A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about jews

STEPPING THROUGH STEPNEY

Exploring a part of east London that was once home to many Jewish immigrants, and is now home to a large Bangladeshi community.

large_STEP_4f_Stepney_City_Farm.jpg

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.

Jackfruits in Whitechapel Rd

Jackfruits in Whitechapel Rd

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.

Stalls Whitechapel Road

Stalls Whitechapel Road

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

The Royal London Hospital

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.

Edward VII Whitechapel Rd

Edward VII Whitechapel Rd

Detail of Edward VII sculpture on Whitechapel Rd

Detail of Edward VII sculpture on Whitechapel Rd

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).

Working Lads Institute Whitechapel Rd

Working Lads Institute Whitechapel Rd

Working Lads Institute Whitechapel Rd

Working Lads Institute Whitechapel Rd

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.

Old Albion Brewery Whitechapel Rd

Old Albion Brewery Whitechapel Rd

The Blind Beggar Whitechapel Rd

The Blind Beggar Whitechapel Rd

Old bank Whitechapel Rd

Old bank Whitechapel Rd

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.

White Hart Mile End Rd

White Hart Mile End Rd

William Booth Mile End Rd

William Booth Mile End Rd

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 Mile End Rd

Trinity Green Mile End Rd

Trinity Green Mile End Rd

Trinity Green Mile End Rd

Trinity Green Mile End Rd

Trinity Green Mile End Rd

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.

Trinity Green Mile End Rd

Trinity Green Mile End Rd

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/).

Mychael Barratt mural Mile End Rd

Mychael Barratt mural Mile End Rd

William and Catherine Booth Mile End Road

William and Catherine Booth Mile End Road

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).

Captain Cook. Mile End Rd

Captain Cook. Mile End Rd

81 Mile End Rd

81 Mile End Rd

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.

Sunken pillar in Mile End Rd near Genesis cinema

Sunken pillar in Mile End Rd near Genesis cinema

Genesis Cinema Mile End Rd

Genesis Cinema Mile End Rd

Mosque 91 Mile End Rd

Mosque 91 Mile End Rd

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.

107 to 111  Mile End Rd

107 to 111 Mile End Rd

4 Stepney Green

4 Stepney Green

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.

Stepney Green midline park

Stepney Green midline park

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.

Stepney Green. Dunstan House

Stepney Green. Dunstan House

Staircase leading to Flat 33, Dunstan House

Staircase leading to Flat 33, Dunstan House

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).

TB dispensary 35 Stepney Green

TB dispensary 35 Stepney Green

37 Stepney Green

37 Stepney Green

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.

Stepney Jewish School 1906 Stepney Green

Stepney Jewish School 1906 Stepney Green

Logo in gate of  Stepney Jewish School 1906 Stepney Green

Logo in gate of Stepney Jewish School 1906 Stepney Green

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.

Stepney Green Court

Stepney Green Court

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.

Clocktower Stepney Green

Clocktower Stepney Green

Montefiore fountain Stepney Green

Montefiore fountain Stepney Green

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).

Remains of Baptist College Stepney

Remains of Baptist College Stepney

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.

St Dunstans and All Saints Stepney

St Dunstans and All Saints Stepney

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.

Stepney City Farm

Stepney City Farm

Stepney City Farm

Stepney City Farm

Stepney City Farm

Stepney City Farm

Stepney City Farm and St Dunstans Church

Stepney City Farm and St Dunstans Church

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.

Whitehorse Rd Park

Whitehorse Rd Park

Lady Micos almshouses

Lady Micos almshouses

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.

Stepney Meeting Burial Ground

Stepney Meeting Burial Ground

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.

Corner Salmon Lane and White Horse Rd

Corner Salmon Lane and White Horse Rd

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).

74 and 76 Whitehorse Rd

74 and 76 Whitehorse Rd

74 and 76 Whitehorse Rd

74 and 76 Whitehorse Rd

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.

Southern east side of White Horse Rd

Southern east side of White Horse Rd

Half Moon Theatre White Horse Rd

Half Moon Theatre White Horse Rd

White Horse pub in White Horse Rd

White Horse pub in White Horse Rd

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.

Former East London Synagogue now Temple Court

Former East London Synagogue now Temple Court

Foundation stone of former East London Synagogue now Temple Court

Foundation stone of former East London Synagogue now Temple Court

Air raid shelter marking on Former East London Synagogue now Temple Court

Air raid shelter marking on Former East London Synagogue now Temple Court

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.

