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The Lost Squares Of Stepney

December 30, 2012
by William Palin

William Palin evokes the lost glories of two of the East End’s forgotten architectural wonders, Wellclose Sq and Swedenborg Sq.

In Wellclose Sq – “This unfortunate and ignored locality”

“The devastation of the square was pitiful to see. I only saw one man all the time I paced the square, and he had one foot in the grave. The April evening was chill and the sky overcast, but a blackbird warbled in the plane trees, introducing impromptu variations and evidently trying to keep his courage up. The half dozen Georgian terraced houses left on the north side looked indescribably weary and exhausted, their bricks crumbling and their stucco returning to sand. Grass was coming up on the pavement.”

When Geoffrey Fletcher ventured off Cable St into Wellclose Sq in the spring of 1968, he stumbled upon an eerie scene. Earmarked for redevelopment and languishing under a Compulsory Purchase Order, the entire square – the oldest and most historically important in East London – was about to disappear. Its destruction, together with Swedenborg (originally Princes) Sq, a smaller neighbour to the east, erased two and a half centuries of history and ripped the heart out of this remarkable enclave of forgotten London.

The growth of the eastern suburb of London during the seventeenth century was a phenomenon. Even before the development boom which followed the Great Fire, busy hamlets had grown up outside the City’s eastern boundary and along the northern banks of the Thames where thriving communities serviced, and profited from, growing river trade.

Detail of John Rocque’s Map of London (1746) showing Wellclose Sq and Princes Sq.

One speculator who recognised the potential for profit east of the City was the notorious Nicholas Barbon who is said to have laid out a staggering £200,000 in building in London after the Great Fire. In 1682, Barbon leased the Liberty of Wellclose (or Well Close) – a parcel of land north of Wapping – from the Crown. Barbon intended his new development on the Wellclose to appeal to the well-to-do members of the East End’s maritime community. Following the Great Fire, the riverside neighbourhoods had been swelled by the influx of new immigrants profiting from the rebuilding of the city.

The huge demand for timber created a lucrative trade for the Scandinavians, and the Norwegians (Danish subjects until 1814) were said to have “warmed them selves comfortably by the Fire of London.” Anglo-Danish connections had been strengthened by the marriage in 1683 of Princess Anne (later Queen Anne) to Prince Georg of Denmark and it was Georg’s father, King Christian V, who supplied the most of the funds for the construction of the new Danish Church at Wellclose Sq.

Danish-Norwegian Church in Wellclose Sq engraved by Johannes Kip in 1796.

The architect was the Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber. Cibber (the son of the King of Denmark’s cabinet-maker) had trained in Italy and had worked for Wren at St Paul’s. He is perhaps best known for his figures of ‘Raving’ and ‘Melancholy Madness’ made for the entrance to Bethlehem Hospital. Cibber’s new Danish Church at Wellclose Sq was completed in 1696. It was baroque in style, in the manner of Wren’s City churches and, its interior was distinguished by a vaulted ceiling with a distinctive circular central boss fringed with ornament.

The Old Court House, Wellclose Sq (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

A number of the original seventeenth-century houses on the south side of the square survived until the nineteen sixties and photographs show them to be of good quality, with well-proportioned panelled rooms, and staircases with twisted balusters. Yet, other than the church, the most important and beautiful building in the square was the Old Court House, on the corner of Neptune St, built after 1687 as the seat of Justice for the four Tower Liberties. Its fine staircase and rooms of bolection panelling, identify it as part of Barbon’s first development. One of the prison cells from the building was later re-assembled and is now on display at the Museum of London.

The former Danish Embassy, c.1930. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Other buildings of note in the square included Nos 20 & 21 on the west side which once housed the Danish Embassy. The two charming sculpted reliefs featuring putti practising the arts and sciences were removed to the Norwegian Embassy in Belgravia in the nineteen sixties. Also on the west side, stood two extraordinary relics of eighteenth-century maritime London. At the corner of Stable Yard was No.26, a timber framed weather-boarded house, complete with Venetian window, and, in the yard behind, there was a five-bay boarded house which in appearance recalled a North American East Coast colonial mansion.

At the corner of Stable Yard, Wellclose Sq. (London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, Bishopsgate Institute)

By the early nineteenth-century, the square was losing its respectability as a consequence of its proximity to the docks and the gradual industrialisation of the East End. The enclosure of the docks meant that seamen could leave ship during the unloading and loading of cargo. “Houses of ill-fame are swarming,” complained a contemporary Wesleyan missionary, “the neighbourhood teems with lazy, idle, drunken lustful men, and degraded, brutalised hell-branded women, some alas! girls in their early teens.”

As the numbers of lodging houses, pawn shops, pubs, and music halls multiplied, so did the sugar refineries. These refineries (or ‘bakeries’) had first appeared in the area in the seventeen-sixties. Manned mainly by poor German immigrants and belching sickly fumes into air, they did not help to improve the desirability of the neighbourhood. By the eighteen-fifties, there were at least five refineries operating around the square.

In 1816, the church was handed to trustees for charitable uses in aid of Danish and Norwegian seamen in London and, in 1856, the church became a mission under the control of St George-in-the-East only to be demolished and replaced by the new St Paul’s School in 1870.

The early success of Wellclose Sq inspired another Scandinavian community to undertake a similar development. Princes Sq (renamed Swedenborg Sq in 1938 after Emmanuel Swedenborg, who was interred there in 1772) was laid out in the seventeen-twenties by the Swedish community. It featured a plainer version of the Danish church, also positioned at the centre of the square inside a railed burial enclosure with high gates.

The Swedish Lutheran Church in Swedenborg Sq in December 1908. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

The Swedish congregation abandoned the building in 1911, moving west to Harcourt St in Marylebone, and the church, stripped and empty, deteriorated quickly. Photographs from 1919 show the windows broken and the railings torn down. Finally, in 1923, the site was purchased by the council, cleared, and replaced by a children’s playground. The east, west and south sides of the square had gone up in the seventeen-twenties and the north side a century later. Like Wellclose Sq, the south side contained some larger houses and most of these survived until the nineteen sixties.

