Interview with
Jeff Marson
Tuesday 18th March 1998


34 Martello Street

"..regardless of what the council ever thought it was obvious to all of us that 'the area' had its own momentum. And it was a momentum that needed to be carried forward."

Where were you born and when?
Christchurch in New Zealand in 1953 Which art school did you attend if any?
University of Canterbury, School of Fine Art 1971 to 1976
When did you first move to the east end of london?
1981
Why did you move there?
Because Zoe had a room that she wanted to let.
Were you helped by an organization?
Zoe had an Acme house, so I wasn't at that stage directly but it was an Acme house at 18 Westgate Street E8.
How did you fit in?
I dont think I had a problem really because I was relatively new to the country, so me fitting in anywhere wasn't really place specific, although I was completely horrified by Mare Street the first time that I saw it. That was though before I moved over here, I had gone to Martello street studios, had a look around and went out on to Mare Street and thought I was in a third world country somewhere rather than just in the East End. It was something that I didn't quite expect, it never got better but I got used to it. Did you feel part of an artistic community?
Yes, because everyone else in the same terrace was involved in the arts, the whole of Beck Road was full of artists and the studios were around.
Can you remember events that led up to you living there?
Basically it was through people that I knew
Did you exhibit work in the east end and if so where?
I did take over the property on the other end of the terrace, did it up and had a workshop there and started designing furniture, but I didn't make any fine art work.
Why do you think so many artists collected in the area between these years?
I dont really have any experience of the 70's, I would assume that it was the availability of cheap accommodation.
Your own work has changed from Fine Art to woodwork, yet you still call it sculpture? How could you say this change happened
Going through the art school system in New Zealand was'nt different to the regime that was in London, the art schools at the end of the 60's had gone away from the more academic life drawing type of regime to one that was in my case more BauHausy. Once I specialized in sculpture I supposed it was a reasonably strict regime and the set text was structuralist orientated. I did an honours year at the end and decided that I suppose in a way it was very stressful working like that, I put a lot of self-criticism into the work that I was doing and I think with hindsight I realised that the work i was making was not going to make the top category in terms of making art, so I decided that I wanted to go out and explore other avenues. So, even though I did a lot of art related things in the late 70's I wasn't concerned with following a career in fine art although I was concerned with taking what I had learned, particularly conceptual art, art language and all of the things that were influencing what was going on.
How would you describe what you are doing now?
I mainly work as a building contractor and we do minimalist schemes/refurbishments for architects mainly who teach architects.

