Wily Badger / Local landmarks

I looked into the stories behind four well-known buildings in Clapton for Wily Badger’s Winter 2014 issue. Click to read the full article.

Clapton contains many notable buildings. There are a few that have made recent history, and others that have stood the test of time; some have stories to tell, while the rest are quiet curiosities. In this feature, we draw your attention to four buildings you may not have thought about before

The Strand Building

Nestled amongst the Georgian and Victorian architecture of Hackney, you can find this rather eccentric building sitting on the corner of Lower Clapton and Urswick Roads. Nowadays, the building hosts Red Route Cafe among its residents, and you can see its name garishly perched at the front, in a bright blue and classic art deco font.

The building was created initially to house the Hackney Electricity Demonstration Halls and Offices in 1925, and was built in the usual commercial style of the time. The original building housed a model home, featuring rooms decked out with the most desirable domestic appliances available – despite the UK’s post-war economic malaise, the Demonstration Hall was a place for indulgence.

The Strand Building’s namesake west central London street is easily evoked by the building’s aesthetic, but curiously many of the Strand’s famous art deco buildings were constructed, or refurbished to fit the look, after Clapton’s Strand Building. The Savoy, although built in 1889, was given its retro makeover in 2010, while the Shell Mex House and Adelphi Theatre were built 5 years after the Strand Building came into being.

This showroom building was later converted into offices, flats and commercial units – featuring a rooftop garden – in 1995. In early 2013, the windows and doors of the building were refurbished to give its art deco aesthetic a boost.

As a listed building, the refurbishment of the windows and doors was required to reflect the art deco style of the building, resulting in the blues and pinks on the window frames that are seen today. The old style doors, too, were matched exactly as before.

The Strand Building, which began life as an aspirational domestic showroom, has now become one of the most desirable locations in Clapton, with a tiny studio flat taking less than 350 square foot of space in the building setting you back at least £275,000. But if you don’t fancy forking that much out at once, you can grab a room on Airbnb for a mere £38 per night.

Clapton Portico

The Clapton Portico sits on top of Linscott Road, and is the most recognisable façade of Clapton Girl’s Technology College. Nowadays, stepping through the vast stone pillars will take you to the College’s computer training facility, a resource available to both school and mature students alike. However, the building has not always been a destination that promises future development.

Originally, the Portico housed the London Orphan Asylum, before being abandoned during a severe outbreak of Cholera. It then became the Salvation Army Headquarters and, after narrowly avoiding destruction during World War II (although the majority of Linscott Road was razed to the ground), the charity moved out in 1970 and the majority of the building was demolished. Just the portico front and colonnade wings were left: nothing else remained. As described by PEER, an arts trust based in Hoxton, the building became a visible symbol of contemporary social and economic hardship.

In 1999, artist Martin Creed placed white neon signage, thirteen metres in length, on top of the building’s pillars that stated: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. The initiative was a commission by The Pier Trust with the Hackney Historic Buildings Trust. The piece was originally meant to be there for just a few months, but ended up staying for more than a year. At the time, Creed explained: “I was going through a really bad time.”

The artwork’s statement is a frank comment on the site’s history, and when looking at the piece in retrospect it is tempting to interpret it as a prophetic statement about the drastic change the area – and the building – was due to experience. In 2001, Brady Mallalieu architects resurrected the building by extending the body of the portico, where the original structure would have been.

Creed’s work put the Clapton Portico on the cover of art magazines around the world, turning a Clapton cul-de-sac into an international icon. You can now see the Portico with Creed’s artwork on display in the Hauser & Wirth collection in Somerset.

Banister House

When discussing share prices or buying stock, a few things may spring to mind. You might be reminded of banks or pension plans. Perhaps you will think of the recent stream of innovative tech firms with their headline-grabbing stock market debuts. You probably won’t think of a Homerton housing estate.

Banister House, built in 1935, is set to become the first estate in Hackney to sell shares in its own co-operative organisation, and the second in London to set up an estate-based solar energy scheme (the first to do so is Brixton’s Loughborough Estate). At the start of 2014, Hackney Council gave the green light to a solar power initiative that will position Banister House as one of the most unique estates in the capital.

The Banister House Solar Co-operative, formed in conjunction with Hackney Energy, was granted a 20-year roof lease, in addition to project funding, from Hackney Council. The co-operative will also be providing an apprenticeship scheme for a group of 15 young people living on the Banister House estate, teaching them how a co-operative business model works, as well as providing practical experience of building and fitting the solar panels themselves.

Some have described Hackney Council as viewing the project as a pilot initiative, with hopes that a humble estate in Homerton could pave the way for future community-managed renewable energy initiatives, giving young people across the borough similar opportunities to those offered to Banister House residents.

For those interested in investing in the Banister House Solar Co-operative, you can find more information on how to pledge support and on the release of their share offer, due in late 2014, at: hackneyenergy.org.uk/banister-house. The scheme will allow residents of the estate to purchase shares from £50, while those living outside of the estate will be required to invest a minimum of £250. All shareholders will have a say in how the co-operative is run, and will receive interest payments of an estimated 4% per year on their investment.

The Clapton Hart

For most people who have moved to Clapton in recent years, the context for the “Murder Mile” reputation may not resonate – but the story is here, hiding behind after-work drinks, pub quizzes and Sunday roasts. The building in which the Clapton Hart sits is one that was once notorious in newspaper articles, TV clips and literature.

Today, the Hart is a large pub with a tatty façade owned by the Antic Group, who have a series of similar pubs across London. Inside, you’ll find the tried and tested (but by no means unsuccessful) formula of craft beer and decorative taxidermy.

Although the shabby-chic interiors are newly affected, the building can trace its roots back as far
as 1722 where its life began as another local pub, the White Hart. The site was blighted from the start – the first building burnt down in the 1830s, and it is rumoured to have suffered a gas explosion some time in the 1890s. In the early noughties the building reopened as The Pegasus (later renamed Chimes Bar).

Chimes and its neighbouring venue, the Palace Pavillion (which is now a church), ran garage, hip hop and rap nights, and was a popular nightclub in Hackney. Violence in connection with the venues began in 1997, when a 16-year old was shot dead at a private party inside the club. It continued, all within close proximity to Chimes, leading to its closure in 2008. “Eight men shot dead in two years. Welcome to Britain’s Murder Mile,” is a headline from the Independent in 2002.

The violence was so extreme it became fictionalised in Gavin Knight’s book Hood Rat, which is based on true encounters from the author’s time as an undercover officer. “It has become so bad in the last few years that to go inside Palace Pavillion is like a trip to the Death Star,” the book reads. “Six gangland executions in Lower and Upper Clapton Road, in two years. More likely to hear gunshots here in the murder mile than anywhere else in Britain.”

View the original print PDF here.