The Survey of London
  • Survey of London
  • A A A

    White Church Lane, Whitechapel

    By the Survey of London, on 21 October 2016

    White Church Lane is a last redoubt of Whitechapel’s rag trade, still (or until very recently – it’s hard to be up-to-the-minute) sporting shopfronts pertaining to manufacturers and wholesalers: Tip Top Casual Wear, K. K. Hosiery Ltd, Raw Blue Ltd, N.E.W.S. Urban, Mekyle (Bayfield Trading Ltd), Denim World, Alish (wholesale jewellery and accessories), HIP HOP Collections (wholesalers of American street wear), Senior Style Ltd, Abraham Posh Lady London. There is also an efflorescence of street art, work from 2012 facilitated by Global Street Art’s negotiations with property owners.

    The road’s origins are as the north end of Church Lane, the only north-south route through the parish, in existence by the seventeenth century to link Well Close to Whitechapel High Street. The northern stretch may not have been much built up until the 1660s and back building suggests density and low status – Church Rents or Maidenhead Court (later Dyer’s Yard), and Hatchet Alley (later Spectacle Alley, now Whitechurch Passage) which had Adam and Eve Court on its south side, and there was Back Yard off the lane’s west side. All this had gone by 1800. Eighteenth-century property holders included Joel Johnson, the carpenter and architect who worked on local churches and the London Hospital. There was a sugar house near the north end and the Fir Tree public house was at the south end of the east side, adjacent to a site taken in the 1840s for John Furze’s St George’s Brewery (subsequently Johnny Walker’s St George’s Bond, now Hult International Business School). The north end of Church Lane’s east side was redeveloped in the early 1850s and the south end was obliterated by extension of the Commercial Road in 1869–70. Redevelopment since has been piecemeal, with a central section of the east side replaced in 2000-2 by the Naylor West flats, designed by Michael Squire and Partners for Ballymore Properties. That block’s artless greyness was a herald of cleansing, and sites at the street’s south end on both sides are now destined to host tower-block flats.

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume 4-8 White Church Lane, Whitechapel. View from west. 4-8 White Church Lane, buildings of the 1850s with street art of 2012 (© Derek Kendall).

    4-8 White Church Lane, buildings of the 1850s with painted shutters of 2012 (© Derek Kendall, 2016).

    The north end of the street’s east side is anchored by what was St Mary’s Clergy House, now a Japanese restaurant, a building of 1894–5, Herbert O. Ellis, architect, that was an adjunct to the parish church that stood on the site of Altab Ali Park (see blog post of 15 April 2016). Next door, No. 4 of 1852–3 was built to be a sale room for Isaac Bird, auctioneer. Hunto has painted its shutter. A workshop behind an entrance passage at No. 4A was built in 1899–1900 for William Nay, a mirror manufacturer, and converted to be a necktie factory in the 1920s. The front-door shutter has a figure by Tizer. Next door at No. 6 the shutter art is by 2Rise, whose tag has also been prominent on the south side of Whitechurch Passage. Nos 8 and 10 were built in 1852 by Jabez Single of New Road, houses with shops first occupied by Mark Berry, a zinc and tinplate worker, and James Fullerton Barber, a printer. Alterations and extensions to the rear were made for a bedding factory that was later a silk-screen and joiners’ workshop. Dining rooms at No. 12, run by Alfonso Pappalardo in the 1930s, were held from the early 1940s to the early 1950s by Narian Singh for one of the area’s first Asian-run restaurants. At the time Bonn & Co Ltd had a large biscuit warehouse behind Nos 16–32.

     

    P1180491 adjusted

    Kirstein Mansions, 34-40 White Church Lane, shops, tenements and workrooms of 1911 built for Solomon Kirstein (© Derek Kendall).

    Solomon Kirstein’s letterhead, showing 29 Commercial Road (Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, Building Control file 41978) and Kirstein Mansions, 34-40 White Church Lane, shops, tenements and workrooms of 1911 built for Solomon Kirstein (© Derek Kendall, 2016).

