Monday, May 30, 2016

Bethnal Green

Bethnal Green is the 23rd station that I have visited on the Central Line, but the first one that has the same colour tiles decorating the walls as the colour representing the line on the underground map, which is this case is red.

 Construction of the station began in the 1930s as part of the Central Line extension. The tunnels were complete but no rails had been fitted and so the station became an air-raid shelter. Being a subterranean station  entrance is via staircases. On March 3rd 1943, 173 people were killed in a rush whilst trying to enter the shelter. A woman and child fell over near the bottom of the steps and others fell on top of them. It is estimated that hundreds of people fell within just 15 secs. Unaware of what was going on in front of them people continued to surge forward to reach the safety of the shelter. 173 mainly women and children died of asphyxiation. It was the worst civilian disaster of the war and for propaganda reasons the tragedy was not publicised at the time or after the war.

It was 50 years before this small memorial plaque was erected above the stairwell.

For many years relatives of the deceased and local people campaigned for funding to have  a more prominent and suitable memorial. On March 3rd 2013, 70 years after the disaster, the Stairway to Heaven memorial was officially finally opened.

Jewellery and flowers left at the memorial.

Although this is a densely populated area there are still green spaces to be found. This small park is just a short walk from the station and as today was a warm sunny day many people were enjoying their lunchbreak in the pleasant surroundings.

In a corner of the park is this drinking fountain with an interesting inscription. I wonder how many people have walked passed and never noticed.

The inscription reads: Memorial to Alice  Maud Denman and Peter Regelous who lost their lives in attempting to save others at a fire at 423 Hackney Road on 20th April 1902.
When the fire started in Alice's house, her six children were sleeping inside, Alice and Arthur, a passer by tried to rescue them but sadly both adults and four of the children died. This memorial fountain was erected by public donation.

Next to the park is the  Museum of Childhood. Part of the Victoria and Albert Museum, it houses a huge collection of childhood related objects.

The purpose built Museum was originally part of the main V and A Museum in South Kensington but when that was extended in 1872, the building was dismantled and reassembled in Bethnal Green.

York Hall is on Old Ford Road close to the Museum of Childhood. It is a health and leisure centre and one of Britain's best known boxing venues. It opened in 1929 with a swimming pool, gym and boxing arenas and facilities. In the basement it also had Turkish Baths with traditional Russian and Turkish steam rooms, sauna and relaxation room. In 2007 the council closed the facility and rebranded it as a Spa with various treatments much to the annoyance of local users.

Behind the Museum of Childhood is Netteswell House, the oldest house in Bethnal Green. A stone tablet above the entrance has the inscription 'Parts of the basement date back to 1553 but the rest of the house was partly rebuilt in 1705 and then again in 1862.'It was in a house close to this one that Samuel Pepys brought his belongings including his diaries to escape destruction during the fire of London.

Around the corner from Netteswell house are these two houses which were built in 1690. They are now used as offices for a charity.

Attached to the houses is this old Victorian chapel

On the side of the chapel is this plaque dedicated to Sir Wyndham Deedes. He was sent to Palestine in !920 as an administrator. Returning to the East End in 1923, he devoted his life to social work.

A short walk from the tube station is Globe town, established in 1800 to provide accommodation for the expanding population of silk weavers in the area. Between 1801 and 1831 the population trebled
with weavers operating the looms in their own homes. Shortly afterwards regulations on importing French silk were relaxed and as the price of silk decreased so did the number of weavers. Nowadays this area is home to a large Bangladeshi community. It is easy to spot with its three globe structures on the edge of the area.

This  is Bethnal Green Library which stands on the site of Bethnal House which later became a lunitic asylum. The park next to the library is still called Barmy Park by some of the older residents

This disused fire station on Roman Road is now home to the London Buddhist Centre

Around the corner on Globe Road at the back of the Buddhist centre is a large mural of lotus flowers.

This was my lunch stop for today. A delicatessen serving freshly made vegetarian dishes as well as a range of pastries.  I was fortunate to arrive at the beginning of the lunch time as all the seats were taken in no time. The food was very good.

Globe Road was not what I expected to see with its individual unusual shops and a flower clad pub.
Above the pub can be seen the Watney Combe Reid brewery sign. In 1898 the Watney family brewery merged with Combe Delafield and Co and with Reid and Co to form the largest brewery in London. It had an annual output of 39.5 million imperial gallons. It ceased to trade under this name in 1958 when it merged with other companies so it is unusual to come across this signage.

