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Why I live in Spitalfields: pop artist Philip Colbert on life in his 'historical' east London patch

Philip Colbert shares his live / work home with wife Charlotte (Daniel Lynch)
Philip Colbert shares his live / work home with wife Charlotte (Daniel Lynch)

I’ve always thought that Spitalfields is the centre of London somehow.

I’m fascinated by the origin of the city being more the east side, with the Tower of London, the old city wall, the Roman occupied area. Even now it feels like this little pocket of old London.

My wife Charlotte and I used to live on Golborne Road, but found ourselves increasingly drawn to this area. A friend of ours, architect Chris Dyson, had been doing up a lot of the old houses, really helping to preserve them, and a lot of artists we knew were based here.

Our home – a live-work space with the studio below and the house above – was derelict when we found it. We spent years renovating while living on Columbia Road and finally moved in two years ago.

Spitalfields is a neighbourhood of contrasts, says Philip (Daniel Lynch)
Spitalfields is a neighbourhood of contrasts, says Philip (Daniel Lynch)

Best eating and drinking

Poppies Fish & Chips on Hanbury Street is iconic. I meet collectors from all over the world and often the one thing they know in the area is that fish and chip shop.

It’s also next to my local pub, The Golden Heart. The owner, Sandra, is a friend and a great supporter of local artists.

There’s also a great Chinese restaurant called My Old Place on Middlesex Street.

It’s a bit of a walk, but E Pellicci on Bethnal Green Road is a beautiful little wood-panelled East End cafe. It’s run by a brother and sister, Nev and Anna, who are the third generation and it’s become a sitting room for that area. Everyone chats to everyone.

I think they should copy the model all around Britain because it’s this great little hub where everybody feels included.

The Golden Heart is a favourite drinking spot (Daniel Lynch)
The Golden Heart is a favourite drinking spot (Daniel Lynch)

Where I work out

There are lots of gyms nearby but shamefully I don’t frequent them. I love walking, so my high-speed walks are really my form of exercise.

To commune with nature

We haven’t got a Hyde Park, but we’ve got lots of little green pockets. I also like walking over to Postman’s Park, which is a hidden gem, or down to the river.

St Bartholomew the Great, near Barbican, is a beautiful medieval church surrounded by charming little gardens. It’s where Charlotte and I got married.

For a culture fix

We’ve got the Gilbert and George Centre, which is super cool, and the Whitechapel Gallery next door. That’s always got great stuff on. I was particularly excited about the Eduardo Paolozzi retrospective a few years back.

Brick Lane has an amazing cultural legacy, with all the graffiti. London has had such an important role in global street art and it’s a real hub.

The area is the heart of London's street art scene – particularly Brick Lane (Daniel Lynch)
The area is the heart of London's street art scene – particularly Brick Lane (Daniel Lynch)

Dennis Severs’ House on Folgate Street is this wonderful link to the legacy of eccentrics from Spitalfields.

There’s a really nice film community around Close-Up cinema on Sclater Street and Rich Mix, which puts on lots of events for locals.

Christ Church is one of the most iconic buildings in east London. It’s both classical and very modern – like a sort of spaceship.

Grocery shopping

The Planet Organic is pretty good for groceries, and then you’ve got the independents around Spitalfields Market like Ralf’s the butchers.

We also go to Petticoat Lane, which is an amazing historic little market. Still authentic and very old school Townhouse is great for antiques.

Historic Spitalfields Market has its origins in the 17th century (Daniel Lynch)
Historic Spitalfields Market has its origins in the 17th century (Daniel Lynch)

Getting around

The Elizabeth line has been game-changing – you can get to Bond Street in 10 minutes from Liverpool Street or Whitechapel. The architecture is incredible, with these huge cavernous spaces. The Tube can feel claustrophobic.

Dream street

I’ve always loved Fournier Street, which is the one that Gilbert and George live on. It’s like a little time warp.

Some of the historic weavers houses have these little bobbin and thread signs outside. I saw a Spitalfields tapestry for the first time recently and it was a beautiful thing.

Fournier Street, home to Gilbert and George, is a blast from the past (Daniel Lynch)
Fournier Street, home to Gilbert and George, is a blast from the past (Daniel Lynch)

Something you only see in Spitalfields

We’ve had a couple of amazing parties, with long tables down the middle of the street and flags everywhere. All the characters of Spitalfields turn up.

What’s the catch?

It’s a very urban area, which is part of the charm, but it would be nice to have a few more trees.

In three words...

Historical. Energetic. Contrasting. It’s a melting pot of all sorts of things, from architecture to people.

philipcolbert.com

Philip Colbert in his studio (Daniel Lynch)
Philip Colbert in his studio (Daniel Lynch)

Schools

There’s a cluster of good primaries, including Christ Church CofE School, Mulberry Canon Barnett Primary Academy, St Anne’s and Guardian Angels Catholic Primary and Osmani Primary.

The Swanlea School is an outstanding secondary towards Whitechapel, while the Mulberry Academy Shoreditch is a good option to the north.

What it costs

Buying in Spitalfields

Average property price: £636,470

Renting in Spitalfields

Average flat price pcm: £2,910

Average house price pcm: £4,130