    A house and shop at No. 34 were the premises of Henry Bear, a tobacco manufacturer here from the 1840s to the 1880s. He acquired the freehold of the buildings on the sites of Nos 34–40 and an empty site at 29–31A Commercial Road and in 1901 a lease was transferred to Solomon Kirstein, a printer based at No. 38. By 1902 Kirstein had built three three-storey houses or workrooms with shops at Nos 29–31A, with Herbert O. Ellis as his architect. Kirstein took the shop at No. 29, living above with his wife, three children and a servant. It was not until 1911 that Kirstein redeveloped his Church Lane frontage as Kirstein Mansions, shops, tenements and upper-storey workrooms, this time with John Hamilton & Son, architects. Around 1970 David Abraham began selling knitwear at No. 34. In 2015 the David Abraham Partnership put forward a redevelopment scheme for the whole site proposing a seventeen-storey tower designed by Stock Woolstencroft.

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume 3 White Church Lane, with embellishments of 2012 (© Derek Kendall).

    3 White Church Lane, with embellishments of 2012 (© Derek Kendall, 2016).

    On White Church Lane’s west side a small bomb-damage replacement building of c.1960 at No. 3 was decorated in 2012. The entrance-door shutter has wings by Probs, and the south return to Whitechurch Passage a head by Hunto and ‘The Lady’, a low-relief ceramic by ChinaGirl Tile.

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume Whitechurch Passage, Whitechapel. Wall art of old woman raking up money, by artist "China Girl."

    ‘The Lady’, by ChinaGirl Tile (© Derek Kendall, 2016). 

    Further south, first-floor blind arcading in a little-altered stock brick front at No. 17 was built around 1840 for Charles Marshall, a veterinary surgeon who probably dealt largely with horses. The shop is infill of what was an open carriageway into the twentieth century. Stables to the rear were rebuilt for Marshall’s successors. Around 1880 Simon Cohen, a pastry cook based at No. 32 across the road, established a refuge for homeless immigrant Jews in a house at No. 19. Named the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter, its  closure as insanitary in 1885 led to fundraising that permitted the establishment of better premises on Leman Street. Other properties continued to be used as ad hoc refuges or lodging houses. In late 1885 a Shelter employee took five immigrants from Brest-Litovsk to 11 Church Lane, then occupied by Paul Meczyk, a printer, only for them to be turned out on to the street. By 1891, in which year he fell out with the Shelter Committee, Cohen had converted the house at No. 19 to be a ‘Beth Hamedresh’ (Study Circle and Synagogue). He acted as his own builder and carried out further works in 1895–6. But this did not last. In 1898–9 Jacob King redeveloped the site with 9 Manningtree (formerly Colchester) Street; Arthur C. Payne was his architect. On the corner (No. 21) there was a Horse and Groom pub by 1760. The two-storey pub that had been run by Henry Levy was rebuilt for King in 1902 to designs by Ralph J. Miller, architect. It was a Truman, Hanbury & Buxton pub by 1910.

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume 29 Commercial Road at junction with White Church Lane, Whitechapel. View from east.

    19-37 White Church Lane and 27 Commercial Road, demolished 2016 (© Derek Kendall, 2016). 

    Fishel K. Abrahamson converted a house at No. 29 to be a synagogue in 1895–6, and nineteenth-century houses at Nos 35–37 were part rebuilt and perhaps refronted in 1915. The four-storey corner warehouse that was 27 Commercial Road had been built in 1872–3 and more warehousing went up to its west in 1876–8 at No. 27A which accommodated Hyam Goldstein’s cap factory, then Aaram Bagel’s boot factory, Burstein Isaac & Co.’s cigarette factory, and tea packing. Nos 29–33 Church Lane and 27A Commercial Road were redeveloped in 1936–7, with George Coles as architect for M. Freedman, a gown manufacturer. Coles is best known as a cinema architect, and there was a faint echo of his Art Deco skills in the façade fenestration of the factory and showroom block. Shutter painting of 2012 here was by Malarky, Chase and Billy. A scheme for redevelopment of Nos 29–37 and 27–27A Commercial Road was prepared in 2012, approved in 2014 and refined in 2016 prior to clearance of the whole site, now complete. Plans initiated by Reef Estates Aldgate Ltd propose a 270-bedroom hotel in a 21-storey tower to be operated by Motel One, a German firm. The architects are Stock Woolstencroft.

    The Survey of London has launched a participative website titled ‘Histories of Whitechapel’. Please visit at https://surveyoflondon.org.

    The Church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel: part one

    By the Survey of London, on 10 June 2016

    The first church on the site that is now Altab Ali Park was built in the mid thirteenth century, dedicated to Mary and from the outset identified as ‘de Matefelun’. This, which became Matfelon, may derive from a family name; Richard Matefelun, a wine merchant, is said to have been present in the area in 1230. If this is the derivation (matfelon as meaning knapweed is the least preposterous of numerous suggested alternatives), it was presumably in recognition of a pious benefaction, maybe prompted by local need. There was significant population growth in the area, and the existing parish church of St Dunstan, Stepney, was distant.

