Sunday, July 5, 2020

Stepney Green

This is Stepney Green, the 17th station on the District Line that I have visited. That was on 1st March 2020 on a cold but beautiful sunny day. Little did I realise that it would be my last visit to a tube station for many, many months. It is now the beginning of July and I am trying to recall my visit here. Due to the corona virus lockdown I had forgotten about this station as I had not downloaded the photos onto the blog. Thank goodness for photographs.
The station was opened in 1902 by the Whitechapel and Bow Railway, a joint venture between the District Railway and the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. The new railway connected the District Railway at Whitechapel with the London, Tilbury and Southend at Bow. Electrified District railway services started in 1905. The Hammersmith and City Line services started in 1936 but it wasn't untl 1950 that the station became part of the London Underground serving the District and the Hammersmith and city lines.

The grey and white of the station decor made a change from the usual green and cream on other District Line stations.

I was pleased the old signage on the stairwell hadn't been replaced.

On leaving the station I turned left on to Mile End Road and then left again onto Globe Road.
The Horn of Plenty pub has been here since the 1830s and stands on the corner of Globe Road and Alderney Road.

This is Carlton Square. In the late 19th century new clusters of houses and suburban developments began to appear along the Mile End Road. Larger houses were built to accommodate the wealthy merchants and sea captains but as the area began to change with more and more development of open land, the wealthier began to move away in the early 19th century. There was already a large Spanish and Portuguese community here from the 17th century and this was joined by a large Jewish community immigrating into the area in the 19th century.

There was large scale building in the mid 19th century to provide cheap and sanitary housing for the working classes. The housing in Carlton Square was a product of that expansion. They were built in the 1850s on open land known as Globe Fields. The Pemberton Barnes Trust which owned them began letting them in 1853 and eventually sold 200 properties to the Peabody Trust in 1974, who are now the major landowners in the area. With having few landlords the properties have remained largely intact. The housing was considered important enough to be protected by the London Squares preservation Act of 1931. The creation of Carlton Square Garden in the 1960s has had the most significant impact with its large open green space. It was established by the clearing of housing.

I left Carlton Square and returned to the Mile End Road where this building caught my eye. Now a Weatherspoon's pub you can see by the architecture that its previous life would have been quite different. In fact it is a former Methodist chapel built in 1900. In 1977, the disused chapel was taken over by the Half Moon Theatre company. In 1985, the theatre expanded into a derelict site next door but closed in 1990. Several years later it was converted into The Half Moon pub.

I am edging closer to the centre of London. London Bridge is just over two miles away from Stepney Green station. This is the view looking down Mile End Road towards the tall buildings in the City of London.

I wandered down this alley to Mile End Place and was surprised to discover an uncharacteristic street for this area with its cottages and front gardens.

On either side of the street were these delightful 19th century cottages.

At the end of the street was a large brick wall. On the other side of the wall are two of the most historic Jewish cemeteries in the country. One of the cemeteries opened in 1657 and closed in 1742. It is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Britain. It was purchased  after Oliver Cromwell permitted Jews to return to England 267 years after they had been expelled by King Edward I. The other one opened in 1696 and closed in 1852. I discovered one of the cemeteries when I was researching  Mile End Station. 

Back on the main road I passed Albert Stern House, once a home for elderly Sephardi Jews it is now part of Queen Mary College. The building dates from 1913 and is named after Sir Albert Gerald Stern (1878-1966) who helped to develop Britain's first tank in WW1.

A plaque outside the house.

I only walked as far as Queen Mary's University as I had covered the rest of this area when I visited Mile End Station 
I turned left onto Bancroft road and passed the Tower Hamlets local history library. I would have enjoyed a browse through the archives here but as it was a Sunday it was closed. It is a very grand building which was built in  1865 as a Vestry building with a hall for community purposes. In 1905 it became a public library but with it being surrounded by Queen Mary's University there were plans in 2008,  for it to become part of the University, and for  its collection of archives to be distributed around the Borough.  Fortunately the plan was defeated following protests by the local community.