The outside walls of Globe primary school was adorned with a number of  colourful mosaics. The work was in collaboration with Artyface workshops using the theme animals around the globe to reflect the wide range of nationalities of the school.children. They brightened up what would otherwise be a dull brick wall.

Walking back onto Roman Road I passed this statue and fountain outside a group of bungalows. It is a bronze sculpture by Elizabeth Frink of the Blind Beggar. Images of The Blind Beggar can be found in a number of places around Bethnal Green. It appears on the seal of Bethnal Green

It is also found on the front of Tower Hamlets Council buildings in Patriot Square which used to be Bethnal Green Town Hall. The connection of the Blind Beggar to Bethnal Green seems to stem from a Ballad written in Tudor Times. It is very long  but here are a couple of verses:

'My father' quoth she, 'is soon to be seen:
The silly blind beggar of Bednall Green,
That daily sits begging for charity
He is the kind father of pretty Bessee.

His marks and his token are knowen full well,
He always is led by a dog and a bell;
A poor silly old man, God knoweth, is he,
Yet he's the true father of pretty Bessee

I crossed over Roman Road and through Meath Gardens. This arch is the entrance to Meath Gardens which opened in 1893. Prior to that this was a cemetery which closed in 1874. The cemetery was only open for 30 years when it ran out of space due to the high number of deaths during the 19th cent.

The London Chest hospital on Bonner Road was founded in 1848 and closed on 17th April 2015. Originally opened to cope with pulmonary tuberculosis which was responsible for 20% of all deaths during the mid 19th cent. Services moved from here to Barts Heart Centre in April 2015. Local campaigners fought against its closure  but Barts Health announce that the 'hospital is no longer up to the demands of rigorous specialised 21st medicine'. The building and land has been sold to a housing company for redevelopment.

Just across the road from the hospital is Victoria Park. This park was commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1840 in response to public demand for a park in the East End. It was opened to the public in 1845 and is now the largest and most popular park in East London.  The gates shown here were installed in 1991. The original iron gates were removed in 1940 along with iron railings as part of the war effort and were used for scrap metal to make weapons and ammunition.
Regent's Canal runs round the edge of the park.

Returning to the tube station I walked passed  Bethnal Green Police station displaying another British icon 'The Blue Lamp'.

 The lamps first appeared outside London police stations in 1861 before spreading throughout the UK and the British Empire.

Back at the station I travelled down the space themed escalators

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mile End

I was looking forward to visiting Mile End station as it would be familiar ground, or so I thought. I worked in this area in the 1970s and this was the local tube station. Mile End is in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets which is the centre of London's East End. It was one of the poorest areas of the UK with its overcrowding and concentration of poor people and immigrants in the 19th and 20th cent. It became synonymous with poverty, overcrowding, disease and criminal activity. The beginning of the 20th cent saw attempts to solve the overcrowding housing crisis but the area was devastated in WW2 as the East End docks and railways were targeted. Almost 100,000 houses were either destroyed or damaged during the war. The last of the East End docks closed in 1980 and the regeneration of the dockland areas began.Why I thought I would recognise it after so long I've no idea. What a transformation as the properties have been refurbished, with their window boxes and neatly painted front doors etc. Where have the derelict and run down areas gone? Walking around it seemed to be the area for the up and coming middle classes not the dockworkers and low paid families as I remember.

Mile End station is served by three lines: the Central, District and Hammersmith and City line.

Opposite the tube station, this building captures your eye. It was occupied in 1891 by Charles Ashbee who wanted to practise the aims of the Arts and Craft movement and so moved in his Guild of Handicraft. They practised many of the old hand skills of printing, bookbinding, metalwork and furniture making.

Next to the Asbee building is this mural highlighting places of interest in Tower Hamlets..

These beautiful Georgian houses surround Tredeger Square. Built between 1820 and 1832 they were greatly neglected prior to WW2 and in 1971 the Tredegar Conservation Area was established  which has helped to restore the area to its former glory.

On either side of the entrance to the gardens is a stone pillar with part of the royal crest of George V (1910-1936), grandfather of the present queen.

On the corner of the square is this pillar box. This is a Victorian one as you can tell from the ornate decoration and pointed top. It also has VR on the front confirming its heritage. Imagine it has been standing here eating letters for well over a hundred years.

