Tag Archives: Limehouse

Limehouse Town Hall And St Anne’s Church

My next Open House location was reached after a short walk along the Thames Path, up Three Colt Street and left along Commercial Road to just before where the Commercial Road crosses the Limehouse Cut to find Limehouse Town Hall:

Limehouse Town Hall

Limehouse Town Hall from across the Commercial Road:Limehouse Town Hall

On the 12th June 1875, a small advert appeared on page 4 of the East London Advertiser:

“The Churchwardens and Overseers of the Parish of St. Anne, Limehouse, being desirous of erecting a new Town Hall and Parochial Offices, require a suitable site for the same in the Parish. Proposals for the Sale of Properties for this purpose may be addressed to the Churchwardens and Overseers at the temporary offices, 713 Commercial-road.”

The proposal for a new town hall was not universally popular in Limehouse. the letters page of the East London Observer reflect the views of some of the more vocal of the opponents including a Mr. Richardson who “did not like the expense of the Town Hall, or that it would be let for entertainments.”

A plot of land was purchased directly on the Commercial Road and next to St. Anne’s church however the letters of complaint kept coming. In June 1878, “T.M.” wrote to the editor of the East London Observer that, “having seen on the plot of ground, formerly Mr. Walter’s house, a board placed with the inscription ‘Site for Limehouse Town Hall’, it occurred that if you would kindly allow me through the medium of your paper to draw the attention of the authorities and inhabitants to the advantage of allowing the site to remain open, and in due course taking down the ugly coffee-shop adjoining, thereby prominently showing up one of Sir Christopher Wren’s noblest churches, and at the same time giving the authorities the means of widening the thoroughfare and facilitating public traffic in that busy part, it would be a great boon.”

Interesting that T.M. refers to the church as by Wren. It was designed by Wren’s assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor,

Despite these protests, Limehouse Town Hall was built with construction starting in 1879 and the hall being completed in 1881 at a cost of £10,000 plus £2,920 for the land.

A foundation stone on the front of the building records the name of the builder and the architect.

Limehouse Town Hall

The East London Observer on Saturday 2nd April 1881 reported on the opening of the new Limehouse Town Hall:

“LIMEHOUSE AND ITS NEW TOWN HALL – The parish of Limehouse has entered into possession of its new town hall, and the opening of the building has been the occasion of a considerable amount of celebration. The parish officials evidently felt that the event was one akin in importance to the transformation which takes place when the chrysalis is resolved into a beautiful winged butterfly, and they may accordingly be pardoned for displaying more or less ecstasy on the occasion. Hope of having a proper parochial habitation has with them been so deferred, that we have jocularly referred to the anticipated building for some years past as ‘the millennial town hall’. First of all there was the financial difficulty, and when this was conquered or arranged, there were tedious and trying legal delays which seemed to perpetually bar the way to the achievement of the object upon which the Vestry of Limehouse had set its mind. Delays, anticipations and doubts are now all dismissed, and the long-looked-for day of possession has arrived and has been jubilantly greeted.

The event of opening the new building was accompanied by much eclait, for the church wardens had the support and presence of both the members for Tower Hamlets, of Mr Samuda, the late representative of the borough – who, by the way, met with quite as warm a reception as either Mr. Bryee or Mr. Ritchie – of several of the county magistrates, and other gentlemen of local position and influence.

Naturally the entree into a building such as that erected at Limehouse is not an ordinary occurrence, and it will be admitted by those who witnessed the proceedings that all that could be done to vest the affair with extraordinary significance was done. This, of course, is quite a matter of taste, which it is not our intention to dispute.  Still, as cool critics of facts, we must not overlook the circumstance that the possession of a town hall does not confer any addition of practical power. Limehouse for administrative purposes remains, as it was, part of the Limehouse District for sanitary purposes, and a part of the Stepney Union for poor-law purposes.”

The article then goes on to ask whether the new town hall may be part of a plan for Limehouse to gain more self-governing powers, but the article also challenges the expense of the new town hall if it was only to be used for “the self-glorification of the members of the Vestry and the exclusively for parochial purpose”, then there would be a challenge to the costs incurred.

They were confident that the Vestry would allow the free use of the new town hall by the rate payers of Limehouse, and that opportunities should be explored for letting the hall for public meetings, concerts etc. along with a reading room, free library and classes offering instruction in technical or higher education to help the people of Limehouse “might be cultivated morally and socially, and become better prepared to exercise their due influence upon the world of which they form part”.

The new Limehouse Town Hall did not therefore have an easy start and high expectations were set for how the building would be used.

The building has not functioned as a town hall for many years and has served many different uses over the years, including as the National Museum of Labour History which was opened in 1975 by Harold Wilson and lasted until the mid-1980s when financial troubles resulted in the closure of the museum with the collections being rescued by Manchester City council which formed the basis for the People’s History Museum.

Time to see the interior of the building.

On entering through the front doors, there is a short hall way to the bottom of the grand staircase which runs up to the first floor.

Limehouse Town Hall

View from the staircase up to the first and second floors. The ornate balusters on the staircase and the second floor walkway are original, produced in Glasgow by the MacFarlane foundry.

