E1: You either see it or you don’t

E1 is the start of the real East End. It is a challenge as there is so much of interest to see. I have therefore focussed on the area from Whitechapel to Spitalfields, and even then I have had to leave out some things which I would loved to have mentioned.

We start our walk at Whitechapel Post Office, 208A- 210 Whitechapel Road. Turn right out of the Post Office and our first stop is a little way along on the other side of the road.

Stop 1: Former Mann’s Albion Brewery

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According to architectural guru Pevsner, a brew house was established here in 1808 by the landlord of the nearby Blind Beggar pub.  In 1818, two Lambeth brewers, Blake and Mann, bought the lease. Philip Blake retired in 1826 leaving John Mann to run the business alone. The Company’s name changed to John Mann, Brewer and in 1843 to Mann and Sons. Mann soon got new partners during the 1840s with Robert Crossman and Thomas Paulin. The company’s name then changed to Mann, Crossman & Paulin Ltd – as you just about see on this picture.

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By the 1950s, five generations of the Mann and Crossman families had been associated with the brewing and “Mann’s Brown Ale” was perhaps their best known product.

In 1959 the company merged with Watney, Combe, Reid and Co. to form Watney, Mann Ltd. Later in 1972 this Company was bought by Grand Metropolitan, who closed the Albion Brewery in 1979. The buildings were converted to flats in the early 1990s.

And just at the corner is the Blind Beggar pub.

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There has been an ale house here for a long time possibly back to the late 17th century, although the present building dates from 1894.

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The pub’s name references the story of the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green. According to the legend in the 13th century there was a blind beggar living in Bethnal Green who was in fact Henry de Montfort, eldest son of Simon de Montfort. His identity was revealed at the wedding feast of his daughter Bessie.

A depiction of the beggar had appeared on the head of the staff of the local beadle from 1690. And when the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green was formed in 1900 the borough seal depicted a scene based on The Beggar’s Daughter of Bednall Green. This was a version of the story from a poem in Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, published in 1765 but which had been around since the time of Queen Elizabeth I.

In 1865, William Booth preached his first open-air sermon outside the Blind Beggar, which led to the establishment of the East London Christian Mission, later to become the Salvation Army. Although today their headquarters is in Queen Victoria Street in the City and the UK HQ is Newington Causeway SE1, the Salvation Army still has a presence locally. We will pass Booth House as we walk along the main road later.

This pub was also the location of a notorious murder on 9 March 1966 when local villain, Ronnie Kray shot and killed George Cornell, an associate of a rival gang, the Richardsons.

More info on this lovely website: http://www.eastlondonhistory.co.uk/the-blind-beggar-pub/

At this point you could take a short diversion down Sydney Street and right into Ashfield Street

Stop 1a: Number 91 Ashfield Street

Sir Jack Cohen (1898-1979) founder of Tesco Stores, lived at 91 Ashfield Street as a child.

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Jack Cohen began with a market stall in 1919. According to the Tesco company website, the Tesco name first appeared in 1924, after Cohen purchased a shipment of tea from T. E. Stockwell and combined those initials with the first two letters of his surname, and the first Tesco store opened in 1929 in Burnt Oak, Barnet. Tesco then went on to become the retail giant we know (and love?) today.

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Return up Cavell Street and then left into Whitechapel Road. But if you have not taken the diversion just retrace your steps along Whitechapel Road.

Stop 2: Royal London Hospital

Our next stop is on the left.

The Royal London Hospital was founded in September 1740 initially as The London Infirmary becoming the London Hospital in 1748. The hospital moved to its current location on the south side of Whitechapel Road in 1757. The buildings we see today date from the late 18th and 19th century. The hospital only got its Royal tag following a visit by the Queen in 1990, when the hospital celebrated its 250th anniversary.

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The hospital is undergoing a multi million pound rebuild at the moment and so the older buildings facing Whitechapel Road are surrounded by hoardings at present.

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But if you look to the left of the main portico you might just spot this blue plaque to Nurse Edith Cavell (1865 – 1915).

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She worked here from 1896 until 1901.  She was a nurse in German occupied Belgium in the First World War and helped some 200 Allied soldiers escape. She was arrested and accused of treason, found guilty by a court-martial and sentenced to death. Despite international pressure for mercy, she was shot by a German firing squad.

Continue walking along Whitechapel Road. Note the great view towards the City.