What do you think happened during these years?
Well, this area was always down since the second world war for regeneration. From the mid 70,s the council were keen on compulsory purchasing all substantial properties and securing them to build an industrial development within the area. In effect what that meant is that they did it very slowly and at the same time they actually put the rates up and not only did they get rid of the residents in the area but they got rid of the existing businesses in the area and the whole area itself became a site for travellers, who continually flighted and lived an unsanitary lifestyle and drove more businesses out and there was just this mass dereliction. It was rife for short life housing but the council were not very keen to give it out for short life housing, I think they perceived that unless it went to the right housing associations they would yet again have property that they had problems reclaiming. Can you describe your movements through properties in the area? 1981 to 1983 I was in Westgate Street, which was demolished. that however was not part of the same industrial area, those properties were earmarked for demolition to provide a car park for the local taxi business.Although it wasn't Acme's policy to re-house all the people in Westgate Street were re-housed and I moved to 36 Martello Street, Zoe who had been the Acme tenant at Westgate Street didn't so I went directly to Acme and put a case forward for taking an Acme House and managed to secure 36 for myself.Gail and Chrissie the ceramicists from westgate Street moved into the basement of 36, they consequently moved out and secured number 30 Martello Street as a studio. Jane Clark was supposed to move into the other side of London Lane but couldn't move in because it was squatted, it has now since been demolished and a housing association have built there.
Can you say why you decided to stay in the East End?
By that time I had a circle of friends and I found it very convenient to live in East London in terms of moving around. Most of my work was peripatetic so transport wise I had my own vehicle so it was very easy to get to places. I enjoyed London Fields and there were great pubs!
What do you think is different now for young artists, if you were arriving in the East End as opposed to 1981?
Well, the processes that started to happen even in the 80's, that the availability of cheaper accommodation has dried up now in Hackney. If you look at where Acme is having to find premises it has meant that they had to move further East into Newham and some parts of Tower Hamlets.property availability and prices have made people move further East.
Do you think that artists moving into an area contributes towards the 'gentrification'?
Well yes that is a classic understanding of the way things happen. I remember speaking to people when I first came over here and the attitude was that the original artists were the sod busters, breaking new ground and yes certainly I do think that artists do give an air of interest, credibility Im not sure of the word, to an area.There are other sectors of the community also looking for cheap accommodation such as students.
Was the local council helpful and do you have a particular anecdote relating to your time in Hackney?
As far as the properties went numbers 30 to 38 Martello Street, which were a small row of terraces were in 1985/86 due for demolition, as was Ellingfort Road. There were a number of schemes although this has been treated slightly differently, in a way because it is geographically separate because of the railway line. the point when I heard about this I was living in 36 Martello Street I thought it was rather strange that they wanted to pull down what was quite an interesting facade to London Fields (and also my home!) to build a six foot wall giving better access to the railway arch.I had never really had any experience with politics in Hackney up to that point but I went to the Town Hall to a general council meeting and put my hand up at the end when they asked for any other business and said 'look they are pulling these houses down and I dont think its a good idea because there is a community that is living there'. I also said that if everything else goes it at least makes a safe passage way through London Fields North and South, also houses are the right backdrop for a public space.Andrew Puddephat was the leader of the council at that time and he actually agreed and said yes there is actually a community and also there is a community in Beck Road that he knew of and that the officers should take a look at what was actually happening in Martello Street. So, I got involved in trying to protect the houses, I got in touch with an architectural organization and we got an architect on board. We did a feasibility study on what it would cost to refurbish the houses, I spent a year going to meetings at The Mare Street Industrial Improvement Area Offices at the end of London Lane.The council did a feasibility study and decided it was going to cost far to much to re-furbish the houses, they eventually came up with a scheme to build live and work units on the site, his was in 1986, with a similar footprint and facade to the existing buildings. And then they did nothing, they had no money, and so the houses have remained. They had spent 450,000 doing all the rooves and parapets on Mentmore Terrace around the corner, securing the buildings with the idea that they would rent them as small workshops, which wasn't a bad idea. But then they walked away from them because the area had been so run down and the travellers eventually picked off the buildings one by one and sold the bricks. The council just let it happen.Now they have phase one of the new development that has been built there. There had been plans of various types in the 1980's and through to the 90's for the area. It was 1993 that the current plan for the regeneration of the area happened.
Was this part of the Renewal Partnership?
Yes they were involved. There was a local activist, now a Hackney Councillor, called Peter Snell who had taken it upon himself to read the Unitary Development plan for Hackney, to see if there was anything to get his teeth into I think. He discovered that to his mind there was something going wrong with the idea of the development of The Mare Street Industrial Improvement Area and he called a meeting with the council to protest against what they wanted to do initially which was to build a straight industrial development, with warehousing use.The councils idea all along the line was a blue collar development, they didn't like the idea of gentrification and they saw that as the other option.Anything that was not B1 or C1 workshop usage would not fit into their plans, they had to protect the community base as they perceived it and provide employment. They were out of touch with the community actually living in the area? Without a doubt, you cannot put together a unitary development plan without consultation, I was not aware of any specific consultation relating to this area that came through the door , (I had moved into my workshop at 34 then).
What is the history of the Renewal Partnership?

There is three years of history. I went to the inaugural meeting where Hackney Council was represented , the community was represented, there was a group of architects working with us at that stage to formulate a plan for the area. This was Cazenove architects. From that inaugural meeting there was a concerted community opposition to what the council wanted to do, because we believed that all the planning theories suggested that what they wanted was not the right solution for this area, given that there was an arts infrastructure in the area we were extremely keen to get a development of what we originally started calling 'village' an urban village for cultural industry.this would have been a right development for this particular site. So, there were three documents that were published over the next three years: The first one which was The London Fields Renewal Partnership The Art of Hackney which was our groups initial response to what the council wanted to do. This outlines sites within the area where there was cultural tourism, what the council wanted to do, what our plan was at that stage.This got a very negative response from Hackney council.We still felt that we had the right approach to what was going on. Cazenove architects co-operative was still very keen, they were drawing up different plan and we were talking about activities for buildings. What we wanted were live and work buildings for the cultural industries.They received a 750 grant to do yet another feasibility study from RIBA and they produced a second document that fleshed out what was covered in the first. The council at that time had put in a planning submission to build a warehousing type development and I think we had six hundred odd signatures of protest against this and a huge turn out and presence at the Town Hall for the planning enquiry. This is 1994. /95. It was chaired by Brian Sedgemore the MP as it was going to be a contentious meeting.It was obvious that their plan would be rejected and they would have to go back with their developers and think about something else. We were still determined though to put pressure onto get a development that we wanted. In the end they were forced into building some live and work units because the arguments were sufficient to make people on the streets stand up. we approached the PeaBody trust who were very keen to do live and work buildings.
Was the idea to replace the buildings or to renovate the buildings?

