Sunday 4 January 2015

Save Spiegelhalters!


What is Spiegelhalters?

It's not much to look at now - a tatty little two-story facade on the Mile End Road (see below). But it's a powerful and evocative symbol of East End indomitability. It stands for something we're in danger of losing, and the time to act is now.

Spiegelhalters, Mile End Road (above, centre) A plucky survivor now under threat

Why does Spiegelhalters matter?

For almost a century this plucky little structure has stood its ground. It looks like the final shot of an Ealing comedy - a triumph of the individual over corporate bullying. 

What's the story?

Here's the entry for Spiegelhalters from Ian Nairn's masterpiece 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. 

The bomb hasn't fallen yet but Spiegelhalters is now at great risk, reduced to a boarded-up facade and in danger of collapse. The gentrification of the East End continues apace, and the ground floor of the former Wickham's block to the left of Spiegelhalters is now occupied by a congenial cafe called Foxcroft and Ginger. 

What's the idea?

We want Tower Hamlets Council to help ensure the preservation of this remarkable and loveable East End feature. 

Spiegelhalters exposes the inadequacies of historic building protection in that something so humble and, in itself, ordinary cannot really be listed.  Listing is not up to Tower Hamlets but the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on advice from English Heritage. But Tower Hamlets Council can give it some protection by putting it on what's called a "local list", which would be a step in the right direction

What can I do?

Please show your support by signing our online petition

We need thousands of names. Tell your friends and family, neighbours and colleagues -  spread the word.

What happens next?

We aim to secure extensive media coverage for this campaign in newspapers, architectural journals, magazines, television and radio, as well as new media, and expect support from bloggers and tweeters who may not have been involved in such a campaign before.

When we have an appropriate number of signatories we'll approach Tower Hamlets Council with a detailed proposal for the preservation of the facade. Once its future is assured we'd like to work with the owners and Council to ensure that the space behind the facade is made secure and suitable for commercial letting. 

The site is already within a conservation area. We'd like to see the entire Wickham's frontage - including the Spiegelhalters facade - listed. The facade, with its company lettering restored, will once again become an East End landmark and remain "one of the best visual jokes in London".

Tower Hamlets Council have twice turned down requests for listing so this may be out last chance before the gentrification juggernaut leads to redevelopment and likely loss of the shop front.

Why now?

Long-term neglect, official indifference and the pressures of gentrification mean the need for action is now urgent! The current revival of interest in the life and work of Ian Nairn, Britain's greatest topographical writer, confirms that a new generation shares his belief in the importance of distinctive communities and cultural continuities. The Spiegelhlaters site offers future generations a snapshot of how things once were and is a rallying point in the future for those of us who oppose crass redevelopment and the destruction of communities. 

In China this kind of building is allied a 'nail', as in the embedded nail that cannot be prised out of the plank. For want of a nail, you'll remember, the battle was lost.  Do please add your name to the online petition. Support this worthy cause and spread the word.

Where can I find out more?

To find out  more about the history of Spiegelhalters click here. 


The original Spiegelhalters in the 1920s

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