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In Old Globetown

January 20, 2022
by the gentle author

I took advantage of rare hours of January sunlight to take a stroll over to Globetown. You walk east from Museum Gardens in Bethnal Green through Sugar Loaf Walk and immediately recognise you have entered a different neighbourhood, where an atmosphere of domestic quietude prevails in distinct contrast to the clamour you encountered at the junction of Bethnal Green Rd and Cambridge Heath Rd. Cats prowl the empty streets while the residents are either snug in their homes or enjoying a long afternoon in The Camel or The Florists’ Arms.

This former marshland bisected by Globe Lane – now Globe Rd – takes its name from a old tavern that once stood here. The area was built up in the early nineteenth century by exploitative developers, throwing up poor quality homes for weavers on low incomes. Before long, commentators were comparing the notorious Globetown slum with Saffron Hill and St Giles High St. Consequently, most of the good quality nineteenth century building that remains today was constructed as social housing to alleviate the legacy of this poor development.

In Globe Rd, the first structure that you come upon is the handsome red brick Merceron Houses constructed by East End Dwellings Company in 1901. It was built upon the garden of Joseph Merceron, the most reprehensible eighteenth century resident of Bethnal Green, whose notoriety had faded by the end of the nineteenth century. Across the road is a modest sequence of terraces of workers’ cottages in the Arts & Crafts style from 1906 and, directly to the south, towers the handsome Board School with Mendip House and Shepton House beyond. All these buildings were the work of East End Dwellings Company and together they form a sympathetic complex of streets on a human scale, with The Camel adorned with its attractive Art Nouveau tiles at the centre.

Walking south and turning east into the Roman Rd, I was dismayed to discover the beloved Victoria Fish Bar has closed forever. After a lifetime of service behind the fryer, the proprietors have finally retired. On Sunday, Globetown Market Sq was empty but on weekdays this is a popular destination with stalls of keenly-priced fresh produce and the East End’s best wet fish barrow run by Del Downey, third generation fishmonger in this location.

I walked north up Bonner St and turned west again at the former Bishop Bonner pub into Cyprus St, built in a distinctly aspiration style as ‘Wellington St’ in 1850, still remembered in the name of the former Duke of Wellington pub. This is an astonishing and handsome example of an unaltered mid-nineteenth century streetscape.

These distinguished nineteenth century survivals are surrounded by twentieth century housing of greater and lesser quality, evidencing the continuing struggle to overcome the grim legacy of exploitative development – both historical and recent – and give everyone in the East End a decent home.

The Camel on Sugar Loaf Walk dates from before 1861 when it was named as the Museum Beer Shop

Cottages built by East End Dwellings company in Globe Rd

In Gawber Rd

Board School of 1900 in Welwyn St

Open staircase at Mendip Dwellings built by East End Dwellings Company in 1900

The Florists’ Arms in Globe Rd dates from before 1871 and its name refers to the former local culture of competitive flower growing introduced by the Huguenots

The Victoria Fish Bar in Roman Rd has closed forever

The Bishop Bonner, Bonner St, dates from before 1863 and its name refers to Bishop Bonner whose palace formerly stood nearby on the site of the London Chest Hospital

In Cyprus St

Memorial to former residents of Cyprus St who died in war – Bethnal Green provided the highest number of volunteers of any London borough in the First World War

Drinking fountain in Museum Gardens

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12 Responses leave one →
  1. January 20, 2022

    I love the cat captured in your first photo, great shot.

  2. Greg T permalink
    January 20, 2022

    Ah, “The Camel” …
    A varied real ale selection & used to have magnificent pies, too.

  3. January 20, 2022

    A walk down memory lane for me this morning …..reminding me of happy days around those streets. Thank you GA.

  4. James Harris permalink
    January 20, 2022

    Isn’t it Mendip Houses rather than ‘dwellings’? My great grandparents lived there and I have a picture of my dad as a baby in the arms of my great grandfather stood in that stairwell in the picture. I recognised the stairs as soon as I saw them.

  5. John Venes permalink
    January 20, 2022

    Thank you GA. Brought back memories of walking through BG Gardens to school at Parmiter’s in Approach road. It is hard to believe that little area is in the heart of the East End. Lovely.
    Also, good to see those 2 great little pubs are still going, unlike so many turned into flats.

  6. Joan Johnson permalink
    January 20, 2022

    A wonderful collection of photographs. Thank you.

  7. Robert Kearney permalink
    January 20, 2022

    Interesting, as my late parents were born (1913 & 1915, both living to 99) and grew up in that area and told me many stories of their life there. One of which my mother told me was that after the first world war, most streets in the area had memorials on the walls, often wooden with small apex roofs above them to those from their streets who lost their lives in that conflict. So it was so nice to see the photo of that immaculately preserved one which obviously receives the regular commemoration those who lost their lives deserve.

  8. January 20, 2022

    Lovely wintery sideways light and great compositions in these shots. The architecture in Cyprus Street is especially striking. And pockets of places to grow greenery are still going strong. Thanks for this wander through the streets of Old Globetown.

  9. John C. Miles permalink
    January 20, 2022

    Thank you for a lovely article and photos, GA. I lived in Victoria Park Square in the mid 1980s and these streets were my local haunts. My housemates – some of whom were medical students at the London Chest – and I quickly became experts on all the nearby pubs and curry houses. I still stop by the Florists’ Arms whenever I’m in the area – which, sadly, isn’t often these days!

  10. Mark permalink
    January 20, 2022

    Super pics of lovely houses and streets.
    Beautiful day to take some snaps!

  11. Peter Holford permalink
    January 20, 2022

    It’s good to see that the Bishop Bonner is still standing. It was my grandad’s pub in 1924, the year after his divorce. My dad, who was 10 at the time, remembered it as very run down and that the part of it that he called the ‘music hall room’ was derelict with pigeons nesting in it. The following year they moved to the Forresters Arms (the Corner Pin) on Homerton High Street. They were both Taylor Walker pubs as was the one in Hackney where they lived during the First World War. That was the Palmerston Arms which is now Well Street Pizza. Sadly the Corner Pin has been demolished.

  12. Marcia Howard permalink
    January 21, 2022

    Wonderful images, though sorry to know the Chippie has gone. Promise to self for an explore around this area WHEN I’m able to revisit.

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