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Wombat’s City Hostel, formerly the Sailors’ Home

the Survey ofLondon19 April 2019

This hostel on Dock Street sustains an institutional use that has its origins in the 1830s when the establishment opened as the Sailors’ Home, a reflection of the dependence of the southern parts of Whitechapel on maritime life. It is a large complex that extends back to Ensign Street (formerly Well Street), its original front.

Wombat’s City Hostel, 7 Dock Street, London E1. View from the west in 2017. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

The Sailors’ Home, also known at first as the Brunswick Maritime Establishment, was built in 1830–5 with Philip Hardwick as its architect. Enlarged to Dock Street in 1863–5, substantially altered in 1911–12, rebuilt on the Dock Street side in 1954­­–7, adapted to be a hostel for the homeless in 1976–8, and again converted to be a youth hostel in 2012–14, this has been, mutatis mutandis, a major local presence for nearly two centuries, all the while used as a hostel. As the first purpose-built short-stay hostel for sailors anywhere, it represented in its original form the invention of a building type, the Royal Hospital for Seamen in Greenwich notwithstanding. It was to have seminal influence on the development of lodging-house architecture.

The Ensign Street elevation and former front of the Sailor’s Home in 2015

The story starts with a catastrophe, the collapse of the Royal Brunswick Theatre just days after its opening in February 1828. Thirteen people died and Hardwick, the architect at the neighbouring and then building St Katharine’s Docks, was the first on the scene of the disaster to take responsibility for the rescue operation. Of the theatre, all that survives is on the Ensign Street pavement, a row of (listed) cast-iron bollards with crowned ‘RBT’ monograms.

The Royal Brunswick Theatre bollards of 1828 on Ensign Street, photographed by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London in 2017

The prevalence of sailors in east London’s riverside districts was not new at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but populations did increase and living conditions declined. The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 left an estimated 100,000 seamen redundant from the Royal Navy. The Rev. George Charles ‘Boatswain’ Smith (1782–1863) came to the fore in addressing the lot of these sailors through evangelism. A seafarer himself in his teens who had served with distinction under Nelson in the battle of Copenhagen, Smith had become a Baptist missionary. He established a floating sanctuary on a remodelled sloop and took the former Danish Church in Wellclose Square for use as a Mariners’ Church. A witness to extreme poverty and deprivation, he was instrumental in the taking of a warehouse in Dock Street to establish an asylum for destitute sailors that opened in January 1828. Smith was also a pioneering advocate of temperance.

Paid upon coming ashore, sailors, both naval and mercantile, were prey to exploitation and theft by boarding-house and brothel keepers and others, a practice known as ‘crimping’ that was widespread and generally tolerated. Smith was determined to force reforms and had tried to introduce a system of approved boarding houses as used in other ports. In his eyes the Royal Brunswick Theatre and its predecessor, the East London Theatre, had been a haven for crimping. The collapse presented an opportunity. In September 1828 Smith convened a meeting on the site with a view to raising there ‘a General Receiving and Shipping Depot for Mariners’.[1] This was to be a religious mission, aiming at moral reform through reducing the influence of prostitution and drink. As such it was a late example of the Georgian impulse to improvement and control through institutional architecture. Alongside Smith were Captains Robert and George Cornish Gambier, RN, brothers, and nephews of Admiral James Gambier, himself an evangelical, and Capt. Robert James Elliot, RN, who was also a topographical artist. Appeals were launched in early 1829, aiming to unite ‘the Regularities of social Order with the moral Decencies of Life, the Principles of Christian Loyalty, and the Duties of Religion.’[2]

Within the year eminent naval and other figures had been recruited to promote fund-raising (first trustees included William Wilberforce) and the freehold of the site was obtained. But Smith, an uncompromising and combative character, fell out with George Gambier, the Treasurer, over the latter’s unworldly sympathies for Henry Irving’s radical Nonconformity that had led him to leave fund-raising to faith. Smith stepped down as Secretary and set up a rival Sailors’ Rest project leading other Dissenters to withdraw support for the Home. Elliot took charge as the Home’s Secretary and steered the project into Anglican safety. Hardwick was engaged and on 10 June 1830 Elliot laid a foundation stone. Hardwick conceived the project in stages, to be built gradually as funds became available, ultimately to provide space for 500 men, each with their own cabin or sleeping place. Progress was slow and the Home did not open until 1 May 1835, with accommodation for 100 men on its lower levels. The first sailors admitted were the crew of an American ship in St Katharine’s Docks. A peaceful atmosphere introduced by the ‘sobriety and steadiness’ of these ‘temperance men’ was broken a few days later by the arrival of English sailors, coming from India and bringing ‘intoxication, swaggering and noise’.[3]

The Sailors’ Home of 1830–5, Philip Hardwick, architect, from the British Workman, 1857 (courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives)

The Sailors’ Home’s façade echoed that of the theatre in its bay rhythm and the ground-floor channelled rustication. It may even be that the lower-storey wall was not wholly rebuilt. Hardwick connected the outer bays with a portico of large cast-iron Doric columns similar to those he had placed at St Katharine’s Docks. These columns were removed in 1952. The central part of the basement was a vaulted store that survives as a bar. The main central space at ground-floor level was a waiting hall open to all seamen. It had a York stone-flagged floor with a grid of nine tall cast-iron columns. The floor and columns are both still partly extant, but concealed. This hall was also used for assemblies and worship, and had small box offices for payment and registration, where the men’s ‘characters’ were recorded. Flanking dormitories named ‘Bombay’ and ‘Calcutta’ had two tiers of cabins, probably drawing on the precedent of Greenwich Hospital’s accommodation for naval pensioners. On the originally comparably tall first floor a central dining and reading hall had a similar array of columns and was flanked by two more double-tiered dormitories (‘Canton’ and ‘Madras’). Upper floors were initially used for a school, lecture room and museum of ship models and curiosities. As inmate numbers grew in the 1840s the outer upper-storey rooms were gradually fitted up as further dormitories, and a single bath was introduced.

Basement vaults in the building of the 1830s, converted to use as a bar. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Henry Mayhew, in a full description that was not uncritical of the Home’s management, noted in 1850 that seamen addressed the institution’s officers as friends not as superiors, and recorded a testimony from one among them that ‘the steadiest-going seamen will always speak well of the Sailors’ Home’.[4] ] Henry Roberts, closely familiar with the Home having acted as its architect in the 1840s when he was also the first architect of the pioneering Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes and responsible for model lodging houses, later acknowledged that the Sailors’ Home ‘must in some respects be considered the prototype of the improved lodging-houses.’[5] Annual numbers of boarders rose from 528 in the first year to 3,833 in 1842 and 8,617 in 1861. Most of the sailors were of British or North American origin, but not all. By 1862 there had been 544 boarders from Africa.

Land behind the Home had been leased in 1842 with a view to possible extension, and was used in the meantime as a skittle ground. Dock Street was widened in 1845–6 and parts of the new frontage were acquired between 1854 and 1862 when Edward Ledger Bracebridge, a Poplar-based architect, designed a new block facing Dock Street. Lord Viscount Palmerston laid the foundation stone on 4 August 1863 and the Prince of Wales opened the building on 22 May 1865. A commemorative stone plaque bearing that information is still to be found facing the hostel’s internal courtyard where it was moved, recut, in 1956.

View down Dock Street showing the Sailors’ Home extension of 1863–5, with St Paul Dock Street beyond

The outwardly Gothic and polychrome Dock Street building’s basement housed a navigation school, a recreation room and two baths. The ground floor had offices to the front, including a seamen’s savings’ bank, with waiting halls to the rear, the first floor a boardroom and officers’ mess room to the north, and a library and recreation hall to the south. The two upper storeys were laid out as a single room, the Admiral Sir Henry Hope Dormitory. This extraordinary space comprised four galleried tiers of sleeping berths or cabins (108 in all) to east and west of an atrium open to the roof with south-end staircases (see images in Historic England Archives). The gain in accommodation was 160 berths for an overall capacity of 502.

In 1874–5 a single-storey skittle alley to the rear was reconstructed, extended to the south and raised to be a three-storey and basement range to provide an additional dormitory for ships’ mates and a clothing store, sales of clothing from the Home having been introduced in 1868. John Hudson and John Jacobs, both of Leman Street, were architect and builder respectively. A drinking fountain near the northwest corner of what was the main waiting hall is surmounted by an inscribed plaque recording a benefaction of 1873 from William McNeil, a formerly resident seaman.

Drinking fountain and plaque on what was an internal wall of the waiting hall, photographed by Derek Kendall in 2019 for the Survey of London

By this time there were many other hostels for sailors, but the Sailors’ Home was the parent exemplar. Outside, crimping was still prevalent, and the Home was drawing more than 10,000 boarders annually. Ale was served, but there was no bar. It remained a Christian foundation, but not zealously so, aiming to ‘encourage habits of decorum, economy, and self-cultivation, and to contribute in educating [seamen] as missionaries of Commerce to the ends of the earth’.[6] Between 1879 and 1884 Joseph Conrad (Jozef Korzeniowski) stayed several times at the Home and studied in its navigation school. Conrad called the Home a ‘friendly place’, ‘quietly unobtrusively, with a regard for the independence of the men who sought its shelter ashore, and with no ulterior aims behind that effective friendliness.’[7]

Internal courtyard from the north, showing the 1870s range to the left, a surviving section of the 1860s building straight ahead and the back of the 1950s building to the right. Photographed in 2019 by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London.

In 1893–4 the original building’s south range and a stable yard beyond were replaced by a Mercantile Marine Office, which building survives on Ensign Street. That sacrifice reduced the Home’s capacity to 300, a limit that had further to be reduced to 200 following a threat of closure in 1910 when the LCC stipulated improvements to the original dormitories, in particular for the provision of light. Murray, Delves & Murray, architects, oversaw works carried out in 1911–12 that involved the insertion of an additional floor in the Ensign Street block. Internal reconstruction formed a light-well above the ground-floor waiting hall, with structural steel carried down to the basement. Bars and a first-floor chapel were introduced and a house was demolished to permit the formation of windows in the Home’s north flank wall, which was faced with channelled rusticated render. Following this reconfiguration the establishment rebranded itself, incorporating as the Sailors’ Home and Red Ensign Club in 1912. Despite the reduced berths, the numbers of boarders continued to average more than 10,000 a year. By 1919 the Home had admitted a total of 639,005 sailors, 336,088 of them English, 51,388 from Sweden, Norway and Denmark, 18,500 from Germany, 11,376 from Russia, 2,483 from the ‘Cape and Mauritius’, 1,154 from West Africa, 7,958 from the West Indies, 2,523 from the East Indies, 1,914 from South America, and 1,387 from China and Japan. After this, the origins of the sailors were no longer recorded in annual reports.

More than 20,000 were boarded in 1933, usage that was sustained after the war when the merchant navy reserve pool was introduced, bringing seamen greater security of employment. Additional accommodation being needed, the Home’s architect, Colin H. Murray of Murray, Delves, Murray & Atkins, advised a comprehensive approach in 1937 and was asked to prepare plans for complete rebuilding. War meant postponement, but Murray did advance a scheme for rebuilding the Dock Street building in 1942.

By 1945 Murray was working with Brian O’Rorke on a more ambitious phased project for the replacement of the whole complex (now simply called the Red Ensign Club). This envisaged three slab blocks laid out on an offset H plan to make best use of the two street frontages, rising at the centre to twelve storeys for a total 307 bedrooms (no longer called cabins) above lower-level common spaces. LCC approval was secured, but in the post-war years building licences were not forthcoming. O’Rorke (1901–74), New Zealand born, had come to notice in placing joint third in the competition to design the RIBA’s headquarters and gone on to build a reputation for designing passenger-ship interiors. In 1946 he succeeded Edwin Lutyens as architect for the National Theatre, for which his designs remained unbuilt. He took over as architect for the new Club, leaving Murray, Delves, Murray & Atkins in charge of maintaining the existing buildings.

