Spitalfields in East London, an area now increasingly viewed as not only a valuable asset to Britain, but also a plein air museum. Yet when the Trust began in 1977, it was as an almost impromptu, outraged response to the imminent demolition of early eighteenth-century houses in the heart of Spitalfields that year. Indeed, the group only resorted to direct action because demolition had begun on one particular house. Its members then consolidated into a charitable trust.
Among that group of young and ardent house-lovers were author Dan Cruickshank and architectural historians Colin Amery and Mark Girouard. Their vigorous defence, by squatting in a house at which the wrecking ball had already taken a swipe, led not only to the foundation of the Trust but also, over time, to the preservation of some of the most exquisite historic streets in London – and, it is true to say, the world. After its inception, the Trust went on to preserve and restore for reuse and habitation, rather than for speculation and profit, many buildings in London and beyond, and it is still at work today. Indeed, eagle-eyed readers will spot the inclusion of a wild card – a Tudor gatehouse on the Isle of Sheppey, in the Thames estuary. Admittedly not quite in London, it has been included not only because it is unique, and King Henry VIII stayed there, but also because it too was saved by the Spitalfields Trust when there appeared no hope. And so it has been awarded honorary status.
It is almost impossible to believe that the houses we see as so delightful and covetable – in streets that delight millions internationally when they appear as settings for films – were in the mid-twentieth century considered worthless. They had been allowed to decay into a desperately poor state of repair; for those keen to grab and redevelop the land they stood on, this was an easy – not to say facile – argument to make.
For those less familiar with these gracious monuments to daily life, this book hopes to offer a glimpse into a world that is very real, very lovely, very congenial; and whose continuation down the centuries lies in the hearts − and also the hands − of every single one of us.
Philippa Stockley, Whitechapel, London, September 2018
1 Peter Nicholson, The New Practical Builder and Workman’s Companion, 1823. 2 Novelist Horace Walpole (1717–1797), third son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir
Robert Walpole, built Strawberry Hill House in Gothic Revival style after buying a site near the Thames in Twickenham in 1747. The villa is open to the public. 3 The term refers to the style of sixteenth-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio
(1508–1580). Admired by many eighteenth-century British architects, often after observing it on a Grand Tour, it was reinterpreted in Britain. 4 Steven Parissien, Interiors: The Home Since 1700, Laurence King Publishing, 2008, p. 90. 5 Thomas Hope, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, Longman, Hurst, Rees & Orme, 1807. Hope (1769–1831), was a wealthy Dutch-born collector, designer and design-reformer whose work and writings helped shape and define Regency style.
This hall’s narrow stair, economically placed to one side, nevertheless invites one up. Signs from the past include the marks left by an oilcloth stair-runner and the slender turned pad of the mahogany handrail, now painted.
RESTORATION STORIES 9