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The Haggerston Nobody Knows

February 16, 2013
by William Palin

With the Geffrye Museum planning to demolish the Marquis of Lansdowne - one of the few remaining fragments of nineteenth century Haggerston – William Palin recalls the lost wonders of this once coherent and distinctive neighbourhood.

Tudor Gothic Villas in Nichols Sq, 1945

Haggerston, in the Borough of Hackney, remains one of those ‘lost’ districts of London’s inner suburbs. Even the boundaries of this elusive locale have fluctuated, yet although the current electoral ward extends deep into Shoreditch, I would draw the borders of Haggerston at Hackney Rd to the south, Queensbridge Rd to the east, Kingsland Rd to the west and Regent’s Canal to the north.

Just a few important public buildings remain in Haggerston, including the old Haggerston Library  - which was left to rot in the seventies before being facaded in the nineties – and the magnificent Haggerston Baths on Whiston St with its gilded Golden Hind weather vane. Poignant indicators of the glories that once were here.

Although Haggerston suffered some bomb damage – St Mary’s Church by John Nash was completely destroyed in 1941 – it was the post-war planners who erased most of the superior nineteenth century terraces, with streets of sound houses succumbing to the bulldozers as late as 1978. While the estates that replaced them may have provided superior accommodation and new amenities, they were brutal and uncompromising in their disregard for the intimacy, cohesion, humanity and community spirit of the old streets  - attributes embraced in other similar London neighbourhoods wherever the terraces were retained.

As London’s population grew rapidly in the nineteenth century, Haggerston became a densely populated industrial suburb. In many eastern districts, land ownership tended to be fragmented, resulting in a series of relatively small-scale building speculations that eventually came together to form a coherent if quirky network of streets with pubs, shops and small industry, all adding to the diverse character of the streetscape. Although individual speculators – whether a few houses or a whole street – imposed a uniformity of design, there was surprising and delightful variation between streets with even modest houses exhibiting decorative flourishes in their brickwork, fanlights, shutters and front doors. Where streets met, the junctions were resolved with an effortless dexterity which was one of the striking characteristics of the London speculative builder and, on the rare occasion a pub was absent, a corner house was built with a side entrance.

In common with most of south Hackney and Shoreditch, the dominant industries of the area were the furniture and finishing trades. An insurance map of 1930 shows timber yards, French polishers, enamellers, cabinet factories, mirror frame factories, wood carvers and a plethora of other related trades. Interestingly, the legacy of these industries is still evident today in the Hackney Rd, where Maurice Franklin the ninety-three year old wood turner works at The Spindle Shop and D.J.Simons maintain their thriving business supplying mouldings for picture framing after more than a century, as well as in the handful of second hand shops trading in the furniture once made locally.

Unquestionably, the centrepiece of Haggerston’s nineteenth century development was Nichols Sq, situated east of the Geffrye Museum beyond the railway viaduct. Built in 1841 and featuring two outward facing rows of picturesque Tudor gothic villas at its centre, Nichols Sq was further enhanced in 1867-9 by a splendid church and vicarage – St Chad’s – by the architect James Brooks. Surviving in good condition until blighted by a Compulsory Purchase Order, the square was swept away in 1963 for the Fellows Court Estate. Geoffrey Fletcher, author of ‘The London Nobody Knows,’  lamented the impending loss in 1962 by illustrating the houses in the Daily Telegraph, and describing “the delightful Gothic villas … in excellent condition [which] if they were in Chelsea would fetch anything from £10,000 to £15,000.” Savouring the architectural detail, he comments “Typical of the finesse of the period is that, while the terrace railings have a Classic flavour, the similar ones of the cottages have a Tudor outline. But after next year none of this will matter any more.”

The London County Council planning files record no evidence of any robust defence of Nichols Sq. The principal concern – ironic in the context of the current plans to demolish the Marquis of Lansdowne pub – was the effect of the new tower blocks upon the setting of the Geffrye Museum. Nichols Sq had only one entrance, which led from Hackney Rd at the south east corner, and this was guarded by a Tudor lodge. The secluded location had helped it retain an isolated respectability until the very end, despite the incursion of the railway viaduct across its western extremity just a few years after completion.