Costs kept rising with inflation and a diminishing number of boarders gave rise to concern in 1949 that expansion was no longer warranted. O’Rorke scaled down the plans by two storeys, and a licence for the first phase was granted in 1950. A new problem arose when the Merchant Navy Welfare Board was unable after all to contribute funds. With a shortfall of £35,000 of an estimated £275,000, and costs still rising, in 1951 O’Rorke suggested rebuilding the Dock Street range with the taller central block to its rear for £160,000 to prevent further delay. This was agreed and Charles Price Ltd was given the contract for the new building for £179,488 in March 1952. First Hardwick’s Ensign Street block was re-modernised, to plans by Murray with R. Mansell as contractor. A staircase was inserted in the northeast corner of the ground-floor lounge, which was otherwise laid out with a billiard table and a ‘television set’. The Dock Street rebuilding ensued from 1954 and was completed in 1957 for a final cost of £218,400. Even so, the central block had also had to be abandoned, the new capacity was just 240 and there was a deficit of £63,000.

O’Rorke’s building has six storeys and a setback attic, a steel frame and reinforced-concrete floors, metal windows and copper roof covering. Above curtain-wall glazing for the façade of the two lower storeys that housed communal spaces, it is brown-brick clad, flat-faced Modernism that is herbivorous yet stark. A lighter touch was introduced in the intertwined rope-pattern ironwork of the first-floor balconettes. A lift motor-room tower rising above the southeast staircase was a remnant of the centre-block plan. There had been disagreements as to the relative size of cabins (still, after all, so-called) for seamen and officers. The hierarchical view prevailed and it was 1966 before washbasins were installed in each room.

Following the closure of the London and St Katharine’s Docks in 1968–9 and continuing financial difficulties, the Red Ensign Club closed at the end of 1974. Hostel use was quickly re-established, the buildings being converted in 1976–8 for the Look Ahead Housing Association Ltd (Beacon Hostels) to adapt the complex for single homeless men. Christopher Beaver Associates were architects for the conversion. Capacity at what came to be called the Aldgate Hostel (sometimes Beacon House) shrank from 180 to 150 beds. Many of those housed were construction workers and there was also use as a halfway house for men released from prison. By 2012 Look Ahead had closed this and all its other large ‘industrial-era’ hostels.

Wombat’s City Hostel’s entrance foyer from the south in 2019. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Another conversion was carried out in 2012–14, the property having been acquired by Michael Sherley-Dale, whose residential property company, JMS Estates (IOM) Ltd, leased the premises to Wombat’s Hostels. This firm, founded by Marcus Praschinger and Sascha Dimitriewicz with a name deriving from the genesis of the business in their travels in Australia, had opened its first youth or backpacker hostel in Vienna in 1999 and gradually expanded across Europe. The refurbishment of the Dock Street–Ensign Street hostel was by Andrew Mulroy architects, with Eastern Corporation as the main contractors, and Peter Thompson as the project manager. Little external fabric apart from the entrance doors and canopy was replaced, but the middle range of the 1860s was raised by two storeys and the internal courtyard was landscaped as a garden. The main internal change was from single bedrooms to dormitories. Wombat’s London opened with 618 beds. In 2015 an access road to the north was infilled with a three-storey extension and an attic bedroom storey is currently being formed on the Ensign Street building of the 1830s.

References

[1] Morning Post, 11 September 1828

[2] Newcastle Courant, 28 February 1829

[3] National Maritime Museum Archives, SAH/60/2

[4] Morning Chronicle, 11 April  1850

[5] Henry Roberts, The Dwellings of the Labouring Classes, 1867 edition, p. 15

[6] Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 24 May 1872

[7] Joseph Conrad, ‘A Friendly Place’, Notes on Life and Letters, 1912, p. 203

Toynbee Hall in the 21st century

the Survey ofLondon31 January 2019

Toynbee Hall is currently undergoing a transformation of its buildings, but the 135 years that it has stood on Commercial Street, Whitechapel, have seen constant change and evolution. The distinctive Tudor-style block at its heart was the original building, built in 1884 as the first university settlement, whose driving force was Samuel Barnett, vicar of the adjoining St Jude’s church (demolished in 1925), and his wife Henrietta. Their aim in establishing the settlement was to break down class barriers, in the belief that it was the duty of the fortunate, educated middle classes to share the benefits of their education with the less fortunate, to enable them to realise their ‘best selves’, and as a lubricant to mutual understanding between the classes. If the idea was to bring the poor of Whitechapel and the enthusiastic young men of Oxford and Cambridge together, the building that went up in 1884 was definitely more in the Oxford mould.

Toynbee Hall elevation and plan, from The Builder, 14 Feb 1885

The frontage of Toynbee Hall, with the original entrance, left, and the new entrance, centre, in March 2018. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

The Hall, to the designs of Elijah Hoole, with steeply pitched gabled fronts in warm red brick with Box-stone dressings, stone-mullioned and transomed leaded-light windows and assertively tall ribbed chimneys, was, in Samuel Barnett’s view, ‘a manorial residence in Whitechapel’,[1] but what it resembled more, especially with the sense of enclosure provided by the gatehouse and the warehouses fronting Commercial Street, was an Oxford college.

The main block housed a lecture room and dining hall, and the ‘settlers’ had rooms above them, some two-room sets, others bedsitters, surrounding a central common room lit from dormers in its pitched roof. A large drawing room in its own pitched-roof building was built alongside. The interior of Toynbee Hall reflected the tastes and ambitions of its founders. The drawing room was furnished in a mix of Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts styles, with improving prints and sculpture, the leaded windows draped incongruously in rich curtaining: ‘we … decided to make it exactly like a West End drawing room, erring, if at all, on the side of gorgeousness’. The students’ rooms were more simply furnished but ‘in all rooms neutral drabs were abolished: Whitechapel needed lovely colours’.[2] The staircase at the south-east corner was an especial tour de force, the balusters composed of circular fretwork discs of twining leaves.

The main staircase at Toynbee hall as restored in 2017. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

The restored lecture room of Toynbee Hall, with the original entrance door, left, and panelling added in 1890. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London, March 2018

The restored Ashbee Room, formerly the dining room, at Toynbee Hall, with decorative roundels and plaster coats of arms added by C.R. Ashbee and his students in 1887. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London, March 2018

The building was opened by the Prince of Wales in January 1885 and soon a wide array of classes in history, economics, literature, chemistry, botany and languages were being offered, along with reading groups and ‘conversaziones’, entertainments, sports clubs and social events where settlers could invite four ‘pals’ each into the collegiate dining room. The fees – from 1s – did not preclude anyone but the very poorest, and evening classes were held for those who had work to attend to during the day, but the level of the teaching, which soon included university extension classes, was aspirational.

College Buildings elevation, from The Builder, 13 Nov 1886

Toynbee Hall was only one weapon in the Barnetts’ armoury of attack on poverty in Whitechapel. For the Barnetts the material, moral, educational and social welfare of the poor were indissolubly interconnected issues. Soon after Toynbee Hall opened, College Buildings, a block of ‘industrial dwellings’, also designed by Hoole, and in a similar style was built adjoining the Hall’s site on Wentworth Street, with flats aimed at a range of tenants from the poorest to skilled artisans, and with one wing set up as a student hostel.

Over the following 130 years Toynbee Hall’s aims and methods evolved as approaches to social work and education shifted, with the state taking over many roles previously fulfilled by philanthropy. Under the energetic wardenship in 1919–54 of J. J. Mallon, ‘the most popular man east of Aldgate Pump’, initiatives on sweated labour, public order, education and hire purchase influenced several Acts of Parliament. But it was Mallon’s cultural interests, reflected in increased music, dance and drama activities in Toynbee Hall, that drove the alterations and extensions to the buildings, which were showing their age by the 1930s.

The auditorium of Toynbee Theatre with murals by Clive Gardiner. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London, December 2018

Mural of Pegasus and Athena, 1939, by Clive Gardiner, in Toynbee Theatre. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London, December 2018

Detail of The Furies mural of 1939 by Clive Gardiner at Toynbee Theatre. Photograph by Derek Kendall for The Survey of London, December, 2018

A large modern building – Toynbee Theatre, now known as Toynbee Studios – went up behind Toynbee Hall in 1939. Built to the designs of Alister MacDonald, son of the former Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, it provided a 400-seat theatre, with murals of The Furies and Pegasus and Athena by Clive Gardiner, and a room used variously as a music room and children’s courtroom (to offer a less intimidating environment to young offenders). Toynbee Hall narrowly escaped total destruction during the war. The street frontage in Commercial Street was destroyed along with the warden’s lodge and library, to be replaced after the war by a sunken garden, later called Mallon Gardens.

The former music room and children’s court room at Toynbee Theatre. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London, December 2018

An important event in the stabilisation of Toynbee Hall as an institution was the arrival as a volunteer in 1964 of John Profumo, the former Secretary of State for War, who had resigned the previous year over a sexual scandal. Profumo energised fundraising and secured Toynbee Hall’s future, with promises of £150,000 by 1967. In 1965–7 a new building to the designs of Martin and Bayley, architects, incorporating offices and a warden’s flat, and accommodation for ‘junior residents’, adolescents recently arrived in London, was finally built on the site of its bombed predecessor. First known as The Gatehouse, this was renamed Profumo House in 2006.

By the early 21st century the Toynbee Hall estate was again showing its age. In the 1970s ‘respectful but dull’ blocks,[3] Attlee House and Sunley House, with flats and lecture rooms had been built alongside Toynbee Hall, and a decade later College Buildings were rebuilt as College East, replacing all but one incongruously maintained Gothic bay from its old frontage. But Toynbee Hall was also questioning the financial viability of its wider activities, in the context of a historic inner London building, Grade II Listed since 1973, surrounded by buildings that had accrued piecemeal in the second half of the 20th century.

The single bay of College Buildings, retained when that building was demolished in 1984, seen here in June 2017 when College East, the replacement building was itself demolished for the redevelopment of the Toynbee Hall estate. The retained bay of 1886 has since been reincorporated into the facade of the new flats. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

The decision was made in 2013 to redevelop the estate at a cost of £17m, partly by a partnership with a private developer, to take a lease on the sites of Attlee and Sunley Houses and College East, and rebuild them as mixed tenure housing and offices. The scheme is forecast to enable Toynbee Hall to increase the number of those it can assist, with legal and debt advice, wellbeing (notably for the elderly) and education by fifty per cent, to 20,000 a year.

The restored and extended Toynbee Hall, left, with new flats – ‘Leadenhall’ and Billingsgate’ in the distance and ‘Broadway’, right. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London, December 2018

The first works in 2016–18, to the designs of Richard Griffiths conservation architects, were to Toynbee Hall itself, restoring the fabric, notably Hoole’s leaf-roundel staircase balusters which had shed a lot of leaves over the years, and adding a two-storey addition in brick matching the original building, its new east elevation presenting four striking double-pitched gables with bronze-finish zinc cladding. In the course of works murals of 1932 on the theme of the arts and sciences in a pastoralist manner reminiscent of Stanley Spencer, by Archibald Ziegler, commissioned by J. J. Mallon, were rediscovered in the lecture room – the boards he had painted them on had simply been turned round and reused, probably in the 1960s when their style was unfashionable, and there are plans to restore and reinstall them.

