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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

32 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:

  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

  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?

  15. I used to live at 36 winthrop street permalink
    October 8, 2017

    Thanks for the photos. What a lovely thing to do! It brought back memories. My sister and i used to get bread from the bakers for our mum

  16. December 25, 2017

    These are fascinating photographs. I worked at Swanlea School which is on the corner of Brady Street and Durward Street from 2004-2017, so I know the area well. The SBL building, now Trinity House, was a constant companion but has been hidden from view recently by the Crossrail construction. I’m assuming everyone knows that the first victim of the ‘Whitechapel Murders’ of 1888 was found close-by the school’s eastern end in what was the entrance to a stables in what was the called Bucks Row. The school was known as the Bucks Row Board School and thanks to research by the author John Bennett I have seen some facsinating school reports from the era. Thanks for sharing, this has helped with my curiosity of what the area looked like prior to its redevelopment in the late 1990s – although it will look even more different once the completion of Whitechapel station rebuild with its sweeping ‘garden’ bridge is completed.

  17. Robert Hughes permalink
    January 9, 2018

    Fantastic photographs. I was a young policeman in the 1970’s and patrolled all around Durward Street, Winthrop Street and Whitechapel Road. In the early hours of one morning, I encountered a young man in Woods Buildings with something bulky secreted inside his bomber jacket. I stopped him, suspecting the bulge was a car radio stolen from a vehicle in Durward Street. Next thing I knew, I was lying on the cobbles alongside those posts, wondering what had hit me. What a punch! Anyway, I never caught him. Am I right in thinking Durward Street was formerly known as Hare Row, the scene of one of The Rippers’s murders? Thanks for sharing these images.

  18. Darryl permalink
    January 31, 2018

    Gary Barnett, I lived at No.32 Winthrop Street between 1966 and 1971. The big Iron Gates were of the Tea Warehouse next to Harrison & Barber. Harrison and Barber had maroon wooden gates with a gap at the bottom where my sister once got her her head trapped. We had to call the fire brigades to remove her. By that time Harrison and Barber were known as Harbar. They used the premises to maintain their vehicles fleet. I hope this helps answer your question

  19. Alan Ross permalink
    February 6, 2018

    Terrific photos. I remember car boot sales and markets in the area. The entrance to the alley is now blocked off with a private door. In 1994 odd I was a student in London, and desperate. For some months I lived in Woods buildings in a weird ancient Jerry built extension. The alley was my entrance. It was very scary to pass through at night to get to my door. You never knew what deposits you would find outside the door in the morning. It was used as a toilet, known locally as pi— allley and just reeked of stale urine. Rats and mice used to scurry across the floor and it was pretty much unfit for human habitation, but was rented out to students and occasional immigrants. Looking out to the old school and the area behind in the dead of night, when no-one else was around, and when there were occasional misty nights, totally evoked the atmosphere of the old Victorian ripper era.

    Beside the Woods buildings was a shop where in the 19th century John Merrick was discovered being exhibited in a ‘freak show’ before being taken to the Royal London Hospital across the road.

    After that I moved to 88 Mile End Road, owned by the same landlord. Although the original house was demolished, this was Captain Cook’s address!

  20. January 27, 2020

    I used to live at 36 winthrop street.

    Are you one of Blanche’s daughters? I lived at 32 Winthrop Street 1966 to 1971 with my mum, two sisters and stepfather.

  21. Gary Barnett permalink
    March 10, 2020

    Hi Darryl,

    Thank you for your response (sorry it took me so
    long to spot it).

    Your poor sister!

    When Polly Nichols was murdered in Bucks Row (Durward Street) the HB slaughterman we’re suspected of the killing and ‘this is where the woman was killed’ (or words to that effect) was scrawled on those gates.

  22. Mumin Hashim permalink
    July 31, 2020

    Its such a shame these streets were demolished. During the mid seventies when Winthrop Street was still standing, the building with the wheatsheaf was an Asian grocers ran by my father. I remember it being very violent though. The street led into Brady Street where stood the Roebuck Pub, a cafe and some other shops and of course the brewery now replaced by Sainsburys. The same happened to Black Lion Yard opposite the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and Old Montague Street. Had these streets and buildings been restored, Whitechapel would have a much more interesting place with a strong connection to its past. Its all now being replaced by nondescript modern development sadly.

  23. Bill permalink
    November 5, 2020

    I hope the lovely relief of the wheatsheaf over the bakery door was preserved, and resting in some appreciative person’s garden or house. It’s lovely.