 Towards the end of Bancroft Road I came across a patch of greenery surrounded by high iron railings. There was no sign or information saying what it was or had been in years gone by. What was left of the  gravestones was scattered amongst the grass. A neglected cemetery.
 As I peered through the railings I could just about see what I thought was Hebrew on one or two of the stones that were still standing.

After some research I discovered that this was the cemetery for the congregation of Maiden Lane synagogue in Covent Garden from 1811. More than 500 bodies had been laid to rest here before the demise of the synagogue at the beginning of the 20th century. The area was hit by a bomb during WW2 which is why the stones are broken and scattered.  Despite its neglectful state the board of Deputies of British Jews have refused to do anything about the site. There is currently a move to raise money so that a memorial can be built here to remember all those who were buried in this cemetery. Historians estimate there were approximately 120,000 Jews living in this area in 1910.

I continued walking down Mile End Road towards London.  

On the corner of Mile End Road and Cephas Avenue is Adam House office block and Charrington House, which was the head office of Charrington Bass brewery. The brewery moved here from Bethnal Green in 1757. In 1766 John Charrington took a third share in the Anchor Brewery and by 1783, he and his brother, Henry had taken over the whole business. By the beginning of the 19th century this was the second biggest brewery in London producing 20,252 barrels of beer per year. It remained a family business until the 20th century when various mergers took place and in 1967 the company was known as Bass Charrington. It ceased production in January 1975. The site was redeveloped as housing, offices and a retail centre.

This is Malplaquet House, an 18th century Georgian mansion once owned by Henry Charrington. It was purchased in 1998 after being uninhabited for over 100 years and was the site of two former shops. It was saved by the Spitalfields Trust. In 1998, Tim Knox, British Historian and director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and Landscape gardener Todd Longstaffe Gowan bought the property from the Trust for £250,000 and have repaired and restored it.

I crossed over the road to read this commemorative plaque. The  plaque shows the site where Captain James Cook (1728-1779) used to live. Sadly the house was demolished. Cook along with other mariners probably chose to live here as it was within walking distance of The River Thames but at that time was still semi rural. Cook was an explorer and surveyor and charted Newfoundland, New Zealand, the East coast of Australia, parts of Antartica and the West coast of North America.

A little further on I saw a sign for a bakery. I turned off the main road into a housing estate and there was Rickoff's Bakery. What a gem! Whilst waiting to be served I read that it was a family run business since 1911 producing speciality breads and cakes. There are photos of all the family members who have worked in the business from Hyman who came over from the Ukraine in 1911 to his great grandchildren who are now running the business. The building looks as though it was probably built in the 60s alongside the housing estate but some of the recipes for the traditional breads have been passed on through the generations creating a unique place to eat. I had a smoked salmon bagel which was just delicious. Should have photographed it but too busy eating it. I read later that this is the only Jewish bakery left in the East End of London.

Fortified I was ready to have a look at what else of interest I could find in this fascinating area. Back on Mile End Road I saw some statues on the Mile End Waste. This was once an extensive open space frequently used for meetings. It was here that William Booth, who later founded the Salvation Army, preached against the degradation of drink in the 19th century. The outstretched hand is not original. It has been replaced a number of times after being broken off and stolen.

There is also a statue of Catherine, his wife

A third statue on Mile End Waste is a bust of King Edward VII who was the son of Queen Victoria. He ascended to the throne at the age of 60 and only reigned for 11 years.

Alongside the Mile End Waste are the Trinity Almshouses. The Almshouses consist of two rows of cottages facing each other across a green with a chapel at the far end. 

They were built by Trinity House, in 1695, with money from a legacy left by Captain Mudd to provide accommodation for  ''28 decayed Masters and Commanders of ships or ye widows of such”.  

A plaque on the wall plays tribute to Mudd's contribution.

On the gable ends you can see these model sailling ships. These are fibreglass replicas with the original marble models stored in the Museum of London.

Today the cottages are a mix of council and private owned homes.

