A flying trip to Spitalfields London at the beginning of the month felt like an enchanting illusion, especially when returning to work, business as usual, on the Monday morning. But each moment of that brief weekend seemed somewhat unreal, starting with an early evening visit to Dennis Sever's house, 18 Folgate Street.
As you weave your way through the atmospheric rooms of the old 18th century townhouse, you become a spectator and two-bit actor in Sever's 'still-life drama' which leads you back through time in this 'historical imagination'.
Back on the street, however, you are quickly snatched from the state of dream-like reality of no:18 as its unique calm and beauty evaporate into the surge and clamour of 21st century life that looms all around.
If only the towering buildings that encircle the last remnants of old Spitalfields contented themselves with staring with conceit at the centuries-old architecture at their feet. But no, these playground bullies have already struck at their weaker prey, sweeping them off the board in this vicious game of redevelopment.
In this losers' game, the Water Poet pub (above) was drowned out by developers' ambition.
Punters' last orders were called in 2019, when the establishment finally closed its doors for good... or should I say bad... or worse? It still hangs onto its East End pitch, as a corner stone to a way of life that is being stealthily strangled and then slowly submerged by a sea of sleek concrete, steel and glass, hidden under shrouds of scaffolding.
Don't be fooled by the false veneer smile of façadism, as developers pay lip service to the preservation of the past by keeping a thin layer of centuries-old architecture on the front of some modern-day monolith. The rot has already set in...
Here's the gaping hole next to the Water Poet (photo from 2019), following a brutal extraction but 'compensated' by the maintenance of a slither of heritage. It is better than nothing, I suppose, but seriously, who are they kidding?
Other islands of the past cling on too, of course, resilient when the odds do not always appear to be stacked in their favour in the long term...
Meanwhile the dragon of the City boundary markers proudly guards over his ground, brandishing his shield of arms to hold off the enemy.
He still growls his Latin motto to the City - Domine dirige nos
- Lord, direct us but at a time when money talks louder than anything else, his words are perhaps lost to the wind.
Of course, as in any time, business must largely prevail over other concerns, especially in the City - historic and present-day heart of finance, but at what price to the landscape around it?
In some respects, this vast contrast between past and present is so spectacular that it becomes grandiose, as skyscrappers dwarf the delicate brickwork forms of buildings that date back to centuries before. But the solemnity of these towers seems somewhat false to me.
Size belies the fact that this is construction with little to say, beyond the very real shock of the new and the stunning visual impact of such sheer, unapologetic volume. This may be statement architecture but what trace will it leave in the following decades or centuries. What will it write in the collective history of this part of London city? And more importantly, what was and will be erased to make room for it?
As night falls, the old cobbled streets are veiled in darkness and mystery whilst the modern roads are lit up by the vivid glare of traffic and the towering edifices from all round.
But in the early morning mist, as the (New) Old Spitalfields Market awakens, the boundaries between old and new, real and illusionary are blurred...
The blackcloth of modernity and that of the past are interchangeable...
Spires and facades of past and present cut into the horizon in dizzying variations.
Whilst migrants flow in as they always have over centuries of Spitalfields life, riding on the waves of change and time...
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