Archibald Ziegler, Literature mural of 1932, from the Illustrated London News, 24 Dec 1932

The new entrance hall, left, created within the former student sitting rooms of Toynbee Hall, and the new top-lit corridor linking the original building and the new rear building. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London, March 2018

The new flats, to the designs of Platform 5 and David Hughes, architects, once again retain part of the College Buildings frontage. In keeping with Toynbee Hall’s ethos, though increasingly unusual in mixed-tenure developments, the affordable housing (14 flats out of 63) is integrated into the scheme. The names of the blocks – Leadenhall (Attlee site), Billingsgate (College East) and Broadway (Sunley) – however, indicate the City-focused aspirations of the developer. Mallon Gardens is being landscaped level with the street for the first time ‘as the centre of a model urban village with a strong physical and visual relationship to the heritage asset and the wider Toynbee Estate’.[4] Toynbee Hall reopened in 2018 and the flats are scheduled to complete later this year.

1.  London Metropolitan Archives, F/BAR/6

2. Henrietta Barnett, Canon Barnett: His Life, Work and Friends, London 1918, vol. ii, p. 42

3. Bridget Cherry, Charles O’Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 5: East, 2005, p. 398

4. ‘Toynbee Hall Masterplan’ from Richard Griffiths Architects, ‘Toynbee Hall E1’, design and access, community consultation and landscape design statements, June 2014, p. 9, via Tower Hamlets planning applications online

St Paul’s Whitechapel Church of England Primary School, Wellclose Square

the Survey ofLondon11 January 2019

St Paul’s School, Wellclose Square, is a Victorian Church of England school at the south end of the parish of Whitechapel. A thriving primary school, it is a picturesque presence in the middle of a square, a quiet and sylvan location. Its history is a reminder of the proximity of this end of Whitechapel to the river and the docks.

Wellclose Square was laid out in the 1680s as Marine Square. Its substantial houses attracted numerous sea captains and at the centre of the square’s gardens there stood a Danish–Norwegian church, built in 1694–6, first designed by Thomas Woodstock and seen through to completion by Caius Gabriel Cibber, himself a Dane, Italian trained, and principally a sculptor. The port’s timber trade underpinned the Scandinavian presence. In the 1830s the Sailors’ Home, also known as the Brunswick Maritime Establishment and the first institution of its kind, was built just to the west, on what is now Ensign Street. After Dock Street was widened to improve connections with the London Docks, the seamen’s church of St Paul, Dock Street, opened in 1847.

St Paul’s School, Wellclose Square, from the west in 2018. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

In 1858 the Rev. William Weldon Champneys, Rector of Whitechapel, proposed attaching schools to St Paul’s. Five years later, an infant school opened on the first floor of 21 Wellclose Square (it soon moved to No. 12). St Paul’s newly appointed rector, the Rev. Dan Greatorex, raised an alarm about attempts by the Anglo-Catholic clerics based at St George in the East, the Rev. Bryan King and the Rev. Charles Fuge Lowder, to gain control of his district and to buy the Danish Church of which they were then tenants, for an extension of their Romanizing project. With support from the Bishop of London, A. C. Tait, Greatorex was able to secure control of the district in 1864 for St Paul’s, and thus to evict Lowder and the churchmanship he represented from Whitechapel. Greatorex and his chapel wardens acquired the former Danish church through the Bishop of London’s Fund in 1867–9 for the purpose of providing Church of England schools for local working-class and poor children, especially those of seamen. First funds were secured and an appeal was launched with a target of £4,500.

Detail of west entrances. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

What was to be St Paul’s National Schools were intended for a district with a population of 9,668, mostly seamen, dock and wharf labourers and their families, estimated as being a third Anglican, a third Catholic and Jewish, and a third of ‘no distinctive sect’. The schools would accommodate 150 boys, 150 girls and 300 infants, and ‘counteract the vice and demoralization which abound’.[1] Greatorex’s building committee embraced notables from both Whitechapel and Wapping and included the Rev. James Cohen, Rector of Whitechapel, Lacy Hipwood, Secretary, Charles Addingham Hanbury of Truman’s brewery, Augustus W. Gadesden and William Straw of Leman Street, John Whyte of Upper East Smithfield, Henry Sadler Mitchell of Prescot Street, Joseph Loane, a Dock Street surgeon, John Butler, a haberdasher of 42 Wellclose Square, William Henry Graveley, a City surveyor, Capt. Francis Maude, Chairman of the Sailors’ Home, Capt. George Troup, and Thomas Joyce and Robert Henderson from Wapping.

First plans were for conversion of the church, with an inserted floor for boys’ and girls’ classrooms above space for infants, and the addition of a large new east range, at an estimated cost of £6,000. By April 1869 it had been agreed that the church could not be converted, its north wall being said to be badly out of upright. It would be necessary to erect a new building, though ‘not without regret’,[2] as was claimed, and not without opposition that favoured an open recreation ground. The architects were Greatorex and Co., the rector’s brothers, Reuben Courtnell Greatorex and Simeon Greatorex, of Westbourne Street Mews, Hyde Park Gardens. The contractor was Thomas Ennor of Commercial Road, and Joseph Fairer made the schools’ clock. Gadesden laid the foundation stone on 21 December 1869 and the Prince and Princess of Wales (Princess Alexandra being Danish) opened the schools on 30 June 1870, with a roll of 143 boys, 165 girls and 283 infants. The final cost of the building all told was recorded as £7,193 10s, with £7,955 3 9 having been raised.

The Gothic schools building, of stock brick with red- and white-brick and Portland stone dressings, occupied the whole of the church’s walled plot (125ft by 75ft). It reused the church foundations and retained vaults that had been used for burials. There were long boys’ and girls’ classrooms either side of a spine wall, raised on arcades above undercroft playgrounds. Infant classrooms were in a separately roofed east range. Houses for the master and mistresses flanked the twin west entrances above which there rose a clock tower. Open trefoils mark all the gables, and some original window tracery survives. Cibber’s figure of Charity breastfeeding an infant from the Danish church stood on the stone plinth in the central recess below the dedication stone until 1908. Lettering is in relief, not inscribed, and a ship surmounted the clock tower’s weathervane.

Caius Gabriel Cibber’s statue of Charity in the niche above the schools’ west entrance. From Harald Faber, ‘Caius Gabriel Cibber, 1630–1700’, 1926

Ship weathervane. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Attendances rose to 199 boys, 168 girls and 382 infants in 1874 before declining to 97 boys, 111 girls and 198 infants in 1891; large numbers were Jewish. By this time support came from the Whitechapel Foundation, then the London County Council took on responsibility. Improvements were mooted as necessary in 1905 and loans were approved. The infants’ department was altered in 1908, externally by the raising above the eaves of the three central windows of the east elevation, internally by the removal of an organ, probably rescued from the Danish church. There were also two triple-seraph sculpted bosses in the schoolroom’s ceiling, one of which still survives. These works were overseen by T. J. Bailey for the LCC, with G. E. Weston as the builder. Attendances fell to 174 mixed and 82 infants in 1929, and a reorganisation scheme that was approved in 1939 fell foul of the war.

Infants’ range from the northeast. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Seraph boss by Cibber, reused from the Danish Church in an infants’ classroom. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

In the planning of wider post-war reconstruction, consideration was given to moving the school in the 1950s. Instead, it was extended to the south in 1960–2, with Thomas F. Ford & Partners as architect and William Verry as contractors for an assembly hall and kitchen. Princess Margaret opened the hall on 20 February 1962. It has laminated timber arches with the profile of an inverted ship’s hull. A copper model of a fully rigged ship on the south entrance elevation of the hall was a weathervane on St Paul, Dock Street, repaired and regilded in 1953, and moved around 1990.

An advertisement for a new Headmaster in 1966 sought ‘Liberal-Catholic’ churchmanship for a ‘challenging multi-racial area’.[3] A prefabricated nursery room went up in gardens to the south-west in 1970. The school was listed in 1973 and numerous minor alterations followed. The playground undercroft had its former openings definitively bricked up in 1985–6 with the original tracery emulated. A major refurbishment programme in 2010–11 overseen by Wilby & Burnett, architects, included T-plan brick-faced classroom extensions to the south-west (nursery and reception) and east (first and second years).

The assembly hall of 1962. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Copper ship model from St Paul, Dock Street, on the south wall of the assembly hall. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

1. The National Archives, ED103/111/1

2. London Metropolitan Archives, P93/PAU2/145

3. London Metropolitan Archives, P93/PAU2/247

Seasons Greetings from the Survey of London

the Survey ofLondon21 December 2018

Thank you for reading the Survey of London’s blog posts over the last year. Here follows a selection of our favourite wintry photographs from our past and present studies of London. Happy Christmas and all good wishes for the New Year.

Oxford Street

As the longest continuous shopping street in Europe since the eighteenth century, Oxford Street is a unique phenomenon. Though it has witnessed almost continuous change, it has never lost its popularity. The character of Oxford Street is defined above all by its shops, and Christmas is its busiest time of the year. In 2015 we asked Lucy Millson-Watkins to photograph the lights, sights and decorations of Christmas on Oxford Street. Here is a selection of the photographs that she took, first published online in a blog post that considered the festive season on Oxford Street and its enduring traditions. The Survey’s work on Oxford Street is nearing completion, and the volume is expected to be published by Yale University Press, with support from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, in 2020.

Boots at 385–389 Oxford Street, photographed in December 2015. (© Lucy Millson-Watkins)

West end of Oxford Street looking towards Marble Arch, with Marks & Spencers flagship store. (© Lucy Millson-Watkins)

The Toy Store at 381 Oxford Street, a Dubai-based chain which opened its first UK store in 2014 close to Bond Street Station. (© Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Whitechapel

Research is continuing in Whitechapel, a district with a long and rich history, currently in the throes of intense change. One of this year’s highlights for the Survey was the Whitechapel History Fest, which took place at the Whitechapel Idea Store in October. The festival marked the closing stages of the three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council funded research project, ‘Histories of Whitechapel’. Local experts, residents and historians convened to discuss the past and present of Whitechapel, with talks, film, poetry readings and panel discussions.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32–34 Whitechapel Road, in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

Gee 8 Fashions, 14 New Road, Whitechapel, photographed in November 2018. (© Derek Kendall)

View into vehicle dispatch bay at the East London Mail Centre and E1 Delivery Office, Whitechapel Road, photographed in October 2018. (© Survey of London, photographed by Derek Kendall)

South-East Marylebone

In 2017, two volumes (Nos 51 & 52) were published on South-East Marylebone, covering a large swathe of the parish of St Marylebone. In November 2018, the Survey was honoured to received the prestigious Colvin Prize from the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain in recognition of the volumes as an outstanding work of reference on an architectural subject. The draft chapters are available to download via our website, pending a full online version. The Survey is following up these volumes with a study of South-West Marylebone, covering the area west of the boundary of the previous volumes as far as Edgware Road.

17–18 Cavendish Square, view from the east in December 2015. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

The Golden Eagle Public House, 59 Marylebone Lane, view from the north-east in January 2016. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Nativity with six apostles on the lowest row of the reredos at All Saints Church, Margaret Street, South-East Marylebone. The tilework at All Saints was designed by Butterfield, painted by Alexander Gibbs and executed by Henry Poole & Sons. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Battersea

The Survey completed its work on Battersea in 2013, with the publication of two volumes (Nos 49 and 50) by Yale University Press. The draft texts of all thirty-two chapters from the Battersea volumes are available via our website, prior to the release of a full online version.

Battersea Square, photographed in December 2012. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Clapham Common under snow in 2013. St Barnabas’s Church on Clapham Common North Side is within view in the distance, its pitched roofs adorned by a dusting of snow. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Clapham Common under snow in 2013, looking towards towards Clapham Common North Side. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Woolwich

Finally, 2018 saw the online publication of the Survey’s volume (No. 48) on Woolwich, first published in 2012 and now digitally available here.

