E2 is Bethnal Green and what is surprising is that there is quite a lot of green in Bethnal Green.
We start our walk at Bethnal Green Post Office at 223 – 227 Bethnal Green Road. (NB there are two Post Offices in Bethnal Green Road and this is the one which is closest to the City – ie the west end of the road.)
Turn left out of the post office and our first stop is on the left.
Stop 1: Former Essoldo Cinema, Number 283 Bethnal Green Road
A quick glance at this building does suggest cinema and indeed it was.
It started life as Smart’s Picture House in April 1913. It was remodeled in 1938 by well known cinema architect George Coles. A new streamlined Art Deco facade was added and the auditorium was given an Art Deco makeover.
It reopened as the Rex Cinema and in December 1949 it was taken over by the Essoldo chain of cinemas and re-named Essoldo. The cinema closed in 1964 and it became a bingo club until around 1990.
The building became a storeroom and trade only retail outlet but today it seems to be unused.
Continue along Bethnal Green Road. Our next stop is just after the junction with Valance Road – on the right before you get to Hague Street.
Stop 2: E Pellicci, Number 332 Bethnal Green Road
Well this is an unexpected survival.
This italian cafe was established in 1900 and it is still owned by the founding family. But it is the makeover it had in 1946 that makes it special.
It is now Grade II listed. English Heritage inspectors describe it as having a ‘stylish shop front of custard Vitrolite panels, steel frame and lettering as well as a rich Deco-style marquetry panelled interior, altogether representing an architecturally strong and increasingly rare example of the intact and stylish Italian caf that flourished in London in the inter-war years.”
Return to Valance Road and turn left. Go past the park on your left and stop just before you get to the railway.
Stop 3: Numbers 170 – 184 Valance Road
Here is a little redevelopment by self builders which was “inaugurated” by Prince Charles on 15 September 1988. (Not sure what that means in the context of a building)
If the current street numbers equate to the old ones then this was about where the notorious Kray family lived. According to Wikipedia, the family moved to 178 Valance Road from Stean Street in Hoxton in 1938.
Return along Valance Road and turn right into the park which is our next stop.
Stop 4: Weavers Fields
According to the architectural reference book, Pevsner, this open space was created in the 1970s by the complete destruction of a densely packed area of early 19th century two storey weavers’ cottages.
If you keep walking along the path you will get to a kind of a roundabout. In the middle is an interesting sculpture, called Weaving Identities. It was a commission by Tower Hamlets Council and completed in December 2003.
Here is a link to some more information of the work.
At the artwork do a left turn and head out of the park. There is a big red brick building ahead of you. This is Oxford House and dates from the 1890s.
Oxford House was established in 1884 as a “university settlement house”. Students and graduates from Keble College, Oxford undertook a period of residential volunteering to learn at first hand about the realities of urban poverty. These volunteers lived upstairs in Oxford House which was like a mini Oxford college in the heart of Bethnal Green.
Today Oxford House carries on with providing affordable office space for local groups, an arts centre and volunteering opportunities.
More info at: http://www.oxfordhouse.org.uk/
This includes information about their plans to develop the building, including renovating the chapel.
Go along the street (Derbyshire Street) ahead of you – with Oxford House on your right. Then when you get back to Bethnal Green Road, turn right and keep going. Pass under the railway bridge and turn left into a little street facing a garden.
Stop 5: Paradise Row
This is a lovely little terrace of houses dating from late 18th and early 19th century set beside a little green.
And here at Number 3 is a local blue plaque.
Daniel Mendoza (1764 – 1836) was an English prizefighter, who was boxing champion of England in 1792–1795. He was of Portuguese-Jewish descent.
In 1981, he was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (who knew such a thing existed!)
Here is a link to his story on their site: http://www.jewishsports.net/BioPages/DanielMendoza.htm
Our next stop is just across the main road (Cambridge Heath Road)
Stop 6: V & A Museum of Childhood
This building is an outpost of the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington.
