Skip to content

A Botch-Up In Bishopsgate

June 25, 2019
by the gentle author

The centuries old White Hart in Bishopsgate has been botched up with a cylindrical office block on top, facaded and the ancient cellars destroyed. It is a development by Amsprop, the company of Sir Alan Sugar, who began his career nearby in Petticoat Lane and for whom this will serve as his monument in the East End.

One of the most popular posts of recent years has been THE CREEPING PLAGUE OF GHASTLY FACADISM. Now I have written a book which is a gallery of the most notorious facades and a humorous analysis of facadism – the unfortunate practice of destroying everything apart from the front wall and constructing a new building behind it – revealing why this is happening and what it means.

Since I announced it last week, I have raised half the funds for the book – there are two ways you can help.

1. I am seeking readers who are willing to invest £1000 in THE CREEPING PLAGUE OF GHASTLY FACADISM. In return, we will publish your name in the book and invite you to a celebratory dinner hosted by yours truly. If you would like to know more, please write to me at

2. Preorder a copy of THE CREEPING PLAGUE OF GHASTLY FACADISM and you will receive a signed and inscribed copy in October when the book is published. Click here to preorder your copy

Please suggest other facades I should include.

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.”

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 become 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

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

The exterior cover of the book…

…which opens to reveal the title.


27 Responses leave one →
  1. June 25, 2019

    The Villard Houses in NYC are a 1970s example of facadism, sort of. The building was left standing in full but a 51 story building was put up immediately behind the houses (big flats, as I understand it).

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    June 25, 2019


    And tragic to lose those historic cellars too…


  3. June 25, 2019

    This is a horror….It should be pulled down!

  4. June 25, 2019

    Astonishingly ill judged. I have asked in previous posts, one does have to wonder how planning permission was ever given for this project.

  5. Gilbert O'Brien permalink
    June 25, 2019

    You have mentioned Alan Sugar in your piece, but the name of the architect [sic] would be useful too. There are too many so-callled architects inflicting these sorts of horrors on us at the behest of their clients, and it would be as well to name them.

  6. Veronica Burrows permalink
    June 25, 2019

    Hopefully someone will tell Alan Sugar and his architects and the Corporation of London Planning Commitee they are all FIRED!

  7. mlaiuppa permalink
    June 25, 2019

    That is truly hideous.

    What an abomination.

    What happened to English Architects? They used to be so great. Now they are just hacks.

  8. June 25, 2019

    We just don’t seem to learn do we? Another cheaply constructed monstrosity defining the City skyline. How is one supposed to react to this piece of concrete, plastic and glass I wonder? Not with a spirit uplifted or any appreciation of proportion and form. This is one more ghastly example of facadism. One would’ve imagined A Sugar, being a proud Londoner should’ve been slightly more sympathetic to the significance of older buildings, rather than trashing and trampling all over them in this way. Very sad and extremely depressing, yet again.

  9. June 25, 2019

    Awful, abominable, atrocious, outrageous, and I think I’m still missing a few adjectives to describe such an aberrant “solution”.

  10. Laura Williamson permalink
    June 25, 2019

    It looks for all the world as if an uncouth giant has sliced a bit off Birmingham’s Rotunda at an angle and frisbeed it south, where it accidentally landed in the middle of a distinguished and attractive London pub (although this scenario would have involved more forethought than has happened here)

    It is ironic that the cellars survived the early 19th C rebuild but did not in these more “enlightened” times.

  11. Sharon Carr-Wu permalink
    June 25, 2019

    What a monstrosity! And that’s an understatement.

  12. June 25, 2019

    Maybe a bit off-topic, but still — My heart sunk as I read about how those ancient vaults had been disregarded. I was reminded of one of my favorite areas of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
    (in NYC); the so-called “Crypt Gallery”. This magnificent atmospheric “vault” underneath the Grand Staircase was reclaimed, and now is a display area for Byzantine art. My favorite thing is to step inside and view the “underside” of the marble staircase above; while surrounded by the ancient brickwork and intimate lighting. It was pure genius for the Museum to reclaim this space, and (best of all) recognize its value.

