavern token, “At The White Hart”

Reverse of the Tavern Token ” At Bedlam Gate 1637″

The White Hart as it appeared in 1787

The White Hart, prior to the rebuilding of 1829

“When the tavern was taken down it was found to be built upon cellars constructed in earlier centuries. Those were not destroyed, but were again used in the construction of the present house.” Charles Goss describing the rebuilding of 1829. These ancient vaults were destroyed in the current redevelopment.

The White Hart in 2015

The White Hart in 2017

Seen from the churchyard of St Botolph’s Bishopsgate by James Gold, 1728

Seen from the south west

Seen from Liverpool St

The meeting of the old and new in Liverpool St

The development seen from Houndsditch

Archive images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to read about

The Creeping Plague of Ghastly Facadism

Meanwhile in Felix St, Bethnal Green, The Duke of Cambridge (1839-1998 ) gets similar treatment

29 Responses leave one →
  1. Jim McDermott permalink
    April 10, 2017

    If reason were needed to dislike that man even more …

    How is it possible that planning permission could be given to destroy those cellars? It would be like smashing up the crypt of St Mary le Bow.

  2. April 10, 2017

    Another sad story. Once again, greed and ignorance have united to destroy part of our heritage. Valerie

  3. Lori permalink
    April 10, 2017

    How sad to read of the demise of this ancient tavern that had such an interesting history. I am utterly appalled to see yet another piece of hideous architecture ruining the skyline and this example is particularly offensive! We look back in admiration of the architects of the past but future generations will surely wonder what madness had allowed these monstrous carbuncles to be inflicted on London, how on earth do they get planning permission for something like this ?????

  4. Shawdian permalink
    April 10, 2017

    The Carbuncle is a perfect example of everything that is going wrong with London. HIDEOUS.

  5. Peter Huddart permalink
    April 10, 2017

    Once more, solid history succumbs to Ego and Mammon..
    The preservation of the facade is just an insult towards the
    centuries of history; devastated to serve the will of the wealthy.
    Surely it was not beyond the wit of the architects to incorporate
    the old building into the new and actually make their effort
    worthwhile ?
    It is not as though the building lacked relevance to the Capital itself .
    This is nothing less than an act of historical vandalism.

  6. April 10, 2017

    Legal vandalism. An echo of Trump Tower in the heart of ‘historic’ London.

  7. April 10, 2017

    The White Hart drawings of 1800,1810 clearly show the large entrance feature designed to allow the passing of large horse and stage coaches into the large courtyard beyond. Passengers would alight, coach would turn around ready for an exit. Of course the horse teams would watered and fed from nose-bags or enter stabling. Sometimes a change of horses would be offered. Pre 1836 this was still a key method of transportation and the White Hart Inn featured in this transportation network. First steam rail passenger service started as the London & Greenwich Railway from 1836. Poet John

  8. Dianne permalink
    April 10, 2017

    I honestly think present day architects are blind. On a recent visit to London I was appalled at some of the structures overtaking the beautiful old buildings. In no way will they survive for the number of years some of the old ones have been in existence and in no way will we be visiting London just to look at them. Boris should be ashamed – the only legacy he left is one of destruction.

  9. April 10, 2017

    Facadism: passive-aggressive and patronising march of bullshitters.

  10. Eddie Johnson permalink
    April 10, 2017

    Is there no end to the stupidity of the people who control our lives, the modern vandals and destroyers who, in the name of progress are destroying our civilization and everything we hold dear from the rain forest, the Middle East, the National Health Service, Alan Sugar, it seems to me, embodies the spirit of the age where only materialism counts. Of course ordinary people should care more for these issues but they are misinformed about everything and fearful of losing their jobs but I wish sometimes we would rise up and revolt …. so sad that beauty should be so obscured by ugliness.

  11. simon diable permalink
    April 10, 2017

    I often ended up in this pub after a day/night in “The City”. One of my older friends used to drink there when he started work in London in the 60’s. Colloquially the pub was known its street number. I believe it was called the “66” or similar. Wish I could remember.

  12. Ken Powell permalink
    April 10, 2017

    A truly grotesque project. New buildings are vital in the City but this crude ruination of an old building of great character is a disgrace. What were the planners thinking?

  13. Marco permalink
    April 10, 2017

    This is a real eyesore!

  14. Leana Pooley permalink
    April 10, 2017

    I was shocked and horrified reading this and looking at the pictures. Yet another crass and banal block damaging historic views in all directions. I thought hopefully “Oh, perhaps the cellars are still OK” but, oh no, they’ve gone too. I’d like to know who the people were on the planning committee that approved this. And why?

  15. Maris Ozols permalink
    April 10, 2017

    How did both of those monstrosities get through planning? There seems to be something seriously wrong with the planning process in this part of London. One has only to look at the godawful view of the city from the south side of the river.

  16. Chris permalink
    April 10, 2017

    Can anyone explain the purpose of facadism from a planning perspective? What exactly is the aim?

  17. Malcolm permalink
    April 10, 2017

    The architecture of the insane.
    What is this grotesque carbuncle supposed to be demonstrating , what is its architectural significance?
    This defiling of our historic environment and the buildings therein is surely no more than the revenge of those who would sooner tear everything down and replace it with a collection of short-lived statement projects. The statement being: “We are rich and we can do what we like”.
    The City of London have long-since given in to the shiny-building vendors and their money. There was once a time when tall buildings were absolutely refused permission for the very good reason that they didn’t fit with the historic vistas and streets of the that venerable mini-state. Once NatWest got permission to build their tower in Old Broad Street, the game was up and the developers sought to erect their temples of glass everywhere. The City is now a disgraceful mess of ugly buildings and junk, the personification of Mammon. This is how we demonstrate our culture today. Greed has never been so good.

