Shoreditch | The Survivors of Gentrification
The chances are if you live or work in Shoreditch that you have noticed the neighbourhood in a constant period of change, especially during the last ten to fifteen years. The area has undergone significant ‘gentrification’ as a result of the availability of relatively low value real estate to London’s bourgeois money – an even tastier proposition given the region’s proximity to The City. This has catapulted Shoreditch, and much of East London, into an exciting hub of new and creative ideas, but perhaps also causes a headache for its more permanent residents.
Shoreditch historically has never been shy of innovation: Lewis Berger, the pioneer paint manufacturer relocated his factory to the area; Xylonite, an early plastic, was invented in Hackney; the firm that claims to have coined the term ‘petrol’, Careless, Capel & Leonard, was based in Hackney Wick. During the second half of the 19th century Hackney’s population grew as estates and farmland were built over, but it is predominantly the victorian-era changes that have created the landscape we see today. Much of the infrastructure still around today was built on the tactile trades of carpentry, joinery, crafts and furniture-making, capitalising on the ease of the timber trade via the River Lea.
In the decades following WW2, London’s wholesale restructuring saw large industry moving away from the area, leaving the low-skilled enterprises picking up the pieces, dealing in old cars, scrap and empty warehouses. Sadly today, many of the area’s original businesses have been squeezed out by rising rent prices and large chains or franchises. Modern start-ups have been attracted to a borough that comfortably sits between Stratford, Canary Wharf and the thriving financial hub of London, the City. Thankfully though, Shoreditch simply couldn’t be Shoreditch without some of the relics that have helped to define its history and very existence.
First Option’s converted Victorian zip and suspender factory has served the film, TV and photography industries here in Shoreditch for close to three decades, so we thought it fitting to highlight some of our local favourites who make us look like the newbies!
Gardners story begins with James Gardner great grandad of Paul (above). James initially decided to set up a business specialising in scale repairs, catering for the many market traders working within Spitalfields at the time. Four generations later, much of Gardners remains the same. Paul Gardner has followed in the footsteps of his ancestors James, John, Bertie, Roy and Vera in keeping the family business alive, much to the delight of many of the local residents.
Gardners also has the advantage of being able to sell its products in small quantities. The reason why so many market traders are attracted to Gardners is because they are able to buy small quantities of goods at affordable prices, something many other business are unable to do.
Gardners has been attracting much media publicity recently, forming a key part of the recently published Spitalfields Life book as well as featuring on BBC London news, BBC London Radio, the East London film festival and The Monocle radio station. In Pauls own words, “I get people coming in who’ve not been in for 20 years and they’re amazed and happy to see I’m still there. They’ll say blimey you’re still here I was wondering whether you’d still survived as it’s changed so much”
The one and only shoe shop for £5 plimsoles. Phil Knight’s shop has been running for around 80 years and is the archetypal East End family business. Ruthlessly simple in its selection, this shop looks like it probably hasn’t changed in Phil’s lifetime and only sells inexpensive shoes. This little establishment evidently has a faithful crowd of local customers, and the cockney humour (only heard if the owners are inside; the shoes are often left unattended) is always a winner with the Brick Lane tourists. The front of the shop gained a small but significant cameo in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels as the location for Hatchet Harry’s office.
A company established in the 1970s, Peter the Pleater started as a small, family-run shop in Shoreditch (London) pleating dresses and other items of clothing. With the success of the shop and the numerous market stalls across London and Essex taking off and the namesake ‘Pete the Pleat’ sticking, Peter the Pleater then began as a small blinds firm in the late 1980s.
Since then, the brand has expanded, covering a wide range of areas from the city to Southend and has become a renowned name throughout the blinds industry. The majority of the work they carry out is through word-of-mouth and recommendations from happy customers.
The story of Trumans Brewery is one of rise, fall and renewal. It was continually rising for 200 years but managed to fall within 20 years. At its pinnacle it was sending Imperial Stout to the Russian court and IPA to the British Raj, yet in the late eighties it started selling pubs and the brewery sadly closed its doors.
Fortunately, Trumans was re-established in 2010, but this time in Hackney Wick, a short walk from the Olympic Park, by two beer enthusiasts/heros, James Morgan and Michael George Hemus.
Although the new establishment is far smaller than the original brewery, and not as iconic as the original red brick building and tower in Brick Lane, it is charming to see such a historic brand back on its feet.
They do however accept that they may never become one of the largest beer produces once again, but are keen to stay true to Truman basic principles of being professional, innovative, working with the local community and of course, making the best beer possible for the thirstiest city in the world.
Independant bookshops are few and far between, yet this one has survived more than 30 years of competition and the digitisation of reading material.
The bookshop initially opened under the guise of THAP (Tower Hamlets Art Project) at the end of Cable Street – its purpose being to serve the community and encourage children to read. Until it was open, there was not a single bookshop open in Tower Hamlets.
First stocked with radical literature on various topics – Docklands, feminism and left wing politics – it also sold the ever popular punk and political badges. Three decades later the bookshop moved to Brick Lane where it continues to present theses to the public and is proud of its legacy of supplying the East End with books.
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