A Lost Corner Of Whitechapel
The land at the rear of Whitechapel Station is now a construction site for Crossrail but Photographer Philip Cunningham recorded the vanished streets and yards that once occupied this lost corner
“I first started taking photographs of Winthrop St and Woods Buildings in Whitechapel in the mid-seventies. I remember the first time I went to Winthrop St on a cold frosty morning with a bright blue sky. A woman came out of one of the houses and asked what I was doing. ‘Photographing the streets,’ I said. ‘You’d better hurry up they’re coming down!’ she replied. She was right, within a few months they were gone.
‘Comprehensive Development’ was the only philosophy pursued by the London County Council and Greater London Council for rebuilding London after the war. Their planners complained that too much pre-war building was left, making comprehensive planning really difficult. Yet it would not have taken much imagination to have incorporated streets like these within any new development, creating a richer and more diverse urban landscape.
Even Mile End Place, where I lived in my grandfather’s house, was designated for demolition in 1968 to become a car park for Queen Mary College. Fortunately, the council did not have enough money to build flats for us to be decanted into so our street was saved.”
Durward St School was built in 1876 and eventually restored by the Spitalfields Trust in 1990
Woods Buildings looking towards Whitechapel Market
“Woods Buildings was a subject I photographed over and over, it always held that feeling for me of Dickens’ London. To the left, as you approached the arch under the buildings, was a urinal and when I climbed the wall to take a look, it appeared to be for public use but had been bricked up. It must have been quite intimidating to pass through that passage at night.”
‘We live here, it’s not a toilet’
Entrance to Woods Buildings in Whitechapel Market
“By 1984, the land opposite Woods Buildings on the north side comprised a combination of wasteland and sheds where a boot fair would be held every Sunday. It was licensed by the Council and very popular. One Sunday, I observed a group of Romanians selling secondhand clothes just outside the compound which did not go down well with the gatekeepers as they had not paid a fee. There followed a quite violent fracas, although fortunately no one was seriously hurt and only a little blood spilt. I felt sorry for the children, it must have been frightening for them. Those were desperate days!”
Photographs copyright © Philip Cunningham
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