Thursday, 14 January 2010
This truncated historic terrace in Upper St Martin's Lane, London WC2 was the last vestige of the Georgian street - all of it has now gone to make way for a shopping development, although it is a matter of yards from the historic Seven Dials quarter and sympathetic redevelopment of the sixties block to the left could have knitted these four houses back into the tight urban grain of Covent Garden. We argued for exactly that, and for the Seven Dials conservation area to be extended to embrace them, but the developers won the day with a plan for an antiseptic, chain-store shopping centre that will see the replacement of both the Georgian houses and the sixties block. Except that, curiously, the sixties block is still standing while a new building is already rising on the cleared site of the rump Georgian terrace. Have the plans been scaled down in response to recessionary pressures? If so, it's ironic that the part of the site with greatest townscape and historic value has gone while that with least has survived. Especially as the site owner, and client for the scheme, is The Worshipful Company of Mercers, an ancient City of London livery company with a charitable foundation that has a commendable record of funding the restoration of historic buildings. As Thoreau said (in the 1850s) 'If you should ever be betrayed into any of these philanthropies, do not let your left hand know what your right hand does, for it is not worth knowing'.