South side of Swedenborg Sq, 1945. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

The seventeen-twenties terrace on the west side of the square was particularly fine, with handsome Doric doorcases and high basements. After World War II, the square was surveyed by the borough architect who concluded that the houses were in good order “excepting for want of attention due to the war” and “worthy of preservation on architectural grounds.” Subsequent repair work was carried out and a comparison of the photographs taken in 1945 with those of the late fifties and early sixties show that many of the buildings have been carefully rehabilitated.

Houses on the west side of Swedenborg Sq in 1945. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Houses in Swenborg Sq after Post-War repair in 1961. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

This revival was short-lived however. In March 1959, a chilling memo from the LCC Valuer recorded that seventeen Grade II and twelve Grade III buildings in the square have been declared a “SLUM.” This change in the way the buildings were perceived must be seen against a background of political change and pressure for removal of the older London neighbourhoods in favour of modern, planned estates. A Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) is set in motion and, at an inquiry in 1961, the Inspector concluded that the buildings were not capable of preservation.

Within a decade Swedenborg Sq had disappeared completely beneath the Swedenborg Gardens and St Georges Housing Estate – the area was simply erased from history. At Wellclose Sq, the houses came down too but the street pattern was retained, creating a strange non-place. Forty years on, the south side of the square remains empty and, on the site of the Old Court House, a sad wasteland stretches down to the busy Highway beyond.

Visiting in 1966, with the squares on their last legs, the historian and journalist Ian Nairn, who wrote so perceptively about the “soft-spoken this-is-good-for-you castration of the East End,” summed up the terrible plight of these two architectural jewels.

“Embedded in it (Cable St) are the hopeless fragments of two once splendid squares, Wellclose and Swedenborg, built for the shipmasters of Wapping when London began to move east. Those who could care about the buildings don’t care about the people, those who care about the people regard the decrepit buildings rather as John Knox regarded women: unforgivable blindness. Nobody cares enough, and the whole place will soon be a memory.”

Danish and Norwegian Church in Wellclose Sq, c.1845, by unknown artist.

Liberties of the Tower 1720, including Marine Sq, Spittle Fields and Little Minories.

Interior of the Danish-Norwegian church engraved by Kip in 1796.

Geoffrey Fletcher’s drawing of Wellclose Sq, 1968.

Wellclose Sq looking east from the steps of No.5 (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Wellclose Sq, south side, 1961. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Old Court House, view to first floor landing showing the fine Barbon staircase, 1911 (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Watch House, Wellclose Sq, 1935. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Interior of Swedish church, 1908. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Swedish church, 1919. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

Swedenborg Sq, south side looking east, 1921 (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives)

You may slso like to read about

In the Debtors’ Cell, Wellclose Sq

David Mason, Wilton’s Music Hall

Madge Darby, Historian of Wapping

At the Strangers’ Rest Mission

91 Responses leave one →
  1. Vicky permalink
    December 30, 2012

    This is an excellent article, thank you William.

    How blind we were, how blind we still are, and how very sad. Keep campaigning.

  2. Charlotte Frost permalink
    December 30, 2012

    The timber on the houses in Wellclose Square – was it cladding on top of brick, or did it form the external walls?

    Smashing post. Thank you

  3. Libby Hall permalink
    December 30, 2012

    Fascinating imaging how it ‘used to be’. A wonderful collection of images to fall into.

    …And then, through 1986 into early 1987, during ‘The Wapping Dispute’, what was left of poor Wellclose Square became a weekly Saturday night battle ground.

  4. Elaine Napier permalink
    December 30, 2012

    What a sad crime to destroy such beautiful buildings which could have been restored and remained part of the magnificence of the East End.

  5. Ree permalink
    December 30, 2012

    Such an interesting article…I could imagine walking in the areas…

  6. December 30, 2012

    You can view a picture of the reliefs from the Danish Embassy as they are now here –

  7. William Palin permalink
    December 30, 2012

    Reply to Charlotte Frost: the little building in the first picture underwent a detailed survey prior to demolition – and the drawings survive in the Royal Commission archives in Swindon (now part of English Heritage). They show that the house had a timber frame with panels infilled (I think) with brick – and weatherboarding attached. I have a copy of the drawings in a file and will double check …

  8. William Palin permalink
    December 30, 2012

    Thanks Simon for the view of the lovely Coade stone reliefs in Belgrave Square. They are sometimes (wrongly) attributed to Caius Cibber (the architect of the Danish Church in Wellclose Square).

    Cibber’s striking wooden figures of the Apostles from the original church are now in Danish Church of St Katharine’s, Regent’s Park. His beautiful lead figures of Faith Hope and Charity which once adorned the West front of the church are now in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum in Copenhagen (although, sadly, when I visited a few years ago they were not on display).

  9. John Campbell permalink
    December 30, 2012

    Wonderful pictures! So sad to see these beautiful squares disappear. The derelict church is just such a sad image. Many thanks for a glimpse into these lost neighbourhoods.

  10. Peter Holford permalink
    December 30, 2012

    I had a look on Google maps to pinpoint these squares. I then made the mistake of using Streetview to see what the area is like now. That was a mistake – how depressing! I know they are peoples’ homes but it would have been so much better if they could be living in a restored square with real character and sense of place.

    This shows why it is so important to keep these mistakes from the past in mind to try and prevent the same mistakes being made again. Well done and more of the same please (even though it’s depressing).

  11. Libby Hall permalink
    December 31, 2012

    I found this in Robert Sinclair’s marvellous ‘East London’, written just after the war and published in 1950 in the ‘County Book Series’.

    There are several very old houses in this area, and almost all tell of generations of proud and careful house-keeping. Some are in Wellclose Sqaure, three houses on the south side are two hundred years old and still in private occupation. A few steps away Swedenborg Square has a Georgian gentility, although the houses are small and unpretentious…..One interesting house in Wellclose Square can hardly last long because its fabric is damaged – a weather-boarded house. …The central London area has very few timber houses, which date mainly from the period of the tax on bricks between 1784 and 1850….

