diamond geezer

 Friday, October 12, 2012

At a special planning meeting on Wednesday night, the future of one of Spitalfields' better looking buildings was decided. That'll be the Fruit and Wool Exchange, a 1920s auction house overlooking the more famous market. Admire the splendid frontage on Brushfield Street, designed sympathetically to blend in with Hawksmoor's magnificent Christ Church at the end of the road. The Exchange used to bustle with traders selling boxes of Jaffas, bags of onions and crates of melons, sourced from countries all around the world. Hundreds of staff were employed for stacking, selling and conveyancing purposes, with fourteen loading bays round the back to ensure that produce reached its destination in pristine condition. To read more about the Fruit and Wool Exchange's heyday head over to the marvellous Spitalfields Life website where you can dribble over the contents of a brochure from 1937. You'll also want to take a look inside the building, courtesy of the same gentle author, to see what its grand staircases and atria look like today. And then perhaps you'll understand why quite so many campaigners are quite so angry.

The greengrocery types moved out in 1991 when the main market over the road emptied. In their place the Exchange became home to smaller businesses, a sort of office block by default, on a really rather low key level. We're in Tower Hamlets rather than the City, despite the big "Corporation of London" sign across the frontage, if only by a hundred metres or so. But the City proper is keen to move in, courtesy of financial brokerage dealers Icap. They're currently based at Broadgate Circus but are keen to expand when their lease expires, so have been searching around for somewhere bigger but cheaper. Their eyes alighted on the Fruit and Wool Exchange site - ideally situated, but alas the building wasn't quite what they wanted. Icap require large unpartitioned floors for dealing, which is not at all what the F&WE offers, so their plans involve knocking the building down and starting again. Tower Hamlets council said no, repeatedly no, that definitely wouldn't be appropriate. But on Wednesday the Mayor said yes, and the Mayor wins, so the Fruit and Wool Exchange loses.

Icap's plans are for a mixed use city block, as is the custom these days, combining 36000 square metres of office space with a mini business hub and small retail units. That's very much the model around Spitalfields, whose main market building was transformed a few years back into an over-shiny tourist magnet. Now there are patisseries and boutiques around the traders' stalls, as well as whopping great glass office blocks down one end where elegant but rundown buildings once stood. The entire Fruit and Wool Exchange block will be demolished, with the sole exception of the Brushfield Street fa├žade which will linger on solely as a thin screen, a heritage veneer to cover up the modern walls behind. Expect a new public open space, by which the developers mean a thin courtyard surrounded by shops, and some sort of covered arcade through the middle of the site watched over by security. It could all be complete by 2015, if all goes to plan. A very informative public overview of the scheme was available here until late last night, but mysteriously the developers appear to have removed it (and diverted the link) since then.

You're probably very cross by now at the wanton destruction of an old building. I suspect you wouldn't be quite so cross if you'd walked past it recently, as I did last night in heavy rain. The main entrance may be lovely, with tall thin doors, then windows, stacked high to the semi-circular pediment. And the lettering's proper, very much of its era. But the rest of the frontage, to either side, that's a bit more ordinary. It's nice, definitely nicer than the faux-Georgian shop units on the opposite side of the road, and this is all staying, remember. But it's not the sort of thing you'd expect campaigners to get very excited about. Indeed the eastern side of the Exchange building facing Christ Church probably wouldn't earn a second glance from the majority of passers-by. Walk all the way round the block to White's Row and the view gets worse. Here stands one of the Corporation of London's multi-storey car parks, a large and unsatisfying beast, and not necessarily somewhere you'd like to be after dark. All of this is going, completely and utterly, which'll be a loss only to any Icap brokers who were planning on driving their bonus-bought motor to work.

The pub on the northwestern corner is also doomed. The Gun is a Truman Hanbury & Buxton pub, taking its name from the Artillery barracks established very nearby by Henry VIII. But that last sentence imbues the place with more historical gravitas than it deserves, because the existing building dates back no earlier than 1929. The developers have plans to rebuild something similar-looking in the new development, a pub no smaller than now, and the landlord appears to be very much on side. When bankers come along and offer you revamped premises, it's often hard to resist. But the outlook's perhaps not so rosy for the hundreds currently employed in small businesses within the main building. Leaseholders have just been served notice to quit on 1st December, which doesn't leave long to pack up and get out. They'll be given preferential rates in the new building - the first year rent-free and the second half-price - but it's not clear how many could afford a full whack third year in an upwardly aspirational neighbourhood.

One further thing the new development will destroy is one of the most notorious streets in London. That's Dorset Street - in Victorian times a 'rookery' packed with prostitutes, short-term lodgers and criminals. Jack the Ripper's final victim met her end precisely here, mutilated in her room overnight, her screams overlooked amongst the usual hue and cry. But Mary Kelly's abode has long disappeared beneath the Fruit and Wool Exchange, while the White's Row car park wiped out the opposite flank four decades later. Ripper tours can't visit the site today, only peer past barriers down a reconfigured service road where the former loading bays stand shuttered. Redevelopment will see this thoroughfare wiped from the map, as the Spitalfields area continues to coagulate into larger and larger blocks. Tower Hamlets have insisted on some memorial remaining, for what it's worth, but the murder site now looks destined to be engulfed within this anodyne office complex.

There are greater architectural battles to be fought in London than the Fruit and Wool Exchange and its adjacent multi-storey. But it's clear that heritage now counts for very little when the alternative is jobs and shopping, because the economy is the Mayor's clear overriding priority. Indeed every time Boris has been called on to judge some new building project turned down by councillors, every time he's ruled in favour of the redevelopers. I'm particularly sad in this case, because Icap could have gone elsewhere but chose not to, thereby destroying an illustrious interior for the sake of partition-free trading floors. A predatory purchase has been allowed to succeed, stripping away a not insignificant slice of Spitalfields' historic character. I'm sure that tourists will lap up the new building, and that the brokers can't wait to move in. But the end result looks set to be a vapid architectural pastiche, vainly attempting to mimic the 1920s building in modern style, with the 21st century found wanting.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this weekend?
Sunday 27 April (10am-4.30pm)
Perivale Wood Open Day
Annual opening of a bluebell-
infested nature reserve.

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
scaryduck
blue witch
the great wen
onionbagblog
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
tired of london
thelondonphile
in the aquarium
christopher fowler
thamesfacingeast
one bus at a time
london daily photo
london reconnections
150 great tube things

read the archive
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv