Up the Common People

Luxury apartments‘… forgive me, but it has to be said. I’m sick of them. Sick to the back teeth. Sick to death. Sick as a dog and yes, sick as a parrot too.

A vision of Battersea Power Station...chock full of unaffordable flats.

A vision of the upcoming Battersea Power Station development…chock full of grossly unaffordable flats.

The hoardings are up everywhere. Every corner I turn. Glossy boards surrounding clattering building sites, all plastered with the same cliches; ‘Phase one underway’, ‘quarter’ this and ‘village’ that. One site in Hackney offers investors the chance to ‘own a piece of London’s history’- the building in question was once a children’s hospital.

The former Queen Elizabeth Children's Hospital.. envisioned here as redeveloped luxury apartments

The former Queen Elizabeth Children’s Hospital, Hackney… envisioned here as redeveloped luxury apartments

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against development. My father is a carpenter so it’s good to see tradespeople employed- although it’s unlikely that those toiling on such sites will ever be able to afford to live within at least a 20 mile radius of the city.

The thing is, many of these new builds are destined for ultra-rich offshore investors and are therefore likely to remain empty. As such they are thrown together cheaply and quickly; glorified Meccano sets which will inevitably force out locals, eradicate heritage and purge the soul.


One such place under threat is the George Tavern on the East End’s Commercial Road.

The George Tavern, Commercial Road

The George Tavern, Commercial Road

A developer wishes to level this site and plonk down even more lifeless apartments upon it. Tower Hamlets Council are more than happy for this to go ahead; they’d make a nice few quid from it after all.

This piece of land has been home to an inn since the 17th century. In its present form the George Tavern dates back to the 1820s.

Since then of course, towers have sprouted across the City and at Canary Wharf, both of which are within spitting distance of the George. Whilst the price of land here has now therefore rocketed, the value placed upon heritage has clearly not.


In the 1970s a club was added to the George Tavern. Now closed, the extension is a forlorn site when viewed from the roar of Commercial Road.

The former 'Stepney's' night club

The former ‘Stepneys’ night club

Named ‘Stepneys’, this club became famous for its light up disco floor which drew in thousands of revellers over the years.

Stepney’s finest hour occurred 20 years ago in 1995 when Sheffield band, ‘Pulp’ recorded the video for their anthem, ‘Common People’ in the club…

Over the past few years a fierce campaign has fought to save the George Tavern. You can read more about it here… please give them your support, the common people need you.


Portcullis Precursors: Westminster’s Forgotten Designs…

Standing in the shadow of the Elizabeth Tower (home of course to the world-famous bell, Big Ben) is Portcullis House, a large annexe providing offices and facilities for Members of Parliament.

Portcullis House (image: Wikipedia)

Portcullis House (image: Wikipedia)

Opened in 2001 at a cost of £260 million, Portcullis House is certainly a tough looking building, designed with a high degree of security in mind. It is also perched directly above Westminster tube station, allowing commuters to view the office block’s hefty foundations as they glide up and down the escalators.

Westminster tube station, deep beneath Portcullis House (image: building.co.uk)

Westminster tube station, deep beneath Portcullis House (image: building.co.uk)

Although Portcullis House was commissioned in 1992 the need for extra room at the Houses of Parliament had been recognised twenty years earlier.

The site of Portcullis House in 1928 (image: Wikipedia)

Looking towards the site of Portcullis House in 1928 (image: Wikipedia)

In light of this, a competition was held in the early 1970s seeking designs for a parliamentary add-on.

246 entries were submitted and the winner was Robin Spence- nephew of Sir Basil Spence, the architect noted for his work on projects such as Coventry Cathedral and London’s Hyde Park Barracks.

Along with essentials such as an assembly hall, offices and a large library, Spence’s design also included a roof garden, sleeping cubicles… and, to spoil MPs further, a swimming pool, sauna and ‘travellator’ moving walk way link.

The building would also have been raised on columns, allowing for the provision of a public forum area below. The estimated cost of the project was £7 million….

Mock up of Spence's winning design (image: London Illustrated News)

Mock up of Spence’s winning design (image: London Illustrated News)

Although Robin Spence won £8,000 for his work, his design never came to fruition.

Spence's design as it would have appeared from Parliament Square (image: London Illustrated News)

Spence’s design as it would have appeared from Parliament Square (image: London Illustrated News)

His entry, along with those of the runners-up, were published in the Illustrated London News, in April 1972 providing a fascinating insight into a Westminster that never was…what do you think of the designs?

Second place:

A design incorporating vertical towers as a nod towards the original Parliament building’s architecture.

Second place Parliament annexe design

Second place Parliament annexe design

Third place:

A box-like structure which would have incorporated bronze glass windows.

Third design for the annexe

Third design for the annexe

Joint-third place

An ultra-modern vision made up of interpenetrated floors.

Joint third design for the annexe

Joint third design for the annexe


Candid Capital: The Trellick Tower

The Trellick Tower

Trellick Tower

This iconic building has loomed over West London for over forty years. Please click here to read an earlier post in which I detail the tower’s history. 




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,657 other followers