Photographer Louis Berk & writer Rachel Kolsky let me pick these five buildings that interest me from their new book WHITECHAPEL IN FIFTY BUILDINGS. (Click here to buy a copy for £12)
37 Stepney Green, the oldest house on the green, built 1694
37 Stepney Green was built for Dormer Sheppherd, a slave owner and merchant. In 1714, Mary Gayer, the widow of the East India Company’s Governor of Bombay, Sir John Gayer, moved in and it is her initials, ‘MG’, that are visible on the gates. Such houses are a reminder of when this was ‘Millionaire’s Row’ – their wealth derived from mercantile trade on the Thames. Later residents included a Chairman of the East India Company and Nicholas Charrington, a member of the brewing family. From 1875 until 1907, the house became a Jewish retirement home. Thereafter, it was briefly a Craft School before passing into the hands of the local authority in 1916. In 1998, Spitalfields Historic Housing Trust took ownership and it was fully restored by the new private owner.
Gwynne House, Turner St – built 1934
In a quiet street behind the Royal London Hospital is one of Whitechapel’s most unusual buildings. Surrounded by eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings, the modernist Gwynne House appears like a landlocked ocean liner.
Designed by Hume Victor Kerr, it consists of twenty-one flats over five storeys, linked by a rounded external staircase on which the name is displayed in art deco lettering. The design has an undeniable nautical flavour, with rounded windows in the front doors like portholes and the original white finish of the building survives.
Originally owned by the Royal London Hospital, it was built for as accommodation doctors and nurses but, in 2012, the owners decided to sell it to developers, citing that medical staff no longer expect or want to live in hospital-owned accommodation.
Unusually for an architect, Kerr also had a prolific military career. After lying about his age to fight in the First World War, he went from private to major between 1914 and 1919 and from gunner to colonel between 1939 and 1942.
Between and after the wars, he was a prolific architect. Also in Turner St is a factory he designed for M. Levy and in New Rd is his imposing Empire House, a warehouse and showroom, sold for redevelopment in 2015. Over in Middlesex St, he built Commerce House, which was demolished in the nineties, but the surviving buildings in Whitechapel ensure Hume has left his mark on the area.
The Co-operative Wholesale Society, 99 Leman St – built 1885-87
The impressive red-brick building on the corner of Leman St & Hooper St, complete with an imposing clock tower, was built for the CWS as its London headquarters. The name is still visible on the recessed brick, alongside the wheat sheaf motif and the ‘Labor and Wait’, motto – with the American spelling to show support for the anti-slavery campaign.
By 1900, Leman St became lined with warehouses for sugar and tea and coffee roasting and the CWS became known as the ‘Larder of Leman St.’ With its proximity to the docks, the CWS operated speedy transport links to its national headquarters in Manchester. The London headquarters remained in use until the late sixties, when nearby St Katharine and London Docks closed and the need for storage and offices declined.
The beautiful ceilings, inlaid woodwork and fireplaces of the original CWS London headquarters are no longer to be seen as the building was converted into luxury apartments in 20o9. Yet the clock tower remains, said to be a replica of Big Ben, though a quarter of the size. The makers, Thwaites & Read, restored it to working order with a digital mechanism, though it no longer chimes, which is obviously an advantage for residents.
The Eastern Dispensary, Leman St – built 1858
At the top of Leman St, a gleaming white Italianate building built in 1858 proclaims itself proudly as the ‘Eastern Dispensary’ with ‘Supported by Voluntary Contributions’ on either side of its ornate porch.
Prior to the National Health Service, public dispensaries provided medicines free of charge and provident dispensaries were run on a self-help basis via subscription. Founded in 1782 by doctors in the City, the Eastern Dispensary was originally located on Great Alie St. In 1858, it moved into this building designed by G. H Simmonds, a local surveyor and secretary to the dispensary.
Remaining as a dispensary until the Second World War, afterwards it was leased to various charities before falling into disuse. To protect it from redevelopment, the dispensary was listed by English Heritage and sold only when the new owner would ensure refurbishment. In 1998, it was restored and reopened as a pub with a mezzanine gallery overlooking the former consulting room.
The Proof House, 48/50 Commercial Rd – built 1757
This small, unassuming yellow brick building belonging to the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers has few distinguishing marks and is easily missed by the traffic hurtling down Commercial Rd.
Granted its royal charter in 1637 to promote and regulate gun making, the Company has continued this work to the present day. All guns sold must be tested to confirm soundness of barrel and action. Originally sited alongside the Aldgate, in 1675 the Proof House moved to a less-populated area just outside the City following an explosion that damaged the City wall.
The current London Proof House dates from 1757 and the Livery Hall alongside from 1872. The Receiving Room, where guns are delivered, and the Proof Master’s House to the left of the building were both built in 1826.
