Friday, 15 March 2019

The Spiegelhalter Gap.


In 1923, after the success of Selfridge's and Harrod's department stores in central London, a Mr Wickham decided to build his own on the Mile End Road, in the East End. Accordingly, he engaged an architect to design him something suitably imposing, with neo-classical columns and a clock-tower and so on, and bought up all the shops in the location he had his eye on.

Except one. Mr Spiegelhalter, the jeweller at number 81, couldn't be persuaded to sell up. Mr Wickham couldn't force him to... but he also had no other location in mind, and had already bought many of the other shops. And so, when Wickham's Department Store finally opened, it looked like this:



Both buildings - or is it all three buildings? - are still standing today (Spiegelhalter's, by the way, outlasted Wickham's as a business by a good twenty years). However, they are currently being renovated into a swish new development complex called 'Dept W'. In an odd case of history repeating itself (and a less odd case of developers not understanding the value what they have) the developers intended to knock down Spiegelhalter's, and turn it into an entrance way. But after the sort of local protests and campaigning that would almost make me proud to be British, if anything could this month, they have been persuaded to keep it. The new building will now look like this:




Long live the Spiegelhalter Gap.




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This is wonderful. It reminds me of that other best-and-worst-of-the national-character story, how the streets of the City are all higgledy-piggledy still even though they had grand Enlightenment plans after the Fire, because the individual landowners wouldn't budge. Well done the developers for listening!

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