By that stage one of the sites that they have recently done a development on was vacant, there was a large industrial building there called Mentmore Industries which used to employ disabled people in the electronics industry, but they lost their grant. It was a central government grant but the council wouldn't replace it.There was a little row of terraced houses and the rest was vacant ground. Peabody commissioned independent research into the viability of live and work units. They interviewed lots of people and a very positive report went back to Peabody. They were then warned off by Hackney Council, who basically said if you get involved with these people then your Hackney Now Plans are scuppered.(that was social housing in the rest of the borough). We were definitely irritating the council. There was a lot of community dissatisfaction with what was happening and a lot of support for the LOndon Fields Renewal Partnership and what they wanted to do. The council became more and more intransigent and certainly didnt want to take any risks. We thought we had a deal with one of their councillors who was head of environmental services at the time his name was Phillip Pearson. we wanted to put our own bid in for european regional Grant funding which the whole project hinged on really both for the council and everyone else. we had no money of our own but there were ways to match money and so on.We were told at the time that the council would notionally say that we would be considered as a development partner which in fact did not happen. We had spent quite a bit of time producing a third document. Peter Snell put that together. Huge amounts of effort went into it. Phillip Pearsons word was not as good as it should have been so after all that effort The Government Office for London who appraises bids for RDF money said that the Council were not going to accept us as any form of partner and therefore they could not log our bid for any money.We had seen the councils bid and we definitely had a better document. This was yet another blow! the council eventually came back with revised plans for live and work buildings and we had managed to influence them on the scale of the buildings, we didnt want anything big, we wanted them small. So they came up with unit sizes to suit single people up to small organistions. There were lots of issues in between but we eventually got to the point where they built the buildings. The developers Greater London Enterprises who we had numerous meetings with said that it was the highest spec scheme that they had ever built. They were being extremely conservative. These are the live work units that front on to London Lane, they were 'sold' to Hackney Council as live work units but that is not what was originally delivered.
What do you mean the units were sold to the council?
1000,000 came from the European Regeneration fund 750,000 was put in by Hackney Council (but this was mostly ownership of the land). 750,000 came from GLE themselves. They are brick clad buildings with metal grids that are quite high spec but they were not delivered as the mezannine floor/work as in there were no services on the mezzanine area. This was niggling because planning was allowed for residential use. People do live there now though. Coming to the conclusion of the construction works a number of labour councilors walked away from the Labour Party in 1996/7 to form New Labour which meant that the council was a hung council.This fact in conjunction with Peter Snell being elected on to the Council allowed for a degree more influence. It was at this point that the Manchester group got involved. A contentious issue was that there were a number of houses in Ellingfort Road and London Lane that were squatted. There were 2 houses in London Lane where people had lived for over 12years and therefore had squatters rights. The Council had to finish their development as had been submitted for planning otherwise they would jeapordise their European grant of 1000,000. The group from Manchester were involved as consultants to influence a successful outcome/decision.Issues like renting and/or selling, target groups for the properties were to be resolved.They also had to negotiate how the 2nd phase could be built without disenfranchising the community that was already there. There is a new group formed called London Fields Solutions and they have resolved the issues.The group is made up of short life housing tenants, students who were squatters and stayed on. They have a small amount of funding and they have a years grace to raise 15,000 each to buy their own properties. the new plan saved the council money as where they were going to demolish all the properties they can now fulfill the outputs in a smaller footprint leaving the houses standing. what about where you are here in Martello Street? Martello Street has been taken out of the equation since it fronts London Fields. It was a suggestion that I originally made in 1985/86. In 1996/97 they re-drew the line which allowed them to sell three properties to a housing association (for 15,000 each and they had been compulsory purchased!) Number 36 where I used to live has been sold to a housing association it is a 3 story small unit and cost 100,000 to re-develop. There is a question over what is happening to the rest. Number 32 was never compulsory purchased. This property is Number 34 and the council has owned it since 1986. There have been a succession of people living here and I have used it as a workshop space.
Presumably the Council can sell it?
It is uncertain because it was a compulsory purchase....so, I am still here. Last thing I heard was that there would be a re-furbishment programme and they would house 'at risk' people, which is bizarre because this area is a 'no go area' after dark. More recently Free Form the local community arts organization have purchased the property at the end of the street by the scaffolding yard with a plan to turn it into an arts resource.Also it is rumoured that the Chelsea Arts Club has bought the building on the other side of the walkway with a view to open an arts club. So, regardless of what the council ever thought it was obvious to all of us that 'the area' had its own momentum. And it was a momentum that needed to be carried forward. In this immediate vicinity you have: - 3 huge Space Studio buildings - Momart who have won the Queens award for moving art. - Flowers East Gallery and many individual artists.

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