Exploring a part of east London that was once home to many Jewish immigrants, and is now home to a large Bangladeshi community.
My late father-in-law, an Indian, used to refer to the ‘Stepney’ when talking about motor cars. In India (as well as Bangladesh, Malta, and the USA), a ‘Stepney’ refers to the spare-tire in a car. This use of the word, which shares its name with a part of the East-End of London, refers to screw-on spare wheels that were first manufactured in Stepney Street, Llanelli, South Wales.
The name ‘Stepney’ is probably derived from that of a Saxon settlement known as ‘Stebba’s Landing’. In the 11th century, Stepney was mostly arable farmland, along with meadows and woods, mainly populated by peasants. At the end of the 16th century, the area began to be urbanised. This exploration is about a part of London, from which the prosperous Stepney family of South Wales originated and which has been home to many immigrants since the 19th century.
Emerging from Whitechapel Station, your nose is regaled with the fragrances of curries. Turning east from the station, you cannot miss the bustling street market that faces the Royal London Hospital, and spreads along Whitechapel Road towards Mile End Road. Both roads are parts of a Roman road that led to Colchester. Formerly, this market was popular with the local Jewish community, mostly refugees from Eastern Europe who arrived before WW1. Now, it is mostly used and worked by people of Bangladeshi origin. A good variety of foods, some quite exotic, and clothing can be obtained from the stalls, and, also, from the shops lining the pavement. On a hot humid day, seeing piles of jackfruits and stalls selling jewellery and bangles, you could almost imagine that you were in Bengal.
The Royal London Hospital, founded in 1740, moved to its present location in 1757. Its pedimented Georgian neo-classical façade was designed by Boulton Mainwaring (who flourished professionally in the 1750s). Its most famous patient was Joseph Merrick (1862-1890), the so-called ‘Elephant Man’, who suffered from a rare congenital disorder that distorted the growth of his skeleton.
Opposite the hospital, and almost buried amongst the market stalls, there is a sculptural drinking fountain dedicated to King Edward VII. It was erected in 1911 and financed by money donated by “Jewish immigrants of East London”. It was designed by William Silver Frith (1850–1924). Like the sculptures Frith designed for the entrance to 2 Temple Place (near Temple Underground Station), he included details of objects that were considered innovations at the time. The Whitechapel sculptures include a model of a child caressing a toy motor car. The statue was unveiled by a member of the Rothschild banking family (see: http://www.pmsa.org.uk/pmsa-database/2984/). Edward VII, who was on good terms with both the Rothschilds and another Jewish family the Cassels (see: “Edward VII”, by C Hibbert, publ. 2007), was known to have had sympathy with the Jewish people, and to have interceded on their behalf with the Russian Czar (see: Jewish Daily Bulletin 22nd August, 1927).
Number 283 Whitechapel Road currently houses ‘Hut Bazar’, a Bangladeshi fruit shop. Entrances above doorways on both sides of the shop bear the words ‘Lecture Hall’ and ‘Gymnasium’ (and in almost invisible letters below it ‘Swimming Pool’). Look up to the gable, and you will see ‘Working Lads Institute’ in fading letters. This was founded in 1878 by Henry Hill, a city merchant (see: https://surveyoflondon.org/map/feature/498/detail/). It was aimed at young working men, who wanted to better themselves both physically and intellectually. Hill ran out of money in the 1890s, and this institution was short-lived in Whitechapel.
East of this, is an impressive building that might be mistaken for a palace. It is the former premises of Mann, Crossman, & Pauling Ltd, which is housed in the Albion Brewery, established in 1808. The present buildings were built between 1860 and ’68. The brewery closed in 1979, and was converted into flats in the early 1990s. Its neighbour to the east, The Blind Beggar pub, was re-built in 1894 by the brewery’s engineer Robert Spence. Across the road from this, there is an elegant former bank building (number 234). This housed the ‘London & South Western Bank’. It was built in 1889 by Edward Gabriel, who built other branches in London.
