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    Two curiosities on the London Hospital estate in Whitechapel

    By the Survey of London, on 6 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 Bell Foundry

    By the Survey of London, on 9 December 2016

    On 2 December it was announced that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry will close in May 2017. This will mark the end of what has been a remarkable story. Business cards claim the bell foundry as ‘Britain’s oldest manufacturing company’ and ‘the world’s most famous bell foundry’ – the first not readily contradicted, the second unverifiable but plausible. It has been said that the foundry ‘is so connected with the history of Whitechapel that it would be impossible to move it without wanton disregard of the associations of many generations.’[1] The business, principally the making of church bells, has operated continuously in Whitechapel since at least the 1570s, on its present site with the existing house and office buildings since the mid 1740s.

    Project: Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Exterior, view fron north.

    Shopfront at the east end of 32–34 Whitechapel Road in 2010 (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    The foundry’s origins have been traced to either Robert Doddes in 1567 or Robert Mot in 1572, giving rise to a traditional foundation date of 1570. It is said then to have been in Essex Court (later Tewkesbury Court, where Gunthorpe Street is now). There is no continuous thread, but it has also been suggested that the Elizabethan establishment had grown out of a foundry in Aldgate that can be tracked back to Stephen Norton in 1363.

    Project: Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Exterior, view fron north east.

    Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 2010, from the north-east at the corner of Whitechapel Road and Plumber’s Row (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    From 1701 Richard Phelps was in charge. He made the great (5¼ ton) clock bell for St Paul’s Cathedral in 1716. When he died in August 1738 he was succeeded by Thomas Lester, aged about 35, who had been his foreman. It has been supposed that within the year Lester had moved the foundry into new buildings on the present site on Whitechapel Road, a belief which can be traced to Amherst Tyssen’s account of the history of the foundry in 1923, where he related that ‘according to the tradition preserved in the foundry and communicated to me by Mr John Mears more than sixty years ago, Thomas Lester built the present foundry in the year 1738 and moved his business to it. The site was said to have been previously occupied by the Artichoke Inn.[2] That has never been corroborated and it is implausible as such a move would take more than a few months.

    bell foundry ground floor plan

    Ground-floor plan of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    Contemporary documentation suggests a slightly later date for the move. An advertisement in the Daily Advertiser of 31 August 1743 reads: ‘To be let on a Building Lease, The Old Artichoke Alehouse, together with the House adjoining, in front fifty feet, and in Depth a hundred and six, situated in Whitechapel Street, the Corner turning into Stepney Fields.’ Those measurements tally well with the foundry site. Stepney Manor Court Rolls (at London Metropolitan Archives) refer to ‘the Artichoke Alehouse, late in the occupation of John Cowell now empty’ on 8 April 1743 and to ‘a new built messuage now in possession of Thomas Leicester, formerly two old houses’ on 15 May 1747. A sewer rates listing of February 1743/4 does not mention Lester at the site. The advertised building lease was no doubt taken by or sold on to Lester, who undertook redevelopment of the site in 1744–6, clearing the Artichoke. The motive for the move would have been the opportunity for a larger foundry and superior accommodation on this more easterly and therefore open site.

    Project: Hidden London Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Exterior, roofscape over house.

    View of the Bell Foundry’s workshops from the roof of the front range, looking south in 2010 (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    The seven-bay brick range that is 32 and 34 Whitechapel Road is a single room deep with three rooms in line on each storey, all heated from the back wall. It was built to be Lester’s house and has probably always incorporated an office. The Doric doorcase appears to be an original feature, while the shopfront at the east end is of the early nineteenth century, either an insertion or a replacement. Internally the house retains much original fielded panelling, a good original staircase, chimneypieces of several eighteenth- and nineteenth-century dates and, in the central room on the first floor, a fine apsidal niche cupboard. Behind the east end is 2 Fieldgate Street, a separately built house of just one room per storey, perhaps for a foreman. Its Gibbsian door surround is of timber, as is its back wall.

    Project: Hidden London Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Interior of shop with casting profile of Big Ben over door..

    The ground-floor front ‘lobby’ (former shop) at 34 Whitechapel Road in 2010, showing the casting profile of Big Ben over the front door (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    Eighteenth-century outbuildings to the south are single storeyed: a former stables, coach-house and smithery range along Fieldgate Street; and the former foundry (latterly moulding shop) itself, across a yard behind the west part of the house. Facing the street on the former stabling range is a tablet inscribed: ‘This is Baynes Street’ with an illegible date, perhaps 1766, a reference to what later became Fieldgate Street. This junction, which now incorporates Plumber’s Row, bisected property owned by Edward Baynes from 1729.

    Project: Hidden London Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Etxrior, side elevation to Plumbers Row.

    Plumber’s Row range in 2010 (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    Tablet inscribed ‘This is Baynes Street’ on the foundry’s former stabling range (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    Thomas Lester took Thomas Pack into partnership in 1752 and acquired ownership of the foundry from a younger Edward Baynes in 1767. Lester’s nephew William Chapman was a foundry foreman who, working at Canterbury Cathedral in 1762, met William Mears, a young man he brought back to London to learn the bell-founding trade. Lester died in 1769 and left the foundry to relatives to be leased to Pack and Chapman as partners. After Pack died in 1781 Chapman was pushed out and for a few years descendants of Lester ran the establishment. Their initiative failed and William Mears returned in partnership with his brother Thomas, who came to Whitechapel from Canterbury. Ownership of the property remained divided among descendants of Lester and in 1810 Thomas Mears was still trading as ‘late Lester, Pack and Chapman’. On a promotional sheet he listed all the bells cast at the foundry since 1738, 1,858 in total, around 25 per year – including some for St Mary le Bow in 1738, Petersburg in Russia in 1747, and Christ Church, Philadelphia, in 1754.

    Project: Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Exerior, bells in courtyard.

    Inner yard of the bell foundry, looking north-west in 2010 (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    A son, also Thomas Mears, acquired full control of the foundry in October 1818 when Lester’s descendants sold up. The younger Mears took over the businesses of four rival bell-founders and undertook works of improvement. By 1840 the firm had only one major competitor in Britain (W. & J. Taylor of Oxford and Loughborough). The next generation, Charles and George Mears, ran the foundry from 1844 to 1859, the highlight of this period being the casting in 1858 of Big Ben (13.7 tons), still the foundry’s largest bell. From 1865 George Mears was partnered by Robert Stainbank. Thereafter the business traded as Mears & Stainbank up to 1968. Arthur Hughes became the foundry manager in 1884 and took charge of operations in 1904.

    Project: Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Exerior, bells in courtyard.

    Inner yard of the bell foundry, looking south in 2010 (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    Given the ownership history, there was little significant investment in the buildings before 1818. However, the smithery end of the eastern outbuilding does appear to have been altered if not rebuilt between 1794 and 1813. Around 1820 a small pair of three-storey houses was added beyond a gateway that gave access to the foundry yard. There are also early nineteenth-century additions behind the centre and west bays of the main house, the last room incorporating a chimneypiece bearing ‘TM 1820’. Thereafter, possibly following a fire in 1837 or in the 1850s, the smithery site was redeveloped as a three-storey workshop/warehouse block extending across a retained gateway. In 1846 the foundry was enlarged with a new furnace by enclosing the south end of the yard, to make an 11.5 ton bell for Montreal Cathedral. Another furnace was added in 1848 when a tuning machine was housed in a specially built room that ate further into the yard with a largely glazed north wall. Two years later a 62ft-tall chimney was erected against the south wall. A large additional workshop or back foundry had been added to the far south-west by the 1870s, by when the pair of houses to the south-east had been cleared for a carpenter’s shop, the front wall retained with its doors and windows blocked. The whole Plumber’s Row range has latterly been used for making handbells and timber bell wheels.

    Project: Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Interior, hand bell blanks.

    Handbell workshop in 2010 (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    Project: Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Interior, casting room, preparing the moulds.

    Moulding shop, showing moulds being prepared in 2010 (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    The back foundry was damaged during the Second World War. Proposals to rebuild entirely behind the Whitechapel Road houses emerged in 1958 by when the foundry was already protected by listing. The workshops were considered expendable, but even then it was suggested that the timber jib crane on the east wall should be preserved. First plans were shelved and a more modest scheme of 1964–5 was postponed for want of capital, though plant and furnaces were replaced and there were repairs. In 1972 Moss Sprawson tried to acquire the site for office development. For the foundry, Douglas Hughes (one of Arthur’s grandsons) proposed a move east across Fieldgate Street to what was then a car park owned by the Greater London Council. A move entirely out of London was also considered. The GLC’s Historic Buildings Division involved itself in trying to maintain what it considered ‘a unique and important living industry where crafts essentially unchanged for 400 years are practised by local craftsmen.’[3] But plans came unstuck again in 1976 when the GLC conceded it had no locus to help keep the business in situ. In the same year the UK gave the USA a Bicentennial Bell cast in Whitechapel.

    A large new engineering workshop was at last built in 1979–81, with James Strike as architect. At the back of the site, it was faced with arcaded yellow stock brick on conservation grounds. In 1984–5 the GLC oversaw and helped pay for underpinning and refurbishment of the front buildings. The shopfront was grained and the external window shutters were renewed and painted dark green. In 1997 proprietorship passed to Douglas Hughes’s nephew, Alan Hughes, and his wife, Kathryn. The foundry has since continued to manufacture, though not without growing concerns as to its tenability in Whitechapel. Now the Hughes have announced that the foundry will close in May 2017 after sale of the site. The future of the business is to be negotiated.

    We are very grateful to Alan Hughes for showing us round the premises and sharing his knowledge of the foundry.

    The Survey of London has launched a participative website, ‘Histories of Whitechapel’. Please visit at: https://surveyoflondon.org. We welcome contributions from any and all. For more information about the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and to add your memories and photographs, please visit https://surveyoflondon.org/map/feature/155/detail/.

    Project: Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Interior, casting room, filling the moulds.

    Sand foundry, filling the moulds in 2010 (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    Project: Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Interior, bell tuning room.

    Tuning shop in 2010 (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    Project: Site: Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, Tower Hamlets, London. Interior, bell store, recently cast bells.

    Bell recast in 2010 (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

    References

    [1] D. L. Munby, Industry and Planning in Stepney, 1951, p. 254

    [2] Amherst D. Tyssen, ‘The History of the Whitechapel Bell-Foundry’, Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, vol. 5, 1923, p. 211

    [3] London Metropolitan Archives, LMA/4441/01/0821