Demolition Without Permission

Sadly we often see demolition of historic buildings without consent. The latest of these occurred last week in London, in the Isle of Dogs, Borough of Tower Hamlets, where three terraced houses were reduced to rubble with no consent for demolition in place.

It appears that the origins of these buildings date from only shortly after our 1700-1840 remit, as the road they sit on was proposed for development in 1843. Although altered in later years, they retained something of the character of the first half of the nineteenth-century.They weren't the most well-preserved, or grandest, or oldest, or most unusual buildings in east London. But within the context of an area which was reclaimed from marshland to become the global logistical and economic hub of the world at that time, they were among the most evocative and rarest. 

Their demolition destroyed the last vestiges of the early built heritage of a small part of London which had preserved what had remained in the face of the worst British social upheavals of the twentieth-century; aerial bombing in the 1940s, well-intentioned, but socially irresponsible and brutal, 'slum' clearance in the mid-century, and enormous global development pressure from the late 1980s which fed profit into the global economic system and did almost nothing directly for those born and raised in the area. 

Tower Hamlets is to be commended on pressing for rebuilding. What was destroyed cannot be truly replaced, but the opportunity exists to draw a 'line in the sand' demonstrating that the wanton destruction of the historic environment can, and must, be resisted so that some sense of local identity and pride can be preserved in the maw of selfish and anti-social vandalism.

The British Council recently stated that those who destroy cultural heritage cause not just the cultural "destruction of those immediately living alongside these monuments, but of entire generations." This was in the context of the atrocities at Palmyra. The destruction of Syria's heritage was infinitely more terrible because of the loss of human lives, but last week proves to those of us in Britain that the arrogance and selfishness that underpinned a disregard for community and environment elsewhere in the world can happen uncomfortably closer to home. Within a matter of hours a surviving piece of two-hundred years of very public, very international, intrinsically cross-cultural, inheritance has been wiped off another little piece of the world map. In global terms the value of the land is enormous. In global terms we are all much the poorer.