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Council set to back contentious plans for threatened East End oddity

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Buckley Gray Yeoman looks set to win planning permission for a controversial office scheme behind a ‘tatty shop front’, described by Ian Nairn as ‘one of the best visual jokes in London‘

The AJ understands Tower Hamlets planners will next week recommend that councillors approve reworked plans for the conversion of the former Wickham’s shop in Mile End Road to commercial space.

The revisions involve partial retention of the former Spiegelhalter’s jewellers – a ‘holdout unit’ whose owners had refused to move out to make way for the 1927 store designed by T Jay Evans & Son, splitting its two Neoclassical wings.

The practice was forced to redesign its proposals in April after an outcry – including a vociferous social media campaign – protesting against its initial plan to demolish Spiegehlater’s and replace it with a sculpture (see story below).

Historic England had also written to the council to protest that the removal of the shop was not justified.

First revealed in April, the revised scheme partially retains the shopfront, keeping the second-floor facade of the jeweller’s while removing the lower level to allow access.

The Wickham family built the shop in the 1920s in the hope the Spiegelhalter family business of clockmakers would eventually sell up.
Published in 1966, Nairn’s London described the building as ‘one of the best visual jokes in London, a perennial triumph for the little man, the bloke who won’t conform.’

The new scheme will also see a 1,500m² extension built on top of the existing 9,300m² block,

Tower Hamlets’ development control committee will decide on the application at a meeting scheduled for 25 November.

Previous story (AJ 28.04.15)

Architect rethinks plans for threatened East End oddity

Buckley Gray Yeoman has revised plans to demolish a ‘tatty shop front’, described by Ian Nairn as ‘one of the best visual jokes in London, after criticism from objectors and English Heritage

The architect’s original proposals for the former Wickham’s department store in Mile End Road included removing the last remains of the former Spiegelhalter’s jewellers - a ‘holdout unit’ whose owners had refused to move out to make way for the store which splits its two Neoclassical wings.

The practice’s initial office led-scheme, which would also see a 1,500m² extension built on top of the existing 9,300m² block, was attacked by both the Victorian Society and the Twentieth Century Society while more than 2,700 people also signed a petition urging Tower Hamlets Council to locally list the building.

The plans also prompted English Heritage to write to the council saying: ‘In our view, the total loss of the former Spiegelhalter’s shop, as well as some of the proposed design elements to the former Wickham’s Department Store, would neither preserve nor enhance the character of Stepney Green Conservation Area.

‘We also do not consider that clear and convincing justification has been provided for the demolition work.’

However Buckley Gray Yeoman has now changed its proposals, dropping a large sculptural element earmarked for the scheme’s new entrance where the Spiegelhalter shopfront currently stands.

Instead, the architect plans to paritally retain the shopfront - keeping the second-floor facade of the jeweller’s while removing the lower level to allow access.

Matt Yeoman of Buckley Gray Yeoman said: ‘We have listened to the concerns. We’ve always embraced the Spiegelhalter’s story - we love it. All that has been in debate is the way that story is told.

‘It is a compromise’

‘Yes, it is a compromise. But we are not arrogant enough to believe we are right and everyone else is wrong. We still feel it is a slightly missed opportunity to create something more interesting - however the scheme still does 90 per cent of what we wanted to do. And overall [the proposed development] is better than it was.’

The Wickhams built the shop in the 1920s in the hope the Spiegelhalter family business of clockmakers would eventually sell up. But the Spiegelhalters refused, leaving the ‘plucky little structure’ as a ‘powerful and evocative symbol of East End indomitability’ for almost a century.

Revisions to the planning application are due to be submitted ‘within the next week’.

Responding to the latest plans, Victorian Society conservation adviser Sarah Caradec, said: ‘The retention of the upper half of the Spiegelhalter’s facade is good news for both Whitechapel and London.  This compromise allows the visual joke, so much admired by Iain Nairn, to continue to be enjoyed.

She added: ‘The proposal does not appear to cause any further harm given that the original ground floor shop front has already been removed.  It is encouraging that the views of the Amenity Societies, Historic England and the thousands of people who signed the Save Speigelhalters petition seem to have been taken on board.’

 

Spiegelhalter, East End - January 2015

Ian Nairn on Spiegelhalter’s in Nairn’s London (1966)

‘Messrs Wickham, circa 1920, wanted an emporium. Messrs Spiegelhalter, one infers, wouldn’t sell out. Messrs Wickham, one infers further, pressed on regardless, thereby putting their Baroque tower badly out of centre. Messrs Spiegelhalter (‘The East End Jewellers’) remain; two stucco’d storeys, surrounded on both sides by giant columns à la Selfridges.

‘The result is one of the best visual jokes in London, a perennial triumph for the little man, the bloke who won’t conform. May he stay there till the Bomb falls.’

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Quite apart from the treatment of Spiegelhalter's shop, there are surely questions to be asked about the rising fashion for plumping up London's real estate by adding more storeys where a structure will (hopefully) bear it.
    I wonder what Ian Nairn would've made of this?

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  • It seems like a good compromise, keeping an important part of the building's history whilst allowing for increased capacity. The building is in definite need of renovation and Buckley Gray Yeoman's plans look promising.

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