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How To Demolish A Listed Building

May 7, 2022
by the gentle author

113 & 115 Redchurch St

Do you imagine that a listed building is safe from demolition? Then you are wrong, because this is the fate of an important grade II listed 1735 weavers’ house at 113 Redchurch St. It is to be ‘dismantled and reinstated,’ to quote the weasel words of the planning application approved by Tower Hamlets Council, submitted by the owners of the Truman Brewery who own this building as part of their substantial local property portfolio.

If the word ‘demolition’ had been used in the planning application, then consultation with national amenity societies such as the Georgian Group and Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings would be required, yet this is demolition by another name. The authentic character, human detail and historic quality of the building will be lost.

While the fine mansions of the silk merchants in Spitalfields are familiar, the modest houses of the journeymen weavers in Shoreditch and Bethnal Green are far less known. Few have survived, which makes this pair at 113 & 115 Redchurch St that retain many of their original features especially significant.

Peter Guillery’s The Small House in Eighteenth-Century London is the definitive work on the subject. Guillery features these houses which were built by William Farmer, a local carpenter who became a Freeman of the City of London. Guillery writes ‘the absence of information about lower-status housing has led to skewed representations of the housebuilding world of eighteenth century London. These buildings are important representations of an all but ‘craft-less’ vernacular tradition in the metropolis.’

When I visited the Redchurch St weavers’ houses in 2013 in the company of members of the Spitalfields Trust and a Tower Hamlets Conservation Officer, I was impressed to witness the layers of patina and encounter the humble workrooms of the eighteenth century journeymen, unaltered as if the weavers had just left. The dereliction was palpable, yet the buildings were in no worse state than many others rescued locally by the Spitalfields Trust over the past forty years, such as 5 & 7 Elder St in the seventies.

At that time, we were told the owner intended to restore both buildings but wished to remove the dividing wall on the ground floor to permit a retail space occupying both houses. While the Trust welcomed repair of the structures, they would not endorse removal of the ground floor wall, suggesting instead the insertion of a connecting door as a means to achieve the same result without compromising the integrity of the buildings.

How curious then that the Spitalfields Trust – with their acknowledged expertise in this field – were not consulted about the recent planning application for 113 Redchurch St to be ‘dismantled and reinstated.’

Troubling questions arise. Since Tower Hamlets Conservation Officers were aware of the risk, why was a listed property able to decay to the point at which it became ‘too far gone’? Why was no notice served upon the owner to fulfil their obligation to protect a listed building? Why is there to be no oversight or independent supervision of the dismantling of the fabric and its reinstatement?

Most critically, if a listed building such as this can become ‘too far gone’ and then be demolished, does the protection supposedly afforded by Historic England’s listing status mean anything anymore?

In 2020, we saw the demolition of three Regency cottages of 1828-31 beside the Regent’s Canal and the Art Deco Rex Cinema of 1938 in Bethnal Green, described in their planning applications as ‘retention.’ In fact, the cottages have been newly built back in enlarged, altered form while the site of the former cinema remains a hole in the ground. It appears that the word ‘retention’ has come to mean its opposite.

Unfortunately this destructive act is not an isolated incident for the owners of the Truman Brewery. They have a disappointing record in stewardship of the historic properties in their possession. This January, when they obtained their permission to demolish the Redchurch St house, marked the anniversary of an earlier act of vandalism – tearing up the ancient cobbled yard at the Truman Brewery within the curtilage of the listed buildings to the east of Brick Lane in 2021.

It comes as no surprise that these are the same people who want to build a shopping mall at the brewery site adjoining Brick Lane with four floors of corporate offices on top, widely believed to be the first step in the redevelopment of the Truman Brewery into a corporate plaza.

You will recall the planning application for the shopping mall and office block was approved by two councillors last year despite more than seven thousand letters of objection. A Judicial Review on the lawful or otherwise nature of this decision takes place at the High Court on June 29th and the Save Brick Lane Coalition has now raised over £23,000 but still needs to find another £17,000 in order to proceed.


Click here to support the fighting fund for the Judicial Review


The Save Brick Lane Coalition includes Bengali East End Heritage Society, East End Preservation Society, East End Trades Guild, House of Annetta, Nijjor Manush, Spitalfields Life & Spitalfields Trust.

Eighteenth century chimney breast with old range

Weaver’s garret

The narrow corner staircase leaves the workspace clear for looms

Surviving panelling

Eighteenth century wooden partition wall

Pantiled roofs such as this were once ubiquitous in Spitalfields

113 & 115 Redchurch St in the seventies before the front wall of 115 was rebuilt

113 & 115 Redchurch St as built in 1735

Photographs copyright © Spitalfields Trust

You may also like to read about

Wilful Destruction At The Truman Brewery

Three Sneaky Developers

Journeymen Weavers Houses

The Club Row Weavers Houses

23 Responses leave one →
  1. May 7, 2022

    Owners of historic properties can act as custodians of the past & it breaks my heritage heart to read of these buildings being only thought about in terms of maximum profit returns. There’s a middle way where buildings can be both profitable & protected but not in this case. Is there anything we can still do?

  2. SJ Kurtz permalink
    May 7, 2022

    In Seattle, a popular way to get around any historical context, landmark status or neighborhood concerns (and accelerate your demolition permit) is to leave your building open to squatters and hope they accidentally set it on fire for you. If they don’t help, making it appear that squatters set fire to the building accidentally will also work.
    What a wicked world we live in. Good luck to you.