    Archaeological evidence indicates that the church was of clunch or white chalk rubble. It thus, no doubt, came to be known as the ‘white chapel’, an appellation in use by 1344. Clunch was not uncommon in medieval churches, especially east and north of London, but it is friable so was often mixed with other materials. The church was reportedly wrecked in a storm and restored in 1362 thanks, it is said, to a papal Bull negotiated by the absentee rector, Sir David Gower, a Canon of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, that promised sinners a remission of penance for visiting Whitechapel with an offering. There were four priests in 1416 indicating a large congregation or at least a prospering parish. Documentation of legacies and archaeology both point to fifteenth-century improvements, to doors and windows if not more. Exceptionally, there were no chantries at the Reformation, when, in 1548, there were 670 communicants.

    View of the 1670s church (Reproduced by kind permission of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives).

    View of the 1670s church (Reproduced by kind permission of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives). If you are having problems viewing images, please click here.

    Little is known of the form of this medieval church. It appears to have had a four-bay nave to which a three-stage tower and a north aisle and porch might have been fifteenth-century additions. A south ‘aisle’ was added in 1591. This was, it seems, separately roofed, and almost as tall as the nave. More a room than an aisle it would have generated not just more seating for a growing congregation, but also a more auditory and less processional interior. That would have been in keeping with the Calvinist conventions of the late sixteenth century that were strongly represented in east London, where Protestantism sparked early. These norms were firmly upheld by Richard Gardiner, Whitechapel’s rector from 1570 to 1617. Prominent among Elizabethan puritans, Gardiner was embroiled in high-level religious–political controversy in the immediate run up to the extension of his church in 1591. Tellingly, during his time the vestry sold off the church organ.

    In 1618 William Crashawe, another outspoken and leading London puritan, became Whitechapel’s rector. He oversaw the insertion of a gallery in the south aisle which suggests that capacity was already again stretched. It bore a panel to celebrate the failure in 1623 of the Spanish Match. Crashawe died in 1626, preceded by 1,100 of his parishioners in the plague year of 1625. His successor in what his will called the ‘too greate Parishe’ of Whitechapel was John Johnson, another puritan, but one who married the daughter (Judith Meggs) of a wealthy parishioner in 1627 and trimmed thereafter to align with the anti-Calvinist tide headed by Bishop William Laud. Johnson moved the communion table to the east end of the church, and undertook beautifying repairs in 1633–4 with £300 raised from parishioners and more from the Haberdashers’ Company, which in making the grant took into account the relative poverty of the parish.

    Laud had strong local opposition and Johnson was among the first London clergy to be deprived of his living in 1641. Thomas Lambe’s General Baptists, formed in Whitechapel at this time, were ‘easily the most visible and notorious of all sectarian congregations in London’. [1] After contested elections for parish overseers and violent confrontations in the church in 1646, Whitechapel’s Independents gained control and gathered under a new rector, Thomas Walley. When the tables turned at the Restoration in 1660 Johnson was reinstated and a schism resulted, most of the congregation departing to a meeting house in Brick Lane. In 1662 Walley was arrested preaching elsewhere in Whitechapel; he soon after emigrated to New England. Johnson was revealed as corrupt and deprived of his living in 1668, chiefly through the agency of his son-in-law, Ralph Davenant, who became Whitechapel’s next rector. A fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and a descendant of Bishop John Davenant, the moderate Calvinist who had represented the English church at the synod of Dort in 1618, he was also a cousin to the historian Thomas Fuller.

    Plan of the Church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel, as rebuilt in 1672-3.

    Plan of the Church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel, as rebuilt in 1672-3 (© Historic England).

    Under Davenant the largely medieval church was rebuilt in 1672–3. The principal benefactor was William Meggs, who had the parish’s largest house where Johnson, his brother-in-law, had lodged in the 1650s. Meggs had been a member of Johnson’s vestry from 1660. These links with Johnson notwithstanding, Crashawe’s panel of 1623 was relocated onto the new south gallery and a monument to Crashawe himelf was conspicuously re-erected on the north wall. Puritan inheritance was not obscured.

