500 protesters join hands in ‘human chain’ protest over Norton Folgate Liberty

PUBLISHED: 20:56 19 July 2015 | UPDATED: 09:53 20 July 2015

Cruickshank joins hands in protest to 'protect' Norton Folgate [photo: Vickie Flores]

Cruickshank joins hands in protest to 'protect' Norton Folgate [photo: Vickie Flores]


Historian Dan Cruickshank has led a ‘hands on’ protest to save Norton Folgate next to London’s famous Spitalfields Market from developers knocking down a big chunk of the unique Georgian neighbourhood.

Cruickshank's 'human chain' protest in Norton Folgate [Vickie Flores]Cruickshank's 'human chain' protest in Norton Folgate [Vickie Flores]

Dan’s campaign attaracted 500 protesters for this-afternoon’s ‘human chain’ protest to hould hands around a block of buildings which could soon fall under the demolition hammer.

The protest in the City Fringe area organised by Dan’s Spitalfields Trust was a show of public feeling ahead of Tuesday’s Tower Hamlets Council planning meeting to decide if the redevelopment goes ahead.

“We did it, a solid public protest with 500 people,” a delighted Cruickshank told the East London Advertiser.

Human chain around the block [Vickie Flores]Human chain around the block [Vickie Flores]

“It shows people care about these buildings and about London.”

The developers, British Land, said it was prepared to consider the development on a smaller scale as individual properties rather than a “corporate plaza” that the protesters feared would happen.

But Cruickshank today dismissed the assurances.

Campaign to save Norton FolgateCampaign to save Norton Folgate

“Their brief from their City of London masters is to build eight and 13-storey structures with open plan units,” he insists.

“If British Land talks of seperate structures, why not keep these historic buildings?”

It was a party atmosphere as whole families joined the human chain around the Eldon Street Conservation Area in the bright sunshine.

Human chain in Blossom St [photo: Mike Brooke]Human chain in Blossom St [photo: Mike Brooke]

The City Fringe neighbourhood has been caught up in 40 years of controversy over “corporate encroachment”.

The latest scheme would breach Tower Hamlets guidelines for the conservation area with some of its buildings dating from the 1720s, the Trust points out.

Some 600 objections have been sent to Tower Hamlets against the plans, while the Trust has put forward an alternative scheme to keep the historic fabric of the neighbourhood.

Human chain stretches around around Norton Folgate [Mike Brooke]Human chain stretches around around Norton Folgate [Mike Brooke]

The area has little capacity for change, according to Tower Hamlets Council’s own Appraisal in 2007. Future needs should be met by the sensitive repair of the historic buildings, the Appraisal stated, with new development respecting the urban form, scale and block structure.

There is a sinister sense of déja vu for Cruickshank, who moved into his house close by in 1978 after a battle with the same developers over the fate of early 18th century silk-weavers’ cottages.

The stalemate led to national media attention and support by the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman who visited Norton Folgate with Cruickshank to see for himself.

Human chain? No, canine chain... 'Sir Floyd of Shoreditch' joins his master Chris Barnet on picket line [photo: Mike Brooke]Human chain? No, canine chain... 'Sir Floyd of Shoreditch' joins his master Chris Barnet on picket line [photo: Mike Brooke]

“But now the shadow of demolition and over-scaled commercial development has returned within a few feet of the epoch-making victory nearly 40 years ago,” Cruikshank adds. “The same development company we fought off back in 1977 has returned.”

Norton Folgate today is a main thoroughfare linking Shoreditch to Bishopsgate in the City. But its heritage stems back centuries to a self-governing municipality, or Liberty, outside the City of London and the system of civic parishes. Its municipal authority stretched both sides of the ancient Roman Ermine Street.

The Beadle, acording to records from 1759 that Cruickshank found in his research, was to “set the watch, keep the Liberty free of vagabonds and people making a shop to sell fruit, etc.” The six watchmen—or ‘charleys’—were hired at £12 per annum to “apprehend and detain Malefactors, Rogues, Vagabonds, Disturbers of the Peace, those suspect to have any evil designs and any person casting the night soil in the street to be dealt with according to law.”

The Liberty survived until local government passed to the new Metropolitan boroughs in 1900, under the London County Council established 12 years earlier.

Its fate is once again in the balance when Tower Hamlets council decides on Tuesday.

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