To the south of Fellows Court Estate is Cremer St, the only direct link between Hackney Rd and Kingsland Rd, which was once graced by a series of modest but elegant semi-detached villas (a building type that became a defining characteristic of Hackney). These villas are captured in a beautiful series of LCC photographs of 1946, which also show a double-fronted detached house with a wide fanlight, where an old man perches on the high front steps, lighting a pipe. In Cremer St, The Flying Scud pub, with its distinctive blue Truman’s livery survived until only a few years ago, while running south from there – now reached via a rubbish-strewn alley – is Long St, whose distinctive yellow brick houses are also illustrated in the LLC old photographs. Of these, only a few paving stones survive.

To the north of the Fellows Court Estate is Dunloe Street, once lined by neat terraces, now bleak save for St Chad’s Church – the last fragment of Nichols Sq. Dunloe St linked into a network of small streets, including Appleby St and Ormsby St, where well-maintained and well-loved terraces endured until 1978 when they were controversially emptied of their occupants and demolished. A handful of houses on the west end of Pearson St are now the only reminders we have of this once vibrant and homogenous neighbourhood.

In 1966, architectural critic Ian Nairn spoke eloquently of the lost opportunities of the rebuilding of the East End, in words that perfectly describe the fate of old Haggerston - “All the raucous, homely places go and are replaced by well-designed estates which would fit a New Town but are hopelessly out of place here. This is a hive of individualists, and the last place to be subjected to this kind of large-scale planning. Fragments survive, and the East Enders are irrepressible …but they could have had so much more, so easily.”

The tragedy is that fifty years on from the loss of Nichols Sq the destruction still continues. The only remaining building from the eighteen thirties on Cremer St is the Marquis of Lansdowne pub. It is owned by the Geffrye Museum, an institution that exists to foster an understanding of the history of domestic design, furniture and the culture of ‘the home.’ Astonishingly, the Geffrye wants to demolish it for a new extension. Perhaps the trustees need a walking tour and a history lesson? After all the needless destruction that has been enacted upon its doorstep, if even a museum cannot learn from history what hope is there?

Submit an objection to the demolition of the Marquis of Lansdowne direct to the Borough of Hackney by clicking here and entering the application number 2013/0053. The more objections the council receives the more likely it will refuse this application.

Alternatively, you can send your objection as an email to quoting application number 2013/0053 or send a written objection to Planning Duty Desk, Hackney Service Centre, 1 Hillman Street, E8 1DY.

Nichols Sq by Geoffrey Fletcher, 1963

Plan and perspective of Nichols Sq, 1845 – not really a square at all but highly picturesque. (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

North side of Nichols Sq, 1960.

Washing the doorstep in Shap St with the Fellows Court Estate beyond, 1974. (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

A rich and coherent cityscape – Shap St, looking north, 1974. (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

Elegant dark-painted sashes and immaculately maintained shutters in Ormsby St, 1965. (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

Hows St, c.1960. (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

Whiston St in the hot summer of 1976, just before demolition. (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

Intimate streetscape – Ormsby St, 1965. (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

Weymouth Terrace shortly before demolition, 1964. Note the stuccoed ground floor facade. (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

Geffrye St, 1960s (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

“All the homely places have gone”- Sitting room at 50 Shap St c.1959. (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

Fellows Rd, 1959. Neat terraces with blank panels at parapet level. (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

A perfect corner, courtesy of the London speculative builder. Pearson St and Fellows St, 1951. (Copyright Hackney Archives Department)

Ormsby St before demolition, 1978 – note the photographer’s blackboard on the window ledge. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Cremer St, 1946. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Cremer St, 1946. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Detail – Man lights a pipe in Cremer St, 1946. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Cremer St, 1946. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Tudor Gothic villas in Nichols Sq, 1950. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Tudor Gothic villas in Nichols Sq with fleur de lis railings, 1950. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Iain Nairn described the East End as “a hive of individualists” - this applied to the builders too, as shown in the delightfully quirky design of these houses in Long St, photographed in 1951. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Fine eighteenth century doorcase at 171 Kingsland Road. The house and its neighbours came down in the late sixties. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Montage by John Claridge

Sign the Petition to save The Marquis of Lansdowne here


Sketch by Tim Whittaker of The Spitalfields Trust illustrating his proposal to renovate the Marquis of Lansdowne.

The concrete box on the right is the proposed replacement for the Marquis of Lansdowne.

You may also like to read about

Save the Marquis of Lansdowne

32 Responses leave one →
  1. Greg Tingey permalink
    February 16, 2013

    Suprising, that this still goes on.
    The photo of Nichols Sq shows that two of the cars visible are a Rover P2 or P3 & an Armstrong-Siddley – NOT “cheap” makes/models.

