With London property on demand, opening a new venue sometimes means making over an abandoned or under-used one. WORDS: Tom Sturrock
In a place as old as London, where there’s not much room to build from scratch, reinvention is vital to the city’s cultural life.
Restaurants, markets, galleries and theatres squeeze in where they can, which sometimes means inhabiting a subway, stable or old factory.
Here are some highlights from London’s long list of refurbished gems.
Former life: The cavernous building was part of the University of Westminster’s school of civil engineering, and was used for testing concrete until the 1980s.
Now it is: After some modifications the facility was reopened in 2007 as an arts exhibition space. The sheer size of the venue makes it ideal for a range of installations, from fashion to photography and sculpture.
» Marylebone Rd, NW1 5LS (p3exhibitions.com)
Former life: It was built as a Victorian gothic-style church, with a 52m-high tower and a then-cutting edge Father Willis organ, which still remains in its original condition.
Now it is: Although it’s still a working church it’s also a live music venue, famed for its distinctive octagonal design.
It remains one of Islington’s most important buildings, thanks to the Union Chapel Project, set up in 1991 to restore and administer it.
» Compton Tce, N1 2UN , (unionchapel.org.uk)
Former life: This kiosk, built in a public subway between Edgware Road and Harrow Road in the 1960s, served as a shoe shop, a key-cutter and a chemist.
Now it is: Today, surprised pedestrians will stumble upon a gallery run by local artist Robert Gordon McHarg, who curates monthly shows and occasionally turns the space into
a recording studio.
» Edgware Rd, W2 1DX Edgware Road (subwaygallery.com)
Former life: The Black Eagle Brewery was constructed in the early 1700s, and at one stage was the biggest brewery in London and the second-largest in Britain.
Now it is: Production ceased in 1988, but the brewery was revamped as part of an urban renewal scheme and now houses more than 250 businesses, with art galleries, bars and restaurants lending it a cosmopolitan air.
» Brick Ln, E1 6QL, (trumanbrewery.com)
Former life: A non-denominational church built in 1887, it is listed as a grade two building and has retained all its original pews.
Now it is: The Tabernacle is one of the hubs of the Notting Hill Carnival as it’s home to the Carnival Village.
While it nominally emphasises African-Caribbean culture, its diverse features include a bar and restaurant, dance studios and gallery space.
» Powis Sq, W11 2AY, (carnivalvillage.org.uk)
Former life: Marked as industrial land, it housed a railway goods yard, as well as transit sheds and facilities for storing coal and grain.
Now it is: In 2011, it will open as a sprawling retail and leisure complex, also designed to host major events. Surrounded by green space, 1000 fountains will be built in the old canal basin and University of the Arts London will move its St Martin’s college there.
» Granary Sq, N1 1FA,(kingscrosscentral.com/granarysquare)
Former life: The Midland Railway stables and horse hospital was established for the horses pulling barges along the canal, but when the canals ceased operating in the early 1970s,
a bustling market moved in.
Now it is: The Stables Market is probably the most famous feature of Camden Town, and traces of its past are still visible in the lovingly maintained railway arches, which were spared in a fire that gutted other venues in 2008.
» Chalk Farm Rd, NW1, (stablesmarket.com)
Former life: It was built in 1847 as a turntable engine shed, or roundhouse, for the London and Birmingham Railway Company, before later serving as a gin store. It was converted
into a theatre in the 1960s, and hosted gigs by The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix, but closed in 1983.
Now it is: Reopened in 2006, it now houses studios and is also a performance space.
» Chalk Farm Rd, NW1 8EH, (roundhouse.org.uk)