Updated: Jun 29, 2021
Following my tale of two breweries last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the Annetta Pedretti house at 25 Princelet Street in Spitalfields this weekend where I was briefed on the future of this eighteenth century former home of one of Spitalfield’s finest community activists by The Gentle Author and The Spitalfields Trust.
Annetta Pedretti was an architect, cybernetician, conservationist, builder, beekeeper, and campaigner. Originally from Switzerland, she lived in Spitalfields for many years until her death in 2018.
She was a devoted and forensic campaigner against Crossrail, which now runs underneath her house. In 2008 she gave evidence to the Parliamentary select committee on the Crossrail Bill, citing the dubious nature of “internal surveys”:
“I was at home listening to this over the internet and I tried to write you a letter about it and it just became too difficult to do that. The point is that the internal survey was not an internal survey. I saw some people in 2003 I think it was—it might have been 2002—out in the street. They looked like and talked like people who were on a conservation course. I trained as an architect. At the school where I trained there was a conservation course. I assumed they were students of architecture, studying these buildings and because I have been restoring that building for the last 30 years I know a lot about the area and I started explaining things to them out in the street. Then I asked them if they wanted a booklet which is a booklet on the Fournier Street conservation area which was published by the Council in the 1970s and I lent them a copy of that. In that context I asked them to come in and have a cup of tea and find that copy. They promised to send me a copy of their --- I assumed they were doing an essay for school. I got the booklet back. There was a little card which had "Alan Baxter" on it and I thought, "Oh!" This was in 2003 and we had no idea that Crossrail was in any way investigating the area. This is the nature of that supposed internal survey.”
Despite her relentless challenges, the bill was passed and Crossrail, 13 years later, awaits its opening.
After her death, Annetta’s house was bequeathed to the Edith Maryon Foundation, a charitable organisation based in Annetta’s native Switzerland, which promotes social justice in land ownership. It describes its mission
“The Edith Maryon Foundation works to remove land from speculation so that we or others can use it in a socially responsible manner.”
It is particularly focused on removing land from speculation:
“Land is a limited resource. Land ownership and land distribution issues are becoming increasingly important for our society and our future. We want to remove land and real estate from speculation and make them available for projects that benefit many people instead of just a few. This is why we work with the owners or tenants to find alternatives. Our primary goal is to remove debt from land and to support and secure socially responsible housing and workplaces for the long term.”
The Foundation commissions and funds projects across Europe.
“Through our projects, we bring together people who want to change how we live, work, and live together with one another.”
The foundation has appointed Assemble Studio, an architectural collective, to oversee the restoration of the building into a space that provides meeting and work space for local people and community activists from all over. They have set up a website for the project here.
Louis Schultz from Assemble gave a lecture in April entitled “House of Annetta: Site of Resistance” where he presented his vision of the house as a new centre for campaigning and resistance against exploitative development. He discussed Annetta's life and work, and outlined plans to harness the site “as a place that can catalyse a resistance against the relentless top-down redevelopment of the city”.
As the physical restoration of Annetta’s House gets underway, attention will extend to projects and programming that will make an impact on local residents and set an example for communities further afield.
This will be a wonderful opportunity to gather ideas and experience from everyone involved in community activism, and to consolidate this into a continual flow of activity, possibly to include
· Exibitions and performances
· Community events
· Lecture series
· Community Organisers in residence programme
· International collaboration
· Online resources
In the meantime, do visit the house at 25 Princelet Street and see the current exhibition on the Battle for Brick Lane curated by The Gentle Author.
Listen to Locals