  3. Joyce Hampton permalink
    May 7, 2022

    Good morning, would a petition or a raft of objections have any influence on this wilful act? We did save two houses a few years ago when the owner applied for planning permission to ‘alter’ the two weavers houses he had purchased in order to accomodate his porshe! I reall meeting the BBC and Dan Cruickshank at the site but prior to this meeting there had been so many objections through raising awareness via social media that the application had been wiithdrawn. Do email me if I can be of help.

    Joyce Hampton

  4. Lizebeth permalink
    May 7, 2022

    Tower Hamlets Councik strikes again. They should be in charge of preserving the area’s heritage, but they seem bent on destroying as much of it as they can. What can be done? Other than booting them out of office.

    Shame, really. Can no one educate these people to the value of history?

  5. Leana Pooley permalink
    May 7, 2022

    This is a clever idea that the City of London Corporation might like to use. St Paul’s Cathedral could be “dismantled and reinstated” in a northern city in need of “levelling up” – thus freeing up prime land which could be offered to developers specialising in skyscrapers.

  6. Jo Bacon permalink
    May 7, 2022

    Great post. I went to pledge and the payment is to Heloise Palin! Is this right? Just thought I’d double check with you before I send it. Hope all well and tours are fun.
    Very best, Joanna Bacon

  7. the gentle author permalink*
    May 7, 2022

    Yes, Heloise is Administrator of Spitalfields Trust

  8. May 7, 2022

    How cosy it would be to be allowed to live in such an old house. One can only hope that the ladies and gentlemen in decision-making will wake up and save this unique cultural heritage.

    Love & Peace

  9. Jill Wilson permalink
    May 7, 2022


  10. Mark permalink
    May 7, 2022

    Capitalism is King.
    Fight it.

  11. Su C. permalink
    May 7, 2022

    Seems, yet again, that those who want it so, will make it so. And disregard what they KNOW to be the right way of acting. Sickening. Insincerity at its core. Good luck!

  12. Alex permalink
    May 7, 2022

    Why isn’t heritage automatically protected by law? There should be criminal charges attached to disturbing buildings of historical interest in any way.

  13. Deanna Trois permalink
    May 7, 2022

    I’m suprised Dan Cruickshank isn’t involved. He seems to be very able at protecting Spitalfields from this kind of ‘renovation’.

  14. May 7, 2022

    The same thing happens here in the US. A property owner of an historic property wants to tear it down; it is protected, so the owner lets it decay until it is deemed unsafe. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of law or statute that requires then to maintain the property in a reasonable condition. It’s criminal… except that technically, it isn’t.

  15. Robin permalink
    May 7, 2022

    Just pledged.
    “Dismantled and reinstated”? That’s absurd, or as other comments call it: criminal. Threatens to repeat the disaster of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in which the Council and the developers and Jenrick completely overrode enormous public support for the Foundry. That criminal act must not happen again.

  16. Keith permalink
    May 7, 2022

    OMG! Yet another East End listed building of great age getting demolished. Shame on the Tower Hamlets Conservation Department allowing this historic property to fall to pieces in the first place.
    Soon they’ll be nothing left to protect in and around this area. East London is fast becoming a place for the wealthy elite who buy up old and ancient properties, let them rot and decay, then pull them down and then, in its place something will be put up in a kind of modern characterless style that no one will care about when it too will become derelict and falls to bits.

  17. Charles Page permalink
    May 7, 2022

    This is so typical of councils and developers. They will do anything when it comes to money destroying our history and past culture. I sincerely hope that this disgrace can be stopped.

  18. Sue permalink
    May 8, 2022

    This is very depressing. I stupidly thought giving a building listed protection would save the building from developers. Thanks to the Gentle Author I know this not true. What is the point if a listed building can be left to decay so the developers/owners get their way.

    All the buildings in London will soon look the same (awful) and history will be lost forever.

  19. Steve Hargreaves-Woodruff permalink
    May 9, 2022

    How come just 2 councillors allowed such destruction to go ahead?

    Please, will someone pull their fingers out of their ears(!-or other orifice(s) and STOP and BAN all the wilful demolition in the east end of so many important buildings.

    And save our heritage!

    Come on Mr Gove, show us you care…
    Steve HW

  20. May 9, 2022

    Wonton destruction!
    I pray this may be undone now that Big has gone.

  21. Pinkpanther permalink
    May 9, 2022

    Unfortunately, due to the way the 1990 Act governing listed buildings is worded, local councils have powers, but building owners do not have any responsiblity or duty to protect a listed building. It’s criminal for them to damage it, but neglect is not. So, it relies on councils to undertake enforcement. Listed Building Enforcement is problematic because councils cannot place costs incurred by doing the works in default if the owners don’t comply with a notice, as a charge on the land – they have to pursue payment through the courts and get a judgement first. This make budgetholders nervous to authorise serving notices. This is also a defect of the 1990 Act, unlike, for example, the Building Acts which do allow costs for works in default to be added as a land charge. Until we get new primary legislation for Listed Buildings, I can see very little changing. Planning is not supposed to reward neglect, so the costs of putting it right should be excluded from any development appraisals (either the owners have let it decay on their watch, or new owners should have taken the decay into account in the price paid) – but this is almost never the case. The system is very broken, I’m afraid.

  22. Tony Valsamidis permalink
    May 10, 2022

    It is interesting that in last week’s local elections, the councillors who approved the Truman car park development were voted out.

  23. September 13, 2023

    How very sad. I am a descendant of William Farmer who built these houses and of Huguenot silkweavers that lived in Spitalfields. I am proud of the fact that the houses that William built have survived for 300 years. Such a pity that the owner could not keep them in a good state of repair and Tower Hamlets so called Conservation Officers let the owners get away with not looking after this listed building. Obviously Tower Hamlets are not interested in conserving the history of the silkweavers of Spitalfields which helped build the prosperity of this once great City of London.

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