  12. sprite permalink
    January 1, 2013

    the lack of respect
    for folks and constructions
    such impertinence
    in the footsteps of time
    isn’t all impermanent


  13. Bernard Steel permalink
    January 3, 2013

    A fascinating article- I thought you might be interested in this from my great great grandfather’s Theodore Compton’s private autobiography ( this would have been about 1826-1830): “In the winter holidays Papa sometimes- very rarely- took us to the Royalty Theatre in Wellclose Square. I was frightened the first time, at a combat between two stage heroes with clashing swords and spangled dresses. What the play was I have no idea; but we afterwards saw Bluebeard and many other performances.

    I remember the destruction of the Royalty Theatre by fire and the falling in of the roof of the “ New Brunswick” built on the site. These repeated catastrophes were considered “judgements” of Providence and I believe a chapel has long stood on the site.”

    These are quite surprising adventures, given that the family were Quakers (!). The Compton’s lived in Booth Street, Spitalfields ( now Princelet Street) where they had a pewter and tin foil “manufactory”.

    PS William, I believe it was in your house that I went to a Spitalfields Music Festival concert last month-a wonderful evening!

  14. Nick Pope permalink
    January 6, 2013

    How fantastic to see these lost squares and history. This site never fails to amaze how it can keep these stories alive for everyone to see. Hopefully people will learn so much from them and how we should protect the city we live in.

    Just walking around some of these areas show how many mistakes were made in the name of ‘progression’ and how many mistakes seem to keep being made by developers more intent on profit than for providing buildings and streets worthy of London.

  15. Charlotte Frost permalink
    January 7, 2013

    Thank you for explaining about the external timber. Charlotte

  16. William Palin permalink
    January 25, 2013

    Reply to Bernard Steel: thanks for the interesting note about your great great grandfather. The collapse of the New Brunswick theatre on 28 February 1828 was a sensational story. For more information try

    And yes, that was my house – I’m pleased you enjoyed the evening!

  17. January 29, 2013

    The site of the Swedish church is now largely green space on an estate. I work for the housing provider that owns the land; we’re working with charity Trees for Cities to re-landscape the site and also, at the (splendid) suggestion of a local architect, hoping to tell some of the wonderful site narrative in the garden. If anyone would like to know more – or perhaps come along and help plant a tree during the project – please do get in touch. We can at least try and maintain the lost square in the public memory.

  18. laura shipp permalink
    February 6, 2013

    I am currently researching my family tree, paternal mother’s side. I traced a gg grandfather, name of Brassel, naturalised British in about 1860, from South Prussia, Germany who settled in Pell Street, just off of WellClose Sq. He worked in one of the sugar refinaries in the area. All my family are from the Stepney area

  19. Bill Duxbury permalink
    May 28, 2013

    I am now 77 years of age. In 1948 I lived at No. 6 Fletcher Street which runs from Cable Street into Wellclose Square. I also lived at No.9 Clifford House in Wellclose Square. Square. I still have a photo of me taken in the creche in the Church that stands in the Square. I remember at a very young age living above a general store situated in Swedenborg Street. This short turning ran from The Highway into Swedenborg Square.

  20. Christina Agin permalink
    July 27, 2013

    Such an interesting article to read especially for me as my father and his siblings were all born and brought up in Wellclose Square. My father was born in 1930 and they left the square at the end of the Second World War when they moved into the Peabody buildings on John Fisher Street, so didn’t really move very far. I can remember visiting Wellclose Square as a child and my father used to like to go back now and again having left the East End at the age of 30. To this day I still have family living in Swedenborg Gardens – it’s heartbreaking when you see the wonderful pictures what could have been but for a little bit of forethought!

  21. August 22, 2013

    I spent a lot of my childhood in Harrads Place, just off the square, and went to St Paul’s school. It was so sad when it was all destroyed! Valerie

  22. dave callaghan permalink
    October 13, 2013

    my wife was born at no 5 Swedenborg sq a family off 12 name demmel
    a great time growing up

  23. June Greenough permalink
    October 13, 2013

    I spent all of my childhood living in swedenborg square from 1948 until 1962/3 I also went to st.paul’s school in wellclose square. a lovely school that was although the school is still there they have managed to change some of the original look of the building. the house we lived in in swedenborg square was four storey, although you could not use the attic part of it,there was a machine factory in the back yard too making men’s suits.although we had no bathroom or running water, had to get all the water from a tap outside in the yard, we were very happy there, they seemed very sound houses I dont think we ever had rain come in from the roofs.those houses I am sure could have been saved rather than destroyed, oh well at least the memories wont get destroyed.

  24. June Greenough permalink
    October 13, 2013

    I remember the Demmels we were at no.45 right opposite the swing park.
    I think no.5 was opposite the Carsons dairy and shop. I remember when Carsons had cattle in the barn next to the shop .

  25. davdave callaghan permalink
    October 13, 2013

    all off the demmels from the sq are now deceased my wife was Franie she was the youngest girl john my brother in law used to drive carsons horse and cart another world I am afraid

  26. Elizabeth Conway permalink
    December 1, 2013

    Leopold Ettling lived at no.s 20 and 21 Princes Square in the mid 19th century. He owned a brass foundry. Does anyone know anything about a brass foundry in the area?

  27. December 15, 2013

    As a former policeman of Leman Street in the late 70’s/early 80’s, I had the unfortunate task of occasionally having to report burglaries at some of the fine old houses in and around the squares of Stepney, Whitechapel, Wapping and Bethnal Green.

    Whilst this was an unenviable task, particularly around Christmas, it did provide me with numerous opportunities to admire the architecture, at close hand, whilst obtaining details of the crime from the unfortunate victims.

    Hopefully, my admiration of their properties and a, more than passing interest in their association with the east end and their homes, restored some faith in human nature.

    Happy days.

  28. Bill Duxbury permalink
    January 6, 2014

    I have just been reading through the comments. My sister Eileen, now deceased, used to be friends with one of the Demmels. I think it may have been Franie. We used to go to Christian Street School. I remember the cows being led around Swedenborg Square for a walk.

  29. Alan Taylor permalink
    January 12, 2014

    My twin brother and I were born in Princes Square in 1936..Picture shows the house where we lived before moving to Hackney at the start of the war..