  2. Vicky permalink
    February 16, 2013

    This is all so very upsetting.
    And now I’ve just clicked the link to the ‘Marquis of Lansdown’ at the top of this page and am even more appalled and depressed. The Geffrye Museum’s intention of keeping and refurbishing the pub all changed when they received Heritage Lottery funding. What?!
    Now I’m thoroughly miserable. (But at least I can write that letter).

  3. the gentle author permalink*
    February 16, 2013

    Strange but true – The Geffrye Museum applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for an enormous grant on the basis of preserving and restoring The Marquis of Lansdowne, but once they got the money they decided to bulldoze the pub!

  4. Valerie Bayliss permalink
    February 16, 2013

    I am appalled on three counts: the disingenousness of a public institution; the potential destruction of a fine building in a conservation area in a distruict that has lost far too many good buildings and streetscapes; and the potential loss of a small part of my family history. This pub featured in the 1884 trial at the Old Bailey of a naughty ancestor of mine, who went into it to try to sell a cart he had stolen. Actually he got away with this one, but another trial followed on directly and then he was coinvicted. Given what we know of him, I reckon he was lucky on the first count!

  5. William Palin permalink
    February 16, 2013

    If any readers feel moved to write to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) this will help. They haven’t yet decided on whether or not to give the final grant of £11m to fund the project (which includes demolition of the pub). We are asking the Geffrye to go back to their original plan to retain and repair the pub and integrate it into the new extension. Here are the contact details for the HLF London Team:

  6. February 16, 2013

    Have the Geffrye been totally silent on this issue?

    It’s only a matter of time before National Press picks this up and it won’t look good at all. Until this cock up it was one of my favourite spots in London, both the front and back gardens and the walk-through the ages interior.. I hope they do the right thing here.

  7. William Palin permalink
    February 16, 2013

    Yeshan – thanks for your comment. Yes, the Geffrye is an excellent museum with a first rate education programme. It just seems to have developed a blind-spot over this pub, and appears to be completely out of touch it is with public opinion. It is very sad that the trustees can’t see the opportunities offered by this building – and what an exciting, popular and rewarding thing it would be to bring it back into use – weather as a pub, shop, restaurant, cafe or some other part of the museum. Think of the stories embedded in its bricks and mortar! They must change course or I fear the reputation of the museum will be permanently damaged.

  8. Maureen Gardner permalink
    February 16, 2013

    My great grandmother Margaret Jane Horne was born at 45 Great Cambridge Street, Haggerstone, in 1847. On her birth certificate, her father John Horne’s occupation is described as Paper Stainer, I can only imagine he worked in a Wallpaper Factory.
    On Margaret’s marriage certificate in 1867, her father is then described as an Oilman, which I believe was buying and selling oil for oil lamps.

  9. Peter Holford permalink
    February 16, 2013

    The petition is signed, an objection has been made to the Planning Department and an email sent to the HLF. Have I missed anything?

    Strange how the more money is spent (e.g. £11million) the less it is likely to be classed as vandalism. Now if you were to take a sledgehammer to that building they would soon lock you up (because you didn’t spend enough to do it?)

    Next I will boycott the Geffrye – but nobody would notice because I’ve never been. Angry!

  10. Nick Pope permalink
    February 16, 2013

    Very sad that even the Geffrye don’t see the potential of this building. In an area with so few old buildings left it would be sad to lose another especially by those who have such an understanding of the past.

    Hopefully the word is getting out now and there will be enough opposition to try and convince them to rethink their plans. Emails and letters sent!

  11. February 16, 2013

    What a sad but splendidly-illustrated example of how we ripped the heart out of so many British towns & cities after the war. Thank you. The tragedy is that we are doing it again. Following on from planning changes 10 years ago there has been a 700% increase in the building of tower blocks. Meanwhile density targets & buildings regualtions currently make it all but impossible to build “conventional” streets. Maddness. Which is why we at Create Streets are campaigning against it . . . (

  12. B. Longman permalink
    February 16, 2013

    There is a great ‘kitchen sink’ film set in this area just as the old terraces were coming down, it was filmed in March 1963. The film is called ‘A Place To Go’ and stars Rita Tushingham’. The family are seen moving out of their slum clearance house in Ormsby Street as it is set for demolition. In the final part of the film it shows the building site on which the Fellows Court Estate was built. Worth a watch if you know this area.