      I used to work not that far from the tube station and this  building I did remembered as it used to be Central Foundation School for girls. As a PE teacher at the time I used to bring teams here for netball matches. Always thought it strange that the crest above the doorway was of two naked boys but apparently it used to be a boys school . There has been a school on this site for 175 years but not any longer.
The Grade II listed building is now an upmarket housing development.

I wonder how many people notice the blue plaque on the right of this railway bridge on Grove Road.

Towards the end of the war the Nazis aimed these unmanned flying bombs at London. As their path could not be accurately controlled many civilians were killed and injured. Londoners referred to them as 'Doodlebugs'.

Continuing along Grove Road I noticed this building . It used to be the Railway Tavern pub which closed in 2000. It was a Charrington's pub and they sold Toby Ale. I remember posters advertising ale using a Toby jug. On the walls are three tiled 'House of Toby' plaques. The pub has now been converted to residential usage.


It was now lunchtime when I noticed the  burger/steakhouse called The Greedy Cow. The name was familiar to me as I had read a very good review of the food so an opportunity not to be missed. It is probably more well known for its exotic burger range including camel, kangaroo and wild boar. I was not feeling so adventurous today and settled for a lamb burger which was absolutely delicious.

Energy replenished it was time to move on. This is the Green Bridge which links the two parts of Mile End park. The bridge goes over the very busy Mile End Road. Planted with trees and shrubs it allows an uninterrupted walk from one side of the park to the other.

This is the view as I walked across the bridge.

Once over the bridge I was greeted with swathes of daffodils and this brightly painted cycle track marker.
One thousand of these markers were erected around the country to mark the Millennium in 2000.

Before continuing my walk through the park I retraced my steps back onto Mile End Road, crossing over the Regent's Canal.

Running alongside the canal is Queen Mary's University. It is  the amalgamation of four colleges of which two are medical colleges.

This Mile End campus began life in 1887 as the People's Palace, a centre to provide East Londoners with educational, cultural and social activities. The original People's Palace was burnt down in 1931 and replaced in 1937. The carvings are by Eric Gill  and show some of the activities that took place here.

I wandered through the campus as there was one place I had heard about but thought my information couldn't be correct. But yes, here in the heart of the University campus is the second oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in England dating from 1726.

It was known as Novo or New Cemetery and was used by Spanish and Portuguese Jews who fled here in the 1700s to escape persecution in their own countries. It was formally closed in 1936 and in 1974 the University bought the land to expand the campus. It is preserved as a cemetery and is a place to reflect on the shared history of the site.

This building is part of Mile End Hospital on Bancroft Road. It used to be a workhouse used to house the poor. Sounds good in theory but the reality was somewhat different. Families were split up and both men and women were made to do menial worthless tasks in exchange for squalid conditions and poor food. Many preferred to live on the streets than in a workhouse. Workhouses  were abolished in 1929.

I decided to continue my exploration of the area by walking alongside the canal.

This fish sculpture  keeping an eye on the canal is made from scrap metal.

These warehouses were built in 1872 and were used to store lime juice brought to the warehouse along the canal.The buildings were rented by Dr Barnardo in 1876 . He converted them into London's largest 'Ragged School'. It was given this name because it provided free education and meals to London's poor and orphaned children. In 1983 the buildings were saved from demolition and became the Ragged School Museum.
Nowadays groups of schoolchildren dressed in ragged clothes can experience what it was like to be taught in the harsh environment of a Victorian schoolroom. From 1887 to 1908 tens of thousands of children were educated at this school. This was not the only ragged school in London. You can still see the name Ragged School on a few other Victorian buildings. Dr Barnardo's is still one of the UK's largest children's charities. More about his work in the post  Barkingside

I walked back to Mile End Station on the opposite side of the canal. Passing this housing estate I noticed a circular memorial set in the ground.

On the edge of the memorial is this inscription:
In memory of the Firewatchers who saved the gasholders in the early days of the Blitz.

This old photo shows the gas holders on the site of the Stepney Gas works. Because the Commercial Gas Company supplied gas to all the factories and warehouses along the North bank of the River Thames, Stepney Gas works was targeted during the early days of the London Blitz. Employees, many of whom lived near the gas works, had to take their turn as firewatchers during the bombing raids, They were keeping a look out for incendiaries landing on or near the gas holders and extinguishing them before they had a chance to do any damage.

In the middle of the housing estate are the remains of four pillars which held up one of the gasholders