Limehouse Town Hall

Detail of the balusters – very ornate but they were not created specially for Limehouse Town Hall, they were a catalogue item of the foundry. I doubt those who criticised the costs of the town hall would have been happy with specially designed ornamentation for the building.

Limehouse Town Hall

Looking down from the first floor landing.

Limehouse Town Hall

Detail of the original tiles which have survived remarkably well.

Limehouse Town Hall

The church of St. Anne Limehouse is just to the east of Limehouse Town Hall and there is a wonderful view of the church looking rather ethereal through the window half way up the staircase.

Limehouse Town Hall

On the landing.

Limehouse Town Hall

Limehouse Town Hall is now well over 100 years old and has been through a succession of owners over the years. The age of the building and impact on the fabric is clear at a number of locations within the building, including this view of the ceiling.

Limehouse Town Hall

On the first floor is the large assembly room. It is this room that has served both the original Vestry and the people of Limehouse over the years. The hall has hosted numerous Vestry meetings, concerts, political meetings, dances, an infant welfare centre and exhibitions.

Limehouse Town Hall

From 1881 the building was licensed for music and dancing and again in the pages of the East London Observer there is a report and a number of letters regarding the purchase of a piano for the hall, the cost of the piano and who was actually funding the purchase.

View of the other end of the assembly room. Until around 1950 there was a raised platform at this end of the hall which was used for speeches and performances.

Limehouse Town Hall

Balcony over the main door leading from the landing. The glitter ball hints at one of the uses of the room.

Limehouse Town Hall

A sign on the balcony provides a clue as to one of the previous uses of the hall.

Limehouse Town Hall

Limehouse Town Hall was built with high expectations for its contribution to the lives of those living in Limehouse. Whilst Limehouse did not achieve the level of local governance to which the founders of the hall had aspired, the range of events held within the hall meant that it must have featured in the day-to-day lives of the people of Limehouse.

My next Open House visit was adjacent to Limehouse Town Hall and a very short walk to:

St. Anne’s Limehouse

The view of St. Anne’s Limehouse along St. Anne’s Passage.

Limehouse Town Hall

St. Anne’s church was one of the twelve churches built as a result of a 1711 Act of Parliament to build churches in locations across London where populations had grown but were not well served by a local church.

A tax on coal was used to fund the building work, which resulted in a number of large and architecturally impressive churches across the city.

St. Anne’s was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and built between 1714 and 1727.

The church was badly damaged by fire in 1850 and also by bombing in 1941. It has been through a number of restorations, the latest having been completed in 2009.

I have walked past St. Anne’s many times, but have never seen inside. The last time I walked past was when I was exploring the sites at risk as identified by the Architects Journal in 1972 when the church was one of the sites of concern, although it was Grade I listed in 1950.

Walking into the church reveals a large and impressive interior.

Limehouse Town Hall

With a very ornate roof.

Limehouse Town Hall

Looking back towards the main entrance to the church. The organ was built by John Gray and Frederick Davison who had a factory in Euston Road.

Limehouse Town Hall

The church was permitted by Queen Anne to fly the White Ensign and the location of the church, so close to the River Thames, together with the height of the church tower meant that St. Anne’s was a prominent landmark for those navigating the river and the church was marked by trinity House on navigation charts.

Many prints of the river around Limehouse show the church in the background. For example, the following print from 1827 shows the church as a very visible landmark just to the left of the ship on the right.

Limehouse Town Hall

The White Ensign was originally the flag of the second most senior Admiral in the Navy. In 1864 the White Ensign became the ensign of the Royal Navy.

Display boxes in the church display naval flags including the flag of HMS Ark Royal and the White Ensign flown on the church:

Limehouse Town Hall

The font which dates from the restoration carried out between 1851 and 1857 by John Morris and Philip Hardwick after the fire in 1850.

Limehouse Town Hall

This fire appears to have almost destroyed the church. There was a report on the fire in the London Evening Standard on the 30th March 1850, titled “Total Destruction Of Limehouse Church By Fire”:

“We had the lamentable task yesterday of announcing the total destruction by fire of the beautiful parish church of St. Anne, Limehouse. We now append some further particulars:-

It appears that at seven o’clock yesterday morning a man named Wm. Rumbold, who lights the stove fires, and attending to the heating of the church, entered the edifice and proceeded with his duties. He ignited both the furnaces, and at a quarter past eight o’clock was about to satisfy himself of the degree of temperature in the interior of the church, when he perceived a strong smell of burning wood, and shortly afterwards saw a quantity of smoke issue from the roof. Impressed with a fear that something serious had happened, Rumbold ran off to the residence of Mr. George Coningham, the beadle and engine keeper of the parish, who resides about 150 yards distant from the church.

Coningham instantly returned with Rumbold to the church, on reaching which, Coningham ascended through the belfry and immediately opened a door over the organ loft leading to a vast chamber extending over the whole body of the church. As soon as the door was opened, Coningham and Rumbold were both driven back and nearly suffocated by a rush of smoke and rarefied air which issued out of this chamber, and clearly indicated where the seat of the mischief really was. 

