The Gentle Author on the  creeping plague of  facadism

As if I were being poked repeatedly in the eye with a blunt stick, I cannot avoid becoming increasingly aware of a painfully cynical trend in architecture, which threatens to turn London into the backlot of an abandoned film studio.

Façadism is the unfortunate practice of destroying everything apart from the front wall of an old building and constructing a new building behind it.

My new book contains London’s fifty worst cases of façadism, guaranteed to make you laugh and cry, along with an explanation of what it means and why it is happening. Copies are available from local bookshops and spitalfieldslife.com

Here are four pitiful examples from the East End.

London Fruit & Wool Exchange, Spitalfields, E1

This was a good-quality building designed by architect to the City of London, Sydney Perks, in 1927. Originally constructed as a state-of-the-art auction room with a glass roof that simulated sunlight on cloudy days, it was enhanced by wooden parquet floors, careful detailing and significant craft elements throughout.

After the fruit & vegetable market left Spitalfields in 1991, it housed innumerable small, independent, local businesses. The destruction of the building was forced through by the Mayor of London against the wishes of the local council and the sole tenant of the new development is an international legal corporation.

The Duke of Cambridge, 25 Felix Street, Bethnal Green, E2

The earliest record of the Duke of Cambridge is in 1825 when the land was purchased by William Brown for £2,200, including the ‘newly-erected tavern’ which was ‘being built in December 1823.’ The Regent’s Canal had just been cut through East London and, a quarter mile to the north, the Imperial Gas Works, powered by coal delivered by barge, opened in the same year.

The Duke of Cambridge is one of the last vestiges from the early nineteenth century when the East End was transforming from a string of rural villages into an extended urban landscape.

The White Hart, 121 Bishopsgate, EC2

‘Its history as an inn can be of little less antiquity than that of the Tabard, the lodging house of the feast-loving Chaucer and the Canterbury pilgrims, or the Boar’s Head in Eastcheap, the rendezvous of Prince Henry and his lewd companions,’ wrote Charles Goss, Archivist at Bisopsgate Institute in 1930.

The White Hart was a coaching house and tavern dating from 1246, positioned on Bishopsgate just outside the gate of the City of London. Rebuilt in 1470 and 1827, it retained its medieval cellars and was constantly busy until it was bought by Sir Alan Sugar’s company, Amsprop, in 2010 and reduced to a façade with a cylindrical office block on top, creating a monument to one man’s ego.

College East, Toynbee Hall, Wentworth Street, Spitalfields, E1

This was part of the Toynbee Hall campus designed by Elijah Hoole and built between 1884–5. It was demolished and façaded for the construction of Attlee House, which was completed in 1971. This was demolished in 2016, apart from the façade of College East, which has been retained on the front of a new development of flats for the commercial market.

Toynbee Hall was founded in 1883 by social reformer Canon Barnett, vicar of St Jude’s Spitalfields, and his wife, Henrietta Barnett, in memory of Arnold Toynbee, an economic historian. In the 1870s,Toynbee recognised that the free market system always disadvantaged the poor.

Attlee House was named after Clement Attlee, secretary of Toynbee Hall from 1909. In 1919, he became Mayor of Stepney, then MP for Limehouse in 1922 and leader of the Labour Party in 1935. Appointed Prime Minister in 1945, Attlee is remembered as the architect of the Welfare State.

Order your copy of Facades from Spitalfields Books.


The Gentle Author writes daily about the culture of East London at spitalfieldslife.com. You can also follow @thegentleauthor on twitter.

Images courtesy of The Gentle Author