The White Hart Pub at the western end of Mile End Road faces the Blind Beggar across Cambridge Heath Road at the eastern end of Whitechapel Road. Rebuilt in 1900, this pub was already established by 1750. Up until about 1914, its publicans had English-sounding surnames, but between 1914 and 1938, surnames included the foreign-sounding: Sugarman, Kazanoski, and Rosenthal (see: https://pubshistory.com/LondonPubs/MileEnd/WhiteHartMERd.shtml). Near the pub, set amongst trees lining the road, there is a fine bust of the tee-totaller William Booth (1829-1912), the founder of the Salvation Army. He founded it on “Mile End Waste”, which was a large open space where Mile End Road widened for a short distance, as it does today. It was frequently used for public meetings.
Trinity Green is a charming collection of alms-houses surrounding a rectangular grassy open-space. They were built in 1695 by Trinity House to house sea captains and their widows. According to Pevsner, they are: “… a delightful example of the domestic classical style of the time of Wren.” The two rows of houses are separated by a chapel with a small dome.
The alms-houses are separated from number 33 by a low wall that encloses the garden in front of The Tower Hamlets Mission founded in 1870 by Frederick Charrington (1850-1936), son of the brewer. Established to help the needy, it now serves to help those with alcohol- or drug-abuse problems. The windowless western wall of number 33 is covered with an enormous mural, the Mile End Mural, painted by Mychael Barratt in 2011 in time for the 2012 Olympic Games. Amongst the many characters depicted on the mural, you may notice Lenin, Samuel Pepys, Frederik Charrington, Queen Elizabeth II, and Mahatma Gandhi. The latter stayed at nearby Kingsley Hall (on Powis Road), when he visited London in 1931 (see: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2015/09/10/mychael-barratts-mile-end-mural/).
Further along Mile End Road, there is a statue of William Booth gesturing towards another one depicting his wife Catherine. Along to the east of them, there is a metal bust of Edward VII, greening with oxidation. Like the one already described, it was also erected in 1911. This one, its plinth bearing a quote from John Milton, was erected by some freemasons from East London. The King was Grandmaster of the English Freemasons. The quote alludes to his fostering of good relations with France. The so-called ‘Entente Cordiale’ was signed during his reign (see: https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/edward-vii-bust).
The site of the home of the explorer Captain James Cook (1728-1779) is almost opposite the bust. His house, number 90, was demolished in the 1950s. The commemorative plaques were put up in 1971. Its neighbours, numbers 82 and 84, look as if they were present when Cook lived nearby. Across the road, there are a few odd-looking contemporary sculptures along the pavement’s edge, including one that looks like a classical pillar sinking beneath the road.
The Genesis Cinema on Mile End Road was designed by William Ridell Glen (1885-1950), and built in 1939 on land that had been the site of places of entertainment (including a music hall and an older, now demolished, cinema) since about 1848. It shows both general release and specialist films. The cinema’s western neighbour is a building that looks like a modified Grecian temple. Now home to the ‘Al-Huda Cultural Centre & Mosque’, this was once a bank. East of Genesis, there is a row of terraced houses built in brick with lovely canopies over their front doors. These are remnants of 18th century London, which survived first WW2, and then the ravishing of property developers.
Now we enter Stepney Green, and will partly follow a walk described by Rachel Kolsky and Roslyn Rawson in their book “Jewish London” (publ. 2012). The Green begins as a normal street, and then soon widens, running either side of a long narrow strip of parkland, Stepney Green Gardens, planted with lawns and trees.
Number 2 has a well-preserved painted wall advert extolling the virtues of ‘Daren Bread’. This type of bread was first baked in about 1875 in Dartford using, it was claimed, unadulterated flour (see: http://paintedsignsandmosaics.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/daren-stoke-newington.html). The company was taken over in the early 20th century by Rank’s, who were famous for their ‘Hovis’ bread.
Dunstan House, a large red-brick block of flats was built in 1899 by the East End Dwellings Company, whose founders included the philanthropists Samuel and Henrietta Barnett, who also established the nearby Whitechapel Art Gallery and Toynbee Hall. This couple were also responsible for the creation of Hampstead Garden Suburb (see elsewhere). Dunstan House was briefly home to the Russian refugee Afanasy Nikolayevich Matyushenko (1879-1907), who led the rebellion on the battleship Potemkin in 1905. Another revolutionary resident was Rudolph Rocker (1873-1958), a gentile who worked closely with Jewish workers’ and anarchist’s groups. He lived in Flat 33, and met Matyushenko, who he described as a: “good-natured, smiling Russian peasant type; about medium height, and powerfully built.” (see: https://libcom.org/files/Matiushenko,%20Afanasy%20Nikolaevich%201879-1907.pdf).
