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‘London’s best visual joke’ threatened by developers

The Victorian Society is urging the public to sign a petition asking Tower Hamlets Council to locally list Spiegelhalter's in Whitechapel.

Former Spigelhalter's jewellery shop in Whitechapel.

The Victorian Society has added its voice to calls to save Spiegelhalter's in Whitechapel from redevelopment. The modest 19th century shop, sandwiched between two parts of an ostentatious ‘Selfridges style’ is a characterful symbol of the spirit of the East End. It is understood that owners, Resolution Property, intend to demolish what is left of Spiegelhalter's ­- although a planning application has yet to be submitted.  The Victorian Society is urging the public to sign a petition asking Tower Hamlets Council to locally list the building.

Spiegelhalter's, a former jewellery shop on Mile End Road, has been irking developers for a long time. In the 1920s the Spiegelhalters refused to sell their shop to Wickham’s Department Store. As a result, the grandiose store was eventually built around Spiegelhalter's - its central tower is dramatically off centre. Ian Nairn, author of Nairn's London and viewed by many as Britain's greatest topographical writer, described the result as ‘one of the best visual jokes in London, a perennial triumph for the little man, the blokes who won't conform’. 

The unusual sight of a development which has had to change to accommodate its existing surroundings is all too rare and should be preserved. As Nairn says: “A bleak thought is that, if Messrs Wickham's problem had arisen today, smooth lawyers and architects would probably have presented a case for comprehensive redevelopment, and persuaded the council to use their powers of compulsory purchase. Big deal; fine democracy.” Nairn’s comments ring as true today as in the mid-20th century given the spate of huge developments in the East End such as the Bishopsgate Goodsyard scheme.

Victorian Society Conservation Advisor, Sarah Caradec, said: ‘Speigelhaters is not in itself the most architecturally important building. However, in its context it is not only amusing but it tells an important story about Whitechapel’s development. Tower Hamlets should add Speiegelhalter’s to its local list and do everything in its power to ensure that this building continues to tell its story to future generations.’ 

Tuesday 13 January, 2015

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