I came across XX Place in the book “Curious London” purchased by my father in 1951. The book was written by Hugh Pearman, a London taxi-driver who described the book as:
“This little book is the result of the accumulated knowledge gathered during the years that I have been a London taxi-driver and it is my earnest hope that my readers will enjoy this guide to Curious London as much as I have enjoyed compiling it. It deals not with the London that most tourists visit, but with, as its name implies the unusual, the quaint and the curious.”
The book takes each of the (at the time) twenty nine boroughs and cities that made up the county of London and identifies six curious features of each.
I was browsing through the book and a small photo of a street sign with the unusual name of XX Place, E1 stood out on the page covering Stepney. The description in the book reads:
“Half hidden in Globe Road is a little turning with the oddest of all odd names, XX Place, so called, it is believed, because it was built to house their workers, by the owners of the huge brewery in whose shadow it stands. lending colour to that belief are the two little beer barrels, carved in stone, high up in the wall of one of the cottages”.
It was such an unusual name that I thought it would be interesting to see what I could find of XX Place, a search that took me via the Tower Hamlets Archives to standing in Globe Road opposite the entrance to the street that was demolished in the 1950s.
The book stated that XX Place was a turning off Globe Road in Stepney, it was therefore easy to find on the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map.
In the extract below, Mile End Road is running along the lower part of the map. Globe Road is the street that runs from above the word “Tramway” in Mile End Road, northwards.
Follow Globe Road and on the left, running back down towards Mile End Road is clearly marked XX Place.
To try and find some history on XX Place I carried out an online search on the Tower Hamlets Archives, and armed with a couple of reference numbers visited the archives on a Saturday morning. (The Tower Hamlets Archives are a wonderful resource, and the staff very knowledgeable and helpful).
My first source at the archives was a small booklet published in 2001 by Ron Osborne titled XX Place. The booklet provided a description of XX Place.
It was built in 1842 for locally employed workers. It was only a short street of 10 small terrace houses running along one side of the street. It was about 10 feet wide and the majority of those living in the street were employed at the nearby Charringtons Brewery.
The local name for the street was either 2X Place, or, as known by older locals, Double X Place,
On the side of the street opposite to the terrace houses was a Stepney Borough Council paving depot where cobble and kerb stones were stored.
The houses were small – two rooms upstairs and a living room and kitchen downstairs. The front door opened directly into the living room, there was no passage between the front door and the rooms of the house.
Each house had a very small backyard.
Along with the booklet, the archives also had some other single page references to XX Place. One of these was composed of notes that confirmed the above and also included the recollection of a local to XX Place, that a friend who was one of eight children lived with their parents in one of the houses, so a family of ten lived in one of these small houses – a common situation across much of east London.
There was a corner shop at the junction of XX Place and Globe Road. In the 1920s this was classed as a “rag shop”, then a Doctor had it as a surgery before moving to the corner of Alderney Road, it then became a baby dress shop and finally a radio shop where people would take their wireless batteries to be charged.
The following photo shows XX Place, with the photo matching the description of the street. Note the street name plaque at the upper right.
Tower Hamlets Archives also had a book which described a visit to XX Place, and unfortunately not being able to resist collecting London books I found a copy of the book on Abebooks. The book is A Londoner’s Own London by Charles G. Harper and published in 1927.
Charles G. Harper was a typical travel writer of the time. People who could enhance his visits and stories always seemed to be there at the right time, and the writing displays a somewhat condescending attitude to many of the people he meets. However if you cut through this, Harper does provide some accurate descriptions, and his record of a visit to XX Place is as follows:
“Among the streets of London is ‘XX Place’. It is in a sense an unknown quantity because the London Post Office Directory has no mention of it, although the Post Office Guide notes its existence. A policeman at Aldgate knew it; ‘It’s not worth going to look at’ he said.
But I prefer to see for myself; so I got on a tramcar.