Number 35 Stepney Green once housed a dispensary set up in memory of King Edward VII, who was concerned about making progress in preventing tuberculosis. Its grand neighbour, number 37, was built in 1694, and is the oldest house in Stepney Green. Its residents included East India Company merchants and the Charrington family of brewers. Between 1875 and 1907, it was the ‘Home for Elderly Jews’, and after that it housed municipal offices (see: Financial Times, 24th March 2017). In complete contrast to this, is the ugly Rosalind Green Hall, a youth club which stands on the site of the Stepney Orthodox Synagogue that was badly damaged in WW2.
The Stepney Jewish School (founded 1863) used to be housed in the large brick building with some neo-classical features, number 71. It catered mainly for Jewish boys born in England. Now, the building is used for other purposes, but the cast-iron entrance gates bear logos with the letters ‘SJS’ intertwined. The entertainment entrepreneur Bernard Delfont (1909-1994) attended this school. His son was at school with me at The Hall in Belsize Park.
The former school is dwarfed by its southern neighbour Stepney Green Court, a tenement block built in 1896, designed by N S Joseph (once Honorary Architect to the United Synagogue). It was erected by the ‘Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company’ (renamed ‘IDS’ in 1885), which was established by Baron Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1840-1915) to provide housing for the poor, which, in this area, included many Jews. The building has some intricate stucco features above some of its doors and windows.
At the southern end of the Green, there is a triangular grassy area containing a square clock-tower. This was put up in 1913 to commemorate Alderman Stanley Atkinson (1873-1910), a scholarly medical doctor and Justice of the Peace. Near to this, and in poor condition, there is a disused stone drinking fountain surmounted by an obelisk. Dated 1884, this was erected to remember Leonard Montefiore (1853-1879) who “…loved children and was loved by all children”. The short-lived Jewish philanthropist Leonard was born in Kensington. He was a friend of Oscar Wilde when they studied together at Oxford University and, also, a colleague of Samuel Barnett (see above).
A short distance further south along the Green and hidden amongst weeds and building materials is a white stone neo-gothic arched flanked by short red-brick walls. This is all that remains of Baptist College, a large estate with several buildings built for the strongly Calvinist ‘Particular Baptists’ in 1810. Most of what was once the College is now one of the building sites for the Crossrail project.
Turning into Stepney High Street, it is impossible to miss the large gothic Church of St Dunstan and All Saints with is square bell tower. Founded in the 10th century, the present church was erected in the 15th century, and refurbished in the late 19th century. Close to the London Docks, this was once known as the ‘Church of the High Seas’, and flies the red ensign flag from its bell tower.
Nearby, and entered from Stepney Way, is the Stepney City Farm. This is one of a number of ‘city farms’ dotted around London. They offer opportunities for (especially young) Londoners to become acquainted with farm animals without leaving the city. At the Stepney farm, ducks, hens, geese, goats, pigs, rabbits, and donkeys can be seen at close quarters, all within sight of St Dunstans Church. Notices in both English and Bengali exhort visitors to wash their hands before eating or, rather surprisingly in these times of political and sanitary correctness, smoking. There is a shop and an eatery in the farm.
Returning to the church, walk south-eastwards through its lovely churchyard shaded by trees until you reach White Horse Road. This passes the southern side of the small White Horse Road Park, which contains a perforated egg-shaped sculpture. Lady Mico’s Alms-houses stand at the north end of White Horse Lane. These were established in 1691 by Dame Jane Mico, widow of alderman Sir Samuel Mico (1610-1665), Master of the Company of Mercers and cousin of the composer Richard Mico (1590-1661). The Company of Mercers rebuilt the alms-houses in 1856.
Proceeding south along White Horse Road (known as ‘Cliff Street’ in the 14th to 16th centuries, and urbanised in the 17th), we reach a green space with a few gravestones. This garden is all that remains of the former (non-conformist) Stepney Meeting Burial Ground, Alms-houses, and School. The ‘Stepney Meeting’ was a church founded in 1644 by a group of Puritans. It was the first non-conformist church in East London. The burial ground is one of several non-conformist cemeteries in the east of London, reflecting the history of dissent in the area. The school and alms-houses were destroyed badly in WW2.
