Spirit of Spitalfields comes back in Dan Cruickshank’s battle for Dorset Street

14:18 12 April 2012

Artist view of proposed new Shepherd

Artist view of proposed new Shepherd's Arch

Paul Johnston architect

A revolutionary scheme has been unveiled to turn Spitalfields back to its ‘baroque’ heyday of silk-weavers cottages and alleys.

Campaigners in London’s East End battling to save the neighbourhood from developers have drawn up alternative proposals based around the Old Spitalfields Market—inspired by Rome.

Their plans recreate the 18th century Shepherd’s Arch destroyed in the Blitz, with a pedestrian square opposite Nicholas Hawksmoor’s 1720 Christ Church and an arcade of shops with classical colonnades. The narrow streets and alleys that Spitalfields is famous for would be kept.

TV historian Dan Cruickshank, a key figure in the scheme, told the Advertiser: “We’re trying to sustain Spitalfields’ historic character and retain Dorset Street with its traditional architecture, while developers just want to obliterate it.”

The developers, Exemplar, had proposed offices and shops on the site of the Fruit & Wool Exchange and White Row multi-story car-park opposite—but with no housing, which has been turned down by Tower Hamlets council.

Now a joint enterprise by Spitalfields Historic Building Trust and Spitalfields Community Group has called on Paul Johnston, a professional architect in Cheshire Street, off Brick Lane, to draw up the alternative scheme in detail.

He envisages a new Patternoster Lane and streets that have been lost in history, while opening up Dorset Street which has been reduced to a service road.

“Our plans based on the 1894 Ordnance Survey revert to a street pattern that’s much older,” he revealed. “We’ve measured the width of Dorset Street and Whites Row and are holding to those dimensions.”

Paul uses Rome for inspiration because he sees Hawksmoor’s Christ Church as Britain’s best example of baroque architecture which began in Italy. Housing, studios, workshops and apartments will line Dorset Street and White’s Row with commercial elements at upper levels on each side.

Shepherd’s Arch is the jewel in the crown. Walk from Liverpool Street into Middlesex Street, through Artillery Passage and across Crispin Street and the casual visitor would be greeted by the arch enticing them towards Christ Church, then onto Brick Lane.

Peter Boisseau takes this route every day.

“I step outside my front and my spiritual batteries are recharged,” he says. “Walking round corners with their odd views and old charm, the nooks and crannies, all make it special.

“But the developers want to remove everything that makes Spitalfields unique and replace these sound buildings with a mammoth, soul-sucking office block with a lifeless personality.”

The campaigners have already won the first round in the battle to save “the heart and soul of Spitalfields” after Tower Hamlets last month rejected Exemplar’s plans for an offices-and-shops multi-complex that would have obliterated Dorset Street.

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