  30. January 17, 2014

    I lived in swedenborge sq at no11 opp park gates; iwas good freinds with george demmel
    as a small boy I went with john on his rounds.
    he had a sister who work for p.l.a. driving a tea bar around docks.
    it has been good reliving old memorys of life in the sqare

  31. carole bas permalink
    July 11, 2014

    on reading all these lovely comments, I would like to add that I agree with Elaine wholeheartedly, My Father, Bernie, lived in Wellclose square with his Father & brothers after the war,..he has often spoken of those days, so now, at the age of 83, I intend to take my dearest Dad on a trip down memory lane to visit the square,…for me, it will no doubt be an emotional day,…for Dad, well, many memories will come to mind, but I’m sure it will also make him very happy to revisit WellClose!,…I wonder, does anyone reading this have relatives,..Fathers,..that lived there after the war too?…….thanks for this lovely site & such interesting comments, I’ve loved reading them.

  32. Chris Breach permalink
    July 12, 2014

    Very interested to read June Greenough’s response and that she can recall Carsons Dairy and cows kept in a barn next to shop in Swedenbourg Square.This family Mr Dave Carson,his wife Kathleen and son Cyril were relatives of my mother and as a young boy I visited the premises on several occasions.After the cows were milked Cyril would take me on the milk round in the area.I always understood that they were the last cow keepers in London and that their cattle came from Wales.
    A wonderful part of our heritage and my trips from Surrey to Stepney have left me with many happy memories.

  33. Eddie Clarke permalink
    August 11, 2014

    My Grandmother Ellen Clarke nee OFlaherty lived a couple of doors away from the dairy and I can remember visiting her as a child in the 1940/50s, still recall the cows being milked in the barn and the smell of the dairy.
    My mum Catherine Clarke nee Warner would take us to the park in the Sq to play on the swings, she would sometimes leave us there with Mrs Butler the park keeper
    while she chatted with friend in the Sq.

    Wonderful memories of the old Sq, what a shame they were never restored to the former Glory.

  34. Linda Roche permalink
    August 13, 2014

    I have just come across this website while doing my family tree my mums family lived at no 3 Swedenborg Square from 1934 till it got bombed and then moved to no 5
    my nan was Augusta Kemps, my mum Louisa and her sisters were Florrie, Gladys,Gertie,Ginnie and brother Harry.
    I remember going to visit when a child and going to play at the park opposite such a shame these houses are no longer there.

  35. artie permalink
    September 12, 2014

    very interesting

  36. Mandy Anson permalink
    September 17, 2014

    Very interesting to see these photos. My Grandad and his family lived in Swedenborg Square from sometime before the War. I don’t know which number they lived at – must ask him – but if anyone remembers the Anson family, I’d love to hear any stories. My Grandad is William (Bill) and his Mum was Mary, Dad was Frederick and he had lots of brothers and sisters – Kitty, Nellie, Richard, Robert (Harvey), Danny (Harvey), Jimmy, Doreen, Rebecca, Emma, Frederick, Elizabeth and Mary – some were half-siblings. My Great-Grandma was originally Mary Harvey and my Great-Grandpa was previously married to a Catherine Chapman, who died in 1922. I’d love to hear from anyone who knew any of them.
    Many thanks!

  37. Stefan Rantzow permalink
    October 1, 2014

    Dear Sir!

    I wonder if there are any people who remember the building at 8 Princes Square, later 8 Swedenborg Square? In the year of 1888 the address was 33 Princes Square. This building was owned by the old Swedish Church in Princes Square. The clerk Sven Olsson who worked in the church lived her with his Swedish family between 1871-1898/99. Sven was a good friend of a Swedish woman named Elizabeth Stride, who often came and visit the church and 33 Princes Square because the church-reading room was located in the home of Sven Olsson. Sven gave Elizabeth food and money because she was very poor. On the 30th of September 1888 she became Jack the Rippers third victim.

  38. Doug Jackson permalink
    October 16, 2014

    I have just discovered my grandfather Harry Walpole lived at 42 Wellclose Square in the early 1930s. Any memories anyone has of him would be gratefully received! Thanks for taking the time and care to put together such a well researched piece. Tracing ancestors is interesting but an insight into their lives is a real plus.

  39. Kim Whyte ( Ahmed) permalink
    November 18, 2014

    Hi I am trying to find any information about my family who lived in 2b Pell St from early 1960 to 1966. I was born there in 1964. If anyone has any information that could help me I would be very greatful. My mothers name was Lillian Donley sometimes called Leila… That’s about as much as I know!… I have only recently found my birth certificate and Pell St is on it. This article has been very interesting, gives me some idea of where I started… Any information at all would be much appreciated .

  40. September 7, 2015

    My grandfather kept a dairy herd in Princes Square until the 60’s. Does anyone remember the dairy? My grandfather was William Jones – one of the herdsmen was Cyril Carson. Any info would be appreciated.

  41. Chris Breach permalink
    September 20, 2015

    I have left a comment in the past regarding my mother Honor Breach and her relations the Carson family who were cow keepers and had a Dairy business in Swedenbourg Square Stepney.Cyril Carson was the only son who delivered the fresh milk locally.He had several friends I recall ,one being Bob Moseley and the other a gentleman called Arthur.The Carson family retired to Cornwall and Cyril married a lady who worked in a hotel in Looe.He became a fisherman working on a fishing boat out of the harbour and subsequently he took a farm to work as a farmer.This was probably fifty plus years ago and over this time my mother who has now passed away and I lost contact.This may fill a gap for Rosie Johnson but any other information would be appreciated

  42. Luke Seaford permalink
    October 4, 2015

    A really interesting article!

    My Great-Great-Grandparents lived at 41 Wellclose Square during the 30s and 40s. They were Herbert and Annie Goodman. Their children (that I can remember!!) were Herbert (my Great-Grandfather), Leonard and Joyce.

    Herbert jr. was a rifleman in the Rifle Brigade during WW2, and was killed in Italy.

