A rare victory for east London’s labouring classes, whoever they are

Saving the Marquis pub keeps alive more than an eyesore

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Class war in Hackney in east London is nothing new: the area has been gentrified beyond recognition.

Working-class residents feel shunted out, and the fact that the Geffrye Museum (which celebrates 400 years of middle-class homes within its almshouses) is there at all seems prescient: it opened 99 years ago, decades before the middle classes lived next door.

The museum is a huge success story: 100,000 visitors a year and counting. No wonder they wanted to expand. And no wonder they were disappointed when the application was rejected so that a derelict pub could be saved. Take a look at the Marquis of Lansdowne, with its grille-covered windows and dilapidated brickwork, and you’d probably agree. Who could possibly want to keep such an eyesore?

Certainly not David Dewing, the director of the museum, who reportedly claimed, at a public meeting to discuss the project, that he had “no interest in the culture of the labouring classes”. He has subsequently disowned the statement, and he’s surely sincere: it would be a rare museum curator who cared nothing for history outside his museum’s immediate interest.

Unfortunately, for relations between the museum and its neighbours, even if Dewing doesn’t hold that opinion, plenty of people do. The working classes of Hackney have been disregarded and will probably continue to be. The Geffrye used to focus on the East End furniture trade; now it’s all about the middle classes, too. Besides, what’s the point, for residents rather than day-trippers, of a museum extension comprising a collection store, a restaurant and conference facilities, rather than a nice pub? The trouble is that the Marquis isn’t a nice pub: it’s been derelict for 20 years. And with 18 pubs closing each week in the UK, that’s hardly unusual.

But with money and passion, couldn’t it be restored to its former glory? The building is 175 years old, a museum piece in its own right. Surely the obvious solution is for the Geffrye to buy the Marquis and turn it into the restaurant and conference centre it needs. And it might offer a discount for local residents who fancy the drink they haven’t been able to buy for so long.

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