Wickhams

The Wickham family originally operated as drapers, conducting their business from 69, 71, and 73 Mile End Road. The adjacent property at No. 75 was occupied by the Spiegelhalter family, who were clockmakers and jewellers. In approximately 1892, the Spiegelhalters agreed to relocate from No. 75 to 81 Mile End Road, allowing the Wickhams to expand their shop into the newly vacated space.

The Spiegelhalter family, of German descent from the Black Forest village of Neukirch, had been in the East End of London since 1828, operating as jewellers and clockmakers. They had several shops before relocating to 75 Mile End Road and later to No. 81. Due to anti-German sentiment in the First World War, the Spiegelhalters changed their family name to Salter by deed poll in 1919. However, the shop retained its original name.

Over the course of 35 years, the Wickham family gradually acquired the entire block, except for the Spiegelhalters’ shop at No. 81. Their plan was to extensively renovate and expand their store, and they attempted to purchase the Spiegelhalter property. However, negotiations for a mutually acceptable price failed, resulting in the Spiegelhalters’ shop becoming a holdout.

In the end, the new store was constructed around the Spiegelhalter shop, which continued to operate even as Wickhams opened shops on either side. It was designed by T. Jay Evans & Son and built in 1925-1927.

The design of the Wickhams building was envisioned to eventually incorporate the jewellers’ shop into a grander structure. The building was intended to rival Selfridges department store on Oxford Street, featuring a colonnaded front, a central tower, and a clock that Selfridges did not possess.

The contract for the stone façade had been awarded before it became clear that the Spiegelhalters were unwilling to sell. To accommodate this, the right wing of the building was shifted to the right by the width of the Spiegelhalters’ land. Consequently, both side wings appear very similar, with the central raised feature of the entablature positioned over the fourth window in both wings. If the jewellers had agreed to sell, the entablature would not have been centrally located on the right-hand wing, and the central block with its tower would not have been in the centre either. This would have resulted in seven windows in the left wing and nine windows in the right.

The building’s façade was constructed entirely up to the boundary on either side of the jewellers. Even the column immediately to the right of the jewellers had a flat side, awaiting completion once the Spiegelhalters’ land was acquired.

The grand design envisioned by Wickhams was never fully realized. By 1951, the business was owned by Great Universal Stores but eventually closed down in 1969. The Salter family closed their shop at 81 Mile End Road in 1982, and it was subsequently sold and became an off-licence.

By 2014, the Spiegelhalter shop had fallen into disrepair and was without a roof. As of 2019, the shop, along with the rest of the Wickhams building, underwent refurbishment, maintaining the façade. As of September 2021, the building was reopened as the “Dept W” building of Queen Mary University of London, with access through the retained façade of the Spiegelhalter shop.





Leave a Reply