Coningham and Rumbold, with a view to rousing the neighbourhood, rang the two bells. An immense congregation of the inhabitants very speedily assembled. The fire had by this time begun to make its way through the roof. As yet there was no engine on the spot, and but a very scanty supply of water flowed from the street plugs.

The Rev. George Roberts, curate of the parish, who had by this time arrived. headed a large party of gentlemen, and by their exertions all the registers and other valuable parochial documents have been fortunately saved. 

The progress of the flames was so rapid that not a little risk was incurred in this good work.

Several engines had arrived before the roof fell, and a very good supply of water was at length obtained, but from the great difficulty of getting at the spot where the fire raged, all the efforts of the firemen were comparatively fruitless, and Mr Braidwood, the leader of the force, at once pronounced that any hope of saving the interior of the church was quite out of the question. 

The church was one of the most perfect interiors of the period in which it was built – Queen Anne’s time. It possessed a magnificent organ, built by Richard Bridge, in 1741, and a superb altar window of painted glass.”

It must have been devastating to the people of Limehouse to see their church in ruins.

Displayed in one of the side rooms is one of the hands from what may have been the original clock on the church. If I read the writing along the clock hand correctly it reads “This —– was taken from the face of the clock by R. Linton 1826”. The naval association of the church is shown in the clock hand by the anchor shape on the right of the hand.

Limehouse Town Hall

There is also a memorial to those who I assume were parishioners who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars.

Limehouse Town Hall

It is always depressing to read these lists of names of those who had been killed during the wars, even more so when you find surnames repeated as you can imagine the impact it must have had on the families concerned.

One surname stood out on the St. Anne’s memorial – Peterken. There was an H.C. Peterken killed in the First World War and an A. Peterken killed in the Second World War.

I was able to find some background on H.C. Peterken.

Horace Peterken was a Private in the London regiment of the 2nd (City of London) Battalion (Royal Fusiliers). He was killed in action on the 26th October 1917. This was the first day of the Second Battle of Passchendale which ran until the 10th November 1917, so I assume he was killed on the first day of this battle.

In the 1911 Census he was living at 63 Three Colt Street in Limehouse (a street I walked up from the river to Commercial Street) along with his parents and six brothers and sisters.

His father, Henry George Peterken was 47 at the time of the census and is recorded as being born in Poplar. His father was a Letterpress Printer and Stationer. His mother, Sarah Ann Peterken was 46 and was born in Ratcliffe.

Sarah is recorded as having had 9 children, with 8 living and 1 died. Given that 7 children were living at the house in 1911 I assume the eighth may have been the oldest and had left home.

Horace was 15 at the time and his brothers and sisters living in Three Colt Street were; Ada, aged 23, Edith, aged 19, Winifred aged 17, Leonard aged 11, Mabel aged 9 and Cyril aged 4.

Ada was a Stationers Assistant so presumably worked for her father, Edith was a Dressmaker.

Henry George Peterken was a councillor and his printing shop was in Poplar High Street. The family may have been of Irish descent as on the 29th May 1909, the East London Observer  reports that his daughter Winnie (Winifred) led the Irish detachment in a Pageant to celebrate Empire Day.

Horace was born in the last quarter of 1895, so was around 22 when he died at Passchendale.

In one corner of the church there are steps leading down to the crypt:

Limehouse Town Hall

Walking down the stairs brings you to a smaller room before the main crypt which I suspect has the original flagstones across the floor.

Limehouse Town Hall

The large crypt has been through a major restoration with some superb brickwork across the walls and roof.

Limehouse Town Hall

Limehouse Town Hall and St. Anne’s Limehouse – two more fascinating buildings and each played their part in the rich history of East London.

Two more locations to visit which I will cover in my final post on Open House 2017 in the next couple of days.

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Rambling From Whitechapel To Limehouse

In my last post I wrote about the sites between Whitechapel and Limehouse in the 1972 Architects’ Journal article. Whilst walking to these locations, I took a number of detours from the direct route between the article locations to explore more of the history of Whitechapel and Limehouse.

Whilst walking the streets there is so much to see of the history of an area and how London is changing. This is a follow-up post to explore some of the other fascinating aspects of rambling around London.

To get from Wellclose Square down to Wapping High Street, I crossed over East Smithfield and walked down Vaughan Way. As with so much of London, Vaughan Way is being occupied with almost identical blocks of apartments. Across London you will find these, frequently with an artist impressions of the aspirational life style that those living in these apartments will enjoy.

If you have every looked at these pictures, they always have a number of common features. It is nearly always summer and the sun is shining, the age group of those pictured in the scene generally appears to be below 40, there are always people relaxing in the sun and often some form of coffee / food shop.

The artists’ impression of the London Dock development in Vaughan Way fits the standard model and appears to have a particularly well stocked fruit shop / florist on the corner.

I have been taking photos of these pictures for some time for a mini project to come back and compare whether the places as built meet the artists’ impressions (strange, I know but that what happens when you walk). I somehow suspect that in reality they will be rather different.