  43. Alan Vickers permalink
    November 23, 2015

    My mother, Doris Bandelow, lived with parents Charlie and Dora and sister Rosie and brother George, in Swedenborg Square before WW2. I believe they lived on the east side of the square but don’t know the number. Mum mentioned the dairy with the cow at the top of the square where they bought their milk. She also talked of The Mahogany Bar, off Welclose Square, part of an old music-hall, where she and other local children were treated to magic lantern shows. A neighbouring family were the Demels who I think were originally from Germany. Mr Demel was in the merchant navy during the war. The Bandelows moved from the square in 1940 when the bombing of the docks became really bad.

  44. December 12, 2015

    Message for Laura Shipp, my husband is a direct descendant of John Otto Brassel who lived in Pell Street. His name is also John!

    I have have tried to locate the German side of the family without much luck, if you have any information relating to this side of the family, I would gratefully appreciate it. I’m happy to share my research with you.

  45. Jonathan Madden permalink
    March 29, 2016

    I’ve only just discovered this thread, absolutely brilliant and fascinating article. My late fathers family all come from Wellclose Square, my grandmother owned a greengrocer shop on the square her name was Lousa Larkin, she met my Grandfather at Wilton’s. There was a very famous character called Granny Wooster who took in sailors and ran a boarding house where she also looked after my father Jack including his sisters Mary and Queenie. This would’ve been around the years 1890 through to 1915 when they moved to Hermit Road and opened a sweet shop.
    Great to read all these wonderful stories.
    Thanks so much.

  46. Nick Callaghan permalink
    April 22, 2016

    Alan Vickers. My grand-father George Demmel was in the Navy during the war and it was actually his parents (George & Minna) that came from Wurttemberg in Germany.

  47. Dawn kennedy permalink
    April 22, 2016

    Freddy Cooke, George Demmel was my uncle, my mum was Franie, it was the oldest sister Marie that drove the tea van .

  48. Pieter van der Merwe permalink
    July 23, 2016

    Glad to find this useful piece: one brief question.

    It includes a photo of the ‘Watch House’ on the north side of the central area of the square: on the 1819 edition of Horwood’s large-scale map of London this is identified as an ‘Engine House’ but what might that have been for at that time?

  49. Marq permalink
    November 3, 2016

    Absolutely fascinating, thanks so much William Palin.

    (Not the William Palin, I suppose, who went to Gospel Oak Primary School in the 1970s? If so, hi! I was there with you brother Tom!)

    (Thanks also to all of you for your memories and insights.)

    Anyway, I’d doing some research into my father, David Smith, who was born in 1916, and, as far as I can tell, lived in Princes Square in the 1910s and perhaps into the 1920s, with his parents and three of his four sisters. (The 1911 Census has his father, aunt and uncle, and grandmother living at 12 Princes Square.) The family were Polish Jews (they were Zmideks but Naturalisation documents from 1921 confirm that they’d been living under the name Smith for 17 years) who had arrived from Chmielnik in 1903(?).

    As unlikely as it seems, if anyone has any info on them, or on the Jewish presence in Princes/Welclose Square, I’d be incredibly grateful!

    Thanks again.

    All the best, Marq

  50. Pat Mason permalink
    January 1, 2017

    My family all lived in Swedenborg Square. My Nanny lived in the corner house on the south side of the square where my aunt, the youngest of 10 was born. When the house was bombed in the war they moved to No.27 where I lived with my Mum, various aunts, uncles, cousins and a dog called Monty! When the church was cleared they built a swing park for the children and my great aunt Poll was the “Parky” and woe betide you if you stood up on a swing! One of my aunts lived in a flat over the dairy – I can still smell it now. All gone now, so sad.

  51. January 10, 2017

    Thank you, I discovered this illuminating article and images with informative comments when out of curiosity searching for “Pell Street” following reading reminiscences about the area in a Facebook Group, where commenters here may also see messages from people they recall or perhaps still know.

    Thank you one and all.

  52. January 10, 2017

    I so wish I had seen those wonderful buildings in their heydays and met those folk pictured in the Facebook Group mentioned above from the late 1940s who so remind me from their photo of my father and his brother.

    They supplied sawdust into the butchers and pubs of east London up to the mid 1960s before their business was bought out by Jeakins Sawdust. We regularly delivered to Smithfield meat market – carrying the sacks on our heads between the hanging carcasses. I recall the shout if one brushed a sack against a piece of meat – “Yo..Oh .. DUSTY BOLLOCKS!” fortunately only shouted at me once or twice – but by heck, it made me be even more careful thereafter.

    Some of their most important customers were skindressers and as a youngster I would “help” – sadly I do not remember any specific locations of skin dressing firms, but I am fairly sure some were in the Wapping and Stepney areas

  53. Alison Ginn permalink
    July 1, 2017

    Researching genealogy for wellclose and got a real insight into the names and buildings where they lived
    Cigar manufacturers. Census returns show how the Jewry lived in the area and now I understand how close the Minories and St Clement Danes are so close. Also influx after the Great Fire of London. I can feel these people from the photos and maps.

  54. Leonard Staines permalink
    July 3, 2017

    Thanks for all the information and comments from others. I was born nearby in 1946 and spent the first eight years or so of my life at No 19. I remember it being in a flat near the top, we had a tiny balcony which looked out on the centre of the square and across the infants school in the centre, which I attended. My grandfather was one of the school governors there, George Ashley, and he ran a newsagents and tobacconist in Royal Mint Street. I’ve a number of memories of living there as a young child, including the bomb sites by Graces Alley where someone took his pet rabbits to graze, of going to the school and having an afternoon sleep on a camp bed underneath the plane trees, of having daily cod liver oil, malt, and orange juice, and then a third pint of milk … and many more memories … including going to Tower Gardens and on to the “beach” at low tide on the Thames! Just a few years ago I went back, sad to see all the old buildings gone, but the school and its interesting façade still there, had a drink for old times sake at Wilton’s, which was just opposite No 19….. maybe another time will add some more. Happy childhood days!

  55. David Stanford permalink
    July 16, 2017

    I lived at 25 Swedenborg Square, from my birth in 1946 to 1961 when it was cpo’d by the Council for £1700. My mother’s family, the Pulvers lived next door at no 24. My dad had a small workshop employing about a dozen people on the uppermost 2 floors, in the rag trade.
    I remember some of the names mentioned above, such as Carsons dairy (a friend of mine kept in touch with them after they moved to the West Country) the Demals, Freddy Cooke who posted above and who lived next door to my aunt and uncle, the Adelmans. Mrs Butler was the Parkie, and woe betide anyone who cheeked her. She ran the park with an iron grip, with all our best interests at heart.
    The park in the centre of the square contained beautifully maintained flower gardens, a swing park and even boasted a paddling pool.
    The local council acted as vandals when they flattened the area.

