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


  1. What an interesting area and among what I have learnt is that while I knew a doodlebug was a bomb, I didn't know what sort. Also, you don't call the gas storage tanks gasOMeters?

  2. Funny how we think things will stay the same - had the same experience when I went back to Newcastle and Sunderland a few years ago - many places have been developed beyond recognition.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  3. My goodness, you are a modern version of the A-Z lady ;-)
    Lost of mileage there. Still fit as a PR teacher then. Would be nice to see your London explorations a on a map sometime.

  4. What an informative and extremely interesting post. I too used to work in this area, during the mid 1980s, and like you, I don't think I would recognise the place now. Some of the places I knew about such as Tredegar Square, which was up and coming back then, but I don't think I ever actually saw. I had absolutely no idea about the Jewish cemetery in the middle of QM university. You've definitely made me think again about LBTH! Thank you!

  5. Hello, what a great station and stop. The tour was wonderful showing all the beautiful buildings and details. I like the canal and the cute fish sculpture. Happy Monday, enjoy your new week!

  6. Quite a tour! Thanks.
    I enlarged the photo of your big fish, hoping to find Jonah inside its belly. :)

  7. Wow! What a beautiful photo tour you have provided and great commentary besides ~ thanks!

    Happy Week to you ~ ^_^

  8. The English always had a great knack for naming things creatively. I enjoyed reading this rich and deep history of survivors despite turmoil, war and poverty. Nice to know some impoverished areas achieved a better status throughout the years.

  9. There is so much history at this stop! The WWII stories are especially poignant and the "ragged children" school.
    I saw many neighborhoods change from porr/working class to chic and rich in Brooklyn, NY. Many can not afford to live in places that were once slums!

  10. So much history and lovely shots.

  11. Great tour of the East End and I am glad a lot of the history is being preserved, love the gas holder pillars in the last photo

  12. You find such interesting tidbits of information in your travels.

  13. Lovely post. I worked in Mile End in the late 70s / early 80s and yes it has definitely changed. But it's good to see that some things like the Jewish cemetery and the gas storage supports have been preserved so that we don't totally forget the past.

  14. The workhouse story is familiar of course. In this country we had what were called 'Poor Farms' which didn't have a much better reputation. But I'd never heard of Ragged Schools. They also seem straight out of a Dickens novel (and his stories certainly weren't created totally out of his imagination).

    Kind of disorienting for you to see all the changes in an area where you used to work -- I always wonder what happens to the down-and-out people who were there before when an area is gentrified. They have done a great job of preserving history -- I love that.

  15. It is so interesting to learn of the rehabilitation and gentrification of this devastated area.


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