Rockwell House, so often the venue to be at the centre of the Shoreditch art scene is to be no more. Celebrating it’s final party on New Years Eve, it was to be the final event for the Hewett Street venue following a remarkable few years which have seen some major celebrations and a whole host of arty goodness.
All in the name of progress as the land on which the arts venue sits on has been taken over by the developers in charge of the massive ‘Plough Yard Developments‘ project. Two new office buildings, a whole bunch of new shops, some supposed ‘affordable’ housing and a redevelopment of the old Curtain Theatre will be created on the site.
For Rockwell, it’s a bitter pill but perhaps one that was always going to be a struggle to fight against given it’s proximity to one of the largest pieces of brownfield land in the area. That land, bordering the edges of the city and the already massive Broadgate development will now be built upon. Although the creative industries which currently do operate there, including design firms, a dance studio, a film production company as well as a gym, will all have to either close or move on.
In a message on their website, Rockwell House pays tribute to the people involved in making the past few years such a success and who have played their part in helping to make Shoreditch into one of the trendiest areas to visit in the city. Although as they also acknowledge “It’s saddening to note that the very people who’ve made this area interesting are now being pushed out in the name of progress.”
And that’s part of the greater risk. With Rockwell House and the businesses which surround it, Shoreditch will have lost a mini creative hub which breathed life into the area and which helped to give Shoreditch it’s creative buzz. This isn’t the only development to be encroaching onto the area with huge developments also proposed just over the road as part of the Blossom street redevelopment, the King John car park development and more controversial still, the huge Bishopsgate Goods Yard development.
All are proposing similar things such as high rises with office and retail space and a crumb towards the preservation societies which would supposedly retain the history of the area. It’s nonsense of course, these developments, just three in a very short space of each other will change Shoreditch forever essentially serving only to expand the footprint of the financial district of the city and pushing the creative heart out further afield.
It’s ironic because let’s not forget that throughout it’s history Shoreditch and the area around Spitalfields has always been on the outside. A place with a deep and enduring history which has supported the development of the city but which the city itself had always kept at arms length. Here the workers lived with the area supporting essential trades such as tailoring, furniture making, brewing and of course the railways. It was just far enough outside the city to be out of sight and out of mind but just useful enough to be near when cheap labour was needed.
But the area has also always had a creative heart and the wider footprint on which Rockwell House sits was once home to the Curtain Theatre, where Shakespeare himself and his troupe ‘The Lord Chamberlains’ men would have played. As part of the Plough Yard Development the foundations of this old and historic Elizabethan theatre will be excavated and preserved potentially allowing plays to be performed in it’s proximity once more.
We are glad for this at least although to quote the Gentle Author from Spitalfields Life “It is astonishing to me that the discovery of a location of global cultural significance such as the Curtain Theatre is viewed as a development opportunity to put up another tower block with a shopping mall underneath and I cannot resist the notion that this cheap opportunism will be judged retrospectively as a condemnation of our age.”
But back to Rockwell House and to some of it’s recent history, it was until 2009 the home of an import/export company which went bankrupt in 2009, it was then squatted before being left empty until Jim Vision and Matilda Tickner-Du took over the lease. “When Jim and I first took the building on it was in a huge sticky mess, we spent just 10 weeks building, cleaning, rewiring, scraping, sanding, lugging plasterboard up 4 flights of stairs, and taking 10 tonnes of rubbish out to get it to a rentable and usable point.” says Matilda on the Rockwell House blog.
Since then it has been the home to many small businesses and hosted art classes, cinema nights, charity events, music events and more. In short Rockwell House became a mini creative hub supporting creative activities around the area. With views across Shoreditch and into the city it became the perfect location for events and celebrations. From Cuban nights, to Shakespeare, comic book launches, hot tub cinema, loads of live painting and even an event to draw attention to the plight of the bee.
Now though Rockwell House is no more, victim to the sprawl of the ever growing city and another sign of the times that the East End is changing and changing fast.
Rockwell House on Hewett Street in Shoreditch hosted it’s final event on 31 December 2014 and will now be redeveloped as part of the £250 million Plough Yard Development scheme. All pictures are courtesy of Tamara Elhaj and Matilda Tuckner-Du.
Rockwell House Gallery
Shoreditch feels different now to when I first started to get to know the area all of about 5 years ago (in the days even before the Overground came to the new Shoreditch High Street). I started writing sections of a novel set there in 2009 and these passages feel like historical fiction now.
There certainly seems a large risk of killing the goose that laid the golden egg, although it may be the case to some extent that creativity has been allowed to flourish while developers who have owned a lot of their land have bided their time while the property market recovers.
I don’t know if it’s included in your list of developments but there are startling plans for a development by the viaduct in the car park opposite Village Underground. I have been working in the Southwark/South Bank area and that area is now full of new apartments and refurbishments (largely encouraged by the arts around Tate Modern and Bermondsey and the likes of Borough Market).
Shoreditch may also become a building site for the next few years and when the covers come off it might be a new Notting Hill. Let’s hope not.
The face of the place is changing that’s for sure Mike. I agree with your point about the goose and the golden egg, with so much high rise development it will change the place beyond recognition and drive the artistic community to the fringes of town. I’m also entirely unconvinced as to whether the office space and retail capacity that is being created here will actually be sustainable. I envisage a lot of half empty tower block
It would be nice if the housing was affordable for the average person who wants to live and work in London.
There’s a two page spread in today’s Evening Standard about all the tower blocks of apartments going up on City Road near the Regent’s Canal and Wenlock basin (fringes of Hoxton and Shoreditch). One of the towers is 42 storeys high — can’t see much street art being on that.
Such a pity. There’s so much construction work going on at the moment in Shoreditch/Hackney. It won’t be recognisable in a few years, and I fear that it won’t be a place where street art and creativity can be found. Of course, the design agencies will probably stay awhile, but I’m not so sure about the rest of it. Some of the City fringe area (between Great Eastern Street and the City/Broadgate) is extremely soul-less.