Woolwich Covered Market, Plumstead Road, listed in 2018, photographed in 2007. (© Historic England, Derek Kendall)

Mosaic detail from St George’s Garrison Church, Woolwich, photographed in 2007. (© Historic England, Derek Kendall)

Mosaic and painted decoration, St Michael and All Angels Church, Woolwich, reconstruction. (© Historic England, George Wilson)

Dan Cruickshank’s photographs of Whitechapel and environs in the early 1970s

the Survey ofLondon30 November 2018

This is a post of photographs arising from the Survey of London’s Whitechapel History Fest, held at the Idea Store Whitechapel in late October. The event drew more than 200 people to attend a range of talks and discussions, as well as poetry readings and the premiere of a film. We were delighted that Dan Cruickshank came to present the final talk of the occasion, a wide-ranging overview of Whitechapel’s history from a personal point of view. He recounted his walks through the wider E1 area in the early 1970s, using his own photographs of that time as illustrations. Dan has now kindly shared these and a number of other contemporary photographs with us. All images are the copyright of Dan Cruickshank.

185 and 187 Whitechapel Road

23-25 Parfett Street, Whitechapel

Lambeth Street, Whitechapel

Former sugar refinery, converted to tea warehouse, Dock Street, Whitechapel

Brushfield Street, Spitalfields

Sclater Street, Spitalfields

Fleur-de-lis Street, Spitalfields

St Katharine’s Dock warehouses

London Dock and warehouses

London Dock warehouses (Pennington Street or north side)

America Circus

Whitechapel History Fest: 25–27 October

the Survey ofLondon12 October 2018

 

The Survey of London is the organiser of a multi-vocal history festival convened to mark the end of the three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council funded research project, ‘Histories of Whitechapel’. This three-day event will bring together a range of local experts, residents and historians to discuss the past and present of Whitechapel at the Idea Store. There will be talks, the premiere of a specially commissioned film, poetry readings and round-table discussions. Contributors include Rachel Lichtenstein, the Gentle Author, Ajmal Masroor and Dan Cruickshank.

Tickets (£5 per day, £12.50 for three days) are available via Eventbrite. You can also follow live updates from the conference by searching for the hashtag #WhitechapelHistFest on Twitter.

Programme for Whitechapel History Fest. Please click on the image to view a larger version

Thursday 25th October – 6.30–8.45pm

Avram Stencl: The Yiddish Poet of Whitechapel
Rachel Lichtenstein

This illustrated talk examines the life and work of London’s foremost Yiddish poet Avram Nachum Stencl (1897–1983) who was born in Poland in the late nineteenth century into a rabbinical dynasty. After spending some time in Holland and Germany, he made his way to Berlin in the 1920s where his work attracted the attention of the literary elite, including Thomas Mann. He arrived in dramatic circumstances to London in 1936 and spent the rest of his life passionately dedicated to the preservation of the Yiddish language. Stencl became one of the most familiar figures of Jewish Whitechapel, standing outside the lecture halls, meeting places and cafes, crying out, koyfts a heft! – Buy a pamphlet. He established the longest running literary group in the UK but is now practically unknown. Come and learn more about this extraordinary figure, if you have memories of Stencl to share Rachel would be delighted to hear from you.

Rachel Lichtenstein is a writer, curator and artist. Her publications include: Estuary: Out from London to the Sea, Diamond Street, On Brick Lane, Rodinsky’s Room, Keeping Pace: Older Women of the East End, A Little Dust Whispered and Rodinsky’s Whitechapel. Her artwork has been widely exhibited both in the UK and internationally. Venues include The Whitechapel Gallery, The British Library, The Barbican Art Gallery, Wood Street Galleries (USA) and The Jerusalem Theatre (Israel). She is a Reader in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, a tour guide of London’s Jewish East End and works as the archivist and historian in London’s oldest Ashkenazi synagogue, Sandys Row.

Poetry Readings
Celeste, Bernard Kops, Chris Searle, and others

Celeste is a teacher and performance artist based in Shoreditch. Celeste presents new works exploring themes of time, place and identity in London.

Bernard Kops was born 91 years ago in Stepney Green. ‘Where my East End streets gave me the strength and chutzpah, the building blocks of my future, my world of writing. So here I am, still alive and working, with the joy of love and living, with my wonder wife of 63 years and enormous family. And my writing, for writing is work, and work is life. And behind me and ahead are my years of drama, poetry and novels.’ He has written some new poems – East End Dreams – for this event.

Chris Searle has written or edited over fifty books on subjects as diverse as education, poetry, language, journalism, cricket and jazz. Among them The Forsaken Lover (which won the Martin Luther King Award in 1973), Classrooms of Resistance, The World in a Classroom, Words Unchained: Language and Revolution in Grenada, Your Daily Dose: Racism and ‘The Sun’, Pitch of Life and Forward Groove. He writes a weekly jazz column for the socialist daily newspaper, the Morning Star. In 1971 he collaborated with Ron McCormick to produce the influential book of schoolkids poetry, Stepney Words, and a number of other projects in East London, most recently Stepney Words III (commissioned by Rich Mix, the Shoreditch media arts centre). Together they produced and published Whitechapel Boy, a reappraisal of the poetry of the First World War poet, Isaac Rosenberg, to commemorate the centenary of the poet’s death in the French trenches in April 1918.

St George’s German Lutheran Church, Alie Street, in 2017, photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Friday 26th October – 10am–5.15pm

At Home in Whitechapel’s Deutsche Kolonie
Sarah Milne

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Whitechapel was home to tens of thousands of German migrants, many of whom were intimately connected with the prosperous sugar industry. While scant physical traces of Whitechapel’s sugarhouses remain, drawings and descriptions from the archives reveal the diverse buildings associated with this industrious community. Following a newly-arrived German sugar baker, a well-established sugarhouse owner, and a school mistress, this talk will explore what everyday life was like in Whitechapel’s oft-forgotten Deutsche Kolonie.

Sarah Milne is a research associate and website co-editor on the Survey of London’s Whitechapel project. She is particularly interested in how global exchanges have shaped London’s built environment through the centuries. Sarah is also a lecturer in the history of architecture at the University of Westminster.

Mapping and Place
Seif El Rashidi, Shlomit Flint, Duncan Hay, Laura Vaughan

The Survey of London’s ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ interactive map will be a starting point for thoughts from and discussion by a panel with a range of expert engagements with urban geography – GIS systems, participative and otherwise, micro-geography, psychogeography and space syntax.

Seif El Rashidi is the project manager for Layers of London, based at the Institute for Historical Research. Layers of London is creating a website bringing together a significant collection of historic maps and other London-related resources for the first time, working with community groups, schools and the general public to encourage them to contribute information about the London that they know.

Shlomit Flint is an architect with a master’s in public policy and planning and a PhD in geosimulation and spatial analysis. Shlomit has studied the impact of recent immigration on Whitechapel’s built environment through digital means with a desire to influence public policy. She is a Research Fellow with the Survey of London’s Histories of Whitechapel project.

Duncan Hay is a Research Associate at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL with expertise in psychogeography and English literature. He has been responsible for the design and functioning of the website for the Survey of London’s ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ project.

Professor Laura Vaughan is Director of the Space Syntax Laboratory at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture. Her most recent publications include a study of the significance of urban space in shaping religious solidarities in nineteenth-century Whitechapel, while her book on the spatial dimensions of social cartography, Mapping Society, has been released this autumn with UCL Press. Laura is a member of the Survey of London’s Whitechapel project’s steering group and advisory panel.

The Petticoat Lane Foxtrot
Alan Dein

From singers, songwriters, conductors, and cantors to musicians, managers, proprietors of record shops and club owners – Alan Dein reflects on the stories of Whitechapel’s Jewish community whose musical roots go back to the major wave of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants fleeing the pogroms in Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. Their stories are entwined with the development of the British recorded music industry. In particular, Dein focuses on the remarkable sounds of Cockney Jewish-themed jazz recorded in London between the 1920s and the 1950s. As many of the tunes celebrate Jewish cuisine – from beigels to schmaltz herrings – Dein will also reflect on the world of speciality food shops and businesses that proliferated in Whitechapel during the interwar years.

Alan Dein is an oral historian and radio broadcaster. He has presented documentary features for BBC Radio for over twenty years, and has worked on oral-history projects and podcasts for numerous institutions including The British Library, The Museum of London, The Royal Parks, English Heritage, The Guardian, The Jewish Museum, and local history and community groups. He was the project co-ordinator of ‘King’s Cross Voices’ (2004–2008), a major Heritage Lottery Funded oral history project exploring the living memory of London’s King’s Cross. In 2012, Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives published After You’ve Gone – East End Shopfronts, 1988 which accompanied an exhibition of his photographs.

Sailors and Settlement
Kinsi Abdulleh, Tamsin Bookey, Derek Morris

The proximity of the Thames and London’s port to southern parts of Whitechapel, including Wellclose Square, Dock Street and Ensign Street, has meant strong connections with mariners and other seafaring people from several regions of the world since at least the eighteenth century. Their impact on the built environment has ranged from sailors’ homes or hostels to more enduring settlement and descendants.

Tamsin Bookey is the Heritage Manager at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, an archivist and a member of the Survey of London’s Whitechapel project’s steering group and advisory panel.

Derek Morris MSc, FGS, is a graduate of Queen Mary College, University of London. He found that his ancestral family lived in Mile End in 1770 opposite Captain James Cook, the famous explorer, and this discovery led him to extensive research on eighteenth-century Stepney. He has written four books on the social history of the area, including Whitechapel 1600–1800: A social history of an early modern London Inner Suburb and London’s Sailortown 1600–1800: A Social History of Shadwell and Ratcliff, an Early Modern London Riverside Suburb (with Ken Cozens), both published by the East London History Society. He is also an associate member of the University of Portsmouth, Port Towns & Urban Cultures Project.

Kinsi Abdulleh is a visual artist, a social activist and the founder of NUMBI Arts.

View from the roof of Mosque Tower, Whitechapel Road, 2016, photograph by Rehan Jamil for the Survey of London

Bengalis in London’s East End
Julie Begum

This presentation will trace the history of the Bengali community in the East End since the seventeenth century, looking at early settlers and more recent post-war Bengali migration history, characteristics and differences, relationship to Empire, and social dynamics.

Julie Begum is Co-founder and Chair of the Swadhinata Trust (www.swadhinata.org.uk) and the recipient of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Civic Award for Outstanding Service to the Community 2017.

Heritage and Community
Emily Gee, Hudda Khaireh, Will Palin, Howard Spencer

This discussion will address Whitechapel’s histories in relation to conservation (current and past), loss, memorialisation, sites of memory and questions of identity and authenticity in relation to heritage and its definitions.

Emily Gee is Historic England’s London Planning Director. She has worked at Historic England since 2001 and served as Head of Listing Advice from 2011 to 2016. Emily also leads Historic England’s Twentieth Century Network. She has published on Victorian and Edwardian housing for working women and on listing, including post-war buildings and issues of diversity. Emily is a member of the Survey of London’s Whitechapel project’s steering group and advisory panel.

Hudda Khaireh is an independent researcher with a background in Public International Law and a member of Thick/er Black Lines artist collective.

Will Palin is the Director of Conservation at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and a former Director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage. He is also a founder of the East End Preservation Society.

Howard Spencer is a senior historian with English Heritage with responsibility for London’s blue plaques scheme. He is the editor of The English Heritage Guide to London’s Blue Plaques.

Mapping workshop at London Enterprise Academy, 2017

Hido Raac: Place-making and Demarcating
Hudda Khaireh

History is the fruits of power, but power itself is never so transparent that its analysis becomes superfluous. The ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots.
– Historian Professor Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Hido Raac is a waking Odyssey, exploring the sites and histories of the Somali community in East London to open discussions on how communities and geographies are formed as well as the events, institutions and ideologies that shape our understanding or ‘mapping’ of an area. Hudda’s contribution to the Whitechapel History Fest will be to share her experiences of the Hido Raac project – particularly the sites identified and community stories connected to Whitechapel.

