Spiegelhalter campaigners jubilant as ‘best visual joke in London’ is saved

‘Visual joke’: Wickhams department store wrapped around the Spiegelhalter shop. Photograph: flickr

The council has finally given plans to refurbish the neglected Wickhams department store the green light, following a fierce campaign against the initial proposal.

Under the second and approved set of plans the developers are to preserve the facade of the former Spiegelhalter’s jewellers, a small shop that sits sandwiched in between two sides of the department store on Mile End Road.

Resolution Property will turn Art Deco department store and Spiegelhalter shop into office and retail space.

The outcome is a victory for campaigners who fought to preserve the historic Spiegelhalter building.

“It’s great to see East London’s history and culture are being conserved,” said Catherine Croft, director of Twentieth Century Society, an architecture campaign group.

“Preserving the facade was the main concern of all campaigners, so we are very glad this plan has eventually been adopted.”

‘Visual joke’

Local affection for the Spiegelhalter building stems from its unusual history.

In the 1920s the neighbouring Wickham family began work on its department store and tried buy out the Spiegelhalters from their premises at number 81 Mile End Road.

The Spiegehalter family refused to sell its jewellery shop, forcing the Wickhams to build around them, so creating what the architectural critic Ian Nairn later called “the best visual joke in London”.

Both shops have since closed.

But the treasured little building was almost lost a second time when, in December 2014, developers Resolution Property submitted an application to refurbish the entire stretch of Wickhams, and replace the Spiegelhalter shop with a glass atrium.

Before and after: the first and second proposals for Spiegelhalter’s. Image: Tower Hamlets Council

In January this year campaigners launched a Save Spiegelhalter’s petition, which garnered 2,000 signatures and support from campaign groups including the East End Preservation Society, Twentieth Century Society and Spitalfields Life .

Spitalfields Life said demolishing Spiegelhalter’s would erase “the extraordinary story it tells and sacrifice a unique architectural wonder for the sake of a glass atrium”.

Resolution Property succumbed to pressure in April and put forward a new scheme that would preserve and restore the structure of the facade.

Last week Tower Hamlets Council granted permission for this second scheme.

A council spokesperson said: “We recommended approval and this was confirmed by the Strategic Development Committee.”