Today, when department stores and supermarkets are about to be built, the owners make absolutely sure that they own the site outright. Surely this goes without saying? Not quite. Because in the East End there is an example of what can happen if this elementary precaution is overlooked. In the Thirties it was felt that the area should have its own department store to rival the delights of Selfridge's, Harrods and Whiteley's in the West End. The directors of Wickham's, a big furniture store, were only too happy to oblige. Plans were drawn up, approved and work started. But right in the middle of the proposed site stood the shop of one Mr Spiegelhalter, a jeweller and descendant of the first Mr Spiegelhalter who had set up shop in Whitechapel in 1828 after coming to Britain from Germany. The business was moved to 81 Mile End Road in 1880. No matter what inducement Wickham's offered, Mr Spiegelhalter refused to budge. The directors begged, cajoled, bribed, threatened, but to no avail- they had to build their store with the jeweller's in the middle. And what happened to Mr Spiegelhalter? With his point made and the store built irrevocably around his premises, he decamped to Chingford. His action spawned a new word in the local vernacular: to spiegelhalt, meaning to put a spanner in the works. Long live such bloody-minded obstinacy]

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