Hudda Khaireh is an independent researcher with a background in Public International Law and a member of Thick/er Black Lines artist collective.

Histories from the Archives
Malcolm Barr-Hamilton, Dor Duncan, Jamil Sherif

Archives, whether formally constituted and public, or more contingent in nature, are an essential source for understanding the historic built environment and the people that shape it, perhaps all the more so in an area like Whitechapel that has seen so many changes. This discussion with examples from the Tower Hamlets Archives, the newly opened archive at the East London Mosque and others will foreground different ways archives can enhance awareness of local and wider histories and multiple voices.

Malcolm Barr-Hamilton has long been the Borough Archivist for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Dor Duncan is an artist and archivist at Whitechapel Gallery.

Jamil Sherif is part of the Research and Documentation group at the Muslim Council of Britian, and the Chair of the East London Mosque Archives Steering Group. He has set up the first formal archive of a Muslim organisation in the UK, now situated in the East London Mosque and publicly accessible. His biography of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the most widely read English translator of the Quran, Searching for Solace was published in 1994 and he continues to research and write on the key figures of British Muslim history.

‘Whitechapel Boys’: The view from Whitechapel across one hundred years
Chris Searle and Ron McCormick

In April 2018, the writer Chris Searle and photographer Ron McCormick published a re-appraisal of the poetry of the World War One poet Isaac Rosenberg to mark the centenary of his death in the French trenches at the end of the great conflict. The book tells the story of Rosenberg’s early development as an English artist in the first two decades of the twentieth century and is controversially illustrated with McCormick’s photographs of Spitalfields and Whitechapel taken during the 1970s when the area was undergoing a rapid change from a community of predominantly émigré Jews and facing a new influx of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent. Searle explores these cultural and political influences in his text and develops a thesis about the development and value of Rosenberg’s poetry for a modern society. While the changing culture of the vibrant multi-ethnic district of East London of modern times echoes the experiences and earlier world of Rosenberg and his fellow Whitechapel Boys sixty years before. The whole is underpinned with a powerful visual picture of Whitechapel as it might have appeared in the 1920s mirrored through McCormick’s photographs as a record of a similar patchwork of family and tenement living, street life, poverty and industry, told through the faces of Whitechapel people in the 1970s. In many ways Searle and McCormick’s partnership and their engagement in the life and culture of East London reflect the creative endeavours and experiences of their earlier forebears, the ‘Whitechapel Boys’.

Chris Searle has written or edited over fifty books on subjects as diverse as education, poetry, language, journalism, cricket and jazz. Among them The Forsaken Lover (which won the Martin Luther King Award in 1973), Classrooms of Resistance, The World in a Classroom, Words Unchained: Language and Revolution in Grenada, Your Daily Dose: Racism and ‘The Sun’, Pitch of Life and Forward Groove. He writes a weekly jazz column for the socialist daily newspaper, the Morning Star. In 1971 he collaborated with Ron McCormick to produce the influential book of schoolkids poetry, Stepney Words, and a number of other projects in East London, most recently Stepney Words III (commissioned by Rich Mix, the Shoreditch media arts centre). Together they produced and published Whitechapel Boy, a reappraisal of the poetry of the First World War poet, Isaac Rosenberg, to commemorate the centenary of the poet’s death in the French trenches in April 1918.

Ron McCormick’s photographs, ‘Neighbours – Spitalfields to Whitechapel’ were exhibited at Whitechapel Art Gallery and The Serpentine Gallery. He was a commissioned artist for the seminal exhibition ‘Inside Whitechapel’ (Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1973). With a background in both fine art and documentary photography, he has been involved in social and community initiatives since the early 1970s. He taught at the prestigious School of Documentary Photography in Newport, South Wales, and Southampton Solent University where he established the university art collection and became its first curator (2001–14). He is represented in the collections of the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, The National Library of Wales, The Arts Council of Great Britain, The Crafts Council, Contemporary Arts Society for Wales, Fotogallery Wales, and Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

George Holland: Whitechapel’s Unsung Hero
David Charnick

From the 1850s until his death in 1900, merchant-turned-evangelist George Holland worked to help relieve the distress caused by poverty in the Whitechapel area. Despite his considerable efforts, he is almost unknown today; this presentation will show why he deserves to be better known.

David Charnick is a City of London guide who also guides extensively in Tower Hamlets. Additionally he teaches tour guiding courses through the borough’s Idea Store Learning adult education service. He is the author of The Dark Side of East London, which considers life in the East End in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Stories from my time at the London Hospital
Jil Cove

Jil Cove looks back over fifty years in Whitechapel, from her early days as a student midwife at the London Hospital to her life now in Old Castle Street.

Jil Cove came to work at the London Hospital in 1961. She fell in love with the area and has stayed ever since.

The Co-operative Wholesale Society’s buildings in Whitechapel
Rebecca Preston

The Co-operative Wholesale Society was headquartered on Leman Street and Prescot Street from 1881. Its significance in the area’s history is represented by some impressive buildings, now converted to other uses.

Rebecca Preston is based at Royal Holloway, University of London, and also teaches at the Institute of Historical Research. She is currently engaged as a researcher/writer for the Survey of London’s work on Whitechapel. She has recently been a research associate on another AHRC-funded project, ‘Pets and Family Life in England and Wales, 1837–1939’. Her research spans the history of urban and suburban development, including parks and gardens and different kinds of living space in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain, and she has a particular interest in the relationship of people to place.

Exploring Wilton’s Music Hall and its history
Carole Zeidman

Carole will talk about Wilton’s in the context of Whitechapel, the factors for the building’s exceptional survival, and its continuing fascination today.

Carole Zeidman is an ‘Old East Ender’, who lived in Cable Street as a young child in the 1950s and was Wilton’s Historian and Senior Tour Guide from March 2011 to December 2017.

East End Vernacular: The artists who painted the East End streets in the 20th century
The Gentle Author

The Gentle Author will speak about a subject that he published in book form in 2017.

The Gentle Author has been publishing a daily story about the culture of the East End on the Spitalfields Life blog for the past nine years and is the author of a number of books including Spitalfields Life, The Gentle Author’s London Album, The Cries of London and East End Vernacular.

Graces Alley with the entrance to Wilton’s Music Hall in 2018, photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Saturday 27th October – 10am–4.45pm

Life in the East End
Imam Ajmal Masroor

Ajmal Masroor will speak about Whitechapel as he knows it and knew it from childhood. He will tell some stories around photographs that represent his own memories and experiences.

Ajmal Masroor is a renowned broadcaster, commentator and Imam with his roots in the East End. In 2014 he was recognised in the Muslim 500 as one of the most influential Muslims in the world today. He has presented programmes on BBC One, Channel 4, Islam Channel and Channel S. He writes regularly on socio-political and spiritual issues facing the world in general but the Muslim community in particular. His writing has been published by Emel, the New Statesman, The Guardian and the Evening Standard. He leads Friday prayers at four mosques in London: Goodge Street, Palmers Green, West Ealing and Wightman Road in Haringey. He studied Islam, politics, Arabic language and relationship counselling. He holds an MA from Birkbeck College, University of London.

Survival and Traces: Whitechapel’s pre-Victorian buildings
Peter Guillery

Development pressure is not a new phenomenon in Whitechapel. Waves of investment and improvement across centuries have displaced most of early Whitechapel’s buildings, in many cases genuinely for the better. There are a few notable survivals, of fabric if not of function, as at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, St George’s German Lutheran Church, and the former Davenant School. Other sites exhibit more partial, even hidden traces of medieval, early-modern and Georgian Whitechapel, examples such as Altab Ali Park and Wellclose Square.

Peter Guillery is an architectural historian and editor for the Survey of London, where he is the Principal Investigator for the AHRC-funded ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ project. Away from the Survey, his publications include The Small House in Eighteenth-Century London, and, as editor, Built from Below: British Architecture and the Vernacular and Mobilising Housing Histories: Learning from London’s Past (with David Kroll).

Sharing Local History
Celeste, Gary Hutton, Danny McLaughlin

This session will be focussed on the experiences of three local residents, who all know and love Whitechapel, but who have different stories of place to tell. It is a forum to reflect on the diverse ways in which they have gathered and shared local history within the community, and what motivates them to do so. The discussion will consider the use of digital and social-media platforms as well as oral history and photography.

Celeste is a teacher and performance artist based in Shoreditch. Celeste presents new works exploring themes of time, place and identity in London.

Gary Hutton comes from a very colourful background, having spent his life growing up in Whitechapel. Gary’s Whitechapel is a very different place, and with a different view, from many, as the social history of Whitechapel is runnning through his veins. Gary will talk about the Whitechapel he loves and around which he guides the occasional walking tour to provide a different view of Whitechapel. In his spare time, Gary helps run two sites on social media, one being the Facebook group ‘Whitechapel Born n Bred’ and he is also the founder and chief executive of the charity Product of a Postcode.

Danny McLaughlin was born in, and has lived his whole life in Whitechapel. Though his work takes him worldwide investigating fraud, he is always happiest at home in E1.

The former Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road, 2016, photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

The expansion and remodelling of the London Hospital, 1884–1919
Amy Smith

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the London Hospital was one of the largest general hospitals in the country. Approximately 800 beds for more than twenty-one types of patients, all treated for free, were arranged across an extensive historic building that had gradually become outdated. This talk explores the remodelling and enlargement of the hospital between 1884 and 1919 to form a sprawling medical complex that functioned on modern lines. A century later, much of that complex has been demolished and altered as part of the hospital’s transferral to a new tower block.

Amy Smith works as an historian on the Survey of London. She has recently researched the Royal London Hospital for the current study of Whitechapel and is now working on a forthcoming volume on Oxford Street.

Sugarhouses and German Refiners
Andrew Byrne, Sigrid Werner

Sugar refining, widespread in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Whitechapel, was very largely managed by German immigrants. Andrew will talk about sugar-baking or sugar-refining houses, their impact on the East End, their architects and their demise. Sigrid will talk about the development of the German immigrant community in the East End, its churches, schools and synagogues and its destruction in World War One.

Andrew Byrne is an architectural historian. He ran the Spitalfields Trust in the 1990s and is the founder of LONDON 1840, which is building a scale model of London as it was in that year.

Sigrid Werner has been a resident of Tower Hamlets for almost twenty years and of London for over thirty years. She is a theologian by training and a local historian for the East End. She specialises in the history of the German community in Tower Hamlets, was one of the authors of the 250th anniversary exhibition at St George’s German Lutheran Church in Alie Street, and has also published on Islington and Tower Hamlets church history and local family history. She works locally with an education charity.

Citizens of No Mean City: Toynbee Hall, Whitechapel Gallery and the Survey of London
Aileen Reid

In 1873 an idealistic young clergyman and his wife arrived in ‘the worst parish in London’, keen to make a difference. By the end of the century they had created Toynbee Hall and were building Whitechapel Gallery, and had nurtured the young C. R. Ashbee, who founded the Survey of London in the 1890s. This talk will explore the common and sometimes problematic origins of these now rather disparate enterprises.

Aileen Reid has been a research associate on the Survey of London since 2005, currently working on Whitechapel’s historic core around the High Street, and as web co-editor of the Whitechapel Histories project. Her interests focus on the long nineteenth century, from the ‘art architects’ (monographs on E. W. Godwin and a group of C. F. A. Voysey townhouses will be published in 2020) to housing reform, and the use of film as a research tool in architectural history.