  13. Sue Mayer permalink
    June 25, 2019

    This is ugly. I don’t understand why the cellars had to be destroyed. This is so depressing.

  14. Harry Harrison permalink
    June 25, 2019

    It’s impossible to imagine anybody liking this monstrous addition to the London skyline, apart perhaps the clients that commissioned it, the architects who designed it and the planners who approved it, shame on them all.

  15. Peter Holford permalink
    June 25, 2019

    This begs the question of why was such an historic building not listed. Or perhaps it was listed; in which case why were the City of London planners able to ignore listed building protection?

    The first incarnation of the White Hart lasted from 1480 to 1829. That is 349 years. I wonder if Alan Sugar’s ‘creation’ will still be around in 2368. Perhaps that a bit far fetched. The second incarnation of the tavern lasted 186 years which would mean Sugar’s cylinder will still be around in 2200 if it is as durable. Ha! It’s a shame none of us will be around to say ‘I told you so’!

  16. Maureen Cocklin permalink
    June 25, 2019

    Someone said if you want to see the beauty of London buildings look up as there are wonderful statues, scrolling etc. Now if you look up all you see is glass monstrosities. What are they doing to our our lovely city.

  17. Maureen Cocklin permalink
    June 25, 2019

    I’m beginning to wonder if we have any architects with original thoughts. As they seem to do variations on the steel and glass them.

  18. Saba permalink
    June 25, 2019

    Many in the world, including the United States where I live, now slide into moral self-destruction, even fascism. I sense a connection between facadism and fascism.

  19. June 25, 2019

    Bad architects are no better than bad hairdressers; they take no responsibility for the visual atrocities they foist upon the public.

  20. Judi Jones permalink
    June 25, 2019

    Our country’s character is being flushed down the pan by imbeciles and idiots who have too much control…it’s scandalous and this is a prime example….

  21. Bernie permalink
    June 25, 2019

    Many years ago I had cause to question the powers of a local council planning department and discovered that where architectural style is concerned, they are vanishingly weak. The examples seen here surely demnstrate that this remains the case. I believe that planning departments cannot, and never have been able to do much to stop what many right-thinking people consider to be stylistic and cultural vandalism. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  22. Ken permalink
    June 26, 2019

    Very disappointing judgement by the City: a banal new block and needless destruction of history (though the cellars were the only really significant element of the White Hart that remained). Who designed the new building?

  23. Lesley permalink
    June 27, 2019

    Barbaric architecture

  24. Evie permalink
    June 28, 2019

    Absolutely gross. When will they learn?!

  25. Greta Kelly permalink
    June 30, 2019

    Eva Wiseman writes about this in today’s Observer Magazine, including the above mentioned book.( Page 5)
    Hope more and more people object to this shambles of old and new, which is just a lazy compromise!
    She writes, “ – new offices inserted behind the mask of old pub fronts or warehouses, like Christmas tricks of ducks inside turkeys”

  26. Vivienne permalink
    July 3, 2019

    I just don’t understand – they spend all this money on ugly buildings, when they could refurbish existing buildings and reuse them.

    Also, how hard is it to design something that fits in with the building, surroundings, etc.?

    I used one of your previous posts on facadism to make a submission to stop a very tall hotel being built in Dunedin, New Zealand. The hotel would have been completely out of character with the historic nature of Dunedin.

  27. John W permalink
    December 26, 2021

    Unfortunately, much as one can blame developers and their design consultants, the real culprit is the City of London who have the responsibility over permitting development. While they cared about conserving the facade design, which is something worthwhile in my opinion, in this case their interest did not extend to conserving the interior and historic basement level of this building. Perhaps as part of the redevelopment a historic report was prepared of the interiors and basement level – its quite likely; but sadly with heritage interiors, unless these are of great interest and the public are aware, they are usually overlooked by most people and allowed to be lost. Out of sight, out of mind! At least we are recording heritage before it is lost, but developers and money still tend to rule the roost in the City of London.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS