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Inspiration of the Week: palimpsests of the past in an 18th-century building in Spitalfields

With many former lives and a rich history, this 18th-century building on Brushfield Street offers a golden opportunity to peer into the past

Inspiration of the Week: palimpsests of the past in an 18th-century building in Spitalfields

To stand in the bright white rooms of the upstairs apartment in Brushfield Street, you’d hardly know you were right in the middle of one of London’s busiest markets. Look out the sash windows and the melee of Spitalfields, in the East End, is moments from your nose. But inside, all is calm, such is the pared-back peacefulness here. Both the shop downstairs and the residential floors above – which together are currently on the market with Inigo – are thought to have been built in the 1770s. Vestiges of the 250 intervening years can be felt at every turn.

In the upstairs quarters, original floorboards remain underfoot, patinated by hundreds of footsteps over the centuries. History hangs in the air here, suspended in the open and uncluttered rooms, which have been quietly decorated so as to give the building’s intrinsic personality space. Joinery – built-in shelves, time-worn cabinetry, tongue-and-groove panelling – lend the place an air of distinguished age, while sensitive hardware and furnishings, from simple stick-back chairs to butler’s sinks, complement rather than impose.

Let’s talk shop, though. Over the years, the building has housed a bootmaker and a furrier, a jeweller and, more recently, a deli. Its most recognisable resident, however, was a hatter, who lives on in the form of the signage that remains emblazoned across the mustard-coloured frontage. The “French Milliner” in question was Annie Gold, a Jewish-Hungarian immigrant, one of tens of thousands of Eastern Europeans fleeing persecution. She lived and worked here from 1889 to 1892; the sign bearing her name, still in place, offers a tangible taste of the past – and the former lives of this remarkable place.

This beautiful building on Brushfield Street not only presents an exceptional chance to live and work in Spitalfields Market, it also offers an even rarer pleasure: an encounter with the past, preserved and honoured.

Brushfield Street, London E1

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