  56. July 16, 2017

    I lived with my family in Swedenborg Square until around 1963 when the derelict house next door had a gas leak and blew up making our house unsafe to live in.We shopped at Mrs Carsons dairy and Mrs Tax shop which was a hole in the wall.We were moved th Poplar and Mrs Demell lived next door us in Westcott House.My childhood was spent in the swing park and Bett Street baths…..fond memories.

  57. Kevin Curley permalink
    August 7, 2017

    I lived at no.6 Swedenborg Square till about 1962 when they moved us out to pull the street down. The Demels were next door and Mrs Carsons Dairy opposite. My parents were George and Dolly Curley (nee Warren) and we lived downstairs with a sitting room and kitchen in the basement and bedroom on the ground floor. My nan lived upstairs, she was Lizzie Warren (also known as Annie) and had lived there since the war when they were bombed out of the house next door. Mums siblings were Annie, Jimmy, Maggie, Tucker and Ronnie.

  58. Bill Duxbury permalink
    December 3, 2017

    Whilst scouting for info for the family tree I came across this information on a Mernick website:
    ‘In 1823, Wellclose Square saw the opening scene of the long competition for the supply of gas to the inhabitants, which spread and was continued in other parts of London. For here the Ratcliff Company, which had been so recently incorporated, began the contest first with the Imperial Company, and secondly, in 1829, with the British Company, who had acquired the interests of the former Company… Reference to this locality also calls to mind that the house (No. 6) close by in Shorter Street belongs to the Commercial Gas Company, and in it the London County Council have their testing station which is fitted up with apparatus for the use of its officers appointed to examine the quality of the gas supplied to the Company’s consumers.’ In 1947 I lived at No.6 which at that time Shorter Street had been renamed to Fletcher Street. Fletcher Street ran from Cable Street into Wellclose Square.

  59. Tom Reed permalink
    December 11, 2017

    What a wonderful site! First the article by William Palin and then all the replies and reminiscences. Thank you so much to all the contributors. Who were the criminals at the LCC in 1959-61 who wrote off this priceless heritage?

    I’m doing a study of old parish maps of this area, and if anyone’s interested, the earliest one I’ve found shows Well Close just before it was first developed by Barbon starting 1686. Then it was a little field surrounded by timber palings with a well-pump in the SE corner. The map on vellum can be found if do a search at Brasenose College Oxford Map Whitechapel.

  60. Mark McCann permalink
    February 11, 2018

    There was originally a well on the site of the Danish Church, and the area was notorious in the 17th century for robberies and attacks.

  61. Steve Ali permalink
    March 5, 2018

    I used to go to St Paul’s school briefly in the late 70s after my parents separated and I lived on the estate called St George’s estate which stands now. I was in one of the tower blocks called Stockholm house for around 6 years mostly with my mum before moving to Folkestone with my father in the early 1980s, I remember a elder women on the estate telling me the buildings which stand before the estate was built and a lot of the bombings in WW2 in that area I assume now looking back at the stories she told me she was a resident in that area for many many years, I got to admit I was more fascinated by the war stories in that area as a kid with the bombing & how lucky I was being born post WW2, but now as a man I can’t believe those lovely buildings was not saved now seeing these pictures and information. FWIW when I was a kid the estate was a great place and used to return to see some of my old friends when I used to go back to London at times during the mid 80s but like many at the time a lot moved away so can’t comment any further after that

    Thanks for the info I certainly found it fascinating and perhaps I should visit back to the area try and work everything out with the old with the new 😉

  62. margaret crompton permalink
    March 5, 2018

    was absolutely fascinated by this article and the ensuing” threads.
    My great x2 grandparents and family lived here during the 1850’s according to the census.
    Does anyone know whether the properties in the square were rented,or did anyone own their house in those days? They s
    William G Still was married to Anna Maria Pellatt whose widowed mother lived with them. She had been the wife of a Thames River Pilot.

  63. Lynda Andrews permalink
    June 21, 2018

    I loved reading all the comments as it brought back many happy memories. My family the Holland’s lived at number 21 Swedenborg Square until they were forced to leave in the 1960s.

    All the stories about Carsons Dairies, Cyril milking the cows, Mrs Butler the parkie and Mrs Tax with the fruit and veg shop are true. The names of people like Freddy Cook, Franie Demmel The Pulvers all so familiar.
    Stepney will never be the same

  64. October 31, 2018

    My late father Albert Lemberger lived in a house facing the church. In WWI when he was a toddler they had to run to the shelter from bombs. His father David and paternal grandfather were master tailors and made army uniforms in WWI. My father said his father also had a job patrolling the church with a dog at dusk.

  65. Frances Emerald permalink
    December 31, 2018

    My first job in 1978 involved me working at a women’s hostel in Church House in Wellclose Square. I’ve never gone back but have very strong memories of being there. I’m trying to find info on the building but having no luck. A Brother Aquinas was connected to it and it was run by a Daphne Morgan. Anyone got any info?

  66. Derek Bailey permalink
    January 21, 2019

    My brother and I used to play in the children’s playground in Swedenborg Square in the 1945-47 time period. On a recent visit to Umberston Street I found the lower half where we lived at No. 41 has vanished as a result of some clearance project. Anyone out there remember lower Umberston Street with the passageway to Hessel Street?

