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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 12:14 GMT
Spitalfields bows to market pressure
Inside the busy market

It boasts more visitors than Tate Modern, and lures Topshop scouts and celebrity browsers Victoria Beckham and Madonna. So why is much of Spitalfields Market - a Sunday regular - earmarked for demolition?
Spitalfields Market in trendy, tatty east London has long been the choice of those in search of eclectic sights, treats and eats.

Spitalfields market and a nearby office development
Hoardings block most of the old building from view
But the valuable land it stands on is coveted by big business, a goldmine which has proved irresistible to the leaseholders. Much of the decades-old brick building which houses stalls hawking everything from organic veg to hand-finished silk knickers is to be demolished to make way for a Norman Foster-designed office block.

Open in new window : Spitalfields market
Market traders give their views

This is in spite of a hard-fought campaign by local residents and market fans, who argue that the market has a creative and vibrant atmosphere in keeping with the area.

Tracey Emin, who lives in E1
Artist Tracey Emin can be spotted browsing
For this is a corner of London where old-time East Enders and Bengali immigrants live cheek-by-jowl with City workers. And the E1 postcode boasts the highest concentration of artists anywhere in Europe, among them stars such as Tracey Emin and Chris Ofili.

In centuries past, Spitalfields has provided a burial ground for Roman London's noble dead, a mass grave for victims of the Black Death, and a stamping ground for that most famous of serial killers, Jack the Ripper.

Launch new window : Virtual Tour
See inside Spitalfields market
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The fate of the market appears to have been sealed by its location. It straddles the border between Tower Hamlets - one of the poorest boroughs in the UK - and the City of London, which commands some of the world's highest property prices.

Last October, the borough council granted planning permission for the development to go ahead after a 13-year battle. Already preparations are underway for the glass and steel edifice, which will house the 3,000-strong staff of the law firm Allen and Overy.

Handmade lampshades by Madeleine's company Mibo
Madeleine has lost her stall in the squeeze
More than half of the cavernous, echoey market building is now fenced off, cramming the remaining stalls into an ever-decreasing area.

Among those stallholders to have lost their pitch is Madeleine Rogers, who had given up her job as a set designer to make a living selling her handmade retro lampshades.

Not only did the stall provide income to build her business, Mibo, but her designs caught the eyes of scouts from Selfridges, Elle Decoration and the Independent.

But last month, just as the Christmas rush was building up, Madeleine was asked not to come back: there was no longer room for her pitch.

It's not a people's place anymore, the big money's arrived

Jeanette Winterson
Market manager Eric Graham says that the reduction in size has weeded out stalls which duplicated products. By raising what he calls the "pedigree" of the stock on offer, he expects stallholders to make more money than in previous years.

Ballymore, the company which owns the preserved section of the market, is seeking planning permission to build two-storey shop units inside the shell, a move campaigners say would be like "Basingstoke coming to Spitalfields".

Not needed, not wanted?

Among those who would prefer to see the site used for community, rather than commercial, purposes is 72-year-old Michael Myers, a part-time taxi driver who lives in a flat in the old market building.

Slippers for sale
Need bejewelled slippers? The market is the place
"With office blocks going up, you'll have Next and Starbucks and all those things that serve their needs and don't meet any of ours. This part of London doesn't even have a laundrette."

But not all locals are up in arms. The writer Jeanette Winterson, who lives within view of the coming building, says Spitalfields is an area that is constantly undergoing transformation. The City's encroachment is merely part of that process.

With several houses in the area selling for more than 1m, Spitalfields has already gone down that route, she says. "It's not a people's place anymore, the big money has arrived. And like other artists in the area, I'll stay for now and see what happens."

Do you shop at Spitalfields or live nearby? How do you see the future for the area?

Your e-mails

What a great idea! Why not get rid of that old clock in Parliament Square at the same time, get one of those digital ones instead?
Nick Godsall, UK

I come to London every spring with my partner, and our favourite thing about London is the buzz and hum of the markets. Our all-time favourite is Spitalfields. The location is atmospheric and the sites of the East End are wonderful.

Pepys and Johnson would have wept to hear the news. I treasure the posters and pillows I bought there on our last visit. See you again this May - hopefully with Spitalfields still intact. Don't destroy your heritage in favour of Starbucks! We have more than enough of that over here in America - and it's hideous.
Jeffrey Georlett, USA

Some people get rich; others have to move

Mat, UK
What happens is this: a shabby place gets a reputation as the place to be because of bohemian types; the yuppies and money moves in; prices go up; some people get rich; others have to move.

Why don't the artists and market folk find somewhere else, and try to work out a way of benefiting when the inevitable yuppies arrive? There are plenty of grotty bits of London that could do with the kind of makeover that often follows!
Mat, UK

What is happening at Spitalfields is typical of the type of development that has been making London less interesting in recent years. What I'd like to know is why councils persist in schemes that have no local support.
Tony Woolf, UK

The Mayor and various star architects don't give a monkeys about the people who live in London and don't care about the City, they are in it for their own prestige. Tower Hamlets has shown itself to be a cowardly council, inefficient and afraid to say no to money.
Bod, London, UK

More office blocks? ZZZZZzzzzZZZ. With a possible recession on its way and an erotic gherkin yet to be rented, are they necessary?
Ando, UK

Having lived in east London for three years, I regularly pop over to Spitalfields on a Sunday morning. I think it is an absolute injustice to destroy one of London's most vibrant market places. Doesn't London have enough office blocks? What about what the people want?
Mel, UK

Who cares if the tatty place goes?

Alex Jenkins, London
I've played five-a-side there, and eaten Thai at its food court, and frankly, who cares if the tatty place goes?
Alex Jenkins, London

It's easily the best market in London. We need to fight to stop this. It's a bad, bad thing that they are doing. All of us need to come together on this as a city.
Stuart Wilson, UK

Don't worry - we can easily stop anyone demolishing Spitalfields. Planning permission is one of the few truly democratic processes left - anyone can protest, and if you do, they can't build. So get down to London Guildhall and start lodging complaints!
Russ, London, UK

Since Spitalfields is being demolished for money, there could be a case for a deal, whereby heritage funding secures the markets future for a certain number of years. This may resolve the arguments of site owners and locals and also place a value on the importance of the market to Londoners.
Jeremy Townson, England

Spitalfields should be kept intact for the nation

Edward Bradfield, UK
The last thing we need is 3,000 more lawyers. I suggest we swap them for 3,000 refugee artists looking for asylum from Third World countries. Spitalfields is a unique cultural and artistic environment and should be kept intact for the nation.
Edward Bradfield, UK

The market is half the story. I've played in the regular five-a-side leagues they hold in the evening when the market's packed up. Also there's good clubs and galleries on the perimeter of the market. This development can't go through, just take a look north up Bishopsgate, there's a multitude of brown field sites within a mere 200 yards!! Over the years I've seen Spitalfields change from a largely unused shed through an extremely creative high point which is now being diluted by commercial interests.
J S Moulson, England

It is a shame for one of the few places with character in the city to be treated like this. I lunch there regularly and there is a great mix of people from all walks of life thanks to the variety of sellers. It makes for a great atmosphere which is in contrast to the lifeless McDonalds and Starbucks.
FJ, England

See also:

15 Apr 99 | Science/Nature
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