Skip to content

An Old House in Whitechapel

October 7, 2011
by the gentle author

There is a magnificent old house in New Rd in Whitechapel, rich in patina and heavy with creepers, yet surrounded on either side by offices and workshops. It appears an untouched survival from an earlier age, and I half-expect to see an old, old man climbing the worn steps, the original resident of the house where nothing has changed. He is now over two hundred years old and oblivious to the transformation in the world around him. I shall call him Mr Redman.

New Rd follows the line of a rampart constructed as the Eastern defence of the City of London at the time of the English Civil War, and the Whitechapel Mound – which formerly stood upon the site of the Royal London Hospital and to which some infer mystical significance – was a bulwark attached to this earthwork. Around 1750, the rampart was flattened and laid out as New Rd where speculative builders constructed terraces and sold them to sea captains and merchants from the nearby docks. Gloucester Terrace, containing the old house in question, was built in 1797 – facing fields to the East and with mews to the rear, both gone long ago.

The first recorded owners in the early nineteenth century were the Redman family who made their living in the shipping business. They had three sons – a sea captain who became one of the elder brethren at Trinity House on Tower Hill, another who was a ship owner and a third who started a chandlery business in the basement kitchen, establishing independent premises for his enterprise in the 1840s. By the 1850s, the family had prospered and moved to Kentish Town, and by the 1880s the house was Jewish owned, as the surrounding streets became a ghetto for those fleeing for their lives from Eastern Europe. The ground floor was opened up as a tailoring shop and through the twentieth century the upper floors also became clothing workshops as Pakistanis and then Bengalis arrived, creating a reputation for New Rd as the prime location for the manufacture of school uniforms.

When Tim Whittaker, director of the Spitalfields Trust, bought the old house from a maker of twin sets, it had not been inhabited for more than thirty years. Tim took up the nineteenth century floorboards on the ground floor, laid down when it was converted to a shop, and he found the worn Georgian floor beneath, with lines that indicated the former position of the partition walls, allowing him to reinstate them in an arrangement close to the original. With a lifetime’s experience of working with old buildings, both for the National Trust and more recently in Spitalfields, Tim set out to make no impositions upon the house and, after ten years of  renovations, his achievement is to have restored it as a seamless whole.

With a trained eye, Tim sought to replace the missing fireplaces with suitable examples of the period and where possible he used salvaged timbers to harmonise with the textures that two centuries of use have imparted to this dignified old edifice, which has been both workplace and dwelling. Offering interesting, idiosyncratic spaces and subtle eye-catching detail, this was never a grand house but an everyday living environment, full of charm.

Reflecting this utilitarian spirit, Tim has installed a bath in the first room on the ground floor and delights to sit here, soaking in hot water and peering out the window at the ceaseless parade of life, up and down New Rd. Yet step through into the room at the back and sounds of the street fade away. Here, fine eighteenth century plasterwork  - with details of ears of corn and oak leaves – draws your eye, leading you to a drunken bay window, tilted to one side, and creating the distinct impression of being upon a ship. Only, instead of looking upon an expanse of ocean, you discover a dense garden where dahlias grow six feet high and oranges ripen in the climate protected between high walls.

Step down to the basement, where Tim lifted the flagstones that were laid directly upon earth in rooms just six feet high, digging deeper to lay a damp course and lower the floor, before relaying them and creating the cosiest spaces in the house. “When I started, I didn’t have much money, so I took my time and the house told me what it should be like – it led me, and I stopped telling it what it should be,” explained Tim with a bemused smile, as we sipped hot tea at the kitchen table whilst peering out to the dark clouds lowering over Whitechapel that morning. “I wanted the house to work as it did in the early years of its life in the first decades of  the nineteenth century, because that was the period I felt romantic about,” he admitted to me with a blush at his own sentiment, casting his eyes around lovingly at his glorious collection of old china and portraits that fills the house.

Amidst the clatter of Whitechapel, the old house in New Rd stands as an enclave of peace where – thanks to Tim Whittaker –  the world of two centuries ago still lingers and where, if old, old Mr Redman should return and climb the worn steps to put his key in the lock after a long, long voyage, he would discover his house shipshape and welcoming – just as he might expect it.

Photographs 3,4,5,9 & 10 © Tim Clinch

You may also like to read about

The Romance of Old Whitechapel

or

At Malplaquet House

25 Responses leave one →
  1. October 7, 2011

    gorgeous! except for maybe the bath!