  24. John permalink
    January 21, 2021

    I lived in Whitechapel from 1958 till 1982 when I moved. The large iron gates were the entrance to Richards tea blending warehouse. If you wanted to be posh it was Richard’s blend, for the more down to earth Dickie’s brew. It was excellent loose leaf tea regardless. Just beyond the iron gates there was a garage that my father rented from Richard. The photograph of Durward street showing the school would appear to have been taken from ‘The Grave Maurice’ on Whitechapel road. To the right of the derelict school, Buck and Hickmans and Guards had huge warehouses which were demolished in the late 1960’s. The empty sites were used as car parking and then evolved into a market where the fracas is taking place. Woods buildings were always grim. You held your breath when passing through as the smell of urine was overpowering. Every so often the council would spray the area with Jeyes fluid, which was just as bad! The houses on Winthrop street were simple brick built dwellings that could have been renovated and improved. The site was left derelict for years.

  25. Darryl Baker permalink
    February 4, 2021

    John, thanks I was racking my Brains to remember the name of the Tea Warehouse on Winthrop Street, off course it was Richards Tea. The two huge warehouses on Durward Street were owned by Kearley & Tonge, AKA International Foods or London & Provincial. The Old School in the late 1960s was owned by Shneiders (Guards Menswear). Buck & Hickman were located adjacent to St. Mary’s Park on Adler Street.

  26. Richard Leeson permalink
    April 8, 2021

    My Great Great Grandfather James Leeson (a tailor) lived in 17 Woods Buildings, with wife Sarah and 7 children, according to the 1861 Census and was still living there at the 1871 Census with his wife and 5 children.
    It’s fascinating to see picture of the area were they lived – black and white photos are so evocative – thank you for sharing them

  27. Colin permalink
    June 7, 2022

    I lived in Blackwall Buildings until 1965 then moved to Brady Street dwellings and finally Mocatta house on Brady street. I knew Winthrop street well, for a time I’d walk a dog for a young married couple who were pleased to let someone take him out, I’d pretend he was mine if asked, he was a lovely golden retriever called Sandy. I remember the tea blenders, a guy and his son had a pony and trap they kept there. I remember the garage and the monumental stone masons further down toward Brady street. The bakers on the corner became a Kossoffs bakery.
    The picture of the large steel doorframe was a garage too, owned by Mick the Greek. The alleyway of woods buildings had slanted timber benches on the walls for people to sit on while queuing for the pawnbrokers who would serve them from a hatch in a steel door on the left opposite the disgusting urinal. So many memories.

  28. Jim Whiting permalink
    June 23, 2022

    As a youngster I lived in Brady St Buildings until November 1956. We lived on the too floor, opposite the old storage docks warehouse & I remember watching the men haul up the goods. This was just past the pub “The Roebuck” on the corner of Deward St, which had the old street plate “ formerly Bucks Row” of Jack the Ripper fame. The buildings must have been demolished in the early 70’s I think? I was almost 7 years old when I left.

  29. Stewart permalink
    January 20, 2023

    While much of the alley has doubtless disappeared in recent years with developments at Whitechapel station, contrary to what’s suggested by one or two earlier comments, the entrance to Woods Buildings is still visible from the Mile End Road – albeit now with heavy duty gate – as seen here:,-0.0602257,3a,31.8y,4.43h,90.4t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s2fQvgKbHiURNnHrGiH0srQ!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

  30. Lynn tuckwell (levy) permalink
    September 24, 2023

    Answer to Darryl baker’s question, , yes am Blanche’s daughter. I’m Lynn and my sister is Sandra. I had 3 brothers but one died 3 years ago. I lived right opposite the iron gates, which I knew as a tea factory. My sister and I worked there sometimes and got some pocket money from the owner (Bill). We were 14 years and 11 years old at the time. Great pictures and stories. Thank you.

  31. Leigh Walters permalink
    November 26, 2023

    Were the Woods Building accessed from. Whitchapel High Street and you would walk through and over the railway and aceess the road which was Buck’s Row. When I first went to London I decided to do my own Ripper Walk and remember coming out of the station and turning left to go through an alleyway which I remembered smelt of urine.

  32. peter debuse permalink
    January 2, 2024

    As a newly qualified doctor I lived “on the house” at the ,then, London Hospital.

    we used the Grave Maurice amongst others for social gatherings with the benefit

    of the publicans phone to tell us of any emergency requiring our presence

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