Wickhams Department Store

I shall present here, a brief investigation into one of Whitechapel’s grander buildings, the old Wickhams Deparment Store on Mile End Road.  

I can see it’s tower from the front door of my home.  The whole place has been empty for the duration of my time spent here in the East End.  

Now, the architectural and historical significance of the building has previously been addressed (rather well I may add) in other weblogs, respectively here and here.  I shall elucidate quite directly…  You can hear this much from any diner at Billy Bunter’s Snack Bar, 24-7.  This is all cabbie knowledge here.  Straight up.  

The Wickham’s Department Store was built in 1927 and heralded as the “Harrods of the East End“.   You have this very austere classical façade, all doric columns and Italianate rustication in one of East London’s main thoroughfares, made faintly hilarious by a gaping architectural hole in the frontage and repeating motif.  I had presumed, a little hastily, that the gap was the site of a bomb and was cheap infill, but no, Whitechapel rounds on us again with a charming quirk of local history.  

81 Mile End Road was a property belonging to a certain Mr Otto Spiegelhalter.  This guy had emigrated from Germany in 1828 and had set up a jewelry business in Whitechapel.  By 1880, he had moved his business up the road to 81 Mile End Road where Mr Spiegelhalter’s three sons were all born.  Mr Spiegelhalter died in 1902 and in time, the brothers took on the running of the jewelry business from these premises.  Incidentally, anti-German sentiment at the time was unfortunately high and pervasive following the Great War and in 1919, the brothers all changed their name from Spiegelhalter to Salter.  

Then, come the 20s, and in a standard jerk of property developers’ supposed might and brilliance, the rest of the row were demolished to make way for the building of Wickhams and the brothers were offered serious renumeration to sell up and allow their premises to be demolished.   But despite all that they were offered (and we can imagine that in time, this became some substantial sum), the brothers refused to sell their property.  In my opinion, this is brilliant!  

And so the department store, all grand and self-possessing was built around the Spiegelhalters’ shop.  And this arrangement remains to this day.   Even the original symmetry of the original is forever marred, with the stone-clad tower off-centre and an incorrect number of columns on either side, even were the Spiegelhalters’ building removed.  The fun of it… the bloody fun of it!  

All this still stands, until recently when strange lights have been left on at night.  Figures creep around the balusters.  “There’s this store where the creatures meet,” and I wonder, what are they doing in there?  

The Doors - Love Street

It turns out they are modernising the old Wickhams Department Store.  The horror, dear readers, is all to evident from this webpage.   Henceforth, it shall be known as – The Water Lily.  What else can we expect or pray for in this day, this age but, retail…  

a new reception area

The Water Lily will bring “a new retail experience,” to Wickham’s Department Store.  And, I am saddened and disgusted to reveal, dear reader, that “Grocery giant Tesco have already committed to take a large unit on the ground floor facing Mile End Road.”  

Seven years after a momentous Anti-War March through Hyde Park, I returned back to Whitechapel from a long hard day at the office in Tottenham.  The tower at Wickham’s was lit up, nay swathed, in a series of garish colours – purple, blue, lime green, yellow.   Upstairs, the new Wickham and Cleveland banqueting suites were opened up to a select crowd.  I was allowed straight in.  Maybe the guys on the door thought they knew the calibre, didn’t think twice about admitting one of Whitechapel’s ghosts into, what turned to be, the Water Lily’s inaugural event.  So there I was, flash in hand: nothing but contempt for the business boys and the top brass of Tower Hamlets Council who were filling the High Table.  

the top brass can barely manage to eat, their hands are so stained with dirty brass

The speeches, all name-checkin’ the economy, how the Water Lily’s gonna help us sustain throughout the night and the dark times, how the dolled-up proles at the event can help Haiti – dinner just £5 a plate.  Yeah U can pretend this int Whitechapel, I thought to myself.  Lord Mayor, plus his confidante, they were wanting in on my Ghost Style…  

The Mayor and his confidante

I split, I left the party – see I got no taste for even the local petty bourgeois.  Then I slipped into the depths of the old building, looking to find some ghosts.  

looking for the zeitgeist

And honestly, reader, this is the first time I’ve scared myself like this in Whitechapel.  Heart got beating.  Talk about the ghost hunting the ghost.  Judder of my flash lit up piles of detritus and refuse, jewish scrawls still on the basement walls of the old Wickham’s Department Store building.  Everywhere damp, smelling of brick dust where they’re demolishing parts of the East End’s built heritage.  

a staircase inside Wickham's Department Store

round the back of the old Spiegelhalter shop

At the lowest part of the building, I could feel an open breeze.  Came to an opening and looked across a very dark courtyard.  And in the gloom, I could see the back of a different storey.  And it’s the back of the Spiegelhelter property.  Finally demolished, finally obliterated by retail capitalism. 


Colombo’s in the phone box, still hungry, still needing a drink.  A fleet of cabs moves up from Aldgate, for the city boys and girls to pile out and banquet.  Meanwhile a wind blows through all the shit and the filth of Whitechapel outside.



Filed under Uncategorized

19 responses to “Wickhams Department Store

  1. john edwards

    interesting the ghost of Jack Cohen [ Tesco’s ], who began with a barrow in Aldgate some time ago – when the jews had fish & the irish chips –
    should return to Spiegalhalter’s last stand , in grand style – amazed they didn’t ask Fayed to open Herod’s East there. Proves the lion can lie down with the lamb [ mtbw principle ] – have we seen plans for the filling of the Spiegalhalter* Gap? Do pray it won’t be in the form of a tower with a loud recording coming out from the helmet – as froggy & toad a wooing go in the Water Lily pad below ………. XXX The Lurchers … [*spelt – Spiegalhelter by you – last two lines].