  67. June 5, 2019

    Lived first in Vallance Road where Mum and Dad had Alf’s Barber Shop and Mum did he ladies.
    We mpved the shop furthe down Vallance Road near an overhead railway.I went to a local school, later to Spitalfiield High School until war broke out and was then evacuated to Newmarket and Ely. By then, parents had moved the shop to Columbia Road to the furniture makers and where the flower Market was held and stil is, on Sundays. Grandparents lived in Cambvridge Heath Road close to the hospital. Fridays I was sent with flowers for the Sabbath.
    I was evacuated, aged 9, when war broke out, first to Newmarket andthen to Ely. Fost parents in Newmarketwere lovely people, the Pettits,those in Ely, the Barnards, less so. Eacuate during the whole war,I came back to shattered London and attended Spitalfield High School then won a scholarship to London School of Economics and Political Science. See my book, Cockney Girl

  68. Barbara formaly JacksonAug 2019 permalink
    August 15, 2019

    wonderful article brought back so many good memories I went to Tower of London school I lived near Watney Street Mum worked in wellclose square at Twinings tea factory I went to the park with my friend Mimmy I remember Freddy Cook George and Franie Demmels and Lynda Andrews Our highlight of the week was a bath on Saturday Morning In Bett street Baths where we had to call out for the water .If its Lynda, I remember going to her new flat on the Ocean Estate in the 50s
    Thank you for your article brought back so many memories

  69. Lynda Andrews permalink
    March 3, 2020

    Revisiting this site again brings back wonderful memories.
    Reading the previous article from Barbara Jackson who we went to school with; all the familiar names like the Demmells, Mimi Westbrooke, Freddy Cooke and the Pulvers takes me back to my youth.
    Also, the luxury of hot water when my sisters Pat, Maureen and I went to Bett Street baths on Saturday mornings.

    I was born in Ensign Street and attended nursery school in Wellclose Square until 1949 when we moved to Swedenborg Square to live in my Nan’s house.
    Around early 1900s, all my Nan’s siblings, parents and extended family lived in Mayfield Buildings, a court leading from Cable Street down to Swedenborg Square (formerly Princes Square).
    All these properties were rented as nobody was wealthy enough to own them.

    My parents briefly lived at number 5 Pell Street during the war but left in haste because the house had ghosts which traumatised my mum. There must be a story to tell about the previous residents.

    We moved to Ocean Estate in 1953 to what seemed like luxury flats at the time but alas they became downtrodden by the 1980s and have since been demolished and rebuilt again.

    We were lucky to live in an area that brings back so many happy memories.
    Thank you for allowing us to share on this wonderful website.

  70. John Jessop permalink
    March 19, 2020

    In response to France Emerald’s request for enquiries about Church House in Wellclose Square:
    I know the building well, because it was on the grounds of St Paul’s School, where my father was the caretaker from about 1954 to 1956. We lived in one of the two houses at the front of the school.
    Ours was next to the entrance marked ‘Boys’. Church House was built as a nursery but when we moved there it had lately been used as a hostel for fallen women. The hostel, run by St Paul’s church on Dock Street was closed soon afterwards, apparently because some of the residents were using the property to ply their trade. After that, the top floor was converted to an apartment. The first occupants were a well-educated Irish couple, Michael and Bernadette Carey. Michael was a welfare officer – for Stepney Council, I believe. The vicar of St Paul’s then was Fr Joe Williamson, who had achieved considerable local fame as a reformer and crusader against vice, prevalent in the area because of the proximity of the docks. We moved away within two years, as did the Careys. I hope that helps.

  71. July 29, 2020

    FAO laura shipp

    My family (as you can tell from the name) also came over from Germany 1860. Have been trying to find out why particularly they came. Only have old stories from my grandparents which they told me as a child and, of course, you never ask the questions when you could! Would be grateful for any info.

  72. Cheryl Cornell permalink
    August 21, 2020

    Hi my great grandparents Mary AnnMyers (Polly) and Joseph Cornell lived at number 32 in the 1930,s with their children, next to Britten’s Court
    If anyone knows anything about them please let me know,

    Thank you in advance

  73. Edward Jones permalink
    January 26, 2021

    Excellent article but so sad too. My sentimental pathetically romantic character makes me temperamentally unsuited to serious historical research as I feel such a sense of loss when looking at such articles. Utterly unrealistic, I know, but that’s me. At least we have these wonderful photos as a recompense.

  74. February 1, 2021

    I have just read your sad account of those two squares as I have always had a interest in the east end and visited, stayed there many times. I love it when I discover a few streets that survived the devastating redevelopments of the post war years and was very happy to discover Carlton square in Stepney back in the 1990s complete with its lovely little corner pub the Carlton which I drank in on many occasions. I was so sad to hear it had been demolished a couple of years ago and disgusted that Tower Hamlets allowed it after all the devastation from the past and the fact that most those enclaves if Victorian East end are now generally conservation areas.

    Their response to my email was they had only given permission to build on top, this I find hard to envisage, my reply was the developer should be made to rebuild it, they ignored me.

    Neil Osborne Bristol

  75. Bill Ware permalink
    March 31, 2021

    I too lived just off Wellclose Square (Ensign Street) from the time I was born in February 1948 at the Mile End Hospital in Bancroft Road. I also had an Aunt, Uncle and cousins who lived on the north side of Wellclose Square during the 1950s and into the early 1960s, and whom I would visit regularly after moving to Bethnal Green. I remember my first nursery school being St. Paul’s in Wellclose Square, and my first seeing Mickey Mouse on screen at the mission that had once been Wilton’s Music Hall (The Mahogany Bar), in Graces Alley. Many, many good and warm memories of the post-WWII era that could be described, per Charles Dickens, as “the best of times, and the worst of times”. Our parents might not have had tuppence to rub together in those days, but still, the memories of family and friends, and the early days of living in and around Wellclose Square could never be bought.

    Thanks for creating this excellent, informative and illustrative site, William Palin!

  76. Katherine Ann Ryder permalink
    June 10, 2021

    My 3x Great Uncle James Lassam Fuller was married in 1844. At the time it appears he was living at Belleone Square, Stepney. It is definitely not Belgrave Square.

    Does anyone know where this was, and the correct spelling of this square if it is not Belleone.

    Thanks for your help


  77. Alex Alvarez permalink
    June 11, 2021

    Amazing content, I must say!
    I am rather interested in everyone’s comments, reading about everyone’s memories.
    The maternal side of my family through my Grandad, have an incredibly strong connection to Stepney Borough as it used to be.
    Does anyone remember a building called Hannah Long House? The address was 23 Swedenborg Gardens. My Great Great Grandmother was Hannah Long. This means I am related to former mayors of Stepney, Jack and Jerry Long, who were my Great Grandmothers brothers. My Great Great Nanny Hannah also had the freedom of Stepney too.
    My grandad, great aunt and other relatives all lived on both Arbour Square and Wellclose Square. My grandad was Bernard Hayes.
    If anyone remember Grandad, or any of my other relatives, I’d love to hear of the memories!

