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In Mile End Old Town

June 5, 2019
by the gentle author

Much of the streetscape of the East End was broken in the last century, with fine squares lost in Stepney, Spitalfields and Haggerston, yet in Mile End an entire quarter of early-nineetenth century construction still exists surrounding Tredegar Sq (1823-9) and is cherished to this day. Taking advantage of the dramatic lighting afforded by the June weather, I spent an afternoon in these streets with my camera. Within a stone’s throw of what was once St Clement’s Hospital, formerly the City of London Union Workhouse, I discovered a stuccoed terrace worthy of Belgravia – while the intervening streets were filled by houses which manifested all the degrees of social and economic distinctions that lay between the two. Mile End Old Town reveals a microcosm of nineteenth century society.

Terrace in Mile End Rd erected by Ratcliffe builder, William Marshall ,in 1822-4

Formerly the City of London Union Workhouse, 1849

Tredegar Sq, 1828-9

Stucco was applied upon the north side of Tredegar Sq in the eighteen-thirties

Tredegar Square was re-landscaped in 1951

40 Tredegar Sq was formerly home to brush-maker Henry Wainwright who murdered his mistress and buried her dismembered body under the floor of his Whitechapel warehouse in 1875

Litchfield Rd – Sir Charles Morgan, Lord Tredegar sold this land for development

In Coborn Rd

Coborn Rd

Coborn Rd

Central Foundation School for Girls, Morgan St

School Entrance,  College Terrace

Holy Trinity Church, Morgan St

Eighteen-thirties villa, Rhondda Grove

Cottage Grove of 1823, now Rhondda Grove

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In Old Stepney

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Bernie permalink
    June 5, 2019

    Astonishing and precious survivals!

    I have recently discovered that my paternal grand and great-grandparents lived – and died – in Mile End Old Town. The grandparental family occupied 28 Lindley St from before the 1911 census until their deaths in 1937, and I would greatly value any photograph of similar houses in Lindley or Smith (= Smithy) streets!

  2. Joy Milligan permalink
    June 5, 2019

    Every morning I wake and read your latest piece of writing – this is just to say Thankyou. It is a wonderful start to my day

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    June 5, 2019

    How refreshing to see such elegant and well proportioned buildings! Definitely something to go into my “Good” category of architecture… what a shame that so much new build in London is either bland and/or ugly (Blugly?)

  4. Marcia Howard permalink
    June 5, 2019

    What a beautiful set of images. The clarity of B&W brings out the best in them. Thank you so much for sharing. I loved the drain covers too, which I’ve also often captured on film during walks around cities, including on past trips abroad. Pity there’s always a crime somewhere, and the dismembered mistress sounds a particularly gruesome one! Nothing much changes there. Thank you again

  5. Sue Mayer permalink
    June 5, 2019

    I had no idea there were such lovely houses in MEOT.

    Coburn Road reminded me about my entrance interview to Coburn girls grammar school many years ago. I had passed the 11 plus but then had to choose three schools and have interviews which were terrifying. The head at Coburn asked a question and then she was on her phone for ages so I patiently and politely waited for her to finish her call before I gave the answer. This was repeated many times. Needless to say I failed as “I took too long to answer the questions”. I went to Raynes Foundation in Stepney.

  6. June 5, 2019

    Thank goodness these houses have survived.

  7. Helen Breen permalink
    June 5, 2019

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for the lovely jaunt through Mile End Old Town. Many of the terraces look like those surrounding the squares and greens in Georgian Dublin. The white terrace looks as if it out of My Fair Lady. Great preservation.

  8. Gary Arber permalink
    June 5, 2019

    The whole north side of Tredegar Square was one building, Lord Tredegar’s mansion. It was later divided into separate residences. At the back was the mews where he stabled the horses During the war the entire centre of the square was dug over for vegetable growing. When Coborn Road railway station closed and I had to commute to my shop from Mile End station the square was a mass of weeds, there were no railings and I walked diagonally from corner to corner, it was restored in the 1950’s
    Gary

  9. Lesley Brown permalink
    June 5, 2019

    I lived in a terraced house down the side of St Clements hospital until 1960. I went to the school on Malmesbury Road until I passed the 11+ and went to Spital Square. There was a playground in the middle of Tredegar Square. All those photos show houses with which I was very familiar.

  10. Charlotte Browne permalink
    June 6, 2019

    As a student at Queen Mary College in the early 1980s, I lived at 4 Tredegar Square. There was quite a large community of students living in the Square at that time, mostly renting single rooms in houses on the East and West sides of the Square. There were several families living in the Square that we became friends with and babysat for from time to time – I’m still in touch with one of them now!
    Most of the Square had been renovated to some degree (though there were a few derelict houses) but not ‘gentrified’ in the way they are now, and there was a tiny ‘open all hours’ shop called ‘Sam’s’ on the right as you came into the Square from Mile End Road.
    I felt very privileged to be able to live in such a lovely place and I was quite conscious that I’d probably never live anywhere so grand – even if it was rather faded grandeur- again. Thank you for this reminder of that time.

  11. Malcolm permalink
    June 9, 2019

    In the 1960’s Tredegar Square was just another dilapidated bit of the east-end and most of the houses were divided into bedsits. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant place. I went to Coopers’ Company Grammar School, which later became the Central Foundation School when Coopers moved to Upminster. Today, the magnificent school building has been converted into yet more eye-wateringly expensive flats – or apartments, because flats is too working class, isn’t it? I remember the school with great affection. The main hall has a gallery, a vaulted roof and in my day it had two huge chandeliers. The entrance in College Terrace was known as the Black and White hall because it had a black and white chequerboard marble floor, similar to those seen in Dutch genre paintings. You only ever used it twice during your time at Coopers. The day you started and the day you left. Other than that you used the gate in the playground. The houses in Tredegar Square at that time were in need of repair and looked very run down. The terrace of grand pillared and porticoe’d houses on the north side were particularly dismal. One of the pillars on the portico of the first house had been smashed and only a stump remained with a bit of wood jammed in to hold up the portico. Several windows were boarded up and the iron railings were missing. At the Mile End Road end of Tredegar Square was a small shop owned by an old Jew called Alf. This was Alf’s Tuck Shop and it was where the boys would congregate before and after school to buy what were known as “thrup’nees” ( Three old pence). These were single cigarettes – usually Guards or Embassy – that Alf would sell to his loyal crowd of lads. If you had no money he would take your school scarf, or cap or any item that he deemed worth exchanging a fag for. You could redeem your “pledges” later without interest. The place was like Fagin’s den, boys would crowd into the tiny shop, which was festooned with all kinds of strange artefacts hanging from the low ceiling. Everything was smeared with years of nicotine stains, it looked like a smoker’s lung. Some boys came to hurriedly do their homework, beseeching anyone to help them out, with the promise of a favour returned – or a thrup’nee – to sweeten the deal. It really was like something out of Oliver Twist and Alf played his part to perfection, holding court in his little Dickensian den while we sparked up our thrup’nees and merrily poisoned ourselves with carcinogenic fumes . When you opened the door you were instantly enveloped by great billows of fag smoke, like a Victorian pea-souper. It’s a wonder any of us survived. It could never exist today but we thought it was a great place! One of the houses on the west side of Tredegar Square was known as a notorious “knocking shop”, there was a steady stream of dubious looking blokes coming and going all day long. Rumour had it that one of the teachers frequented the place but this was almost certainly a bit of mischief-making, as boys are wont to do. Mile End in the 1960’s wasn’t the sought-after place that it is now and it’s a miracle that Tredegar Square survived the wrecking ball.

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