A large well-restored brick building with two gothic arch shaped windows stands at the corner of Salmon Lane and White Horse Road. Its heavily restored surrounding wall has several carved old stone constituents which display a neo-gothic style. A map surveyed in 1915 marks this as a vicarage. It was next to some “Guardians Offices” (now no longer in existence).
Further down White Horse Road, numbers 76 and 78, Victorian buildings, have bas-reliefs, depicting a woman wearing a crown and a necklace, high above their street entrances. They were built in the 1890s as ‘Model Dwellings’ by the Jewish builders, the brothers Nathaniel and Ralph Davis (see: http://www.history-pieces.co.uk/Docs/WHITE_HORSE_STREET_1901.pdf). These adjoin a row of houses including numbers 62 to 68, which look like Regency-era constructions, and are officially listed as being worthy of protection.
Just before reaching Commercial Road, there is a beautifully renovated neo-classical building that houses the Half Moon Theatre (founded 1972), now a children’s theatre. Between 1862, when it was built, and ’64, this building was the ‘Limehouse District Board of Works Offices’. Opposite the theatre there is an old-fashioned, completely unspoilt, somewhat neglected, east-end pub, the White Horse. This is a good place to sit down, rest your feet, and chat with the locals whilst sipping a drink. When I was there, three elderly men were passing the afternoon drinking a series of cans of beer, the pumps for draught beer having run dry. At this point, you need to decide whether you have had enough, or wish to continue exploring, as described below.
Retrace your steps to the ruined Baptist College, cross Stepney Green, and then head for Rectory Square.
A block of flats built with yellowish bricks, Temple Court, has a white foundation stone dated 1876 with carved letters both in English and in Hebrew scripts. Built as the ‘East London Synagogue’, it was designed by Messrs Davis and Emanuel, who also designed the Stepney Jewish School. The United Synagogue organization built it with the aim of encouraging newly arrived Jewish immigrants to follow Anglo-Jewish traditions, rather than to continue their eastern European practices. In 1997, the synagogue, which had fallen into disuse, was converted into flats. To the east of the building, surrounded by a luxuriant garden, there is a Victorian building called “The Rectory”, which was already built in the 1870s.
From the former synagogue, follow White Horse Lane northwards, and enter Beaumont Square with its attractive central gardens open to the public. Some of the council flats surrounding it have public notices both in English and Bengali. At the north-west corner of the square, there is a modern building, ‘BMI The London Independent Hospital’. This stands on the site of the London Jewish Hospital, which was established to assist the local mainly Yiddish-speaking population (see: http://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/londonjewish.html). It functioned between 1919 and 1979. It had kitchens for preparing Kosher food. In 1956, a synagogue designed by Sigmund Freud’s son Ernest (1892-1970) was installed within the hospital. In 1979, the hospital was demolished and replaced by the present establishment.
Alice Model (née Sichel; 1856-1943) was born into a prosperous Hampstead Jewish family. She was a descendant of the 18th century German banker Benedict Goldschmidt. A leader of the Union of Jewish Women, she was a philanthropist known for her work in family welfare. A nursery school in Beaumont Grove is named after her. It is the descendant of a nursery school for children from all backgrounds, which Alice founded nearby in 1901. The present school was opened in 1956. A little to the north of the school, stands the architecturally unexceptional Phyllis Gerson House, which looks more like a factory administration building than what it is: the Stepney Jewish Day Centre. Phyllis (1903-1990) devoted much of her time to running the Stepney Jewish B’nai Brith Girls Club and Settlement. During WW2, whilst a member of the committee of Jewish Relief Abroad, she visited many countries including Albania, where the local population protected Jews from the Nazi invaders.
Beaumont Grove leads back into Mile End Road opposite Stepney Green Station, a low brick building with a tiled roof, which was opened in 1902. East of this, there is the Half Moon pub, which is housed in a brick and stone fronted building that could easily be mistaken for a theatre, which is what it used to be. In 1979, this disused Methodist chapel became the second home of the Half Moon Theatre (see above). A few yards further east, there is an Islamic learning centre, the Mazahirul Uloom London. This is next to the covered entrance to Mile End Place.