  2. Penny permalink
    October 7, 2011

    Lovely! Bravo Mr. Whittaker!

  3. Jaki permalink
    October 7, 2011

    I’ve often walked past this house and wondered what it was like inside. Thank you for solving another mystery. :)

  4. jo watts permalink
    October 7, 2011

    i want to buy it, if only….. :(

  5. Merilee permalink
    October 7, 2011

    Fantastic! Herry, your photos are delicious!

  6. October 7, 2011

    Perfect – in every way! Thank you!

  7. October 7, 2011

    Well, that was an astounding tour … back into the 19th Century. I agree with one writer above, might have to have a beautiful white porcelain bath put in, refinish some floors, update a few other features, but in all, what a labour of love, and well worth it. Thanks again, Mr. Whittaker. Lovely blog.

  8. Stephen Anthony Davis permalink*
    October 7, 2011

    I have loved this house for as long as I have know it to exist …

  9. Jackie Sopp permalink
    October 7, 2011

    This is just the way I imagined I would someday live…..alas it was not to be, and I have to be satisfied with an ordinary terraced 1970s property…..nice though we’ve made it, it has no real character like Mr Whittaker’s beautiful old house. To die for…….Well maybe not die; but you know what I mean!

  10. October 7, 2011

    dreamy!

  11. October 7, 2011

    Quite beautiful that is. What a wonderful and careful restoration

  12. CornishCockney permalink
    October 7, 2011

    Truly stunning! The posts about restored old houses (along with the’ now and then’ views) are my absolute favourites! Keep ‘em coming!

  13. Elaine Napier permalink
    October 8, 2011

    My 3x great-grandfather, an orris weaver, probably walked past this house when the Redmans lived there. I love your website – keep delighting us with these views of the East End please!

    EN

  14. October 8, 2011

    Stunning! The house of my dreams…

  15. October 8, 2011

    it is a really grand old home, and such a delight to be able to enter it thru your blog, without which we would not have had a chance to view it – thank you

  16. October 9, 2011

    I wish it could be mine….

  17. Lisa M. permalink
    October 16, 2011

    Beautiful pictures, beautiful home! I have never felt as though I should be living in this century. My soul longs for another day, another time. One of my lifelong dreams is to visit the UK, especially England/London. I am very drawn to anything English! I can walk into an antiques store and find the only item signed “Made in England”. Viewing pictures such as these takes me to the place my soul yearns for, even if for only a few minutes…

  18. Annie permalink
    October 21, 2011

    This was magical. The basement room leading to the kitchen could be the most perfect room imaginable. A time machine.

  19. November 6, 2011

    Bravo Mr. Whittaker! Well done! If only I could….

  20. November 28, 2011

    If someone out there suddenly wonders what to buy me for Christmas – this could be a good one :-) But at £1.5 million I really, really, really doubt it. We can dream…

  21. John Hurst permalink
    May 29, 2012

    This remarkable house! I sincerely hope that Mr. Whitaker will be moving on to either another wonderful project (which, based on his efforts on New Road, would be yet again Herculian). I have loved, via your lovely photos as well as magazines and books, his New Road place for many years…yet now we can all, assuredly, look forward to Tim’s next challenge and true labor of love. He has done so much for saving and revering what could have been lost….much like you, Gentle Author!

  22. Matilda permalink
    February 23, 2013

    Amazing house- few houses of this period have such original features left- it is so full of character!

  23. sheila permalink
    August 23, 2013

    Oh please Mr.Whitaker, don’t, don’t sell. It will be messed up by people wanted fitted porcelain bath, shower rooms and God knows what other modern rubbish installed. It should be bought by the nation if possible. Not some rich individual with no soul of the past, only for modern “comforts”. Not to mention “fitted kitchens and carpets” ugh…

  24. Neil permalink
    January 17, 2015

    Magnificient home and renovation job. What a lovely way to restore and retain history. Wife and I love England (from Australia) and am intrigued by the history of the East End where my ancestors lived before emigrating (mid-1800s). Ancestor was once licensee of Castle Hotel and family lived at one time in the Gloucester Buildings. Keen to get any info on them. Noted that this house is called Gloucester Terrace – but it’s on New Road whereas Gloucester Buildings were off Church Lane (now Back Curch Road) between Ellen and Faiclough Streets.

  25. April 6, 2015

    Amazing property.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS