Nathaniel Close, Spitlafields, 2008, MW, Buy this Photo.
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Nathaniel Close, Spitalfields

Nathaniel Close is a shit hole, despite how much estate agents might like to tell you, 'great location being just a stone's throw from Spitalfields Market'. Last time I visited, in February 2008, the back of the flats were being used as a dumping ground - it looked bloody grim. Obviously poor illiterate people live there.


Spitalfields is a small neighbourhood in the east end of London with a rich historical part including waves of immigration which stretch back to the sixteenth century. For the last five hundred years the story of the people who lived there has been one of struggling to make ends meet, industry and from time to time deprivation, poverty and slums. A new era seems to be dawning on the area, as its proximity to London’s every growing financial centre, has seen chunks of it redeveloped for trading floors, officers, leisure complexes and trendy flats. Today, with it social history clearly impregnated into the surrounding buildings, communities and architecture, and with the new developments, Spitalfields is a dynamic, fascinating part of London’s old east end that is a must for anyone seeking a deeper perspective on London.

Spitalfields Market

The first time I saw Spitalfields Market in 1995 I remember the sense of wonderment I experienced, being blown away by what seemed an unusual juxtaposition of pensioners protest stalls, samosa vans, an organic bread table, junk stalls and a magazine section from whose selection I read my first ever addition of Adbusters magazine.

In those days you could quite easily end up walking away from the market with a handful of leaflets for better pensions, three samosas, five cooking apples one riddled with a maggot, a Rubik’s cube on key ring, a Casio watch from the 1980s – with yourself adoring a French Duke’s red velveteen overcoat from the seventeenth century; with a copy of Adbusters poking out the top pocket.

The market which in many way represents the hearts of Spitalfields a small neighbourhood in the east of London, opened in 1928 as a wholesale fruit and vegetable market, supplying food to the East End. With the growth of London, the market was relocated out of the centre to enable better access to populations living further out. Spitalfields market became a strange amalgam of crafts shops, bars and stalls and a sports pitch.

Since I last visited the market, the City of London has demolished two-thirds of the site and gotten Norman Foster to build a set of office blocks in its place. Nice. The market has been redeveloped to provide new offices and trading floors for City institutions. The plans went ahead and a set of glassy towers and trendy clothes and coffee shops now stands where half the market once was. Many stall holders were told in 2003 that they would be loosing their pitch.

According to the BBC, market manager Eric Graham said, ‘the reduction in size has weeded out stalls which duplicated products’. What a lot of post-hoc self-justificatory nonsense. Has Graham never heard of the quaint idea that ‘competition is good for the consumer’?

Building work is still going on and for the few days that the market is open it is a pale reminder of its former self.

The destruction of Spitalfields Market has raised interesting questions about the balance between satisfying the rapacious demands of capitalism vis-à-vis maintaining an areas history. The paradox is that whilst knowing so much about an area like Spitalfields causes us to resist redevelopment, it is the very fact that Spitalfields sits next to the City of London, which in turn attracts artists and writers to live in the area who create the histories and reasons for resistance. In the end capital will always win. The only thing the conservatives can do is fight to preserve the complete annihilation of history, by asking developers to preserve historic features. This has been done all over Spitalfields. The Jewish soup kitchen is one example.

The market was built in the seventeenth century following the Great Fire of London. A key figure in its development was Robert Homer, who started off life working as the market porter, and went on to buy it in 1875. On purchasing the market, Homer rebuilt it and consolidated its business by stopping all surrounding trade or making it subject to his market fees.

In 1999 a Roman burial site was found underneath Spitalfields Market.

Contact Details

Nathaniel Close, Spitalfields, London, E1

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