It often takes the initial vision of just one person and then the support of a whole lot more to preserve history. In last weeks blog I wrote about the Art Deco area of Miami that was saved by the vision of one woman. This week I feel compelled to write about the vision of one particular man, Dan Cruickshank and the Spitalfields Trust, whose quest is preserving the history of London, Norton Folgate, nine acres north of Spitalfields in the East end. It’s history is recorded in the Domesday book, its architecture has evolved through the past centuries and now the British Land are looking to demolish 75% of the area and turn large swathes into high storey buildings.
It was with mixed emotions and an open mind I ventured to hear him speak at the “Save Norton Folgate ” evening, held at the fabulous St Leonard’s church on Shoreditch High St. I am anything but a Luddite and on the sly I have a passion for the occasional skyscraper which made my attendance feel even more awkward.
The church still with frayed edges was the perfect environment. It stands on the site where the Roman roads of England join. The interior detail is pared back (ransacked in the Victorian times) yet is still monumental. Coats of arms and the odd richly carved ornament punctuates the otherwise stark classical surroundings. It is all that I love.
Dan was part of the formation of the Spitalfields Trust in 1977 and alongside Sir John Betjeman and the Tower Hamlets prevented redevelopment from the British Land once before on Elder Street: home to the great Huguenot weavers houses from the early eighteenth century.
He spoke passionately about previous ill conceived schemes that had destroyed the Spitalfield area. Prior to the Trust there was simply no one to stand up for these buildings rights.
I have to say on the face of it British land seem to put forward an extremely brave scheme. But there is one thing that troubles me about modern corporate architecture. None of it is permanent. Its life expectancy is unbelievably short. Are we to erase hundreds of years of history, that if restored will out live us and generations to come, for a transient landscape?
The Trust have proposed an alternative scheme that is both exciting, sympathetic and lasting and after listening to the talk I hope they succeed. Their proposal is genuine and not about greed, it’s about holding onto the heart of London. It would be a travesty if London were to become a faceless series of thirteen storey office blocks sweeping away the timber joists, floor boards and cast iron columns of 19th century industrial warehouses. Authentic London is the richly woven stories that have run through past centuries and are held in the bricks and mortar. A recent exhibition at Denis Severs house around the corner on Folgate Street explored this.
I love brave and I love the juxtaposition of new and old, but I don’t like disposable!
For more information and how to object effectively go to the Spitalfields Trust website.