Put me off at Globe Road, I said; I want to find XX Place. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of it.
Oh ! yes, I have, said the conductor to my surprise. I used to be an insurance agent, and I got some proposals from the people living there, and when I sent the papers in to the office, they wrote and told me there wasn’t any such place…..Thought I was having ’em on, I suppose, as you might say….So I took the Superintendent there, and showed him.
I can explain it, said I; the Post Office Directory ignores XX Place; and of course, when the insurance people looked for and didn’t find it, they naturally thought there was not and could not be, a street with a name like that.
It was a summer’s evening when I happened upon XX Place. Oh ! yes, there is such a street; I have not imagined it.
XX Place is a little by-way out of Globe Road which turns out of Mile End Road at Stepney Green railway-station. There is a public house, the Globe at the other corner. There would probably be another pub at the first named corner, except that the station is there. indeed, it is likely that one was disestablished to make way for the station.
But however that may be, there is a public house on the farther side of Stepney Green Station. It is the ‘Black Boy’. There were two policemen at the corner of XX Place at the time of my advent. The westering sun shone in my eyes, as I looked about me and could not read the name plate on the corner house.
Where is XX Place, I asked.
You’re looking at it, said one of the constables.
i looked at little more, and perceived a, well, cul-de-sac if you like; a short street with little four roomed houses on the right, the dead wall of one of the Stepney Borough Council’s yards on the left, and at the end another dead wall.
What sort of people live there?, I asked one of the constables.
I don’t know. he answered, rather loftily, I never speak to them.
I will, I made reply, caustically; do you think it’s safe? If you hear me presently call for help, come to the rescue. The constable turned away daunted. Such is the effect of a sub-acid humour.
So I made the acquaintance of the people of XX Place myself. Approaching one, who was drinking, he poured some of it out of a jug into a glass and offered it to me. With my customary bonhomie, I accepted, and found it to be ale; the product, probably of either the neighbouring brewery of Charrington, or of the equally neighbouring Mann, Crossman and Co.
The natives of XX Place are not less urbane than those of Grosvenor Place; and perhaps a little more human. They are likeable folk. It is, you may be surprised to learn, as much de riguer in XX Place to wear a collar (and not merely a neckcloth) as it is in the West End.
They are rather proud of the implied distinction conferred upon them in living there, but they have their conventions. You must, if you please, style it ‘Double X Place’; or they will not be pleased.
Amiably they do the honours, pointing out the tablet set in the front on the middle house, which displays the semblance of the projecting half of a barrel, surmounting the inscription ‘1823. I.S., J.S.’ It appears that those initials stand for members of the Stayner family, who built it. There is a considerable Stayner estate in the neighbourhood, and the inhabitants render their rents to a firm of solicitors. The little houses were formerly let at five shillings weekly; but now at ten shillings.
Nothing seems to have survived to account for the naming of XX Place; but the evidence of the barrel on the tablet hints obviously at some connection with a brewery which produces ale of that double X quality.
The sole grievance of the denizens of XX Place appears to be that the former right of way through to the ‘Black Boy’ inn has been abolished. I advised them to bear up against this adversity; and pointed out that the ‘Globe’ in the other direction was no greater distance. But you have to cross the road to reach that. Nothing, therefore, short of the reopening of the former footpath, will appease them; and as that appears to be unlikely, I am afraid the grievance of XX Place will not merely go unredressed, but will remain a sorrow until the memory of its sometime existence is forgotten.”
Harper included his own drawings in the book. The following drawing shows the entrance to XX Place from Glove Road with the shop on the corner:
The following drawing by Harper shows the tablet mentioned in his text with the barrel. The 2001 booklet by Ron Osborne mentions that the tablet is still to be found, although in a very sorry state. I walked the area that was once XX Place but could not find any hint of the tablet, so not sure if it has been removed since 2001, or if I was looking in the wrong place. I would be interested in any information as to the location or fate of the tablet.
