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A Lost Corner Of Whitechapel

January 23, 2023
by the gentle author

Now that Whitechapel Station has been completely rebuilt and the new Elizabeth Line is fully operational, few remember how it used to be half a century ago 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

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Andy Strowman permalink
    January 23, 2023

    Good photos.
    Very evocative.
    My memories are fourfold.
    1 My good friend John Kling lived there.
    He was (proven) a distant relative of President Eisenhower. I wrote to Eisenhower’s wife Mamie Doud Eisenhower and she confirmed it in writing.
    2 It was a cut way for me to go to Primary school.
    3 Rumour had it as a child growing up Jack the Ripper did one of his murders there.
    4 It could be terrible cutting through there of we had a pea souper fog.

  2. January 23, 2023

    “Comprehensive Development”. Otherwise translated as total destruction of some fine houses, buildings and neighbourhoods.

    Wonderful photographs Philip, thank you.

  3. Paul Loften permalink
    January 23, 2023

    Todays blog pinpoints the disappearance of history . I wonder by what right the planners had to do this ? They allowed the streets to become delapitated toilets and by some divine inspiration they decide just to get rid of it all and replace it with grey slabs and glass .They blamed the war . But we know it was finance and business .
    The other day I went looking for where a relative of my father lived in the 1930’s, Newcastle St in Whitechapel.I discovered it had been renamed Tyne Street is now a back alley of the Ibis Hotel.
    “ Great minds” worked out the East End is just an extension of the City. They are now Lords and Sirs .

  4. Bernie permalink
    January 23, 2023

    Idle curiosity, I know, but I found myself wondering about the make and date of the bus in the last image. The radiator shape suggests AEC, but I am not convinced. It must be post-war and the front windows, which seem to have winding handles suggest a quite late date. But my memory for such details is now very shaky! Can someone do better?

  5. Mark permalink
    January 23, 2023

    Tory councillor, on the re-election of Churchill, 1951.
    ” I know, let’s not repair the bomb damage as promised by the previous administration and let the rest of the area fall into a state of disrepair, thus moving the working class people out of our glorious City into the new towns, disconnecting them from their roots, family and community. Then in time we can sell this lot off for a tidy profit, what, what?
    What larks”.
    Please be patient while we gentrify your area.
    Mind the gap!
    Top pics

  6. January 23, 2023

    Decay and rebirth — that’s part and parcel of a big city like London. Wonderful photos!

    Love & Peace

  7. Juliet Jeater permalink
    January 23, 2023

    As an 18 year old just out od school I went to work in the Legal and Parliamentary Department at the GLC. My rôle as clerical officer was to
    deliver or post notices regarding compulsory purchase of land and houses
    for redevelopment. The legal docunents drawn up were fascinating listing owners, tenants and building use. They painted a vivid picture of the multi ethnic East End and the people who lived there. I don’t know where these documents are now but they would be a hugely valuable resource for anyone interested in that fascinating area.

  8. Stephen Watts permalink
    January 23, 2023

    Thank you for showing these photographs ! I well remember Winthrop Street & walked it many times & liked it a lot (the wheatsheaf carved on the corner building also). The buildings needn’t have been knocked down : its houses could easily have been renovated. In the alleyway between Woods Buildings & the main Whitechapel Road, on the left hand front side looking out, for a few years there was a beautiful mosaic made in the 1990’s : sadly damaged & now lost since the alley’s access was blocked off. Good to see Andy Strowman’s comments too. Thank you.

  9. Andy Strowman permalink
    January 23, 2023

    Thank you Stephen for your kind comments to me.
    Yes history is something else.
    Good man you are.
    Lovely manners.

  10. Annie S permalink
    January 23, 2023

    Andy Strowman – yes, what you heard as a child was correct, Durward Street (formerly Bucks Row), near the school, was the site of one of a murder that was attributed to the Ripper.

  11. January 24, 2023

    Thanks for publishing these historic photos from Phil Cunningham.

  12. February 2, 2023

    We live on Durward Street in the block that would be built on the land where the fracas took place. So it’s fascinating to these photos, thank you. If there are any more of the immediate area, please do publish some more future!

  13. Marcia Howard permalink
    February 20, 2023

    This whole post deeply saddens me. The dereliction, the loss of community, the harsh treatment to those who don’t ‘fit in’, crime, and so on…

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