It is here that the London gun mark ‘GP,’ beneath a crown, is placed on guns suitable for firing and those, following deactivation, safe for collectors. For over three hundred years guns for private and military use have been inspected, proved and marked here.
Photographs copyright © Louis Berk
John Claridge’s EAST END photography exhibition opens at The Society Club, 12 Ingestre Place, Soho, W1, next Tuesday 27th September 7pm. John will sign copies of his book, and he & I will be discussing his East End photography during the evening. All readers are invited.
INTO THE NIGHT, E3 1987
“Sometimes, I speak with my mates and they say, ‘We’ve come from another world,’” John Claridge admitted to me in astonishment, recalling his origins in the post-war East End and introducing this set of pictures. To create the series, John has been revisiting his old negatives, printing photographs that he took decades ago and surprising himself by the renewed acquaintance with lost visions of that other world, unseen since the moment the shutter fell. Yet even in his youth, John was drawn to the otherness that existed in his familiar landscape, transformed through his lens into a strange environment of dark brooding beauty – inflected by his passion for surrealism, the writing of Franz Kafka and film noir.
“It’s difficult for me to explain why I am attracted to things.” John confessed, “I was off doing other work, producing commercial photography and making films, but I never stopped taking pictures of the East End. Some of these images have never been printed before, and it’s strange when I see the prints now because I have a good memory of taking them, even though I had forgotten how much I had done.”
Always alert to the dramatic potential of the cityscape, John recognised that the magnificence of a gasometer could be best appreciated when photographed by moonlight – in John’s mind’s eye, every location proposed a scenario of imaginative possibility. The images you see here are those that burned themselves onto his consciousness, stills from his photographic dreaming, and when we look at them we can share his reverie and construct our own fictions. His titles read like the titles of grand narratives, firing the poetic imagination to enter another, dystopian, world where industrial buildings become prisons and monumental landscapes are ravaged by unexplained derelection.
John knew the East End when it was still scarred from the bombing of World War II and then he witnessed the slum clearances, the closure of the docks, the end of manufacturing and the tide of redevelopment that overtook it all. His soulful urban landscapes record decisive moments within decades of epic transformation that altered the appearance of the territory forever. “Some things needed changing, though not all the demolition that happened was necessary,” John informed me. Then, regretful of the loss of that other world yet mindful of the resilience of the psyche, he continued his thought, adding - “but people have a spirit and you can’t break that.”
IT TOLLS FOR THEE, Whitechapel Bell Foundry 1982.
SILVER TOWERS, E16 1982.
DE CHIRICO ARCHES, E16 1982.
IN THE SHADOW, E3 1961.
GRAVEYARD, E16 1975.
WATCHTOWER, Spitalfields 1982. “If you look at from where I was standing, you might expect to see someone trying to escape and a guard firing a machine gun from the watchtower.”
THE HOOK, Whitechapel Bell Foundry 1982.
UNLOADED, E16 1962.
DETOUR, E16 1964.
NO ENTRANCE, E13 1962.
BEYOND THE BRIDGE, E16 1978.
THE WINDOW, E16 1982.
DARK CORNER, E16 1987.
BLIND SPOT, E16 1987.
CAPTIVE CITY, E3 1959.
PIER D, E16 1982.
THE CASTLE, E16 1987 - “It has a mocking face!”
THE LONG WALK, E16 1982.
Photographs copyright © John Claridge
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Tutivillus the demon eavesdropping upon two women
I spent yesterday morning on my knees in St Katharine’s Chapel in Limehouse, photographing these rare survivors of fourteenth century sculpture, believed to have been created around 1360 for the medieval St Katharine’s Chapel next to the Tower of London, which was displaced and then demolished for the building of the docks in 1825.
These marvellous carvings evoke a different world and another sensibility, combining the sacred and profane in grotesque and fantastical images that speak across time as emotive and intimate expressions of the human imagination. I am particularly fascinated by the sense of mutability between the human and animal kingdom in these sculptures, manifesting a vision of a mythic universe of infinite strange possibility which was once familiar to our forebears.
Intriguingly, these misericords appear to have been created by the same makers who carved those at Lincoln and Chester cathedrals, and a friary in Coventry.
After a sojourn of over a hundred years in Regent’s Park, the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, originally founded by Queen Matilda in 1147, moved back to the East End to Limehouse in 1948 where it flourishes today, offering an enclave of peace and reflection, sequestered from the traffic roaring along the Highway on one side and Commercial Rd on the other.