Harper’s text mentions the Black Boy pub. If you go back to the 1895 map and follow XX Place down, there is a long building that runs down to Mile End Road and is labelled PH. This is the Black Boy pub and it was obviously an easy walk for the inhabitants of XX Place down to their local pub.
The right of way to the Black Boy was closed up at the beginning of the 20th century. There is a letter in the East London Observer on the 28th November 1903 referring to the closing up of XX Place. This was probably down to the redevelopment of this corner of Mile End Road and Globe Road associated with the coming of the railway. The 1895 map does not show Stepney Green station which is on the left hand corner of Mile End Road and Globe Road. The station was opened in 1902 by the Whitechapel and Bow railway.
The main reason that XX Place appeared in newspapers seems to be not for any newsworthy event in the street, rather the strangeness of the name. A typical example is an article in the London Daily News on the 6th August 1904 titled “Stepney’s Nature Study”. The article traces a number of street names in Stepney that have an animal as part of the name, and then goes on to say:
“In addition, some curious names are to be found, for there is an Elbow Lane, a Frying Pan Alley, and Shoulder of Mutton Alley, but none of these are so curious as XX Place in Mile End.”
XX Place was also mentioned in the Shoreditch Observer on the 3rd June 1899 as the most curiously named street in London. It also names a couple of other street names which would have been contenders if the names had not been changed: “Hocum Pocum Lane in Hither Green and Kicking Boy Alley have been altered”.
XX Place was demolished around 1957/58 as part of the London County Council slum clearance programme. The site was then occupied by a council run laundry, including a later self-service launderette which closed in 1975. There then followed a period of temporary use until the area was cleared in 1989 to make way for the Stocks Court student accommodation block which now occupies much of the length of Globe Road which included the entrance to XX Place.
After visiting the Tower Hamlets Archive I walked along Mile End Road to Globe Road. This is Stocks Court. The junction of XX Place and Globe Road was to the left of the bus stop, roughly where the tree is located.
I walked around the back of Stocks Court trying to find the tablet which Ron Osborne had mentioned was still to be found in 2001, but could not find any evidence of the tablet’s survival.
This is the view looking back towards the rear of Stocks Court. XX Place would have run roughly down the centre of the photo. To the right would have been the rear entrance to the Black Boy pub. I suspect there would have been many late night, drunken walks from pub back to house in the area covered by this photo, and probably explains why the residents objected to the blocking up of XX Place as they lost a short and safe route between house and pub and now had to risk crossing a road.
Returning to Mile End Road, this is the building that was once the Black Boy pub, until closure in 1996. The original pub on this site dates back to the 18th century, however the current building was a 1904 rebuild of the pub during the redevelopment of the area when Stepney Green station arrived (which is just to the right of the photo).
Stepney Green station on the corner of Mile End Road and Globe Road:
I walked around the area once occupied by XX Place, and the surrounding streets in the hope of finding the tablet with the barrel that was once to be found in the terrace in XX Place and recorded as still being seen, although in a poor state in 2001 by Ron Osborne.
Although I was unable to find the tablet, I did find a rather nice London County Council “Stop” sign at the entrance to the car park for Withy House, an LCC built housing block on Globe Road.
I am not sure if XX Place is London’s strangest street name, however it is one of the more unusual.
Although the street was demolished in the 1950s, the name can still be found locally with the XX Place Health Centre on the Mile End hospital site in Bancroft Road. As mentioned earlier in this post, a Doctor had a surgery on the corner of XX Place before moving to the corner of Alderney Road.
Alderney Road was almost directly opposite XX Place and leads through to Bancroft Road opposite the Mile End Hospital site. Perhaps the current health centre can trace its root back to the doctor’s surgery at XX Place, hence the retention of the name.
I would be really interested if anyone knows the location of, or what happened to the XX Place tablet. It would be the last physical link with this unusual Stepney street.