East End Rebels 1880s to 1930s
David Rosenberg

In the struggle for better lives in the East End, sweatshop workers downed tools, bakers formed workers’ cooperatives, women organised rent strikes, councillors went to prison, people built barricades, and police were pelted with kitchen implements. In this talk you will discover who was agitating, rioting and refusing to accept injustice and inequality and what they achieved.

David Rosenberg is a writer, educator and tour guide who focuses on London’s radical history. He is the author of Rebel Footprints and Battle for the East End and has a website at www.eastendwalks.com.

Film premiere: ‘Changing Tastes; Whitechapel’s south Asian restaurants’
Nurull Islam and Rehan Jamil

The premiere of a short film commissioned by the Survey of London on the south Asian restaurant scene in Whitechapel. It can be argued that the palate is one of the best barometers of social change, and Whitechapel’s history can certainly be tracked through its menus and restaurants. This film captures one strand of this history, looking at how Bangladeshi and Pakistani migrants established both themselves and a new cuisine in Whitechapel, how this has evolved and where it is going. Interviews and new footage provide a fascinating insight into a vibrant and important aspect of Whitechapel’s story.

Nurull Islam is Centre Director for the Mile End Community Project.

Rehan Jamil is a documentary photographer who is primarily concerned with communities in transition. Rehan completed a long-term personal project ‘The East End of Islam’ (1997–2007) a photographic documentary relating to the Muslim community in Tower Hamlets and around the East London Mosque. Rehan’s photographs have been exhibited in many galleries and museums including the Whitechapel Gallery, the Station Gallery Frankfurt, Ragged School Museum, Bruce Castle Museum, the Menier Gallery and St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. Rehan is the author of several books including Common Ground: Portraits of Tower Hamlets, Ocean Views, Common Ground: Aspects of Contemporary British Muslim Experience and Peace by Piece.

The Jagonari Centre and the East London Mosque: Architecture in the 1980s
Shahed Saleem

The 1980s saw the completion of two major landmarks for the local community in Whitechapel. This talk will trace the trajectory of these projects, how they started, developed, and the struggles that they endured and overcame. The architectural process that led to the buildings that stand today, one a place of worship and the other a community facility, will also be described, drawing on the material that has been gathered through the Survey’s research project.

Shahed Saleem is a Senior Research Fellow at the Survey of London, a practicing architect, and a design studio tutor at the University of Westminster School of Architecture. His particular research interests are in the architecture of migrant and post-migrant communities, and in particular their relationship to notions of heritage, belonging and nationhood. He has authored The British Mosque, an architectural and social history, published by Historic England.

The former Jagonari Women’s Centre, Whitechapel Road, 2017, photograph by Shahed Saleem for the Survey of London

The Survey of London’s ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ Project Reviewed
Open discussion led by Peter Guillery

This session is intended as a general discussion, to sum up the Whitechapel History Fest and to reflect on the Survey of London’s website-based work in Whitechapel.

Whitechapel: An Historical Overview
Dan Cruickshank

Dan Cruickshank will draw on deep familiarity with and knowledge of Whitechapel and its buildings, looking back to sum up proceedings with an account of works carried out by the Spitalfields Trust in Whitechapel.

Dan Cruickshank is an architectural historian, a television presenter and the author of numerous books, including Spitalfields: The History of a Nation in a Handful of Streets. As a long-standing resident of E1 he knows Whitechapel well.

Tower House (former Rowton House), 81 Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel

the Survey ofLondon28 September 2018

With its distinctive roofline and seven storeys rising sixty feet, Tower House is a local landmark that did indeed tower above its neighbours when first built. Initially called Rowton House, Whitechapel, the building opened in 1902 and was the fifth of six ‘Rowton Houses’ established in London between 1892 and 1905 to provide decent, low-cost accommodation for single working men. Known as Tower House from 1961, during the late 1970s the building was found to be inadequate as housing and began to decline. After various schemes to adapt it for use as a public building and supported housing fell through, Tower House was sold to a developer and converted to upmarket apartments in 2005–8.

Tower House, Fieldgate Street, view from the southwest in 2016. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Rowton Houses were large model lodging houses founded by Montagu (‘Monty’) Lowry Corry, later Lord Rowton (1838–1903), Tory politician, nephew of the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, and former secretary to the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. Rowton was appointed Chairman, the other founding directors being Cecil Ashley, Richard Farrant and Walter Long, MP and former Chairman of the Local Government Board; after accepting a Cabinet post, Long was replaced by William Morris (junior), a partner in the firm of Ashurst Morris Crisp, which acted as the company’s solicitors.

Rowton House, Whitechapel from the east, c.1903. (From Jack London, The People of the Abyss, 1903)

Known as ‘hotels for working men’, the buildings were a response to the capital’s housing crisis of the 1880s, intended as superior alternatives to the common lodging house, where the poorest Londoners slept in dormitories over a shared kitchen. Like other kinds of model housing, Rowton Houses were intended to be models of hygiene and order, and as models for other organisations to follow. Rather than being purely charitable institutions, they were designed to turn a modest profit for shareholders, on the model of five per cent or ‘remunerative’ philanthropy. The local and national press, and medical, architectural, sanitary, and municipal journals were broadly supportive of the Houses’ improving aims and reported on them at length.

Rowton Houses were not intended to be the cheapest lodgings. Common lodging houses cost from around 4per night in London at this time and the London County Council (LCC) initially charged 5at its municipal lodging house. Rowton Houses insisted that their enterprises were not charitable or philanthropic organisations but poor men’s clubs or hotels. At the opening of the Whitechapel House, the chairman, Richard Farrant, was reported as saying privately that ‘the Carlton and Reform Clubs might have superior upholstery but that there was not a club in London where a man could live so comfortably, economically, and healthily as at the Rowton Houses’. [1] The press made frequent approving comparisons with gentlemen’s clubs and, in many ways, including the exclusion of women, the suites of dayrooms and the encouragement of male sociability, Rowton Houses did resemble all-male elite clubs.

The first Rowton House opened at Vauxhall in 1892 (470 cubicles). King’s Cross opened in 1896 (677), Newington Butts in 1897 (805), Hammersmith in 1899 (800), Whitechapel in 1902 (816) and Camden Town (Arlington House) in 1905 (1,087). The architect for all apart from Vauxhall was Harry Bell Measures, whose characteristic red-brick blocks lined with slit windows, leavened with gables, turrets and terracotta detailing, created a new and easily recognisable style of building in the capital. Of the five London Rowton Houses designed by Measures, only Tower House and Arlington House survive and only Arlington remains in use as a hostel.

The Whitechapel building was made up of two adjoining parallelograms separated by an inner courtyard open at one end, in order to provide good air circulation and light. On concrete-clad steel construction, the elevations are in pressed Leicester facing bricks, with Fletton bricks on inward faces. Semi-circular windows face outwards from the dayrooms on the first two floors, including in the two bays at this level (one of which has been replaced by a new entrance), and above these are the rows of narrow windows to the hundreds of cubicles, the sashes and frames to which have been replaced throughout the building. Externally, the expanse of brick is relieved with gables, turrets and pink terracotta dressings, and the large projecting porch, flanked with octagonal finials, and which served as the original entrance, is also of terracotta. The diminutive cherub presently seated on the central finial is a recent addition; it replaced a larger figure of a child holding a globe on his shoulders, which may have represented a young Atlas.

Original entrance porch at Tower House, 2016. Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London

Originally the first two floors (known as the ‘entrance floor’ and, above that, the ‘ground floor’) contained the office, staff quarters, and the lodgers’ kitchen, dining and other dayrooms, washing facilities, lockers and services; above these were five floors of cubicles, whose rows of narrow windows contributed to the building’s outwardly institutional appearance. When Measures was asked why he didn’t group his windows, he replied that ‘if I yield to that temptation, then the sleeper has to pay the penalty for the sake of my elevation. Personally, I think the sleeper comes first and that my elevations should truthfully proclaim it’. [2] Despite the new entrance and alterations to the windows made as part of the 2005–8 conversion, the Fieldgate Street elevation still reads as a Rowton House, the major alterations to the exterior being the penthouse floor and at the rear of the building.

On entering Rowton House, Whitechapel, lodgers bought a ticket at the office window and, if they wished, weekly lodgers could pay a 6deposit for a locker, before passing through a turnstile and into a vestibule. From here, lodgers could go up a flight of stairs to a small ‘glass-roofed lounge with palms and flowers’. [3] Or they could enter the main corridor, on the lower ground ‘entrance floor’, which ran east–west through the building. The lockers, and the sinks, baths and footbaths (free), baths (1including soap and towel) and facilities for washing and drying clothes, were all located on the east side of this floor. The tailor, shoemender and barber were in the same area. Once clean and dressed, the men could go to their cubicle for the night or make use of the dining and recreation rooms up to a certain time in the evening.

Rowton House, Whitechapel, plan of the entrance floor, from The Brickbuilder, July 1903. (Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California) Please click on the image to view a larger version. 

A huge dining room occupied the centre of the entrance floor, with seating at teak tables for 456 men. Lodgers could cook their own suppers over a range, either with food they brought with them or from ingredients bought at the shop. Alternatively, they could buy a cooked meal at prices which, as the company stressed, amounted to little above cost, achieved through the bulk buying of provisions. Lodgers could purchase a pint of tea in a special Rowton House-emblazoned mug for a penny in 1906, while 5bought a plate of roast mutton or beef with seasonal vegetables followed by a hot pudding. Top-lit and ventilated with lantern lights, the dining room was finished with the same ‘high dado of glazed brickwork in tints of cream and chocolate’, as found throughout the dayrooms. [4] Due to the size and function of the building, institutional associations were impossible to escape but the aim was to mitigate this through dayroom arrangements and decoration and, at Fieldgate Street, to ‘give an effect of sprightliness and comfort’. [5] Framed pictures hung on the walls, the plastering ‘tinted to a shade of terracotta’ above the tiling.[6] While Measures was responsible for the design of the building, Rowton and Farrant personally oversaw the interior design and decoration, choosing the bedding, furniture, pictures and, even, at King’s Cross, a stag’s head shot by Rowton, for the walls.

Rowton House, Whitechapel, dining room, from The Brickbuilder, July 1903. (Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California)

On the south side of the corridor on the entrance floor lay the smaller smoking room, its windows in the central bays looking, through the railings, into Fieldgate Street. This had space for 140 lodgers at teak tables with additional easy chairs around the fire places at each end. Cards and games of chance which might encourage gambling were banned but chess and draughts were provided.

The reading room lay immediately above the smoking room on what was known as the (upper) ground floor. This was fitted with cupboards for newspapers and bookcases, from which lodgers could borrow books on application to the Superintendent, open bookcases having been abandoned across the Houses after thefts made it necessary to lock them.

Rowton House, Whitechapel, plan of the ‘ground’ (first) floor, from The Brickbuilder, July 1903. (Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California) Please click on the image to view a larger version.

A series of panels ‘emblematic of “the Seasons”’ hung in the reading room. These took up a large part of the back wall facing the windows onto Fieldgate Street, fitted above the tiling. As was widely reported, these were ‘painted by Mr H. F. Strachey of Clutton, near Bristol, a cousin of Lytton Strachey and art critic of The Spectator. They were given by him as the practical interest of an artist in the elevating work of a Rowton House’. [7] ‘Each season is represented by a single figure and also by a larger composition, while over the fireplace in the middle is a small allegorical work. In it a symbolical figure of England sits enthroned, while the fruits of the land are brought to her by the cultivators’. [8]

There were no panels in the other Rowton Houses and it is not known what happened to those at Fieldgate Street. It is possible that they were lost during alterations of 1953, which divided the Reading Room into a Billiard Room and a Quiet Room.