It does look a bit like it was an old tram shed, but actually the building has a much more interesting heritage.
The building we see today dates from 1868 – 1872 but incorporates the iron structure of the first temporary museum erected at South Kensington in the mid 1850s with the proceeds of the 1851 Great Exhibition.
According to Pevsner, as work was beginning on the permanent museum structure, the Government offered the temporary building to any London district capable of, or interested in, taking it. The plan was to split it so as to establish museums in more than one place. But in the end, it came to Bethnal Green – or rather two thirds of it came here. A bit stayed in South Ken but was subsequently demolished in 1906.
At first the Bethnal Green building held the Wallace Collection (now in Manchester Square) and later it had exhibits related to the trades and industries of the East End. It became the V & A Museum of Childhood in 1974.
And if you look down the right hand side by the gardens, you will see these rather lovely panels high up on the walls. These represent the work of man in the arts, sciences, industry and agriculture.
Our next stop is just along Cambridge Heath Road.
Stop 7: Mayfield house, Number 172 Cambridge Heath Road
On the site of this dull block of flats once stood a cinema.
When it opened in December 1912 it was called Museum Cinema, a nod to its neighbour just down the road.
It was rebuilt and enlarged in 1931. Taken over by the Odeon chain in February 1943, it was renamed Odeon Bethnal Green in 1950. After closure in December 1956, the building was demolished and Mayfield House was built on the site.
Our next stop is just next door to Mayfield House.
Stop 8: Town Hall Hotel
This building was the town hall of Bethnal Green Borough Council. The front dates from 1910 but there is a 1930s extension with the interiors in Deco style.
No longer a Town Hall the building was converted to become a boutique hotel in 2010.
Now retrace your steps along Cambridge Heath Road. Our next stop is at the corner by the church.
Stop 9: Bethnal Green Underground station and memorial
The Underground station here opened in 1946 but the building was well advanced before the war and so the station was used as an air raid shelter.
The station is an example of the style adopted by London Transport for new tube stations built under the “New Works Programme 1935 – 1940” . Downstairs the platforms have cream tiles and very so often there is a little special decorative tile showing an image in relief. These seem to have survived the refurbishment of 2007
Back on the surface at the south west corner of the junction (diagonally opposite the church) is a rather neglected bit of art work in the pavement. according to Pevsner this dates from 2004 and is by A J Bernasconi.
It is described as pavement set lights in glazed segmental curved trenches with embossed images of ‘child friendly’ objects.
Obviously it references the nearby Museum of Childhood. But it is looking sadly neglected.
On the south east corner of the junction is a green. As you go in, there is a monument looming up.
This is the memorial to what is considered to have been the largest single loss of civilian life in the UK in World War Two and the largest loss of life in a single incident on the London Underground network.
On 3 March 1943, people had crowded into the underground station due to an air raid siren at 8:17pm. There was a panic at 8:27pm coinciding with the sound of an anti-aircraft battery being fired at nearby Victoria Park. In the wet, dark conditions the crowd was surging forward towards the shelter when a woman tripped on the stairs, causing many others to fall. Within a few seconds 300 people were crushed into the tiny stairwell, resulting in 173 deaths. The media reported that there had been a direct hit by a German bomb. The results of the official investigation were not released until 1946.
Here is a piece from the BBC about the disaster: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-21645163
A small memorial plaque was put up in the 1990s. In 2007 the “Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust” was established to create a more fitting memorial to those who died in the disaster. This is only partly complete as there is eventually going to be an actual staircase suspended from the concrete upright. More info at: http://www.stairwaytoheavenmemorial.org/
Go down Roman Road (This runs between the green and the church). you will see ahead on the right a sculptural structure featuring a globe.
This marks the beginning of what is known as Globe Town. This district began to be built up in the early 1800s to provide for the expanding population of weavers around Bethnal Green attracted by improving prospects in silk weaving. By the 1820s, the silk industry was in decline but the area turned to manufacturing other goods such as furniture, boots and clothing.
Take the left turning at the cross roads by the Globe. This is Globe Road.
