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A Lost Corner Of Whitechapel

February 8, 2017
by the gentle author

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

Winthrop St

“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.”

Winthrop St

Durward St School was built in 1876 and eventually restored by the Spitalfields Trust in 1990

Winthrop St

Winthrop St

Winthrop St

Winthrop St

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!”

Durward St

Photographs copyright © Philip Cunningham

You may also like to take a look at

Philip Cunningham’s East End Portraits

More of Philip Cunningham’ Portraits

Philip Cunningham at Mile End Place

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Julian Woodford permalink
    February 8, 2017

    I wondered if the corner premises with the ‘Wheatsheaf’ sign was another lost East End pub. But on looking it up, it seems to have been a bakery. There’s another fine photo of it here, taken apparently just before demolition in 1983:
    http://www.rps.org/technical/gallery/photo-detail?a=%7BEDF40D0D-D19B-4A27-8E1A-92BBAEF723DD%7D

  2. Jose Cadaveira permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Fabulous photos of a long gone era.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. February 8, 2017

    As shabby as Whitechapel was back in those days, it was home to so many, and we all loved it as a busy and bustling place to live. The glass-steel-corporate buildings of today have nothing special about them, no (good) character. Thanks for sharing the photos! Valerie

  4. February 8, 2017

    Your pictures of old Whitechapel are interesting and lovely.

    It is a pity, with the developers in cities that they do not incorporate the more interesting features of a declining area and rebuild some of the old houses in that area in a more modern but relative style to those houses in your photos.

    Yesterday I read that the ‘Communities’ Minister, Sajid Javid was interested in reclaiming railway yards etc. for the purpose of new build in cities. And yet……you say this old area is to be developed for Crossrail.
    It is sad that it is a fact of life that character building seems to be costly although Prince Charles seems to manage to put across his point.

    Why isn’t there a Ministry od Aesthetics. We coukd have lovely cities with avenues of trees and small green spaces, instead acres of dingy places full of broken bottles. We could have attractive shops with attractive facades interspersed with attractive houses and flats. We could do away with half the unattractive and unnecessary road signs. The world eould be s lovelier, livelier hsppy place. And, best of all small communities in a city could thrive once more

    I sm writing from Madrid which Mr Javid mentioned as an example of how to accommodate a lot of people in a smaller area. However, although Madrid has its beautiful old Buildings and wide boulevards and many parks and walkways it is juxtaposed with back to back high rise square blocks of buildings where the majority of the population live, and where the only pleasant view is if you look up to see the blue sky….which I did, on one visit and promply fell down a pothole and twisted my ankle. It seems that nothing is perfect in our urban world where it seems architects have only discovered squares, triangles and oblongs, and wonder of wonders …moribund plate glass!

  5. Malcolm permalink
    February 8, 2017

    We walked the same streets…

    Funny how the old bakery was a secondhand shop in Philip’s picture and a tyre shop in the picture linked by Julian Woodford, which I took. The same tyre shop was on the opposite corner. I would guess the two pictures were taken within weeks of each other. Winthrop Street, Durward Street and Brady Street were all demolished by the end of 1983 and now they are almost completely unrecognisable. Almost all of Winthrop Street has disappeared, apart from a small section next to the old school. The rest of it has been built on. Woods Buildings has gone too, it’s now called Court Street. The old arched entry has been demolished and the three bollards have gone. John Claridge also took photographs of the same place.
    Those were desperate days.

  6. February 8, 2017

    What evocative pictures and that sense of bereavement at the loss of another piece of our heritage. Sorrowful photo of women so easily turned to violence.

  7. Gary Barnett permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Having done a lot of research into the horse-slaughtering firm of Harrison, Barber, who had a yard in Winthrop Street, I’m intrigued by the image of the gateway there. Presumably it was on the south side of the street, but how far down?

    Can anyone help?

  8. Ros permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Excellent and evocative photos, sharp and clear. So glad they got taken.

  9. Gary Barnett permalink
    February 8, 2017

    On looking again, it seems to me that the buildings in the left foreground of the long E/W view of Winthrop Street may have been Harrison, Barber’s office.

  10. Julia Gilbey permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Thank you for these photos GA. My gr. gr grandparents lived in Winthrop St, possibly in one of the houses in the first photograph. At one point, the census records show thirteen people (four generations) occupying one property. Such dreadful conditions are unimaginable to us these days.

  11. February 10, 2017

    Marvellous photographs of a disappeared place.

  12. February 10, 2017

    Wonderful London!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  13. Colin Lock permalink
    February 11, 2017

    Loving these old photos GA. When I lived in Brick Lane in the early ‘90s I used to make short explores around this area. I remember all the open space in contrast to the crowded Whitechapel Road and including the derelict school which was quite striking. This was all before the sports centre, I think. And now I understand why there was so much space. Pleased that the school building has since been rescued. Thanks due to Google Street View for this morning’s desktop tour! Nice to see some of the same shops still on the WC Road.

  14. Richard Baker permalink
    June 4, 2017

    Thanks so much for posting these wonderfully evocative photographs. My great great great grandfather, Peter Salter, was born in Woods Buildings in 1803. His father, James was a packing case maker. I wonder if the place seemed as run-down then as it does now?

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