  78. Alison Botterill permalink
    August 4, 2021

    Fascinating piece. Thankyou! A married-in ancestor Charles Reeks, a solicitor, lived in worked in Wellclose Square in the 2nd half of the 18th century and early 19th century. His brother in law Thomas Burford lived in Ratcliffe Highway and is mentioned in P D James’ boon about the infamous murders there.

  79. Bill permalink
    October 13, 2021

    Sad, sad, sad, sad, sad…

  80. October 27, 2022

    Hi, my late father and his brother owned the Wellclose Electric Company Ltd which was on Wellclose Square. I remember going there in the early 1960s and saw the workshop and store out the back which must once have been stables. I wonder if anyone knows which number house the company might have owned? Or if anyone remembers it?

  81. Dennis permalink
    November 28, 2022

    @Dawn Knox, perhaps the Watch House as seen in one of the photos, which was previously called the Engine House according to, was related to the Wellclose Electric Company Ltd?

  82. Laura Said permalink
    April 2, 2023

    My Dad was born in 1942 and lived on Pell St, his name was Anthony Said. My grandparents were Carmelo and Mary Said. Such an interesting read. Would love to find out more. Can’t seem to find any photographs of Pell St.

  83. William Edward Harvey permalink
    April 28, 2023

    My mum was a Londoner we lived at 29 Wellclose Sq my grandfather was Edward (Ted) hence my middle name Ted was born in 1857 and passed away in 1963 we shared the house with Jessie Beerman it was directly opposite Twinnings Tea/Coffee. I can remember the timber clad house it was on the corner which went up to Buck & Hickmans, I also remember going up to Morries shop for bagel’s!! So much to remember no matter what people say fabulous memories I now reside in Largs Ayrshire Scotland.
    Regards Billy

  84. Keith Warren permalink
    August 24, 2023

    My 2 x great grandparents Claus and Marea MEIER/MEYER lived in 8 Princes Street, which I believe is part of Princes Square/Swedenborg Sq. And then various members of the family moved to 20 Princes Square in the period from approx 1888 to 1926.
    For a long time, I have had a photo taken outside the home with a pram (from a book on the East End). My grandmother gave me the book. I have also seen the same photo on the web in recent times. Are there any other photos of the Square?

    Thanks to everyone


  85. August 29, 2023

    I found one of my ancestors in the 1901 census, living at No.20 Wellclose Square which sent me to this website. How sad, like many others, that it was virtually destroyed it seems like one of the better places to live in the East End at that time.

  86. Keith Rees permalink
    October 19, 2023

    Thank you for the photo “looking east from #5 Wellclose Square” and the unknown painting dated 1845.

    I have been researching a solicitor named Richard Willey who lived at #3 Wellclose Square; his son Richard Horatio Willey [Will of 1844] and Charlotte Banks; and a number of her children with the solicitor before his death in 1838.

    The painting adds value to the story of Charlotte Banks and one of her addresses when raising her children.

  87. November 11, 2023

    Brilliant article and the thread is really interesting. My Mother Joan Whitcomb, my grandmother Maud Strutton, great grandmother Hannah Mitchell and Great Great Grandmother Nancy White and their families lived in number two and number four Harrods Place just off of Wellclose Square and went to St Paul’s school. My grandmother was taken as a small child to have milk straight from the cow in the morning before she went to school. My grandad Frederick Whitcomb (Sam) was master tea blender at Twinings.
    As I understand it people rented their homes in Harrods Place but landlords were willing to sell after the war but my grandparents couldn’t get the money together.
    My grandmothers Uncle Morris Mitchell and his family lived in Harrods Place Hannah, Frank Nancy, Rose, Albert and my Nan had stories of how they would wear their evening dresses and go out on a Friday and Saturday night and have to pawn them on the Monday so that they could buy groceries.
    In the nineteenth century to the pre war it seems it was a real mix of English, Irish, Jewish and Scandinavians. Many intermarried. My great grandparents worked in a pub. It was run by a German family ( I think they were called Beerman). My grandmother told me that the parents were imprisoned in the war as they were German nationals that had not naturalised and one of their sons as well who didn’t even know he wasn’t born in England.

  88. Pam Wardle permalink
    April 1, 2024

    I have just come across your fascinating site and really enjoyed reading about the East End squares and all the comments that followed. My father’s family came over from Poland in 1905 and by 1911 were living at 24 Prince’s Square. Various family members came and left but in 1939 there were still family at 23 Prince’s Square, though it was now called Swedenborg Square. The family names were Frankel/Frankenstein, Isaacs and Podgoursky. My dad didn’t live in Princes Square but was brought up in the East End and reminisced about Cable Street and surrounding areas.

  89. Rob Castle permalink
    April 4, 2024

    Great article!

  90. Phil Maillard permalink
    April 5, 2024

    Hi. Many thanks for the fascinating site regarding Wellclose Square. May I recommend reading the poet Lee Harwood’s long poem ‘Cable Street’ (the first poem in his ‘Collected Poems’ published by Shearsman Press in 2004. The poem contains a reproduction of a letter of confirmation regarding the Compulsory Purchase Order (1963) for 37 Wellclose Square, where Lee Harwood and his wife Jenny (a painter) and young son Blake were living in the mid 1960’s. Best wishes, Phil Maillard.

  91. Ian permalink
    April 16, 2024

    As Libby said ( in 2012 ) Wellclose Square was at the heart of The Battle Of Wapping during the Printworkers Struggle against Rupert Murdoch’s News International plant ( now luxury residences & shops ) – I spent a lot of time in Wellclose Square in 1986-87 supporting the Printworker , I vividly remember the Union vans in the Square & seeing the Mounted Police & Riot Police charging around attacking people … It’s sad to see much of Wellclose Square boarded up & looking run-down .

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