This building next to the Almshouses was the Former Engineer's House for the Albion Brewery c1905. It now houses a chicken restaurant and apartments.

On the other side of the Almshouses is the Tower Hamlets Mission.  The charity  was founded by Frederick Charrington, a member of the Charrington brewery family. The charity helps the homeless suffering from alcohol or drug addiction. Although Frederick could have made a fortune working for the family brewery, he decided to spend his life campaigning against brewers, pubs and brothels for their corrupting influence on the local community.

On the wall overlooking the Tower Hamlets Mission is this colourful mural by Mychael Barrett painted in 2011. It celebrates the people and buildings of the area.

This large building was once Wickham's department store. In the centre of the building you can see a smaller building. This was a jewellery shop owned by  the Spielgelhalters who refused to sell when the store was being built. The developers had no option but to build around the shop. In 1969 the store was no longer profitable and closed down but the jewellers remained in business until the 1980s.

This small cinema dates from 1939. It was built on land that had been the site of other places of entertainment since the mid 19th century. When the Paragon theatre was on this site from  1885 acts such as Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy performed here. The building has been used as a cinema since 1912. It changed ownership and its name many times. It was revived in 1999 after being derelict for 10 years and was given the name Genesis. There is a cafe inside as well as art exhibitions.

I returned to the south side of the Mile End Road to have a look at Stepney Green. As you walk along the street you see in front of you a mature green area with lawns and trees, surrounded by railings with large  houses on either side.

The most impressive of the houses are on the eastern side of the Green. One of the houses was built in 1694 and is the oldest house in Stepney Green. Its owners included the East India Company merchants and the Charrington family of brewers.

The houses very much reflect a more prosperous era.

On the other side of the Green is a well preserved advert for bread.

Back on the eastern side of the Green are these wrought iron gates which were the entrance to a school. The monogram on these gates, SJS, refers to  - Stepney Jewish School. It dates back to 1906. The school moved to Ilford in 1970 but the buildings still remain.

The former school is overshadowed by Stepney Green Court, tenement blocks built in 1896. They were built by the 'Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company'. The company was founded in 1885 by the 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915) to provide 'the industrial classes with commodious and healthy dwellings at a minimum rent' and was mainly aimed at helping the Jewish population in East London.  The company was formed as a commercial business and generated financial returns of 4% hence the name.

At the southern end of the Green on a small grassy area is this fountain erected  in memory of Leonard Montefiore (1853-1879), an author and philanthropist. It is inscribed  '....who loved children and was loved by children.'

On the same grassy area is a square clock tower. It was put up in 1913 to commemorate Alderman Stanley Atkinson (1873-1910), a medical doctor and a Justice of the Peace.

A short distance from the Green is this white stone arch which is all that remains of a Congregational chapel, the rest having been destroyed by bombs in WW2. This small part of the frontage inow forms part of the boundary of a city farm.

I walked round onto Stepney Way to go and have a look at the farm. There are a number of city farms around London giving children an opportunity to see farm animals close up.

The majority of the work is done by volunteers. The  farm sells its own meat and home grown produce to local people in an effort to promote healthy eating.

Across the road from the farm is the church of St Dunstan's and All Saints. On the board outside the church is a brief history of the church.
Over a thousand years ago Saint Dunstan dedicated a church on this site to All Saints. It is the mother church of the East End and with the ancient port of London nearby, it became known as the Church of the High Seas. For this reason the red ensign is still flown from the tower, which also houses the ten bells of Stepney mentioned in the nursery rhyme 'Oranges and Lemons'.

The present church was built in the 15th cent and was refurbished in the 19th century.

Time for me to leave this fascinating area with its walk through history especially of Jewish people who made their home here after fleeing persecution in eastern Europe and Russia. Most of the Jews have now moved from this area to Essex and the outer suburbs of London. Their place was taken in the 1970s by the people of Bangladesh and more recently by Eastern Europeans. However, this is no longer an area for the poor or the next wave of immigrants as accommodation becomes more upmarket and expensive. It will be interesting to see what it will be like in years to come.