The Wimpey offer to the Greater London Council in 1978 when it lined up acquisition of the Gardiner's Corner properties included a leisure centre on a triangle east of Leman Street otherwise bounded by Braham Street and the vestige of the old line of Commercial Road that had been named Drum Street. Initially set to be called ‘The Attlee Centre’, this would combine a theatre- conference hall and a sports hall with squash courts. It was a gestural product of planning gain, to satisfy the public-provision ambitions of the GLC and Tower Hamlets. Designs were taken forward through Wimpey and the Sedgwick Group, initially by Trehearne and Norman, Preston and Partners, then from 1982 by Frederick Gibberd Partners, soon renamed Frederick Gibberd Coombes and Partners. The Sedgwick Sports and Conference Centre with the Chaucer Theatre was built in 1982–5 and soon renamed the Summit Sports and Conference Centre. There was a lower-level auditorium with a stage to the east, originally intended to seat up to 700, but built for no more than 400, and squash courts and the sports hall on the upper storeys. There was something of a commercial angle in that the building was linked at basement level to the shopping plaza below the Sedgwick Centre. Leisure centres of the 1980s were usually sprawling low-slung buildings, but this one had its spaces vertically stacked and was externally unrecognisable for what it was. Anonymous, but blandly and blankly impregnable, it was uninviting from any external vantage point, and odd, gimcrack and ungainly as architecture – ‘a white-panelled exterior, tall, with silo-like corner towers; its faux-industrial appearance made even more ludicrous by the giant globe lanterns suspended on arms from the roof.’1 From the outset the auditorium was used more for conferences than for entertainment; in 1986 writing tablets were added to the seats. In so far as it had a purpose, the building was more of the City than of Whitechapel, to serve the area’s new office workers. It lasted only twenty years.2
The easternmost Sedgwick and Wimpey site was on the south side of Commercial Road and Braham Street. This was developed in the early 1980s as a four-storey car park, to designs by Trehearne and Norman, Preston and Partners. Of streamlined profile, it was faced in Holbrook smooth-brown bricks, and was demolished in 2014.3
Unrelated plans for an office building on the Gardiner’s department store site at 31–35 Whitechapel High Street in 1979–80 came to nothing and Lloyd’s Bank moved from Nos 27–28 to a jaunty new brick-faced building at No. 35 in 1986–7. This stood until 2016. Nos 45–47 had been cleared around 2006.
Following the abandonment of the gyratory in 2008, the east end of Braham Street was available for development. Tishman Speyer (alternatively TST Aldgate Holdings LLC) had put together a scheme for a large building on this composite site that was named Aldgate Place, to complement Aldgate Union in the eastward march of the City. Plans of 2007 for a massive large-floor-plate twenty-one-storey office block were approved in 2009. Wilkinson Eyre were again the architects. The bulk of this single-block scheme, which did not extend as far south as Buckle Street, was slightly mitigated by the formation of an open way through on the old line of Drum Street. However, after the financial crash of 2008 demand for office space fell away and the German HSH Nordbank, which had advanced millions for the project, persuaded the American developer to abandon the scheme. In 2012 Tishman Speyer sold the two-acre site to a joint venture formed by British Land and Barratt London, a subsidiary of the housebuilding firm, which staked its plans on Whitechapel’s residential gentrification. Allies and Morrison were brought in as architects and, despite misgivings expressed by CABE, a huge scheme was approved in 2013. It proposed six buildings of from six to twenty-six storeys for 463 residential units, of which thirty-five per cent were to be ‘affordable’ housing, and a hotel, with retail and office uses to the north on Whitechapel High Street and ‘public’ open space laid out by Vogt Landscape Ltd and Townshend Landscape Architects to include the diagonal way through as New Drum Street. Walsh Associates were structural engineers. Work began in 2014 and the first phase was completed in 2017. This comprised the southern parts, the nine-storey white-faced hotel flanked by residential blocks with brown-brick verticals and white spandrel panels, to the east Metropolitan Tower, of twenty-two storeys and with the ‘affordable’ housing, to the west Gateway (soon renamed Wiverton) Tower, twenty-five storeys with a ten-storey southern section. The 212-room hotel opened as the Clayton Hotel City of London in 2019. The second northern phase, part of which was to have been a twenty-seven-storey tower, was abandoned in 2018, there being a glut of flats on the market locally. Tower Hamlets rejected attempts to alter the Section 106 agreement that were deemed to put at risk the continuity of the affordable housing. At the time of writing the High Street frontage remains a cleared site behind hoardings.4
Bridget Cherry, Charles O'Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildlings of England: London 5, East, 2005, p.427 ↩
London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), GLC/AR/BR/34/005000/169: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archvies, Building Control files 25414–5: Colin Davies, ‘East End Summit Meeting’, Architects Journal, 23 Oct 1985, p.34 ↩
LMA, GLC/AR/BR/34/005000/169 ↩
Evening Standard, 16 March 2012: Architects Journal, 9 May and 24 July 2013: Construction Enquirer, Jan. 2018: Tower Hamlets planning applications online ↩