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A Lost Corner Of Whitechapel

March 9, 2021
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

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Pauline Taylor permalink
    March 9, 2021

    Thank you. Excellent photographs, they take your eye in and not every photographer can do that, I really like these, Philip Cunningham sees his subject with an artist’s eye and it shows. Great.

  2. Gillian Tindall permalink
    March 9, 2021

    Wonderfully evocative pictures – one doesn’t often have the stages of urban destruction laid out separately like this. And how lucky the photographer was – in a strictly photographic sense – to have happened to be there when the fight broke out outside the Woods Buildings market.

  3. Mark. permalink
    March 9, 2021

    Lovely pics. Great places.
    A wasteland created by successive tory governments.

  4. Steve Shinners permalink
    March 10, 2021

    I love these photos of whitechapel.

  5. Boudica Redd permalink
    March 10, 2021

    Great pics bravo and story

  6. March 14, 2021

    Many thanks. Great to see these images as we live on Durward Street and probably at the spot where the photos of the awful fracas were taken. We’re wondering whether there are any more of this exact area as it would be great to see them if there were?

  7. Will permalink
    March 19, 2022

    I lived on Winthtrop St til 1971. The houses had no hot water or central heating, and no bathrooms, and an outside toilet. My nan used to take us to the local baths once a week to keep us clean. It would have taken a significant retrofit to make them habitable to late 20c standards. Did love the sound of the underground though….

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