Stop 10: East End Dwelling Company buildings, Globe Road
Just a little way along Globe Road, you come into an area which was redeveloped by a private company, the East End Dwellings Company (EEDC) between 1900 and 1906.
This company was incorporated in 1884. One of its founders was the Reverend Samuel Augustus Barnett, who later with his wife went on to establish Hampstead Garden Suburb which we saw in NW11. They also founded the first University Settlement at Toynbee Hall (near Aldgate) in 1884, which sadly we did not get a chance to see in E1.
The aim of EEDC was to “house the very poor while realising some profit”. Their first development was Katharine Buildings in Aldgate, which was followed by a number of schemes here in Bethnal Green.
First comes Mendip House which dates from 1900.
Then ahead is a series of 5 storey blocks of flats dating from 1901 – 1906.
But the company also built some terraced housing as can be seen on the right hand side of the road. These date from 1906.
Continue along Globe Road and turn right into Cyprus Street. Go along the first part and continue through the modern development. The bit of the street you have come to see is on the other side.
Stop 11: Cyprus Street
According to Pevsner, this street was built in 1850/51 as Wellington Street. Interesting in that the Duke of Wellington died in 1852, by which time he had retired from public life. So one wonders why the street got this name. Maybe it was actually named in 1852. But by 1879 it had been renamed Cyprus Street. No idea why.
Lovely though this street is, what makes it rather interesting is this unusual war memorial, which sits opposite Clyde Place.
During the Great War, unofficial memorials were often set up to local men who had been killed in battle. Such memorials were usually temporary and were later replaced by grander, official ones after the war.
The Cyprus Street plaque was originally paid for by the Duke of Wellington’s Discharged and Demobolised Soldiers and Sailors Benevolent Club; a group who were based at and took their name from a local pub (now closed like so many in this part of the world).
But all is not what it seems, according to this site:
In the 1960s the Cyprus Street memorial was nearly lost for good when the local housing association decided to build a modern block of flats on the site. (I guess that is what we just walked through) During the demolition of the house upon which the memorial was located, the plaque was damaged. The monument was rescued and it (or perhaps a replica) was reinstated further down the street.
At the end of Cyprus Street turn left and then right. Soon you will see the gateway style entrance to the Cranbrook Estate.
Go in and follow the road straight ahead (Mace Street)
Veer towards the left and walk through the estate. As you come past Offenbach House have a look to your right where you get a glimpse of the Shard.
By the way the Cranbrook Estate dates from the first half of the 1960s and was the last of three developments by Skinner, Bailey and Lubetkin for Bethnal Green Borough Council. The latter of course we came across in relation to the privately developed Highpoint flats in Highgate which were built in the 1930s.
Keep walking through the Cranbrook Estate and when you come out the other side you will be back on Roman Road. There is another Globe gateway sculpture here.
If you turn right onto Roman Road you will soon see our final stop, set back off the main road in a fenced off area.
Stop 12: The Blind Beggar and his Dog
This is the Blind Beggar and his Dog by Dame Elizabeth Frink.
Or perhaps as the locals almost certainly would not call it: “All behind Ewan an’ ‘is London Fog” (All Behind = Blind; Ewan McGreggor = Beggar and London Fog = Dog). Well possibly!
You cannot normally get near because it is a private garden but I struck lucky when I was passing. A handyman was working in the area and he let me in the gate, so I could get a bit closer.
So that is the Blind Beggar and his dog we heard about in E1 where there is the pub of that name. Of course as we heard then, the legend of the Blind Beggar actually relates to Bethnal Green.
So that brings us to the end of our E2 walk. Again there was much more than I could possibly cover. In particular I could not include the Boundary Estate an early example of social housing, nor the location of the now closed Club Row market, which specialised in live animals. But we did get to see some interesting street artworks and memorials, not to mention the sites of two cinemas and the outpost of a major national museum.
You are now on Roman Road where you can get buses back to Bethnal Green tube or to Mile End for onward travel.