After walking around the buildings in Wapping, I walked up Wapping Lane and there is a small collection of shops including a butchers, wine merchants and a launderette, all housed in buildings from the first decades of the 20th Century and built by the London County Council. The following building, Columbus House, still has the LCC coat of arms mounted proudly on the centre of the 2nd floor of the building.

Whilst walking around East London you will find so many closed pubs. Changes in employment, culture and demographics have resulted in an area where you would have once been unable to walk for a couple of minutes without finding another pub, now having hardly any. In Wapping Lane, you will find one of the few remaining in this part of East London, the White Swan and Cuckoo.

What amused me with this pub, was the pub’s ginger cat walking up and down outside, waiting to be let in. In the above photo he is sitting outside the corner entrance.

One of the pubs that closed a number of years ago was The Old Rose on the corner of The Highway and Chigwell Hill. I walked up Wapping lane to the Highway to see whether there was any change in the derelict state of this pub.

The only survivor in this stretch of the Highway between a McDonald’s and Petrol Station on one side and a potential building site on the other. If you look just above the door, there is the following plaque:

Which if it is the original from 1678 would have been on the building here prior to the current Rose pub. What is strange though is that the plaque on the pub states Chigwell Streat. Today, the road to the side of the pub is called Chigwell Hill and checking John Rocque’s map from 1746, as can be seen below it was also called Chigwell Hill (to the left of centre), so if it was originally a Street, the name change must have been prior to 1746.

The open land at the end of Chigwell Hill in 1746 would become part of the London Docks in a little over 60 years.

The Old Rose appears in newspaper records from the early 19th Century, although prior to 1810 it appears to have been called the Old White Rose. There are newspaper reports of all the usual East London pub events – inquests into deaths in the nearby Docks and from the river, sales of good and property, sports meetings and strangely, the meeting place of Lodge No. 2 of the Ancient Order of Druids.

Today, The highway runs all the way to the junction with Butcher Row and the Limehouse Link Tunnel. This was not always so. For example, in the 1832 map of London, “drawn and engraved for Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary” , the Ratcliff Highway as it was then called only ran just under half its current length, before turning into a series of different streets called High Street of Upper Shadwell, Cock Hill and Broad Street.

Most of the area was devoted to trades related to the River Thames and the shipping that used the river. For example, just north of what was the High Street of Upper Shadwell were the Sun Tavern Fields which included some very long rope walks, where the rope used on ships could be manufactured in long lengths.

Along the Highway is this building with a blue plaque installed by the Stepney Historical Trust on the side which reads “Captain James Cook, the ablest and most renowned Navigator this or any country hath produced, lived in a house a few yards from this spot, 126 Upper Shadwell, 1763 – 1765“.

But what intrigued me was that on the front corner of the building are these initials and series of years. I have no idea what they mean.

At the end of the Highway, a short distance up Butcher Row at the junction with Cable Street is this building, Thames House. A mix of different structures from Victorian to the 1960s, it has had rather a number of problems with the way that some of the units within the building were sub-let. A planning application was expected to be made to Tower Hamlets Council towards the end of 2016 for a rejuvenation of this building, however I am not aware of the current status or plans.

But there is some rather philosophical graffiti on the side of the building – another good subject to collect and photograph whilst walking around London. (see this post for some photos of 1980s East London graffiti from my collection).

Walking along Wapping High Street, Wapping Wall and Narrow Street, it is easy to forget that the River Thames is close by, just the other side of the large former warehouses that line the southern side of the streets. Occasionally the river reveals itself, with a view of the full sweep of the river. One such place is along Narrow Street where the street crosses the entrance to Limehouse Basin.

A swing bridge carries Narrow Street across the entrance to the basin which is now a Marina. Formerly the Regent’s Canal Dock, the basin provides access to the Regent’s Canal, allowing cargo to be carried from the Thames, along the Regent’s Canal to the north of London.  The basin also provides access to the Limehouse Cut which runs up to the River Lea, and therefore by the River Lea and the Regent’s Canal, the basin provided access between the Thames and the inland waterways of England.

Along Narrow Street is Dunbar Wharf, still looking much as it must have done when a working wharf owned by the Dunbar family in the 19th century.

The Dunbar family wealth was initially from a Limehouse brewery established by Duncan Dunbar. It was his son, also called Duncan, who used the money he inherited from his father to build the shipping business that was based at Dunbar Wharf.

Dunbar’s ships carried passengers and goods across the world as well as convicts to Australia. Whilst very successful, this was not without the occasional disaster, as described in this article from the Western Times on the 7th November 1865:

“The Wreck Of The Duncan Dunbar – The passengers and crew of the Duncan Dunbar reached Southampton on Saturday morning on board the Brazil mail steamer Oneida. It seems that the vessel struck on the reef Las Rocas at about half past eight in the evening of the 7th of October, and an awful night was passed on board. On the following morning they were all, 117 in number, landed on a little island or bank of sand, which was covered with birds. They remained in this situation, with the exception of the captain, one of the passengers and six seamen, who started in a lifeboat to Pernambuco for aid, till the 17th, when they were fetched off by the Oneida. Though the sufferings, mental and bodily were indescribable, not a life was lost or a limb broken.”

