In the 1920s Wickham’s embarked on an ambitious plan for a new Selfridges-style department store for the East End. But they started building before they had bought all the site they would need. Little did they think that Spiegelhalter’s, the family-run jewellers shop, would simply refuse to sell up. As Ian Nairn declared: ‘The result is the best visual joke in London, a perennial triumph for the little man, the blokes who won’t conform.’
Spiegelhalter’s survived competition, the Depression and the Blitz to become a powerful symbol of East End indomitability, but there are plans to replace it with a modern glass atrium, entirely out of character with the surrounding conservation area. C20 Society is supporting a campaign to ask Tower Hamlets Council to locally list Wickham’s, including Spieglehalter’s.
Our involvement may seem odd, as Spiegelhalter’s shop itself is a C19th building. What is special is the extraordinary story this case tells, with chapters from two key decades of the C20th. The local listing would be both for Spieglehalter’s and for the Wickham’s department store that surrounds, and would have subsumed it, had Messrs. Spiegelhalter not dug their heels in and refused to sell up. The site today is therefore a record of 1920s development, and of the appreciation of the quirky and extraordinary in the 1960s, particularly through its celebration in Nairn’s enormously influential book Nairn’s London, recently republished by Penguin Books.
There are articles on the site and this campaign in the latest issue of Private Eye, in Spitalfields Life, and on David Collard’s TLS blog.
If you would like to see this quirky piece of architectural history survive, please sign the petition which has been set up to ask Tower Hamlets Council to locally list Wickham’s, including Spiegelhalter’s, and ensure that developers don’t obliterate this fascinating story.