Monday, 23 April 2012

Getting to the Point

It seems that the sanitisation of St Giles continues. Plans have been announced to transform Centre Point and its immediate surroundings.

Centre Point, built by property tycoon Harry Hyams and designed by Richard Seifert, has had a rather chequered life. From its completion in 1966 it remained empty for many years, Hyams, for reasons of his own, apparently holding out for a single tenant. There was even speculation that he was being paid a large subsidy by the government to keep it empty.  You can create your own conspiracy theory for the reason behind this story!

Whatever the reason, this prominent building came to be regarded as something of a white elephant until Hyams finally agreed to let it out floor by floor.

In 1995 Centre Point became a Grade 2 listed building and despite being described by Pevsner as “coarse in the extreme” it was given the Mature Structures Award by the Concrete Society. Yes, there really is a Concrete Society!

Love it or hate it (and I love it), it is a major London landmark and it is now about to undergo major changes. A year ago it changed hands for the princely sum of £120,000,000. The new owners now plan to pedestrianise and redevelop the area around the base of the Tower to include a new public space to rival Trafalgar Sq and Covent Garden with the intention of attracting “high quality” shops and restaurants. 

Although the 117 metre, 34 floor tower itself, described by the developers as a “flawed icon” is currently filled with business tenants, the new owners say this is not sustainable as the rents do not bring in enough income to successfully maintain the building. It will therefore be converted into 82 apartments, ranging from one to four bedrooms. Given that the project is expected to cost some £350,000,000, in addition to the original purchase price, I think that is safe to assume that affordable housing does not feature highly in the plans.

As an interesting aside, the first theatre to be built in the West End for over thirty years is to go up just across the road from the new piazza. It will be built on the site of the much loved Astoria which was demolished as a result of the Crossrail project. I’m sure it will be a glossy and accomplished building but it’s doubtful that it will ever match the scuzzy charm of its predecessor.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Turks Head Café

 If you are wandering around Wapping, or passing just through whilst walking the Thames Path, and you fancy a little light refreshment, can I suggest that you drop into the Turks Head Café.

 Located within a former pub it is clean, bright and comfortable, having counters and stools around the perimeter, tables in the middle and even a couple of  sofas tucked in a corner. I called in on Saturday afternoon and indulged in an excellent full breakfast and a very decent cup of coffee but there was a large selection of other items on the menu. There is a small outside area overlooking Wapping Gardens and the staff were very friendly. What more could you ask?

The building itself was formerly and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Turks Head pub. A Taylor Walker house which, after a period of dereliction, was purchased by a local community who set  up a charitable trust  to restore the building and then let out the café space on the ground floor and some studio spaces on the upper floor. The rents raised from these go towards community projects.

The TurksHead Cafe can be found at 1 Green Bank (previously Bird St) on the corner with Tench St. It can be accessed from Wapping High St via Scandrett St, which is between the Town of Ramsgate pub and Wapping Police Station.

Scandrett St is also the location of the former St John school. Now converted for residential use, the building has a very fine pair of Blue Coat figures over the doorway.

There are some wonderful old photographs of Wapping on the Idea Store web site (the Turks Head can be seen just beyond S John's Church in the 1938 photograph). It is also worth checking the rest of the sites Digital Gallery for pics throughout Tower Hamlets