Duncan Dunbar died in 1862. The report of the funeral, published on the 17th March 1862 provides a view of the standing of Duncan Dunbar in London and the wider shipping community:

“Funeral Of The Late Mr Duncan Dunbar, the Shipowner – The funeral of the late Mr Duncan Dunbar, the eminent shipowner, took place on Friday at Highgate cemetery. The mournful cortege, which comprised ten mourning coaches and several private carriages, left the deceased gentlemen’s residence, Portchester Terrace, Bayswater, at 12 o’clock, and reached the cemetery shortly after 1 o’clock. the mourners comprised a number of gentlemen of high standing in the commercial world. At Poplar and Limehouse much respect was shown. Nearly all the shipping in the East and West India Docks had their colours hoisted half mast high, as also the flags on the pier head entrances of the docks, the lofty mast house at Blackwall and Limehouse Church, the bells of which tolled during the hours appointed for the mournful ceremony.”

Duncan Dunbar did not have any children so his wealth was divided across his wider family members, although no one in the wider family wanted to continue the shipping business. The ships and warehouses were sold, however Dunbar Wharf remains to this day as a reminder of a once highly successful shipping business.

A few other wharf buildings remain with their facade much as they would have been when operating as a working wharf.

I continued along Narrow Street to the junction with Three Colt Street where I found another example of a closed East London pub. This was the Kings Head, a late 18th Century / early 19th Century pub, that although it is still clear that this was once a pub, closed a long time ago, around the early 1930s after which it became the office of a banana importing business.

The following photo shows the old Kings Head building in 1964 when used as the office for a banana importer and distributor.

(Photo used with permission from London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. Catalogue reference SC/PHL/01/400/64/6692)

And this fascinating photo from 1902 looking down Three Colt Street towards the junction with Narrow Street shows the building when it was a pub in the distance on the right hand side.

(Photo used with permission from London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. Catalogue reference SC/PHL/01/400/1507)

Across the junction from the old Kings Head pub are these buildings:

They were originally named Potter Dwellings after Alderman Henry Potter, also Mayor of Stepney.

There are plenty of records of Alderman Potter – opening events, chairing meetings, presenting prizes etc. but I could find no record of him opening these buildings or involved in their planning. Post war, they were renamed Saunders Close. I have seen references to the new name being after a Mr Saunders, a caretaker of Potter Dwellings during the war, and that the buildings were named after him following an act of bravery, but again, I can find no evidence in support.

It is good though, to see these survivors of very early 20th century East London housing which have survived both wartime bombing and post war development.

The one permanent feature across East London is continuous change and there are still so many buildings that I suspect will be demolished or transformed in the coming years. On the opposite side of Commercial Road from the church of St. Anne’s, Limehouse are these derelict buildings.

Once the home of that standard business which occupies all such sites across East London, the building will probably not be standing in a couple of years.

Further along Commercial Road is the Star of the East.

Another East London pub from the first half of the 19th century, the pub has been through a series of recent reopening and closures and is currently closed. The building has some ornate carving and decoration, very different from many other East London pubs and was probably due to its prominent position on the Commercial Road at the junction with the East and West India Dock roads, rather than being a local corner pub.

I had not intended this to be another long post, however I find that just rambling round the streets of London is an endlessly fascinating exercise. There is so much to see and learn of how the city has evolved and how this process is the one consistent feature of London’s long history.

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New Deal For East London – Whitechapel To Limehouse

A couple of weeks ago I started exploring East London using the map published in the Architects’ Journal from the 19th January 1972. The map was part of a feature article titled “New Deal for East London” and covered the considerable changes expected to take place across East London and the fate of a number of sites that the Architects’ Journal considered essential for preservation.

Sites across the map were categorised by how they were part of East London’s development. In the past two posts I covered Category A – Areas that were developed as overflow from the City of London.

In today’s post I start on Category B – Linear development along the Rivers Thames and Lea due to riverside trades.

The map below is an extract from the larger map published in the 1972 article and covers the next set of locations, those marked from 17 to 25, running from the southern edge of Whitechapel to Limehouse along the Thames. The sites along the River Lea will be the subject of a later post

The following map shows the same area today with the same locations marked.

The Architects’ Journal introduces this area as follows:

“And now the route east from the City can be followed by tracing the riverside developments. While land east of the City still consisted of fields dotted with small, independent villages, the riverside was already lined with a continuous strip of workshops, wharves and houses. As England’s trade and empire increased in the 16th and 17th centuries, riverside villages grew in size, not inland, but along the river, and eventually became an almost independent naval town stretching from the Tower to Limehouse. This independence from the rest of London astonished even 18th century Londoners. John Fielding wrote in 1776; ‘When one goes to Rotherhithe or Wapping, which places are chiefly inhabited by sailors, but that somewhat of the same language is spoken, a man would be apt to suspect himself in another country.’ And Boswell was recommended by Johnson to explore Wapping to see ‘ wonderful extent and variety of London.’ When Boswell did go to Wapping, almost 10 years later, he was disappointed and supposed that standardisation in building had destroyed its character. “

There is so much to be written about this area, however my posts are often getting rather long, so today I will concentrate on finding the sites, and write more about the history of this fascinating area in some future posts.

