Residents 'go independent' to beat skyscraper

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Sun May 11 20:42:29 BST 2008

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Sweet! Perhaps we should all take trips to the local archives.


Residents 'go independent' to beat skyscraper

Campaigners find a weapon in Tudor land grant

Vanessa Thorpe, arts correspondent
The Observer, Sunday May 11, 2008

Residents fighting plans for a new Norman Foster-designed skyscraper in 
central London intend to declare 'independence' to prevent it being built in 
their small parish of Norton Folgate.

Like the fictional residents of Pimlico in the Ealing comedy, Passport to 
Pimlico, opponents claim they could have an ancient right to 
self-determination which they will use to stop Bishop's Place, a £700m scheme 
by property developer Hammerson.

They say maps uncovered in the City of London's Guildhall Library show that 
Norton Folgate still has the status of a distinct district and that its 
historic boundary gives them the right to resist central planning law in the 

The scheme would create 645,000 sq ft of offices, 310 flats and a hotel. 
Standing next to Liverpool Street's new Broadgate Tower, it will be a similar 
height and has been approved by Hackney council. It is destined for a corner 
of the area Railtrack sold to Hammerson six years ago.

The area, which lies between Bishopsgate and Shoreditch, was originally the 
precinct of the Priory and Hospital of St Mary Spital. When the land reverted 
to the Crown during the Reformation, a small extra-parochial 'liberty' 
retained its separate status and came under the jurisdiction of the Dean and 
Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral. In Elizabethan times it was a popular haunt 
for artists and writers because it was outside the walls of the City and 
escaped its jurisdiction. Playwrights Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson 
lived in the parish.

It was thought the liberty had been abolished in 1900, but the newly uncovered 
documents cast doubt over whether it was ever properly abolished.

Support for the campaign to preserve the area from more skyscrapers comes from 
English Heritage, Cabe (Commission for Architecture and the Built 
Environment), the Georgian Group, the Spitalfields Trust and, unexpectedly, 
from the singer Suggs, frontman of the band Madness, who is about to release 
an album and a song called 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate'. The skyscraper 
would mean the demolition of a Victorian electricity generation site known as 
The Light and run as a bar. Five thousand have signed a Save the Light 

Robin Stummer, an architectural expert who works in the area, found the maps 
and documents when he was doing research into St Leonard's church in 
Shoreditch, where William Shakespeare is believed to have worshipped. He 
handed his findings over to the barrister who has been engaged to fight the 
threat to the Light bar.

'This could well be of great significance in the matter of the proposed 
development,' said Stummer. 'The barrister confirmed there could well be 
grounds for questioning the status of Norton Folgate, some of which could 
pertain to building rights and consent.'

Suggs says that his interest in the area began when he first read about the 
idea of the 'liberty'.

'It was outside the law - the law was inside the walls; on the outside you 
could just do what you liked. So all the people inside on a Friday night 
would go to the outside and hang out with the newcomers and the crazy goings 

'I think that's a great analogy for the way London is, it's always been like 

- -- 

"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burroughs, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul's book, "Energy Beyond Oil", is out now!
For details see

Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
tel./fax (+44/0)1295 261864
email - mobbsey at
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