Wind back three or four months and we’re at the heart of spring, and Hackney is bustling with new business. A year on from the Olympics, and with regeneration projects bringing focus on Hackney’s less-well-off neighbourhoods, the place is full of positivity. There’s cuisine for every taste bud, a pub for every local, and some secret dive on every corner, but take a five minute trip down the round to Hackney Baths and there’s something very special hidden under a maze of scaffolding.
Fitzgerald’s has never looked like much from the outside, just an old boozer that’s fallen into disrepair. Having been renamed the Elephant’s Head; the old Fitzgerald’s sign still remains – casting a sad history of what once was. The place stood vacant for years. That was until a year ago, when five London art students found themselves in possession of the pub after moving into the flats above it. Out of no-where, these five students were handed every middle-aged blokes dream, a chance to run their own pub.
With the pubs license out of date, and the place a wreck of old beer bottles, squatters mess and broken bilge pumps – their first action was to clean the place up. In the toilets, the girls’ bathroom became a storage space for bikes and the like – while the boys got a candlelit re-décor. But they weren’t to stop there. These being the well-connected students of London’s contemporary art colleges, they got their mates involved.
And in little over eight months, the crew behind the Elephant’s Head built a reputation for throwing truly mesmerising parties. They became the bohemia to counter Hackney’s bourgeois. Free to access and open to anyone – they hosted everything from film screening brunches, to full-blown raves and art exhibitions, re-designing the space with whatever scrap goods they could get their hands on.
Never disturbing residents, the old pub became a forum for ideas – a social space where creatives would actually want to go an exhibit, and the perfect small venue away from the buzz of basement haunts off Mare Street. Funding everything themselves – the students behind the Elephants Head became the most talked about faces in Clapton, steadily avoiding the buzz of Hackney click media and welcoming anyone through their doors.
Sadly – three months ago, the dream ended. With the students being kicked out to see the place redeveloped into three small flats. The sad truth is, that on that day, Hackney lost a gem in its crown – a beautiful and wondrous space that could’ve been everything and anything.
I guess this is just a post to help capture a spectacular few months of hard work, but it’s sad to see every great space in London, dug up, and redisposed of as residential opportunities. It’s the very same thing that left me out of a job just a month ago – when Cable was taken under a compulsory purchase notice from Network Rail, putting 70 members of staff out of jobs and crushing millions of pounds spent on the brand, business and space.
It’s the same case across the whole of London – as venues are being forced to close their doors to make way for more high priced rentals.
London will be a city that will always grow – bulging itself full of more people as every year goes on, but the reason people come to this city is for it’s great cultural history. And soon, I fear, we’re coming closer to the day when all we have is our history to go on. No new ideas, no honesty. No opportunities left for good people to go out and do amazing things.
Maybe I’m being pedantic, but I know it’s a similar case for many across the whole of London. It was painful to see the Elephant’s Head go. But it’s even harder knowing that this won’t be the last case of its kind.