An exceptionally long running and expensive court case has concluded with the decision to demolish a recently built nursery next to a famous church.

The East London landmark, Spitalfield’s Christ Church designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor built a nursery in its grounds back in 2012 after receiving £1.2 million from Tower Hamlets council towards its costs.

The fairly pleasing building however upset the Friends of Christ Church, who raised a lot of money to support the restoration of the church, but objected to the building in what was the church’s graveyard in olden times, and more recently, a 1970s youth centre building.

(c) Scabal Architects

The Friends had been funding a long running court case to stop the nursery being built.

In 2012, the Chancellor of the diocese of London granted permission for the old buildings to be demolished, and the nursery to be built, subject to the understanding that the land was unconsecrated and that no graves would be disturbed.

However, later that year, graves were found, and moved to a burial vault, with a service performed by the Rector, the Revd Andrew Rider.

Another local pressure group was formed, Spitalfields Open Space to fight the construction of the nursery arguing that the preservation of open space (even if already occupied by a building as this was) was essential in the area, and they used the reburial and confusion over whether the land was deconsecrated as their weapons.

The row became increasingly entrenched over the years, with both sides spending a small fortune on legal fees. In essence, it had become the sort of dispute between neighbours which often consume more time and money than they could ever justify simply because mediation has failed to resolve the dispute.

It probably didn’t help calm tempers when in 2014 the building was shortlisted in an annual engineering award by the Institution of Structural Engineers.

In December 2014, the campaigners lost one round in the legal fight, but won the appeal in July 2015 — as the impressively named Court of Arches of Canterbury — agreed with the campaigners that construction had contravened the Disused Burial Grounds Act 1884 as burials were disturbed during the building works.

The protestors faced a setback in December 2017 though, when the court ruled that while the building was in breach of the Act in one way, as no burials had taken place for 50 years on the site, it was allowed on the other.

Considering the nearly £100,000 costs of removing the nursery, and the £1.5 million costs of construction, the court felt that the costs did not justify the fairly small plot of open space that would be released by its removal.

(c) Scabal Architects

By now, the £1.5 million nursery had soaked up an estimated additional £750,000 in legal fees.

And still the fight continued.

Earlier this week, the fight ended though, as the Court of Arches of Canterbury has issued its final declaration – stating that the nursery will have to be removed.

However, in a slight blow to the protestors, the court has given the nursery a stay of ten years before demolition will take place, so that that taxpayers investment in its construction wouldn’t be entirely wasted. Restoration of the site is not expected to take place until 2029, by which time the nursery would have been operating for 13 years.

In the ruling, the court concluded by noting that “This highly unusual litigation arose from a misunderstanding of the relevant law which ought never to have occurred”, and following the “bitterly fought battle”, that “sadly, it will take time for the wounds to heal on both sides. ”

The court did note optimistically “what appeared, during the hearing of the appeal, to be the first, if very tentative, steps towards a rapprochement between the parties”

The school’s slogan is “Building bright futures”, which seems a bit hollow at the moment.


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10 comments on “Demolition for nursery built on Spitalfields graveyard
  1. Neil says:

    What an absolute waste of money, and how very typical of a ‘friends of’ group that they are in fact not being friendly at all. This was and will remain until it’s demolition an important community asset.

  2. Vick says:

    Down with the new. What would Hawksmoor think?

    • Gilbert says:

      Except the reckless rector won’t allow the local community access… the rector has committed criminal acts

  3. Andrew Gwilt says:

    I think that’s unacceptable. Which is a landmark in East London. That’s just out of order.

  4. Paul Day says:

    I presume the ‘friends’ are all church going christians. having known several of this ilk over the years, they usually dont seem to be very christian at all, I get the impression that this lot are’nt either.

  5. Becky says:

    I’m assuming none of the ‘friends of’ have children or grandchildren who can benefit from a nursery in a crowded part of London, where child services are stretched. I often wonder if some Roman wandered around the area once, moaning that Londinium was different when he was a kid and that new temple of Mithras is a bloody carbuncle…

  6. JP says:

    Whilst I too have come across various holier than thou regular church-goers, the vast majority quietly go about their daily lives being decent human beings. I am happy to be in a country where both sides of the argument can be heard ~ albeit in court in this instance with all the time and cost entailed. I laud the eminently sensible delay to extract ten year’s worth of value from the site.
    Im not coming down on one side or the other but I frankly can’t believe the extremely encouraging break out of common sense. Can you even imagine anything, anything like this from a property company for instance?
    Now there is around a decade to build one somewhere less disputed. Oh yes and raise the money too.

  7. Betterbee says:

    “The school’s slogan is “Building bright futures”” – which school is that? I can’t see one mentioned in the piece.

  8. Colin Cutter says:

    An absolutely wonderful compromise! If only certain politicians could be as imaginitive in another certain dispute.

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