    • east end

      The Spiegelhalters were not a Jewish family. They were from Germany and as one of the links above explains worshipped at St Boniface, which was the German Catholic church.

    • andrew

      is the german catholic church, that is…still going strong, and spiegelhalter family still worship there…

  2. Linda Holda

    Thank you for the photos and the stories re: the Spiegelhalter Jewellers

    Otto Spiegelhalter, one of the original owners, was the nephew of my
    Gr-Gr-Gr-Gr-Grandmother Theresia Spiegelhalter.

    My grandmother was a descendant of the Spiegelhaters of the Black Forest, in Germany.
    Her grandparents (Bauerle & Duffner) went to England @ 1865 and worked for a watchmaker in Meadway, Rochester, Kent.

    In 1871, they moved to Chicago, USA and became saloon keepers.
    It is fun to find new pieces of the puzzle.
    Linda, in Florida

    • rachael herberts

      Hi linda, I doubt if you will see this as you left your message here over a year ago, but I just wanted to let you know that great great grandparents were related to yours as I have seen in the census that they lived above this shop. Their names were herbert and katherina spiegelhalter and herbert either a child or grandchild of severin spiegelhalter. They changed their surname to herberts. I just found your message interesting as my family still live in medway in rochester, kent so perhaps we are related! Anyway if you or anyone else has any info or may be a relative feel free to email me rachael.herberts@yahoo.com!

      • rachael herberts

        Sorry my mistake, katherina was married to severin and their son herbert spiegelhalter was my great grandad

    • Johanna Peluso

      My father was a Speigelhalter (Salter by then) and worked for my Grandfather in this shop. When it closed he took the frontage sign and opened a jewellers of the same name in Loughton (via Gants Hill) in Essex. Johanna in Brentwood

    • rachael herberts

      I’m afraid to say that the jewllers in medway that they worked in and my relatives aslo is now wlosing down!

    • andrew

      hi linda also Rachael,
      the baurles that linda mentions, here ancesteor querin, were grand-children of the first mr spiegelhalter, and founded the business in medway which Rachael refers to, so they were cousins of severin fehrenbach rachaels ancestor – and the shop was still going when I lasted looked, as fernbank jewellers 9(and body piercers),,,(formerly ferhenbach brothers)

      • andrew

        oops slight error here, not sure whether racheels ancestors are severin and katherina spiegelhalter or severin and katherina fehrenbach,,,,

  3. andrew

    i2_ts a sad story because the much loved spiegelhalter facade could have s0 n easily been retained,,,
    but spiegelhalters are still in business, in penzanze cornwall and still in the famil six generations down from georg spiegelhalter and his brother simonfrom the kohlplatz in neukirk blackforest, which is also still farmed by the family.
    andrew (0207_582 4158

  4. antoine

    Thank you for this very nice story. Very interesting indeed, and meaningful for me, studying architecture. Do you know if there are some plans related to this? or other drawings/sections/pictures…?
    I am looking for some more materials in order to start an historical study of the area.

    Many thanks,

    Antoine from france

  5. Mike Brierley

    I’ve just posted a 2005 pic of the building to Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/stockportmike/5461436966/in/photostream/

    I found this site when looking for information to accompany the pic. I was horrified to learn to fate of Spiegelhalters’. Thanks for the info though.

  6. nick

    The Spiegelhalter building is still there today and could do with restoration… I just hope they don’t pull it down, it’s so integral to the story of why the building around is it that shape! Surely that justifies keeping it?! I know the buildings all along the other side of the road are currently all being restored by the council, it would be nice if they could do something.

  7. Wow, superb weblog format! How long have you ever been blogging for? you made blogging glance easy. The whole glance of your website is fantastic, as neatly as the content!

  8. David Williams

    With all the extensive bombing and destruction along the Mile End Road it is a surprise that the Wickhams building was not apparently badly damaged. It would have been rough justice indeed if the Speigelhalter shop had suffered a direct hit from a German bomb and enabled Wickhams to complete the building after the war. The building is quite iconic as an End End curiosity and I wish there was an information board to the front explaining the building and its history.
    If sheer stubborness should be celebrated then it would be good to see the premises used in an imaginative way. Unfortunately the building, badly maintained has become a bit of an eyesore on a much cleaned up and improved stretch of the Mile End Road. Many would no doubt the whole folly demolished along with Speigelhalters and the site redeveloped. Perhaps reuse the columned frontage and tower elsewhere?

  9. Pingback: The Harrods Of The East End « The Anonymous Widower

  10. Joe

    Was there last weekend. Along with the Tesco’s store, the middle section is now a cafe called Foxcroft & Ginger and the upper portion is an open tech working environment called Central Working (centralworking.com) – it’s interesting what they’ve done with the place. As I understood it, the Old Street technology companies are expanding down into Whitechapel and Mile End Road and this is one of the first companies to jump in. The look of the place is intentionally unfinished. It looks like where plaster came down from age, it was just patched and painted over. They have lots of exposed metal beams, concrete and wood. Barclays has an office/program there, as does Microsoft and many other smaller tech firms. Everything is open and transparent. I’ve never really seen anything like it before. Very cool place and cool building.

  11. Hi,

    I am working on project with digital placemakers, City-Insights, to impartially raise awareness about the intended project to create Water Lily’s out of the old Wickham’s department store. In the article you mentioned that you walked around the building and took pictures. It would be amazing if I might be able to have a look at them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s