  13. Ian permalink
    February 17, 2013

    Some might only see them as lost buildings but I see them as a destroyed community. Perfectly good, even grand, houses lost to the misguided planners of the 60s and 70s.

    As a fan of the Geffrye Museum I’m shocked by their actions.

  14. February 17, 2013

    My grandmother was born at 31 Scawfell Street in 1907. The street still exists in part but the houses are long gone. Here’s a photo of how it used to be. No.31 is next door to the pub. She’d have liked that!

  15. Jill permalink
    February 18, 2013

    Thanks for the photos of the lost streets. These were proper homes, in need of updating rather than demolition. I’ve signed the petition. Please keep us posted.

  16. Elaine Napier permalink
    February 18, 2013

    My great-great-grandparents began their married life in 1841 in the terraced house which is now number 7 Buckfast Street (formerly Abbey Street), E2. This charming little house is completely restored and now in excellent condition, providing a happy home for a 21st Century family instead of sticking them in chilly isolation in some pile of ugliness way up in the sky.

    The photos showing the potential of Nichols Square and the surrounding streets are a complete shock when compared to the awfulness of Fellows Court. My daughter has a flat in Fellow Court and when I sent her your amazing article, she couldn’t believe that anyone would have demolished such lovely houses in favour of the ugliness that form Fellows Court. Those houses could have been beautifully restored and, if Hackney Council has any sense at all, they should be waking up to what they could have created of this area. A real treasure for the people of the East End.

  17. Peter Holford permalink
    February 18, 2013

    I received a reply from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It doesn’t make good reading! In the interests of free and open information the contents are copied here. I’m sure Simona Spoglianti will have no objection.

    Dear Mr Holford,

    The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is aware that the Geffrye Museum’s latest proposals for their major project no longer include the retention and re-use of the Marquis of Lansdowne pub which has been derelict and out of use for a number of years.

    HLF gave initial support and development funding towards the Geffrye Museum’s ‘Museum of the Home’ project in April 2011. This project is still in its development phase and it is not unusual for changes to occur at this stage of a project. Whilst the Museum originally proposed to retain the pub and considered a range of options for its re-use, it has concluded that it is not feasible to do so without compromising the rest of the wider development scheme.

    The scheme has now been amended and submitted for planning and listed building consents. Ultimately the shape of the final proposals must be decided by the Museum and it is the remit of the planning process to determine whether the overall proposals are appropriate. HLF is continuing to encourage the Museum to engage and consult the local community extensively over the coming months and will consider the project again later on this year.

    Kind regards,

    Simona Spoglianti
    Senior Grants Officer
    Heritage Lottery Fund
    7 Holbein Place
    London SW1W 8NR

  18. Meriel permalink
    February 19, 2013

    So sad. Unneccessary destruction of our history. Totally outrageous if the Heritage Lottery Fund pays for it as surely it’s supposed to enhance our heritage not fund its demolition.

  19. Maggie permalink
    February 19, 2013

    Well done Gentle Author for bringing this dreadful decision to a much wider audience. I’ve signed the petition and sent off the e-mail to Hackney but given the blinkered thinking of most of our council’s I rather fear the worst. I live in a lovely street of Victorian terrace houses in Stoke Newington very like some of the beautiful old houses in Haggerson which were torn down. Such a wasted opportunity. Shame on the Geffrye Museum.

  20. Adam permalink
    February 22, 2013

    This building doesn’t actually hold much architectural merit, however as this is the Geffrye museum I love to see them take the old pub and incorporate it into the new Chipperfield design. Chipperfield is a great architect and the possible juxtaposition of new and old would look great – whilst providing a brilliant case study for the museum.

  21. February 23, 2013

    I used to live off Whiston Road in Haggerston (1994 – 1998) and it was living here that started my love for shoreditch, Spitalfields and the East End.

    Itis painful to read of the wholesale demolition of these wonderful terraces. Corporate vandalism in the extreme. Such houses would be much loved and very sought after these days. I lived in an old “artisans cottage” in Pages Walk SE1 and it made a wonderful home. It was very similar to the shuttered homes pictured above. So sad they’ve gone.