Centaur with club and shield
Tutivillus holds the parchment on the Day of Judgement
Bust of a bearded man in a striped cap with a cape and trailing drapery
Winged beast with a long tail and human head
Bearded man wearing a cap
A former Master of St Katharine’s was Chancellor of the Exchequer
Angel playing the bagpipes
Pelican in her piety with three chicks, supported by a pair of swans
Lion leaping upon the amphisbaena, supported by reptilian monsters
Coiled serpentine monster
Woman riding a beast with a man’s head
Elephant and castle surmounted by a crowned head
Beast with a hooded human head
Choir stalls with misericords
St Katharine’s Chapel was built in 1951 on the site of St James, Ratcliffe, destroyed in the blitz
Late fifteenth or early sixteen century carving of angel musicians playing a psaltery, a harp and tabor
The Royal Foundation of St Katharine, 2 Butcher Row, Limehouse, E14 8DS
With thanks to the Master of the Royal Foundation of St Katharine for permission to photograph the misericords
If you are interested to visit St Katharine’s Chapel please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sam Roberts of London Ghost Signs kindly took me on a tour of Bankside recently to visit some of the ghost signs there which whisper tales of Bermondsey & Southwark’s past to anyone who cares to listen. Click here to get the App, learn more and undertake the walk for yourself. Also, some of these signs are illuminated this week as part of London Design Festival, details here.
Bermondsey Mesh & Wire Works, William Cockle & Co, moved to Tanner St off Bermondsey St in 1903, trading at this location until 1919.
Thomson Bros Ltd, Paper, Estab’d 1857, moved to Bermondsey St in 1952. An earlier sign with a date of establishment of 1840 is visible beneath.
Baylis & Co Ltd, Leather Factors, Morocco St
M. Emanuel Ltd, Leather & Leather Pieces, Office, Ground Floor, 3 Leather Market, Weston St. The company moved here in 1942 and left in the early eighties.
The Monster Ready Made & Bespoke Clothing Establishment, Albion House Clothing Comp’y, Branch Establishments, Paris, Antwerp and Ghent, Borough High St, founded at the end of the nineteenth century, the business traded here until 1910.
Take Courage, Redcross Way, signed painted in 1955 upon Brewer’s House of Barclay, Perkins & Co previously known as the Anchor Brewery built in 1807, when it was taken over by Courage.
Barlow Roberts, Shop Fitter, Builders and Contractors, Saw Planing, Moulding Mills, 15 Ryecross St, Estimates free for all kinds of building work and structural alterations, Best Work & Despatch, Southwark St, uncovered in 2014. The company was located here from 1908 and moved to Borough High St in 1920.
Ghost numbers at 53 Southwark St
Barclay & Fry Ltd, Printers, Stationers and Tin Box Makers, Great Guildford St, opened here in 1889 and continued trading until the nineteen-eighties. Sign was damaged in 1941 and repaired in 2009.
Rose Brand Fine Teas, James Ashby & Sons Ltd, Embassy Tea and Coffee and Ventilators and R.E.Jones, Union St. Home to Hayward Brothers, Ironfounders and makers of Ventilators, for eighty years before James Ashby moved here in the seventies
Commit No Nuisance, Doyce St. Situated at the rear of Borough Welsh Congregational Chapel and across the road from the former Fox & Hounds public house, the wording of these signs is a common euphemism for ‘No Pissing’ – also to be found on Christ Church, Spitalfields.
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“More than simply pictures from my early years as a photographer, these are the starting point of my photographic work. At the beginning of 1976, when I was twenty-four, I had just graduated from Paris Institute of Political Studies and I had no specific idea about my future. I was very interested in photography, I bought my first photography books and I went to exhibitions, but I had very little experience.
At that time, my interest was in British photography and photographs taken in Britain by foreigners. I was an Anglophile. I was fond of Bill Brandt’s work, of course, and I was familiar with the photographs of Tony Ray-Jones, Homer Sykes and David Hurn - but the real catalyst was to be Robert Frank’s portfolio of London & Wales published in the 1975 edition of the Creative Camera International Yearbook. Knowing London rather well —I had stayed there several times in the previous years— I immediately related to the atmosphere of Frank’s pictures.
So I decided to go back to London for a challenge, a rite of initiation: to face the outside world and do photography. I stayed in the East End where I had lived as a student, although I did not intend to do a reportage about the East End or Eastenders. I just wanted to walk for hours and days in, snatching bits of life, passing through dilapidated districts, pushing doors of pubs, rambling through markets and playing with kids. I spent time with a wonderful couple, clever and cheerful people, but living in poverty in a damp basement flat while sewing ties for chic French companies. At lunchtime or in the evenings I went to strip pubs. The people attending the shows, both men and women, were locals.
I hope these photographs made in London in 1976 are worth revisiting. Very few of these pictures have ever been published or exhibited, but what I did there at the time has been decisive for my future as a photographer.” - Thierry Girard
At the Elephant, Dalston
In Brick Lane
At the Elephant, Dalston
In Bethnal Green
Alan B, homeworker in Graham Rd, Hackney
In Mare St
In Ridley Rd Market
Betty & Penny B, Graham Rd, Hackney
At Limehouse Social Club
At Limehouse Social Club
In Bethnal Green
In Tower Hamlets
Photographs copyright © Thierry Girard
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