One of the consequences of having been involved in the long and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is that I am much more aware of – and much more sympathetic to – other local campaigns to preserve what is left of East End culture. Hence the invitation today to see the George Tavern on the corner of Commercial Road and Jubilee Street which, to my shame, I have never previously been to, even though it is only half a mile away and last week had a concert by the Orchestra in the Age of the Enlightenment.
There’s apparently been a pub on the site since the seventeenth century, known as the Halfway House for obvious reasons: it’s halfway from the City to the docks. The current building dates from c.1800. It was remodelled in 1862 and the interior in 1891, with good tilework showing its history. It is, for obvious reasons, listed. But the adjacent estate has been sold off by Tower Hamlets to something called Swan Estates who want to knock down the old Georgian theatre next door, also listed, and build two tower blocks on the green space which was part of the 1960s council estate. If this happens, the pub will almost certainly be unsustainable, particularly in its current form as a performance venue which is the only way that it is economically viable.
Since following what happened (or didn’t happen) to the Bell Foundry, I have become familiar with what happens in this sort of case. All the amenity societies express an interest, but don’t, or can’t, do anything because it falls somewhere in the gaps between them. It’s not quite Victorian enough for the Victorian Society. Historic England is in cahoots with Tower Hamlets and under its current management is pro-development. It will probably argue that it is a good example of creative adaptation, as they did with the Bell Foundry, to their eternal shame.
But this is an example of living culture, not exactly architectural, more about the survival of a community asset, a fragile ecology which is much more at risk than a more substantial architectural monument.
If you haven’t been, I strongly recommend it. It’s magnificent.
This is the pub from outside:-
This is the ornamental tilework:-
These are odd details which caught my eye:-
And this is what it looks like upstairs where I had a cup of tea:-