  22. June Gill permalink
    September 23, 2013

    Hi I lived at number 22 Appleby Street, Shoreditch E.2, married name Gill, maiden Taylor,
    From 5 Fellow Street. I had two children in Applebye Street one in 1957 and the other in 1963.
    I know for a fact the film in 1963 A Place To Go was filmed in Appleby Street, I was in hospital
    Having our second child and my husband was living in our house while this was being filmed every night. It was not made in Bethnal Green like stated on the DVD cover. Just wanted to clear this point up and to see if any one living down my street at the time remembers this.

  23. Ken Foot permalink
    October 29, 2013

    Well said June – I remember the making of this film very well – I lived in Godwin House (Weymouth Terrace) from 1956. It’s such a shame all the old terraces have gone.

  24. John Munday permalink
    November 9, 2013

    Greetings June, hope all is well. Of course ‘A Place to Go’ was filmed in Appleby Street it was our house they used and I still have an autographed memento from that time and chatting with Mike Sarne about football in our kitchen during shots. There is one scene where Bernard Lee and Doris Hare walk down the road and enter the house. The Director, Basil Dearden frustratingly insisted on filming it a number of times, then on what should have been the final shot, somebody left the back door open and our old dog came rushing through the house spoiling the scene. Happy Days!!

  25. andrew pealling permalink
    December 17, 2013

    I was a choirboy at St. Chads church in the early sixties and remember well all of these streets. I lived in Whiston road and would walk to church for Sunday mass and evensong along these streets. I can remember Fellows Court being built around this time. There were many small shops dotted all around the area, Morgans dairy, Brewers sweet shop, Pintos fruit and vegetables, Nells sold confectionary and cigarettes, Phylisses, sold almost everything for household needs as well as confectionary, there was even a shop selling the school uniforms of the local schools. In Ormesby street lived a man who made his living collecting rags, scrap metal, etc. He was disabled and walked with a strange gait. Local children would torment him and he would chase them. He was known locally as “rubber dinghy”. Allthough it is sad to see the needless destruction of this community, this site has brought back such wonderfull memories of my childhood for which I thankyou.

  26. anthony kenealy permalink
    February 23, 2014

    I used to live in 34 pearson street and my aunt rose up near shap st from 1963 remembered most of these streets brings back good memories we had to moved in 1975 because they were demolishing the houses and ended up in hackney road wish thoses days would come back my uncle lived in ormsby street the good days some mothers do ave em was filmed in pearson street too

  27. April 29, 2014

    I used to live at 28 Fellows Street (1948-1957) and then moved to Laburnum Court, Whiston R0ad (1957-1974). It’s such a pity that these communities were broken up and scattered. My grandparents (name of Wright) lived at 5 Shap Street until 1954. I and the rest of my remaining family have so many fond memories of life in these streets.

  28. Rachel Hickes permalink
    May 9, 2014

    Thank you so much for posting this wonderful collection of photos. Students at Haggerston school, where I teach history, have been fascinated by them. Now busy thinking about a new local history project. Would love to incorporate memories such as those posted below. Please do contact me via Haggerston School if you would would be interested in contributing to resources that we could use with students.

  29. B Longman permalink
    July 22, 2014

    Third photo down shows Fellows Court on the right and behind it my school Laburnum Primary School. It was demolished in 2005. I have written up the history of the school as I did not want it to be forgotten. The history write up is in Hackney History V18 and is available at Hackney Archives, we are also having a school reunion and tour on 16/08/2014 contact me if you went to the school and want to come along. Rachel Hickes many of the Laburnum pupils (girls) went onto Haggerston School.

  30. John longcroft permalink
    August 15, 2014

    I was born in nichol square and looking at the old photos brings back old memories of course these buildings should be preserved including the pub where i sometimes had a drink in my younger days please save some of our heritage and old ways

  31. Keith Martin permalink
    January 20, 2015

    I loved this except for the photograph of Weymouth Terrace.
    I was born in the Terrace in 1952 and lived there until shortly before it was demolished and that photograph isn’t Weymouth Terrace.
    The houses were mostly four floors (three and a basement) although there were a few shorter ones.

  32. karon williams permalink
    February 4, 2015

    Great to see this photos and the information to I was born in Appleby St (my Dad delivered me).
    I was the ‘baby ‘ in the film which another person has posted, Mum said she wanted the film crew out of the street and they needed a baby so handed me over lol how things change. My Nan lived in Geffrye St she worked in Kingsland road clinic and was know by many people sadly all long gone but happy days I had a GREAT childhood – Sunday school (St Chads) tin baths and outside loo !! lots of smiles

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