    In its architectural form the new brick-built church represented a rapprochement with moderate Nonconformity. It reused some old footings and lower parts of the tower, but in its regular cross-in-rectangle plan with shallow transept projections, it closely followed pre-Restoration Calvinist models at Westminster Broadway and Poplar (now the Church of St Matthias). While architects and builders remain unknown, there are circumstantial reasons for suspecting involvement on the part of Robert Hooke. The assuredly, if impurely, classical auditory interior was light and spacious. Though centralized, it had an east-west axis emphasized by three ribbed cross vaults supported by Portland stone Corinthian columns. There was a step up to the chancel, otherwise only articulated by the inclusion of flanking vestries. Shallow north and south galleries were probably original.

    Davenant was succeeded in 1681 by Dr William Payne, a latitudinarian, fellow of the Royal Society and leading Whig among London clergy who was keen to embrace dissenters. The liturgical politics of Whitechapel changed dramatically in 1697 with the appointment of the Rev. Richard Welton, a high-church Tory and Jacobite. Welton attacked Nonconformity and spurned the area’s recent Huguenot immigrants: ‘This set of rabble are the very offal of the earth, who cannot be content to be safe here from that justice and beggary from which they fled, and to be fattened on what belongs to the poor of our own land to grow rich at our expense, but must needs rob us of our religion too.’ When this was quoted by G. Reginald Balleine in 1898 he added ‘how blind this prejudice was … May we learn the obvious lesson for ourselves!’. [2] Harking back to the Laudian spirit, Welton made beautifying alterations, moving the font and altering pews, and attracted controversy in 1713 when he placed a painting of the Last Supper by John Fellowes in the church as an altarpiece. Judas was prominently represented as a likeness of Bishop White Kennett, an antagonist of Welton’s. Through the Bishop of London, Kennett saw to the altarpiece’s removal in 1714. The same phase of works included an organ by Christopher Schreider, perhaps also the west gallery in which it stood. The organ case was later described as ‘carved and gilt, with carved oak trusses and gilt cherubim, surmounted by four richly-carved and gilt figures’ [3] The gallery front sported a finely carved wood panel depicting King David playing the harp flanked by musical instruments. This survives close by in the church of St Botolph Aldgate. Refusing to swear loyalty to the Hanoverian succession, Welton was deprived of his position in 1715.

    A few fragments from the churches survive, including this carved wood panel of King David with music instruments that was made to grace the front of an organ gallery in 1713-15, now close by in St Botolph Aldgate

    A few fragments from the church survive, including this carved wood panel of King David with musical instruments that was made to grace the front of an organ gallery in 1713-15, now close by in St Botolph Aldgate.

    Under a succession of latitudinarian rectors Whitechapel’s church appears to have steered clear of further controversy making it a quieter but duller place. It was repaired and beautified in 1735 and again repaired, in what was a wealthy parish, with funds raised through an Act of Parliament in 1762–3 when the tower, possibly unstable, was to have been cased in Portland stone – it was probably rendered instead. The clock stage gained aedicules and a large cupola took the place of a small bell turret. Similarities with the exactly contemporary St George’s German Lutheran Church on Alie Street suggest that the carpenter–architect Joel Johnson may have been in charge of this project. He had property, perhaps a home, round the corner on what is now Whitechurch Lane.

    There were further expensive repairs in 1805–6, with James Carr as surveyor. Structural rescue involving iron tie rods followed in 1825–6, with John Shaw (the elder) the surveyor this time. Even so, the tower became dangerous. James Savage acted as surveyor for yet further repairs in 1829–30. In 1839 Edward Blore reported on the state of the church and recommended rebuilding. Discussion was adjourned for a year, but not resumed, the notion presumably deemed too costly.

    From 1837 to 1860 the Rev. William Weldon Champneys was Whitechapel’s rector. An evangelical, he started with a congregation of about 100, in a population of 36,000, and by 1851 had built attendances up to more than 4,000 across three services on a Sunday. He brought numerous reforms to Whitechapel, from a Sunday School and Mothers’ Meeting, to a Coal Club and Shoe Black Brigade, attempted to convert Whitechapel’s many Jews, and battled cholera and house farmers. Champneys also divided the parish, founding three new churches.

    The tower was again and for the last time repaired in 1865. The subsequent history of the church will follow in a second post.

    References

    [1] Murray Tolmie, The triumph of the saints: the separate churches of London, 1616–49, 1977, p.76

    [2] G. Reginald Balleine, The Story of St Mary Matfelon, 1898, p.22

    [3] The Builder, 30. Jan. 1875, p.93