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And also Booth House across the road.

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Stop 3: Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Just at the corner of  Fieldgate Street is our next stop, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry – a quite amazing survival.

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The foundry was first recorded in Whitechapel in the 15th century and has been on this site since 1738. However Pevsner suggests most of the buildings we see on Whitechapel Road are 19th century. The Foundry made many famous bells including of course Big Ben and the Liberty bell which can be found in Philadelphia.

“Big Ben” by the way weighs 13½ tons and is the largest bell ever cast at the foundry.

The foundry is still making bells – large and small.

The place has a curious old fashioned look about it.

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It is like it is in a time warp – except of course for the no smoking sign which drags it back to the 21st century.

Keep walking along Whitechapel Road. Our next stop is on the left.

Stop 4: Altab Ali Park

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This is the site of the church which gives the area its name. The church here was called St Mary Matfelon. It was at first a chapel of ease – that is a subsidiary church – to St Dunstan’s Stepney. It had a whitewashed exterior and so became known as the White Chapel. The name Matfelon comes from the family who rebuilt the church in the 14th century.

The church was rebuilt a couple of times, most recently in the 1870s. The church was severely damaged by fire in the Blitz and the ruins were finally demolished in 1952. But part of the church outline is traced out in some paving in the garden.

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The churchyard became St Mary’s Gardens in 1966 but was renamed Altab Ali Park in 1989 after a Bangladeshi student murdered in 1979.

There is also a monument here in the diagonally opposite corner from where you first started with this park.

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This is called the Martyrs Monument and dates from 1999. It is a copy of a monument originally erected in Bangladesh to the memory of 5 students killed in 1952.

Cross over the main road and take the right hand turn called Osborn Street. This is just before the Whitechapel Gallery (which sadly we have not got time to cover)

Stop 5 Brick Lane

Osborn Street becomes Brick Lane. Today this area has been rechristened (if that is the right term!) Banglatown.

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The street is a seemingly endless strip of curry houses all vying for trade. Pevsner says this “has much character but little that stands out architecturally”. The street was strongly Jewish in the early 20th century but has since become a centre for Bangladeshi immigrants who settled in the area in large numbers from the 1970s.

Useless fact: The street’s name came from the nearby clay pits used for brickmaking. It was first built up haphazardly during the 17th century and much rebuilt around 1900.

We can take a slight diversion here and keep going along Brick Lane.

Stop 5a: Former Truman Brewery

Ahead is the former Truman Brewery. you cannot really miss it as part of it spans the street.

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The brewery was established in this area in the 1660s and was in the ownership of  Joseph Truman in the 1680s. A succession of Truman ran it for the next 100 or so years.

The last Truman to operate the brewery was Benjamin Truman. When he died in 1780, he left most of the brewery to his grandsons, with the rest going to his head clerk James Grant, who took over the running of the brewery. After Grant’s death in 1788, his share was purchased by Sampson Hanbury, who went on to run Truman’s for the next 46 years.

Hanbury brought new levels of professionalism and efficiency, including purchasing the brewery’s first steam engine in 1805. In 1808, Hanbury’s nephew Thomas Fowell Buxton joined the firm, which then became Truman, Hanbury, Buxton and Co Ltd.

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In 1971 Truman’s became the centre of a bidding war between Grand Metropolitan and Watney Mann, which as we have just heard had a local foothold with its brewery in Whitechapel. Eventually, Grand Metropolitan won. It then pursued and took over Watney Mann whereupon Grand Metropolitan then merged Watney Mann with Truman’s.

Grand Metropolitan made many changes to the company, in particular focussing on keg beer. But the company’s fortunes did not improve and although cask beer was brought back in the 1980s along with the traditional Truman’s eagle logo, the Brick Lane brewery was shut in 1989. Today it is an interesting mix of commercial premises, including some trendy market areas.

If you go under the bridge bit there is a the building on the left with a blue plaque.

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This is for Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786 -1845) who was an anti-slavery campaigner in addition to being a key player in the beer business.

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Go down Hanbury Street. This will be a left if you have not gone to the Brewery or if you have, retrace your steps down Brick Lane and take a right 

Stop 6: Hanbury Street

Hanbury Street is no doubt named after the brewery family. There are a couple of things to mention on this stretch of Hanbury Street west of Brick Lane, both on the left as you go along the street.