I always enjoy a walk in East London and when I walked this route the weather was perfect, although bright sun can cause problems with the contrasts between sunlight and shadow in some of the narrow East London streets. Starting off, I walked to the first point:

Site 17 – All that remains of Wellclose Square and 1850 GLC owned Wilton’s Music Hall in Grace’s Alley

I started off walking along Royal Mint Street, then Cable Street before turning off down Ensign Street where the entrance to Graces Alley can be found. It is here that Wilton’s Music Hall can be found.

The buildings that now house Wilton’s have a long history. Originally individual houses from the late 17th Century they have since been through many alterations and changes, a 19th century Music Hall, a Methodist Mission and a warehouse for rag sorting.

During the 1960s the London County Council planned to demolish the whole area including the nearby Swedenborg and Wellclose Squares along with the buildings that housed Wilton’s Music Hall. Whilst the other areas under threat of demolition did not survive, the buildings along the northern edge of Grace’s Alley, including Wilton’s Music Hall were spared, but fell into dereliction. Campaigns during the last few decades raised the funding to restore Wilton’s and it is the restored building that we find today. There is a full history of the building and the restoration on the Wilton’s web site which can be found here.

Wellclose Square is a different matter. The square is found at the end of Grace’s Alley:

In the 1972 article, the Architects’ Journal describes Wellclose and the adjacent Swedenborg Square’s:

“Off Cable Street were two early 18th Century squares – Swedenborg and Wellclose Squares – neither of which descended into the slum that Cable Street had become. Both escaped serious war damage but, although unique, were not spared by wholesale demolition that occurred in the last decade. Swedenborg Gardens now stand on the site of the square, no trace of which has remained. Wellclose Square (where Dr. Johnson’s friend Dr. Mayo lived – and which at that time was the residential centre for Scandinavian timber merchants and boasted a Danish Church) has not even been rebuilt, but lies as the demolition men left it. Sites of original houses are used as car parks. The East End as an area could not afford to lose these houses; their demolition destroyed vital community memory and identity.”

The last sentence in the above paragraph is a consistent message throughout the 1972 article. It is not just the buildings that are being lost, but also the loss of a community that had long considered East London as home.

I was not sure what I would find in Wellclose Square. The Architects’ Journal listing states “all that remains” which is not very specific. The article also includes the following photo of some of the houses in Wellclose Square but does not make clear whether there were still remaining in 1972.

The buildings on the right of the above photo with the panels above the ground floor windows were originally the Danish Embassy.

A quick walk around Wellclose Square confirmed that all the buildings of the original square have been demolished, with new building from the later decades of the 20th century now running along the sides of what remains of the square.

The only buildings of any age that are now within Wellclose Square are those that form part of the central square (the original location of the Danish church). One of which is this building:

It appears to be within the grounds of the school that occupies the central part of the square so I hope that the windows and door facing the road are covered in this way to prevent access from the road rather than that the building has been abandoned.

The plaques on the wall provide some background to the building. The plaque on the left reads “St. Paul’s Mission Room” and that on the right “St. Paul’s Church for Seamen Infant Nursery”.

The building was constructed in 1874 and is currently Grade II listed.  As this was a mid-Victorian building I suspect it was not what the Architects’ Journal was referring to and that all the buildings were demolished.

To get to my next location, I needed to retrace my steps to Cable Street and at the junction with Royal Mint Street turn left down Dock Street:

Site 18 – Late 18th Century Houses in Dock Street

The Architects’ Journal map shows three locations in Dock Street. One a short distance down on the left, one further on the right then one at the junction with The Highway, and it here that I will start.

The following photo shows the house in the location marked on the map, so what appears to be a fine survivor, although I am not sure whether the full house survives. If you look at the new building to the left, it appears to carry on into the original building and checking an aerial view it looks that the new building on the left extends across the rear of the older building and that whilst the front and part side facade looks to have survived this may well be a case of the body of a building being gutted and rebuilt as part of a new, larger construction.

Although nothing could prepare me for what I would find next. This is the building on the site marked on the left of Dock Street.

This has to be the worst reconstruction of a pretend 18th Century house that I have ever seen. The building also has a distinctly industrial feel with the metal door, air vents and pipework down the side. Openstreetmap has this building labeled as a mobile phone company so I suspect it houses equipment for their network, but why build the front facade to possibly resemble the 18th Century house that once stood here in such a superficial manner?

Walking back up Dock Street towards Cable Street there was some considerable building work underway. Here all the buildings to the right of the Sir Sydney Smith pub have been demolished.

The full site is in the photo below. This building site will soon become the Ordnance Building where “no expense has been spared in curating a collection of residences that live up to the development’s prime location”. The Ordnance Building will also feature a “Quintessentially (online) concierge service” whatever that is.

It seems that almost anything these days is “curated”. You can read more about the Ordnance Building here.