Near the reading room was a door to the open-air or smoking lounge. As at the previous Rowton Houses, this was formed on the roofs of the rooms below, in this case the kitchen, dining and washroom areas. Invisible from the street, this space, in the void which allowed air and light to circulate within the building, was fifty feet wide and surrounded on three sides by the cubicle floors. Benches were placed around the lantern lights and it was laid out with tubs of flowers as a roof garden. Like the decoration, pictures and pot plants within the House, the garden was an attempt to de-institutionalise the buildings.

Rowton Houses prided themselves on the superior size and construction of their cubicles and on the quality of the beds and bedding. After experiments with shared dormitories at Vauxhall proved unpopular, all subsequent Houses were provided with individual sleeping cubicles. These measured 5ft by 7ft 6inches and were 9ft high. Each lodger had a sash window under his own control, an iron bedstead with a sprung mattress, a clothes hook, and a chair. The partitions (of strong pine, rather than iron as in shelters and some model lodging houses) reached nearly to the ceiling, with a space at the top. Initially this was left open but in the early twentieth century was meshed in after ‘fishing’ by residents into neighbouring cubicles showed that valuables were unsafe. By this means visual privacy was achieved while ensuring the building remained light and well ventilated.

Rowton House, Whitechapel, footbaths, a cubicle and corridor, from The Brickbuilder, July 1903. (Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California) Please click on the image to view a larger version.

This account is extracted from a fuller history by Dr Rebecca Preston for the Survey of London (link). That draws on the project, At Home in the Institution? Asylum, School and Lodging House Interiors in London and South-East England, 18451914, led by Jane Hamlett at Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2010–11, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-061-25-0389).

[1] Yorkshire Post, 7 August 1902, p.6.

[2] British Architect, 22 March 1901, p.213.

[3] Yorkshire Post, 7 August 1902, p.6.

[4] East London Observer, 9 August 1902, p. 8

[5] London Evening Standard, 7 August 1902, p.7.

[6] East London Observer, 9 August 1902, p.8.

[7] The Brickbuilder, July 1903, p.144.

[8] Municipal Journal, 8 August 1902, p. 648.

Two curiosities on the London Hospital estate in Whitechapel

the Survey ofLondon6 July 2018

The Governors of the London Hospital acquired a large tract of land to the south and south-west of their hospital in the eighteenth century. Initially this was a buffer, to preserve healthful open space. But it was soon built up, largely with streets of houses, and has more recently been redeveloped in parts for hospital expansion. This post presents two unconnected but differently surprising sites on this territory, one on either side of New Road.

London Action Resource Centre, 62 Fieldgate Street

This building has a remarkable chequered, yet consistent, and distinctly Whitechapelian history. It was erected in 1866–7 as a mission house and infants’ school for the parish of St Mary Matfelon Whitechapel. First plans were to extend on the garden of an existing house, but in July 1866 the Rev. James Cohen gained the London Hospital’s approval for complete rebuilding, displacing two houses on Charlotte Street (as the east end of Fieldgate Street was called until 1894), the second so that the top end of Parfett Street (formerly Nottingham Place and a cul-de-sac) could be narrowly opened up. The establishment was known variously as St Mary’s Mission House and the Charlotte Street Infants’ School, the building’s purpose signalled through the use of simple Gothic Revival forms. The originally single-storey rear range had high-silled segment-headed windows and a glazed roof to a room for mothers’ meetings, evening readings and mission work. It communicated with the main block through a wide pointed-arched opening. Double-iron handrails on the main block’s stairs seem designed to provide for young children. Mission use continued up to about 1918.

62 Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel, as built in 1866-7 as the Charlotte Street Infants’ School and Mission House. (from the parish of St Mary Matfelon’s annual report of 1883-4, Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives)

The building was next used for a few years by Jewish anarchists as an International Modern School, following the inspiration of libertarian and non-coercive ‘modern’ schools established in Barcelona by Francesc Ferrer I Guàrdia. Attendance rose to more than 100, but funding difficulties prevented longevity. Arbeter Fraynd (Worker’s Friend), a Yiddish radical weekly paper, and its Jubilee Street anarchists’ club premises had been shut down in 1915. For a time the building at 62 Fieldgate Street was also used as the New Worker’s Friend Club, and by the East London Anarchist Group.

In 1925 the building was converted into a synagogue for the Linus Hazedek and Bikur Cholim congregation, founded with a mission to help the sick, and moving here from Burslem Street on the other side of Commercial Road. Parfett Street had been further widened to the west in 1902–3, and a new door was formed in that side elevation in 1934, but the synagogue did not survive beyond the 1940s. Abraham Spitalowitch, a tailor, was in occupation by 1951, and other garment-makers passed through. Conversion works for continued rag-trade use that included raising of the former classroom to the rear were intended from 1978, but not carried through, though a shopfront for a showroom was inserted in 1981 for Sophia Fashions. Thereafter the building fell into dereliction.

The London Action Resource Centre, 62 Fieldgate Street, view from the north east in 2016. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

In 1999 a group arising from that decade’s Reclaim The Streets movement conceived the need for a base or action resource centre for direct-action and anarchist groups. Without awareness of the building’s history, 62 Fieldgate Street was purchased, largely through a single supporter with inherited wealth. Refurbishment works for office, workshop and library use as what was initially the Fieldgate Action Resource Centre were carried out in 2001–2 to plans by Anne Thorne Architects Partnership. These involved rebuilding and raising the rear section, which was given a roof garden. Figural graffiti on the shutters is by Stik.

Shuttered shopfront at 62 Fieldgate Street, with graffiti by Stik. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

Front door at 62 Fieldgate Street. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

The Survey of London gratefully acknowledges information supplied by Mark Kauri, Laura Oldfield Ford, Tina Papanikolaou and Aikaterina Karadima.

The Blizard Building, 4 Newark Street

This sleek glass-fronted block was constructed in 2003–5 to provide a medical research centre for Queen Mary University of London. It was designed by the late Will Alsop in collaboration with AMEC, with Adams Kara Taylor as structural engineers. The building occupies an extensive site on the London Hospital estate, bounded by Newark Street to the north, Turner Street to the east, and Walden Street to the south, with its western boundary abutting the university’s Abernethy Building and Biosciences Innovation Centre.

The Blizard Building, looking north in early 2018. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

The Blizard Building is composed of two narrow glass-clad steel-framed pavilions east and west, separated by a central paved yard. These discrete monolithic blocks are connected at first-floor level by a slender bridge encased in panels of bright pink and red glass, and an extensive concrete basement that engulfs the larger part of the footprint of the site. The glass cladding of the pavilions is adorned by a series of colourful panels designed by the artist Bruce Mclean, and incorporates words chosen by Professor Mike Curtis and Professor Fran Balkwill, scientists based at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University. The building is named in honour of Sir William Blizard, the eminent surgeon and one of the founders of the medical college which opened at the London Hospital in the 1780s.

The west elevation of the east pavilion of the Blizard Building, showing a few of the abstract panels designed by Bruce Mclean in collaboration with professors at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. The white elliptical Cloud pod is visible inside the building. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

The east pavilion of the Blizard Building comprises offices and study spaces skirting a large void, occupied by four pods of pioneering constructional complexity, each ‘playful, curvaceous, hollow and equally outlandish in different ways’. [1] Supported by a series of steel props and suspended steel hoops, Centre of the Cell is a two-storey children’s educational unit and exhibition space encased in an orange bubbling structure inspired by the nucleus of a cell. Its smooth surface contrasts markedly with Spiky, a prickly steel-framed structure zipped in a black PVC-coated polyester membrane. Both structures were designed and assembled in collaboration with Architen Landrell. Design & Display was contracted to produce Cloud, a steel-framed elliptical structure raised on steel legs, and Mushroom, an open deck supported by three vertical concrete posts. Cloud and Spiky contain spaces for seminars and meetings, and Mushroom is a staff social area.

The east pavilion of the Blizard Building, looking towards Spiky, a pod designed by Will Alsop in collaboration with Architen Landrell. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

The narrower west pavilion contains a double-height entrance foyer with a cafe, service plants, and a lecture theatre with tiered seating for 400 spectators. The large basement extends beneath the pavilions and the yard, receiving natural light from circular skylights and the light well in the east pavilion. It contains an assortment of open-plan and separate research laboratories.

The latest ‘neuron’ pod in the course of construction, May 2018. (Photographed by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

At the time of writing, a ‘neuron’ pod is in the course of installation at the north end of the bleak yard between the pavilions. Accessed via the central glazed bridge, this addition is intended to provide space for educational workshops, events and exhibitions. Designed by Will Alsop to represent a nerve cell, the new pod will be a prefabricated steel-framed structure resting on three legs, its main body encased in a steel skin sprouting acrylic fibres.

The Blizard Building from Turner Street, showing the reflection of the modern block of the Royal London Hospital and the Yvonne Carter Building, a neo-Georgian block of 1975–7 designed to imitate the scale and materials of houses built on the hospital’s estate in the nineteenth century. (Photograph by Derek Kendall for the Survey of London)

References

[1] Building, Vol. 270, No. 8383 (27 May 2005), pp. 38–45.

Whitechapel pubs (and a brewery)

the Survey ofLondon13 April 2018

As part of the Survey of London’s ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ project and for eventual publication in our Whitechapel volumes, Derek Kendall has been photographing the area. Lately, through the winter months, he has been concentrating his attention on pubs. These recent photographs illustrate a range of interiors and exteriors, some of better-known pubs and others less well known.

The Princess of Prussia Public House, 15 Prescot Street. Built in 1913 and a good example of an attractively legible Trumans façade. (© Derek Kendall)

Bar Indo, 133 Whitechapel Road. Built in 1854 as The Blue Anchor Public House after its predecessor was destroyed in a fire. Until the 1760s the pub on this site was called the David and Harp. (© Derek Kendall)

Interior of Bar Indo, 133 Whitechapel Road, recast with the front window in 1928 for Charringtons. The Blue Anchor sign is in storage above the entrance lobby. (© Derek Kendall)

View of bar with owners Peter and Katy Clarke. Bar Indo, 133 Whitechapel Road. (© Derek Kendall)

The Blind Beggar Public House, 337 Whitechapel Road. A Tudor ballad about Henry de Montfort, who died in the Battle of Evesham in 1265, imagined that he survived blinded to be rescued by a woman from Bethnal Green, where he ended his days begging. That parish once hosted other pubs of the same name. This establishment’s origins seem to be late seventeenth century. The present building dates from 1894 when it was erected to designs by Robert Spence, the engineer and architect to Mann, Crossman & Paulin. (© Derek Kendall)

The Blind Beggar, 337 Whitechapel Road. The blood-red ceilinged interior has been much remodelled. Latter-day notoriety turns around this pub being the site of the shooting of Georgie Cornell by Ronnie Kray in 1966. (© Derek Kendall)

Exterior of The White Swan Public House, Alie Street, Whitechapel. Originally built in the early nineteenth century, this pub’s fabric has undergone substantial changes since then. (© Derek Kendall)

The Brown Bear Public House, 139 Leman Street. This pub was in existence by 1745 and is said to have been rebuilt in 1830. (© Derek Kendall)

View from the east of The Black Horse Public House, 40 Leman Street. An inn and public house has stood on this site since the late seventeenth century. The present building appears to date from 1879. (© Derek Kendall)

View from the south of The White Hart Public House and Gunthorpe Street Passage. The White Hart is the only long-standing pub left on the north side of the High Street. On the corner of Gunthorpe Street, an alleyway established by the sixteenth century and formerly known as George Yard, it was certainly here by 1723, when sixteen apparently smuggled bushels of coffee ‘concealed in a Load of Faggots’, were confiscated from the yard of the White Hart Inn. The pub was probably rebuilt in the 1770s and its pilastered frontage dates from a modernisation of the 1830s. (© Derek Kendall)

Front bar of the White Hart Public House. The interior is typical Brewers’ Tudor, from further renovations in the 1920s and 1930s, with dark panelling and suburban-deco leaded-glass panels in the roof light in the rear bar. (© Derek Kendall)

View from the south of Albion Yard, formerly The Albion Brewery, 331–335 Whitechapel Road, which grew from origins in 1807 to become one of London’s major breweries under Mann, Crossman & Paulin, a major local employer and supplier up to closure in 1979. The brewery has been included here partly on account of its links to the longer-lived Blind Beggar public house immediately to its east. (© Derek Kendall)

View of the clock tower of Albion Yard, formerly The Albion Brewery, 331–335 Whitechapel Road. The Albion Brewery was established behind the Blind Beggar in 1807. It was rebuilt and extended in 1863–8 and 1894–1902 for Mann, Crossman & Paulin. In 1958 merger with Watney Combe Reid & Co. created Watney Mann but a restructuring scheme led to closure of the brewery in 1979. The building was converted to flats in 1993–5. (© Derek Kendall)

South elevation of Albion Yard, formerly The Albion Brewery, 331–335 Whitechapel Road. As The Buildings of England has it, this ‘brewhouse’ or fermenting house at the rear of the entrance courtyard is ’embellished in show-off Baroque style’. [1] That work of the late 1890s is likely due to Robert Spence, who was then Mann, Crossman & Paulin’s engineer and architect. The boldly sculpted St George and Dragon panel is the brewery’s trademark, a reference to the patron saint of Albion. (© Derek Kendall)

Reference

[1] Bridget Cherry, Charles O’Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 5: East, 2005, p. 431.