First is Hanbury Hall.

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As the blue plaque says this was built in 1719 as a French Huguenot church. Having escaped France which at the time did not tolerate protestants, they had settled in the area and were largely engaged in the silk trade. Later it became a German Lutheran church, then a Baptist and finally a Methodist church. In 1887, the local Church of England parish church, Christ Church, bought the building and made it their church hall.

And it has some other interesting connections. Charles Dickens was a regular visitor in the 1800s using the building for public readings of his works and in 1888 young women working at the local Bryant and May match factory held their strike meetings here as they prepared to protest against working conditions at the factory. This was an important step in establishing trade unions.

And just before the junction with Commercial Street, there is a very red shop with a blue plaque.

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This was the birthplace of comedian Bud Flanagan (1896 – 1968).

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He was one of the Crazy Gang, a group of British comedians who were popular in the 1930s and 1940s , The members were: Bud Flanagan, Chesney Allen, Jimmy Nervo, Teddy Knox, Charlie Naughton and Jimmy Gold and sometimes ‘Monsewer’ Eddie Gray. Essentially the gang comprised three double acts; Flanagan and Allen, Naughton and Gold, and Nervo and Knox (with some input from Gray). They had all had success before the Crazy Gang but not of the same magnitude.

Flanagan also wrote the song “Underneath the Arches” which in effect became Flanagan and Allen’s theme song,

At the end of Hanbury Street turn right into Commercial Street. Our next stop is across the road.

Stop 7: Spitalfields Market

According to the City of London Corporation website,  Spitalfields is one of the City’s younger markets, starting life as a thirteenth century market in a field next to St Mary Spital on the edge of the Square Mile. It explains:

“In 1682, King Charles II granted John Balch, a silk thrower, a Royal Charter that gave him the right to hold a market on Thursdays and Saturdays in or near Spital Square. For the next 200 years, the market traded from a collection of sheds and stalls, doing its best to cope with London’s growing appetite for fresh fruit and vegetables. As time went by, it became a centre for the sale of home-grown produce, which was being traded there six days a week.

By 1876, a former market porter called Robert Horner bought a short lease on the market and started work on a new market building, which was completed in 1893 at a cost of £80,000. In 1920, the City of London acquired direct control of the market, extending the original buildings some eight years later.”

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And here is a detail from over the doorway which refers to Robert Horner and so predates the City Corporation’s ownership.

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Not sure which Queen Victoria Jubilee this would be, Is it the 50th (Golden) which would have been 1887 or perhaps the 60th (Diamond) which was 1897?

The wholesale market moved out to purpose built premises in Leyton in 1991. And for a while it was not clear what would happen.

In the end around two-thirds of the historic market was kept and rebuilt to include restaurants, shops and a large indoor arts and crafts market.

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But the 1920s market extension to the west was replaced by a Norman Foster designed office block. Pevsner says “The baleful  effect of this cannot be overemphasised and marks the continued, and doubtless irresistible, empire building of the City of London over the domestic and social needs of the East End.” Quite.

If you have ventured in to the market come back out. Our next stop is on Commercial Street on the diagonally opposite corner to the old market building.

Stop 8: Christ Church, Spitalfields

Christ Church Spitalfields is the Nicholas Hawksmoor masterpiece, started in 1715 and consecrated in 1729. It was built in part to demonstrate the power of the established church to the dissenting Huguenots, who had established a number of their own chapels in the area.

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The church has gone through some hard times, having been closed as unsafe in 1958. In 1966 the crypt was restored and then starting in 1976 a major restoration was undertaken. It is a wonderful space, well worth a visit. It is open most days. It is also used for concerts, events and functions.

Now take the street to the left of the main market building. This is Brushfield Street, The site immediately on the left (south) side of Brushfield Street is currently being rebuilt. Only the facade of the old building remains. This was the Fruit and Wool Exchange building of 1926.

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Stop 9: Brushfield Street

Just after this building site is a run of interesting old buildings on your left, some are facsimiles (numbers 8 – 10 near Bishopsgate were rebuilt after a fire in 1983)

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Numbers 40 – 42 and 14 – 16 are genuine 18th century. Number 40 is Verde and Company.

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This is a lovely little shop which does great sandwiches and salads plus some luxurious food items. You often see oranges on display.