The final location in Dock Street appears to have survived intact. A fine three floor house. Note the way that the size of the windows reduce from ground to top floor.

From Dock Street it was then a walk down towards the River Thames, to the next location:

Site 19 – Wapping conservation area enlarged to take in early 19th century pair on river to east

Site 19 covered a number of buildings around and to the east of the Wapping basin entrance to the London Docks. The docks are long since closed, however the buildings remain, some much restored and rebuilt, however the area does retain the character of when the docks were in operation.

I have already written about this area in my post on The Gun Tavern, so as this is a rather lengthy post I will not repeat here.

At the time of the 1972 article, the restored buildings along Pier Head shown in the photos above and below were for sale with prices of:

Houses: £22,500 to £37,500

Flats: £13,500 to £42,500

A quick check for recently sold prices, found that in 2012 a terrace house at Pier Head sold for £2,550,000 and in 2011 a flat sold for £1,300,000. That is quite some investment in 40 years.

Looking across to the old St. John’s Church and the Charity School next door.

The next stop on the Architects’ Journal map was reached after walking along Wapping High Street, up Wapping Lane then turning into Raine Street to find:

Site 20 – 1719 School in Raine Street

Apart from the nearby church of St. Peter’s London Docks, the old school building, or Raine House as it is now named is the only survivor among an area of redeveloped 20th century housing.

The building was originally a charity school founded by Henry Raine, owner of a Wapping brewery with the traditional blue coated school children standing in alcoves on the front of the building, very similar to the charity school in the Wapping Conservation Area.

The plaque above the door confirms the date of 1719 and states “Come In & Learn Your Duty To God & Man”.

In 1972 the old school building looked to be at considerable risk. The Architects’ Journal states: “The 1719 school in Raine Street, owned by the GLC, this school is for sale – a sale that had better be quick if it is to survive attacks from the local children”. The article includes the photo below to demonstrate the poor condition of the building. Note also that the two statues are missing, hopefully moved to preserve them. The article then goes on to state “Since this picture was taken all first floor windows have been broken. What will become of this building if action is not taken soon?”

The last sentence sums up the concern that is a theme throughout the article. There were a whole range of important 18th century buildings across East London being left to decay, helped in that decay by vandalism. If the authorities did not apparently see the importance in these buildings no wonder the local children could see no reason why they could not use these decaying buildings for stone throwing and other general damage.

Fortunately the school buildings have survived and now rather suitably are home to the Pollyanna Training Theatre and Studios, rather than expensive flats.

From Raine Street, it was then a walk up Wapping Lane to The Highway to reach the next location:

Site 21 – Early 19th Century Rectory and Church of St. Paul’s Shadwell

The Highway is a really busy road and it took a while to get a suitable break in the traffic to take the photo below showing the Rectory on the right and the church on the left.

The current church is the third that has occupied the site. The original church was built in 1656 as a Chapel of Ease. This was rebuilt in 1669 as the Parish Church of Shadwell.

The 1669 church (the middle picture in the top row in the print below) was demolished to make way for the current church which was built in 1820.

St. Paul’s Shadwell has been traditionally associated with Sea Captains and Captain James Cook was an active parishioner at the church.

An information panel at the entrance to the church also records that John Wesley preached at the church and there were a number of notable baptisms including Jane Randolph, the mother of the US President Thomas Jefferson, and James Cook, the eldest son of Captain Cook.

If you look back at the maps at the start of this post, the church is just north of the Shadwell Basin and when this easterly part of the London Docks was constructed, part of the church yard of St. Paul’s was lost to make way for the new docks.

From here, I continued along The Highway, almost to the entrance to the Limehouse Link Tunnel, before turning left into Butcher Row to find:

Site 22 – late 18th Century Rectory in Butcher Row

Butcher Row is a really busy road. It links Commercial Road, Cable Street and The Highway and is at the point where The Highway disappears below ground as the Limehouse Link. The late 18th century Rectory was easy to find, but I had to wait sometime before I could get a photo not obstructed by traffic.

This is a lovely building, built between 1795 and 1796, not originally as a Rectory, but for Matthew Whiting, a sugar refiner and director of the Phoenix Assurance Company.

There was originally a church behind the Rectory building. St. James, Ratcliffe was the first church built by the Bishop Blomfield Metropolitan Churches Fund and consecrated in 1833. It was badly damaged during the war and demolished in the 1950s.

The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew Atlas of Greater London shows the pre-war area with the church in the centre of the map with Butcher Row just to the left. The map also highlights the changes in the area. Today, Butcher Row is a much wider road and has taken over the part of Cable Street where it runs up to Commercial Road.

The Rectory and the area once occupied by the church is now the home of the Royal Foundation of St. Katherine.

On the front of the rectory is a blue plaque to the Reverend St. John Groser, an East End Priest during the first half of the 20th Century who took part in the General Strike and was injured in the Battle of Cable Street. There is a fascinating history of St. John Groser to be found here.

Hard to believe that this house is facing one of the busiest sets of roads in East London.

