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Spitalfields, Urban Fabric, A closer look

Local Notes: Stories of our neighbourhoods | Chris Dyson

Wednesday 31 March 2021

I have chosen several drawings to flesh out the look and feel of Spitalfields, my neighbourhood for the last 30 years – a place that has always been in a state of flux and one that I enjoy all the more for that. By contrast the buildings I admire are constant and don’t change very much at all – they are refurbished very carefully and with respect for the original craft. This is where my office was started and still resides and only 2 minutes from home in Princelet Street.

Spitalfields, Urban Fabric, A closer look

I cherish this city quarter very much, both for the people that inhabit it and the Architecture of the place – [people, place, buildings, Jan Gehl] it has changed and brought good things with that and I am very positive about its future in a post pandemic world. The market hall is normally a throbbing place for socialising – rather than speculate about its future, I prefer to recall its recent past in the hope this will all return as we get on with our lives.

Spitalfields, Urban Fabric, A closer look

As I write this I am reminded it has this last week been Hawksmoor’s birthday, living in the shadow of his greatest building always inspires me such a vast and beautifully crafted Architecture of Portland stone!

Christ Church Spitalfields, I love the bold lines, the stone and the strong muscular proportions, like a handsome dog sitting upright, it has anthropomorphic elements!

I have lived in this neighbourhood since the early 90’s presently residing in Princelet street with the family. My architectural studio is to the south of this fabulous church, and I have the pleasure of walking past it regularly each morning and evening.

There is a phenomenal rich mix of cultures a melting pot of social classes all sitting cheek by jowl in the neighbourhood – it’s what makes London so vibrant and exciting for me as an architect – it’s like electricity simply intoxicating and I love it!

There is no doubt the Elizabeth line will bring amazing opportunities for change for the good over the next decades from this investment, in this neighbourhood and particularly in the Whitechapel neighbourhood which will benefit immensely.

I wanted to make a drawing that told a story representing an aspect of the palimpsest of this neighbourhood of London. Christ Church Spitalfields, was built between 1714 and 1729 to a design by Nicholas Hawksmoor, on Commercial Street, and facing the City of London, it was one of the first and finest of the Commission* for Building Fifty New Churches, established by an Act of Parliament in 1711.

Spitalfields, Urban Fabric, A closer look

This parish was carved out of the huge medieval Stepney parish for an area then dominated by Huguenots, some Huguenots used it for baptisms, marriages and burials but not for everyday worship, preferring their own much simpler chapel.

This drawing recognises the Huguenot occupation, by copying designs by Anna Maria Garthwaite in blue, a renowned designer of Spitalfields silks during this Huguenot occupation. Since then many other cultures have passed through its properties from Ireland, Russia to the present-day Bangladeshi community.


*The Commissioners for the new churches included Christopher Wren, Thomas Archer and John Vanbrugh appointed two surveyors, one of whom was Nicholas Hawksmoor. Only twelve of the planned fifty churches were built, of which six were designed by Hawksmoor.