Aldgate, Class War Rich Door, Poor Door

Aldgate, Class War Rich Door, Poor Door – On 30th July 2014 I went to London to cover another in the long series of protests by Class War over the ‘social apartheid’ of separate entrances to large blocks of flats for the wealthy and poor people who live in them. I went up early and walked around the area beforehand.

Class War – Rich Door, Poor Door – 1 Commercial St, Aldgate

Class War, including three of their candidates for the 2015 General Election the following year, protested at 1 Commercial St in Aldgate which has a separate ‘poor doors’ for the social housing flats they had to include to gain planning permission for the development.

The front entrance on Whitechapel High St (One Commercial St is the name of the block) has a hotel-like reception desk, and is staffed 24 hours. It leads to the lifts for the expensive flats, many owned by overseas investors. Like most such buildings, some of them are empty and seldom used, while others are short term holiday lets.

Flats like these are advertised to overseas investors particularly in the far East as providing a high return on capital. Buy a flat now and you will be able to sell it for much more in a few years as London housing prices continue to soar – some publicity suggested that people could get the equivalent of a 13% interest rate. It’s easier to sell if you keep the flats empty, though you can use them for the occasional visit to London, or even let them over the web for a few days or weeks as holiday lets to generate a little actual income.

As I commented:

The web site for One Commercial St (studios, apartments and penthouses specified to exceptional levels, with exclusive services for residents – or rather those residents allowed to use the rich door) suggests that the average rent in the area is £1,935 pcm and investors can expect a 32% increase in property value by the time Crossrail opens. It’s all a part of the madness that means London is being developed not for the people of London but for investors in China, the oil states and elsewhere.

The building owners claimed there was no internal connection between the part of the building with expensive privately owned flats and that occupied by social housing tenants, although that was simply a lie – and on a later occasion I was taken through by one of the private owners from her flat to the ‘poor door’ which she used when walking her dog.

The owners give the social housing in the block a different name and only allow the tenants to access their flats through a side door in what was when Class War began their protests a dark alley often full of dumped rubbish, smelling of urine. A card entry system let them into a long bare corridor with some mail boxes on one side, quite a contrast to the large foyer with a reception desk, concierge, comfortable seating and art works enjoyed by the rich.

The protests had by then resulted in some small improvements, the alley now having been cleaned and new lighting installed, though the card entry system was apparently often out of order. And the alley still had that nasty smell.

The protesters came with a banner featuring the radical US labour activist Lucy Parsons (1853-1942) with her quotation “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live” and posters – with their skull and crossbones – and the message “We have found new homes for the rich” with long rows of grave crosses stretching into the distance – which at one time police tried to arrest them for. They stuck posters on the windows on and around the ‘Rich Door’ using Class War election stickers with their promise of a 50% mansion tax. The building manager came out and pulled the posters off and screwed them up, but they held up others beside the door.

Most of the protest took place in front of the ‘Rich Door’, where they chanted calling for an end to the social apartheid and attempted to talk with the few people who left and entered the building. They held the door open to make their protest more easily heard inside, and there was a brief brief tug of war as security and a resident tried to close it. Eventually they let the door be closed, probably when they saw police arriving.

Police only arrived around 15 minutes after the protesters and they went directly inside the building to talk to the building manager and concierge. Then the police came out and argued with the protesters, trying to get them to move further from the doorway, but they insisted on their right to protest where they wanted on the pavement. Class War kept up the protest for around an hour before they decided it was time to leave – and come back for another protest there the following week. This was just one of a series of around 30 ‘Poor Doors’ protests, most of which I photographed – and published a ‘zine’ of the pictures, still available from Blurb.

Class War – Rich Door, Poor Door


Aldgate & Spitalfields

I was early for the protest at One Commercial St, and took a short walk around the area while I was waiting, going up Commercial St and then back down Toynbee St. I was astonished at the amount of new buildings since I was last here a few years back, and with a great deal of work currently going on. At night all the red lights on the tops of the cranes make London look like a Christmas tree.

It is of course a prime site just on the edge of the City of London, an easy walk to the city, and with plenty of buses, underground stations and both Liverpool St and London Bridge stations not far away. London City Airport is a short taxi ride too, or under half an hour by public transport, and Brick Lane’s curry houses just around the corner. Crossrail will cut journey times to Canary Wharf to 4 minutes when Whitechapel station opens in 2018.

In fact Crossrail only opened in 2022, four years behind schedule, but investors still did pretty well, and much more of the area has been demolished and replaced by investment flats. Our government still counts these as a part of our meagre housing programme although they make no contribution towards easing the housing crisis. We need strong laws to limit overseas ownership of property and financial encouragement to build homes for people, particularly homes at social rents.

Aldgate & Spitalfields


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