Leaving the traffic of Butcher Row, it was time to head to the next location:

Site 23 – Early 18th Century Group in Narrow Street

This group of buildings are still looking in fine condition and include The Grapes pub.

the Architects’ Journal provides a view from 1972 of how this type of house could survive and the social changes that this involved:

“In Narrow Street a few much restored early 18th century houses give foretaste of the social pattern that might soon develop along the whole riverside. the fronts are well painted, but generally anonymous, the backs, have picture frame windows and motor boats. Their original inhabitants have been moved into council flats behind. 

Significantly these houses survive only because they have been bought by people able to restore and maintain them. Tower Hamlets had planned to demolish them for open space, but relented when it was agreed that they would be restored privately.”

After a quick stop in the Grapes, it was on to the next location:

Site 24 – 18th Century Terrace in Newell Street

This terrace of houses is a surprise. It is reached from Narrow Lane by turning into Three Colt Street, then turning left into Newell Street. (Newell Street was originally Church Row, but changed name, I believe, in the late 1930s) Both these streets have housing blocks from the later half of the 20th century, however as soon as you pass under the bridge carrying the Docklands Light Railway over Newell Street you find yourself in a street lined with these 18th century houses.

At the end of the terrace is St. Anne’s Passage which provides access to the church of St. Anne, Limehouse. The following photo is taken by the passage which is running to the left and shows the full length of the terrace. In the photo of the site in the Architects’ Journal, the building with the curved facade is only two storey so the top storey looks to be a later addition which the different type of brick confirms.

If you look down St. Anne’s Passage you find the final destination for the walk:

Site 25 – St. Anne’s, Limehouse

St. Anne’s Limehouse is a wonderful church and visiting on a sunny February day was perfect. Although you can enter the churchyard from the Commercial Road, the best way to approach the church is through St. Anne’s Passage which provides this view of the church:

The article in the Architects’ Journal included the following photo from the same position. Note how the house on the right was originally two storeys.

The building on the other corner was the office for a building company in 1972 however it was originally a pub which is still reasonably clear from the building today, which does not look as if it has changed much since 1972.

The pub was the Coopers Arms and occupies a good location at the entrance to the passage to the church. I wonder how may participants of a Sunday morning service walked the short distance to the pub at the end of the service?

There are so many closed pubs across East London and looking at these buildings now it is easy to forget that they were once the hub for so much of the life of the community. Most East London pubs also had sports teams and ran sports events, and despite its relatively small size the Coopers Arms was no exception.

19th Century issues of the Sporting Life tell of the events held at the Coopers Arms.

From the issue of the 22nd February 1890:

“Cooper’s Arms, Church Row, Limehouse: There was a good muster present at this establishment on Tuesday evening to witness the opening bouts of the 9st competition for a silver cup, promoted by W. Turner, the well known boxer of Limehouse. Details:

Bout 1: W. Brown beat T. Tabbits – The latter retired at the end of the first round.

Bout 2: A. Smith beat W. Potts – There was little to choose between these men, Smith receiving the verdict.

Bout 3: J. Bennett beat H. Cooper – This was a grand affair for two rounds when Cooper retired.

Bout 4: D. Hudson sparred a bye with G. Painter

Exhibition boxing by the following also took place: Willits v. Perkins, Paver v. Pointon, Walmer v. Daultry, Hall v. Barnes, brothers Campbell. Wind-up, Bill Turner v. Buffer Causer

The judges were H. Watson and H. Perry, referee T. Baldwin, timekeeper, Sporting Life representative, M.C.  The finals take place on Tuesday next.”

The Cooper’s Arms also had a very active Quoits team with the Sporting Life referring to the team as “those well known East-End quoiters.”

Remove the yellow lines on the street, the street lamp and the blue sign on the gates and you could be walking to church in the 19th Century.

If you look just to the left of the blue plaque in the photo above, there is a much older stone plaque in the narrow gap:

If I have read this correctly, the plaque from 1757 gives the dimensions of the passage and confirms that the passage is the property of St. Anne’s Church.

St. Anne’s Limehouse is a magnificent church. It was one of the 12 churches built following the 1711 Act of Parliament to build additional churches across London to cater for the expanding population of the city.

Built between 1714-1727, the church was rebuilt after a serious fire in 1850 and there was further restoration work in the 1980s and 90s.

St. Anne’s, Limehouse was permitted by Queen Anne to fly the White Ensign of the Royal Naval Service, a tradition which continues to this day. The proximity of the church to the River Thames also meant that the church was a Trinity House navigation mark for those travelling on the river.

In the churchyard is a strange pyramid structure. It was originally planned that this would be installed on the roof of the church, however this did not happen so the pyramid continues to sit in the churchyard looking up at the church roof where it should have been located.

This was a fascinating walk, rounded off by finishing in the churchyard of St. Anne’s on a sunny February afternoon with the church yard full of crocuses.

On this third walk to visit the sites of concern in the 1972 Architects; Journal, I was pleased that the majority have survived well, the main exception being the rather strange modern mock Georgian fascia of the building in Dock Street.

The next stage will be the route from Cubitt Town on the Isle of Dogs up along the River Lea to finish of the category B locations. That is a walk for another day.

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