The Davenant Centre, 179–181 Whitechapel Road: part two

the Survey ofLondon23 March 2018

A previous blog post (2 March 2018) presented the history of the Davenant School in Whitechapel from the 1680s through to the rebuilding of the Whitechapel Road front building in 1818. The two centuries since are accounted for here. Following closure of the Davenant Centre in 2017, the future of the site seems uncertain.

Foundation School enlargement

The formation of the Charity Commissioners in 1853 led to amalgamation of Whitechapel’s parish charities and the building of a Whitechapel Charities Commercial School on Leman Street. The Education Act and three Endowed Schools Acts of the years around 1870 and growing demand for school places were further backdrops to protracted discussions between the Whitechapel Trustees and the Charity Commissioners. Eventually in 1888 the Whitechapel Charities (embracing St Mary’s School and the Leman Street School) and the Davenant School were merged to form the Whitechapel Foundation, unified in adhering to Church of England religious instruction and amply provided for by historic charitable endowments. What had been Davenant’s Endowed Free School on Whitechapel Road, which had gone through a rocky period, was henceforward the Foundation School, a secondary school for 250 boys which was to be improved with new buildings (and a specified need for a chemical laboratory and workshops). The elementary schools (St Mary’s and Leman Street) were now, confusingly, called the Davenant Schools.

Block plan showing Davenant and related school buildings and principal nearby sites as in 1953, buildings of 2016 in grey. (Drawing by Helen Jones for the Survey of London)

With the new scheme settled, meetings chaired by the Rev. Arthur James Robinson in 1888 quickly approved plans for new buildings by Frank Ponler Telfer, the 24-year old son of one of the new Foundation’s Governors, John Ashbridge Telfer, a pawnbroker of 88 Whitechapel High Street. Another Governor was John Ashbridge, a solicitor based on the south side of Whitechapel Road (where the East London Mosque now stands) and the brother of Arthur Ashbridge, the District Surveyor for Marylebone who on occasions also acted as a surveyor for the Whitechapel Foundation. They were cousins to John Ashbridge Telfer. Their fathers, John Simpson Ashbridge and Somerville Telfer (who married Maria Ashbridge), and grandfather, John Ashbridge, had all been East London pawnbrokers. John Ashbridge and J. A. Telfer were the only Governors besides Robinson to attend a meeting with the Charity Commissioners in July 1888. The young Frank Ponler Telfer, whose mother Mary Ann was the daughter of John Ponler, a Wapping timber merchant, identified himself as a surveyor. He had served an apprenticeship in the City with George Andrew Wilson, architect and surveyor, during which the firm, as Wilson, Son & Aldwinckle, had in 1881 overseen alterations to the Duke’s Head public house immediately east of the school.

Engraved view of the Whitechapel Foundation School, as designed by Frank Ponler Telfer in 1893. (Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives)

A first complication to arise in 1890 was to do with the loss of light and air to the west of the school with the building of the Victoria Home (rebuilt in 1995–6 for the Salvation Army as Victoria Court at 177 Whitechapel Road). Arthur Ashbridge dealt with this and Telfer prepared new plans for what was to be called a Commercial School, now working with a new headmaster, Henry Carter. In 1891 the Governors split five to four against a new roadside building and in favour of a new building in the ‘garden’ (the playground and former burial ground), envisaging the road frontage being freed up for shops. Land along Old Montague Street was purchased to supplement what was already owned and four courts of small houses were cleared. On behalf of the Charity Commissioners Ewan Christian approved building in the playground, seemingly unaware that this would contravene the Disused Burial Grounds Act; his suggestions were otherwise largely bypassed. In 1892 nine firms of architects were invited to submit anonymised plans for a building behind the old school on the playground, to be on ‘columns and girders’ for an open ground floor so as not to lose the play space. Five schemes were received. That by Telfer was selected as the best, his father being one of the four inspectors. Other local architects, John C. Hudson and Herbert O. Ellis, placed second and third respectively. Telfer worked up his scheme in 1893 and building work followed in 1894–5 with J. S. Hammond and Son of Romford as contractors. Telfer was asked to ensure that the words ‘The East London Commercial School’ should appear in the floor and that a tablet should commemorate the governors. But the Charity Commissioners disapproved of the name and insisted it be the Whitechapel Foundation School. Fitting out followed in 1896. Already in 1898 most of the sixth-form boys were of Jewish origin, fathers being teachers of Hebrew, a furrier, waterproof manufacturer, butcher, tailor, and poultry and horse slaughterers, coming from as far as Stoke Newington, Camberwell and Upton Park.

The assembly hall with covered playground and staircase of 1894–5 from the south in 2017. (Photograph by Shahed Saleem for the Survey of London)

Stylistically ‘splendid Neo-Jacobean’, [1]  perhaps influenced by E. W. Mountford, Telfer’s two-storey building is of red brick with terracotta dressings, including mullion and transom windows, some with leaded lights, and scrolled gables. The competition brief forced formal ingenuity and resulted in a distinctive parti that is something of an architectural statement, albeit devised from Board School precedents. The ground-floor covered playground was outwardly articulated by arcaded piers. Within, cylindrical cast-iron columns and composite girders support the superstructure. The five-bay east–west assembly hall is grandly gabled – an intended flèche was vetoed by Christian. It has an arch-braced and barrel-vaulted wagon ceiling with turned tie beams and king posts. The south façade was visible from the passage through the old building across a now cleared yard, and the hall was approached by an eye-catching covered staircase with a stepped open arcade. This had been designed to be central, but was moved to the east bay and given a lobby at its head at the building committee’s suggestion, presumably for the sake of a larger yard. A nine-bay north–south range housed six classrooms and staff accommodation.

The covered staircase of 1894–5 from the west in 2017 (photograph by Shahed Saleem for the Survey of London)

Telfer was evidently accomplished, but despite this youthful opportunity his career did not take off. He identified himself in 1901 as an auctioneer, no longer a surveyor. He died in 1907, age 43.

The assembly hall and staircase of 1894–5, south elevation and north-south section looking east. (Drawings by Helen Jones based on record drawings prepared for the Greater London Council in 1984)

From 1900 to 1980

The London County Council and the Board of Education imposed alterations and the addition of a Neo-Georgian north range parallel to Old Montague Street in 1908–9. Designed by Arthur W. Cooksey, this provided four more classrooms, a physics laboratory and an art room. There was no space or money for a gymnasium, but an enclosed fives court was added in 1915–17. This seems to betoken a consciousness of status in what became the Davenant Foundation School in 1928. It was, however, one of the smallest secondary schools in London and the only one unable to provide hot dinners. At the behest of the LCC, negotiations for an amalgamation or a move away from Whitechapel began in 1937, but these were interrupted by war and evacuation. There were wartime alterations to the front range for use as a centre for the Heavy Rescue Service. In the early 1950s voluntary-aid grammar-school status was granted and, despite a falling roll, a new range was added along Old Montague Street for a biology lab, library and two additional classrooms. As one pupil of the 1950s has recalled, ‘there was a large Jewish contingent who had to endure Christian hymns and prayers at morning assemblies. Many of us were already atheists so that side of things just washed over us!’ [2]

Meanwhile, in the face of a decreasing local population, the LCC planned comprehensive redevelopment of the area. The school moved to Loughton, Essex, in 1965, a shift first suggested by the Ministry of Education in 1956. The Greater London Council’s Inner London Education Authority took the Whitechapel site and up to 1971 it was used for Walbrook College’s East London College of Commerce. The Victorian Society, Ancient Monuments Society and GLC Historic Buildings Division resisted a plan for clearance behind the already listed front building, use as a youth centre being suggested. This led to the listing in 1973 of the assembly hall and its staircase. Plans in 1975 to convert the school buildings to be an old persons’ club for the intended ‘Davenant Street’ housing development came to nothing and demolition north of the hall block ensued.

Davenant Centre

A scheme for refurbishment of the two surviving school buildings to be a community centre emerged from the GLC in 1984. In a project spearheaded by George Nicholson, Chair of the Planning Committee in the GLC’s last and defiantly radical days, more than £1m was made available for the formation of the Davenant Centre. This ‘community resources and training centre’ was to extend to include a new building on the empty site at 181–185 Whitechapel Road, all to house eight local groups: the Asian Unemployed Outreach Project, Dishari Shilpi Ghosti (musicians who had left the scene by 1988), the Federation of Bangladeshi Youth Organisations, the Progressive Youth Organisation, Tower Hamlets Advanced Technology Training, the Tower Hamlets Trades Council, the Tower Hamlets Training Forum, and the Jagonari Asian Women’s Resource Centre (which ended up with the adjacent new building – that is another story). With the Historic Buildings Division in close attendance, plans for the adaptation of the listed buildings were drawn up in 1984–5 by Julian Harrap Architects with Peter Stocker as job architect. Harry Neal Ltd carried out the building works in 1985–7, completion coming after the abolition of the GLC and despite an attempt by Westminster City Council to stop the works. The open ground floor under the hall was largely enclosed and the front block gained new stairs and partitions, an upper-storey tiered lecture room being preserved. The Centre’s Chair was Manuhar Ali and Adam Lazarus was its Development Worker. First use was as a youth club and for computer training, welfare advice, trade-union offices and meetings in the assembly hall. There was no reliable source of revenue so the hall had to be advertised for hire and the centre opened as a music venue in 1990.

View to the back of the Davenant Centre’s front building in 2017. (Photograph by Shahed Saleem for the Survey of London)

The Davenant Centre could not sustain itself. Led by Aliur Rahman it was obliged to instigate a further conversion in 2002. Carried out in 2005–6 through ESA Architects (Nic Sampson, job architect), Peter Brett Associates, consulting engineers, and Killby & Gayford, contractors, this introduced much more lettable office use, retaining space for a youth club on the west part of the front block’s ground floor. To maximise floor space a mezzanine floor was inserted, the loft was converted, and a glazed staircase in a ‘cylindrical pod’ was added to the rear. The 1890s hall was also adapted for office use, the interior retained. Despite debts and with support from Tower Hamlets Council the complex continued as the Davenant Centre up to 2017 when, rents having increased, it was obliged to close.

1. Bridget Cherry, Charles O’Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 5: East, 2005, p. 400.

2. ‘Davenant Foundation Grammar School’, Survey of London Whitechapel, July 2017.