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Well this seems to be a little nod to the author Jeanette Winterson who owns the building.

In an article in the Guardian in June 2010 she said:

“My house had been the offices of an oranges importer – which seemed auspicious, as my first novel was Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Then I found out that the business had been called JW Fruits – so I had to buy it, didn’t I?”

A coffee chain wanted to rent the premises but she explained:

“It never occurred to me open a food shop. The coffee offer forced me to focus on what I would really like to happen, instead of either doing nothing or passively accepting what someone else would like to happen – so it was a pretty good life lesson, too.”

So she went into partnership with an american called Harvey Cabaniss to create the shop and I think he is still at front of house. By the way, the name Verde comes from a 1930s sign that was on the facade.

Here is a link to the full article in the Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jun/13/once-upon-a-life-jeanette-winterson

Now on the right you will see a branch of Patisserie Valerie. Go into the pedestrianised area here keeping Patisserie Valerie on your right. The Foster buildings (so hated by Pevsner) are on your left.

Just ahead you will see a little area of water and beyond that is a rectangular hole in the ground. There is a lift here or else go down the steps at the far end of the hole.

Stop 10: The Charnal House

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This is what’s left of the Charnel House of St Mary Spital (although the sculpture is modern).

There was a Roman cemetery hereabouts but in 1197 the site of this cemetery became a priory called The New Hospital of St Mary without Bishopsgate. This became known as St Mary Spital – hence the land nearby was Spital Fields. This religious foundation was one of the biggest hospitals in medieval England and there was also a cemetery which included a stone charnel house (used to store bones) and mortuary chapel.

There are these lovely information panels. They are rather attractive but almost impossible to read especially if it is sunny.

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The Charnel House was uncovered when the area was redeveloped in the early 2000s.

Keep going straight ahead. You are now in Spital Square, which is no longer a square since redevelopment. At the end take a left into Folgate Street

Stop 11: Dennis Severs’ House, Number 18 Folgate Street

Just here in a terrace of houses dating from 1724 is a fascinating place, a visitor experience like no other.

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This was the creation of one man, an American called Dennis Severs (1948 – 1999). There are ten rooms all furnished in period and are arranged as if they are in use and the occupants have only just left. So there is half-eaten bread, discarded clothes and wigs, and smells and background sounds. But no wax models of people. Severs called this “still life drama”.  You go round in your own time in silence. Highly recommended!

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The motto of the house is: “You either see it or you don’t”. And in a way that is the watchword of this whole walk, be it the stones that trace the outline of the church on the site of the White Chapel, the sign giving a clue to the developer of Spitalfields Market, a basket of oranges or the little reminder of an artist’s work which we shall see at the next stop.

Now go along Folgate Street and take the next left into Elder Street. Our next stop is just on the left hand side of the street.

Stop 12: Number 32, Elder Street

This house was lived in by artist Mark Gertler (1891 – 1939).

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Here is the Blue Plaque

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And in addition there is this lovely little roundel in the pavement which shows a little extract of one of his famous paintings: “Merry-Go-Round”

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“Merry-Go-Round” dates from 1916, when he was 24 years old. It depicts men and women (many in uniform) on a merry-go-round fairground ride.

We are now at the end of our E1 walk. There was far more to see than I could possibly cover, but hopefully I have shown you a good slice of this intriguing part of London.

For onward travel return to Folgate Street, turn right and at the end is Bishopsgate with lots of buses and just down the road is Liverpool Street station.

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3 thoughts on “E1: You either see it or you don’t

  1. Thanks for your appreciation and the extra info. I still have over 50 London postcodes to do, and then there are always the outer London bits, so I could carry on for a few years yet!!!

  2. Lovely tour! I can see that you had trouble cramming everything in! I would like to add two points: The Royal London Hospital (where I have worked, so I can be smug about knowing details!) was where The Elephant Man, John (or Joseph, no-one seems quite sure!) Merrick was treated. And the shop where he was exhibited (before the hospital took him in) is just opposite the hospital. It was a cab office last time I was down there. Also, in your excellent appreciation of Bud Flannegan you did not mention that it is his voice we hear in the credits of Dad’s Army. “Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler…” I love your post code walks. What are we going to do when you run out of bits of London to explore?

  3. Superb as always , i have been waiting for the E postcodes !

    Its always a treat when one of your posts arrives in my inbox.

    Neil in Canada.

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