Hidden from the main road, the Place contains rows of two-storey homes with picturesque front gardens. This charming domesticated cul-de-sac ends at a high brick wall beyond which the tops of trees can be seen. They are growing in the Alderney Road Cemetery (see below).
A few yards east, we reach an elegant four storey brick and stone house set slightly back from the pavement. This is Albert Stern House, which was built in 1912 on a plot that had been previously occupied by a Sephardic Jewish hospital for women that had been established in 1665. Now a home for the aged, this building backs onto the Old (‘Velho’) Portuguese Jewish Cemetery that is completely hidden from the streets surrounding it.
Retracing our footsteps along Mile End Road, which is about one mile in length, we reach Globe Road, and follow it to Alderney Road. A high blank wall with a single locked door runs along part of this road. Notices by the door read “Please do not feed the foxes” and “Beware guard dogs”. The wall conceals the Alderney Road Cemetery, an Ashkenazi Jewish burial ground used from 1696 until 1852. By peeking through the letter box on the door, I could just manage to see the bases of several upright tombstones typical of Ashkenazi burial practices.
There is another Ashkenazi Jewish cemetery in nearby Bancroft Road. This is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence that allows views of the few remaining gravestones still standing. This cemetery was used between 1810 and the 1920s. A few yards south of the cemetery, we reach the buildings of Mile End Hospital. The main building with white stone-trimmed gables was opened as the ‘Mile End Infirmary’ in 1883 on the site of a former ‘workhouse’ (see: https://www.bartshealth.nhs.uk/mile-end-our-history). During WW1, the hospital was used by military authorities, who considerably improved its facilities. In 1930, the hospital, which had 550 beds, was taken over by the London County Council. Since 2012, it has been part of the Barts Health NHS Trust.
Neighbouring the hospital grounds, there is a grand building on Bancroft Road with pilasters and round-arched windows, which houses the Tower Hamlets Local History Library. This building began life in 1865 when it was built to house the Vestry Hall (a ‘Vestry’ was the committee responsible for both the secular and ecclesiastical administration of a parish; its ‘Hall’ was a place for local community activities). In 1905, the building became a public library (see: https://www.kocarchitects.com/bancroft-road-library). In 2008, there were plans to sell the library, and to incorporated it with its neighbour Queen Mary’s University (‘QMU’). This would have risked dispersing the library’s valuable collection of archives. Fortunately, the plan was defeated following protests by local people as well as ‘the great and good’.
Bancroft Road joins with Mile End Road after passing beneath The School of Engineering, a part of QMU. Immediately east of this is the former New Peoples Palace.
Built in 1937 (architects: Campbell Jones, Sons and Smithers), its white stone façade is decorated with bas-relief sculptures by Eric Gill (1882-1940). These illustrate the kinds of activities that used to be performed within the hall, such as music, drama, and boxing. The Palace, now part of QMU, was built on the site of part of an older ‘Peoples Palace’ that was built between 1886 and 1892 to provide East-enders with “intellectual improvement and rational recreation” (see: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1393150). It was destroyed by fire in 1931. Inside the entrance to the building there is a large stone memorial to John Thomas Barber Beaumont (1774-1841). This man, an army officer, artist, and a philanthropist, made his fortune in the insurance business. In about 1840, he founded Beaumont Philosophical Institution in Mile End. This was administered by the Beaumont Trust, which later financed the building of the original Peoples Palace. The Trust was also one of the group responsible for the establishment of a forerunner QMU, which became part of the University of London early in the 20th century. In 1934, the college acquired its present name and its charter of incorporation, which was presented by Queen Mary (1867-1953) in person.
The former Peoples Palace is next to the Queen’s Building, whose neo-classical facade resembles that of an old-fashioned grand hotel. The façade is all that remains of the first People’s Palace, which was opened by Queen Victoria in 1887. The building was designed by Edward Robert Robson (1836-1917). The free-standing clock tower was built in 1890. Today, the Queen’s Building is used for administration and for teaching.