  18. April 10, 2017

    From the website of the architects, Blair Associates Architecture ( ):

    ‘The sculptural form sometimes touching the ground to the south and west disappearing as the building sits back behind the historic façades. The mini tower element plays an important role in long views within the Conservation Area and this part of the City adding interest to the skyline and making key location of the corner of the two routes and by Liverpool Street Station within a wider urban landscape, the site planning and careful use of materials and detailing ensures however that both these elements can be read within the townscape as part of a coherent whole.’

    They degrade the English language as well as the environment.

  19. Stephen Barker permalink
    April 10, 2017

    T o Bob Davenport. I think their use of the English language is more creative in a perverse way than the building they designed. It is not a memorable building which looks at its best from the SW.
    We appear to have created a solution that satisfies no-one. Retaining the facade is not saving the heritage of the building that stood behind it. On the other hand we do not appear to have the confidence to design and build new buildings that will be improvement on what it replaces and be appreciated in it’s own right and as an addition to the townscape. I wonder how long the new building is expected to last before it to is replaced.

  20. Martin permalink
    April 10, 2017

    Sad. I get upset when I see London ruined like this. But it seems nobody can do anything about it. Enjoy reading this column despite not having visited London for many years.

  21. April 10, 2017

    I’m gobsmacked. The new “extension” is such an incredibly ugly and unimaginative building in its own right, but to stick it on top of a building with so much history is unbelievable! How did it get through planning?

  22. April 10, 2017

    It was with great sadness that I first witnessed the gradual destruction of this fine survivor of a lost age that had clung to life evolving within its constant and current use. First came the notices of planning then in came the workmen to firstly begin the savage removal of the interiors of the 18th century house adjacent to the public house, I stood with horror as I witnessed the lath and plaster ceiling being torn down along with all of the interior chambers.
    Next up went the scaffolding with notices and then images informing us of the historic research done to uncover the medieval history of the site as every trace of what had survived within the 1830’s facade were brutally destroyed along with the newsagents tiny interior with its false ceilings that hid what was left of something ancient not lost but buried. I never thought that a site of such historical importance would be swept away. The only surving coaching Inn on Bishopsgate without lost to be gone forever all this within a conservation area.
    The yard where the coaches once arrived to drop off their passengers and goods I walked often accessing it through the tiny lane beside the church, it still with its ancient granite blocks that were worn by the many carriages that had arrived and departed for centuries. Now no public access is possible, the open area gone along with all trace of our past. Within its place is now a disgusting building that rises above the facade with its date of its construction the only reminder of what once was as all we are left with is a sad facade, today at 8 am I looked in through the windows to look upon a vast open void of concrete .
    All across the city, buildings that have stood for centuries are either being destroyed or parts of their facades kept as ugly towers take their new shape removing all trace of our domestic human occupation of my beloved London.
    If this destruction continues as it does like a nasty virus eating away at anything beautiful, buildings built by craftsmen to enhance the lives of its people all will be lost. The tower that now sits above the facade of the White Hart does not do this, it is a statement of absolute disrespect for the building and for the history of this great and ancient part of London. The City of London should be ashamed of what they have allowed to happen.
    I now count myself very fortunate to have been able to walk through the back lanes of the pub through the coaching arch to have visited the pub and witnessed its ancient vaults.
    I wonder where all this end? London a city of ugly towers and strange facades of what once was. The future should be bright and golden one where we remember and respect our past for our future generations. Instead it has become one of darkness where absolute greed for investment has become the rule of the present day.

  23. Peter Holford permalink
    April 10, 2017

    “…a nine storey cylindrical office block of questionable design…” That’s a very flattering description, GA. Let’s call it as it is – an ugly piece of council approved vandalism. Even that doesn’t do justice to the trashing of this particular piece of heritage for no purpose.

  24. pauline taylor permalink
    April 10, 2017

    Godawful is the very apt description of this monstrous example of modern architecture, and as to how planning permission was given for it, might the fact that Mr Sugar is a very rich man have something to do with it, and Mr Johnson of course. Both should be deeply ashamed of themselves but we all know that they are too busy counting their money!

    Facadism is an insult to most of us, and as to the quote from the website of the architects and the destruction of the cellars, well words really do fail me.

  25. Ros permalink
    April 10, 2017

    Absolutely revolting and very depressing. I’m afraid planners barely feature in the scheme of things these days, having been put out to grass like other public services. We are seeing what happens when when there is a policy of wealth being sought from corporate and entrepreneurial sources, who then become gods who cannot be questioned or challenged in case they withdraw their apparent bounty. This includes the policy of giving them huge ‘tax incentives’ so that money does not find its way back to anything approaching the public good. I fear we are in lots and lots of trouble!

  26. April 13, 2017

    Dear GA
    I found this shocking. Is the council so feeble & impotent as to say NO? Or is it those old ‘planning gain agreements’? I should like to know. Keep up the fight! I will send some photos of what this looked like in 1980’s.
    Sincere regards

  27. April 17, 2017

    You mention the Duke of Cambridge: this is happening also to the Railway Tavern on Globe Road, Bethnal Green. It was a thriving local pub but was torn down because there’s more money in expensive flats.



  28. Kay Anderson permalink
    April 18, 2017

    Agree with most of the above posts, and this is going on everywhere in the world, to boot! If they can tear down Palmyra, why not London, and every historical place on the planet?

    True madness. Heartbreaking.

  29. Godfrey Kneller permalink
    April 30, 2017

    Once a barrow boy, aways a barrow boy. Does not care for London’s heritage. Sugar became a Lord by donating to charity and the labour party. Which was the most significant?

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