The Bancroft Arms pub (in business by 1844) across the Mile End Road stands next to an elegant brick and stone warehouse belonging to Silvermans. Established at the very end of the 19th century by the Jewish Mr Silverman, this store has been supplying clothing for military and police personnel, as well as other protective and safety equipment, ever since then. The Royal Warrant for supplying footwear to HM Armed Forces is proudly displayed on the warehouse. The firm has a shop close-by on Mile End Road.
A pathway leads north between the Queen’s Building and buildings east of it, and then right through a space in an old wall, to an open space. This contains a statue of the former Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee (1883-1867), holding a book in his right hand. Behind him to his left, there is a plaque with a bas-relief depicting a boxer. It is attached to the brick wall of the Mile End Library. The boxer being commemorated is David Mendoza (1764-1836). Of Portuguese-Jewish descent, Mendoza was boxing champion of England between 1792 and 1795. After 1795, he diversified his activities, made money and spent it, and died impoverished. One of his great-great-grandsons was the film star Peter Sellers (1925-1980), who hung portraits of the boxer in the backgrounds of some of his films.
Close to the plaque but on the other side of the building to which it is attached, there is a large rectangular open space containing horizontal gravestones typical of Sephardic Jewish burial practises. This is the Novo (i.e. ‘New’) Cemetery established in about 1733 (on an old orchard) when the nearby Velho cemetery had become filled up. The newer cemetery was closed in 1936 when it too had become fully occupied. In 2012, QMU in conjunction with The Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Congregation preserved the cemetery to make it a place to reflect on the history of the immigrant Jewish people who contributed much to the development of modern London.
The cemetery is well-maintained. Some of the stones are cracked, but on most of them it is possible to read the names of the deceased. These include Portuguese surnames such as De Pinto, Fonseca, Lindo, and Carvalho. There are several very small gravestones marking the burial sites of babies or infants. One of these marks the grave of Edmund Julian Sebag-Montefiore, a short-lived member of a prominent Jewish family, which came from Morocco and Italy. A series of oxidised metal screens separates the burial ground from a footpath that runs along its southern edge. Near this, there is a circular hemispherical stone hand-basin with a metal cup attached to it with a chain. This is either a drinking fountain, or, more likely, a place that visitors to the cemetery can wash their hands after visiting it, as prescribed by Jewish tradition.
Returning from the cemetery to Mile End Road, it is a short walk eastwards to a bridge from which the Regents Canal and its Mile End Lock (8 miles along the canal from Paddington Basin) can be viewed. The canal separates QMU from Mile End Park.
Walking further east along the mile End Road, we pass the red brick gothic-style Guardian Angels Roman Catholic Church (see: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1088079). Opened in 1903, its architect was the Scottish-born Frederick Arthur Walters (1849-1931). He designed over fifty Roman Catholic churches, and was a follower of the architectural ideas of Augustus Pugin, who assisted in the design of the present palace of Westminster.
The so-called Green Bridge, which is painted yellow, carries the linear (long and thin) Mile End Park over Mile End Road. The name of the bridge, designed by Piers Gough, becomes clear when you are on it. It carries the parkland (lawns and paths) across the busy thoroughfare beneath it. The park is about 1,155 yards in length and at its width varies from 210 yards down to 65 yards. Built on industrial land destroyed by bombing in WW2, and then destined for recreational use, the parkland was only properly developed in about 2000.
From the Green Bridge, Mile End Underground Station (opened in 1902), where this exploration ends, can be seen to the east.
Walking through Stepney, we follow in the footsteps of the Jewish people, who sought refuge in London following their flight from persecution in Eastern Europe and Russia. Most of the Jews have left the area, many of them having moved out many years ago to leafier suburbs in outer London. Their place has been taken by people, who originated far further east than the Jews: the Bangladeshis. Although there have been people from Bengal in London since the 1870s, a large wave of people from Bangladesh settled in London and other cities in the UK in the 1970s. Many of the London Bangladeshis now live in the Borough of Tower Hamlets that includes the parts of Stepney described above. Like the Jews who have moved from commerce into the professions, the Bangladeshis are following in their footsteps. Who can tell whether, one day, like their Jewish predecessors, they will also leave the East End, and then, one wonders, who will succeed them? Will it be a further wave of immigrants, or, as has happened in formerly impoverished areas like Clerkenwell and Dalston, will it be young professionals seeking an exciting ‘edgy’ lifestyle close to the centre of London?