Beaumont Square

Beaumont Square

Bangla script in  Beaumont Square

Bangla script in Beaumont Square

Site of former Jewish Maternity Hospital Beaumont Square

Site of former Jewish Maternity Hospital Beaumont Square

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 Nursery School Beaumont Grove

Alice Model Nursery School Beaumont Grove

Alice Model Nursery School Beaumont Grove

Alice Model Nursery School Beaumont Grove

Phyylis Gerson House Beaumont Grove

Phyylis Gerson House Beaumont Grove

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.

Stepney Green Station

Stepney Green Station

Half Moon Mile End Road

Half Moon Mile End Road

Islamic education centre Mile End Rd

Islamic education centre Mile End Rd

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.

Mile End Place

Mile End Place

Mile End Place and trees of Alderney Rd Cemetery

Mile End Place and trees of Alderney Rd Cemetery

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).

Albert Stern Hse Mile End Rd

Albert Stern Hse Mile End Rd

Albert Stern Hse Mile End Rd

Albert Stern Hse Mile End Rd

Albert Stern Hse Mile End Rd

Albert Stern Hse Mile End Rd

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.

Hidden Jewish cemeteries from the air

Hidden Jewish cemeteries from the air

Alderney Rd Cemetery wall

Alderney Rd Cemetery wall

Alderney Rd Cemetery

Alderney Rd Cemetery

Alderney Rd Cemetery through the letter box flap

Alderney Rd Cemetery through the letter box flap

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.

Bancroft Rd Cemetery

Bancroft Rd Cemetery

Bancroft Rd Cemetery

Bancroft Rd Cemetery

Mile End Hospital

Mile End Hospital

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.

Tower Hamlets Local History Library Bancroft Rd

Tower Hamlets Local History Library Bancroft Rd

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.

The Peoples Palace

The Peoples Palace

The Peoples Palace

The Peoples Palace

The Peoples Palace

The 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.

Beaumont Monument in  The Peoples Palace

Beaumont Monument in The Peoples Palace

The Queens Building Mile End Rd

The Queens Building Mile End Rd

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.

Silvermans Mile End Rd

Silvermans Mile End Rd

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.

large_STEP_7c_Cl..ary_College.jpg caption  Clement Attlee at Qu Mary UbiversityDaniel Mendoza at Qu Mary University

Daniel Mendoza at Qu Mary University

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.

Novo Cemetery

Novo Cemetery

Novo Cemetery

Novo Cemetery

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.

Novo Cemetery

Novo Cemetery

Novo Cemetery

Novo Cemetery

Novo Cemetery

Novo Cemetery

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.

Mile End Lock

Mile End Lock

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.

Guardian Angels RC Church Mile End Rd

Guardian Angels RC Church Mile End Rd

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 Green Bridge Mile End Rd

The Green Bridge Mile End Rd

On The Green Bridge Mile End Rd

On The Green Bridge Mile End Rd

Mile End Park

Mile End Park

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.

Mile End Station from The Green Bridge

Mile End Station from The Green Bridge

From the Green Bridge, Mile End Underground Station (opened in 1902), where this exploration ends, can be seen to the east.

Colmar Close near Alderney Street

Colmar Close near Alderney Street

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?

Sweet shop in  Whitechapel Rd

Sweet shop in Whitechapel Rd

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 08:31 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged jewish bangladesh cemeteries jews bangladeshis stepney tower_hamlets Comments (1)

EXPLORING KENSINGTON'S RACE-COURSE

During a search for traces of Kensington's former 'Hippodrome' racecourse in Notting Hill, many interesting sights were discovered and explored.

This piece is largely based on a walk that I made on the afternoon of the 13th of June 2017, when I strolled right past the Grenfell Tower housing block. That night, it was to become engulfed in flames. I dedicate this essay to the memory of all those people who perished, or otherwise suffered, because of this horrendously tragic disaster.

Ladbroke Square Garden

Ladbroke Square Garden

In the mid-eighteenth century, Richard Ladbroke (brother of the banker Robert Ladbroke) of Tadworth in Surrey acquired a huge plot of land, countryside, in Kensington (for detailed history, see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol37/pp194-200). After Richard, who was extremely wealthy, died, the so-called ‘Ladbroke Estate’ passed into the hands of James Weller Ladbroke. The latter kept the estate until his death in 1847. During the several decades that James owned the land, there was much building-work done on it, making the estate (a large part of Notting Hill) much as it is today. It was during his ownership of the land that the short-lived Hippodrome race course was laid out on an as yet unbuilt part of his estate.

Before 1836, the nearest horse-racing course to London was at Epsom Downs, where races had been held since 1661, or maybe earlier (see: http://epsom.thejockeyclub.co.uk/more-information/about). Epsom is about twenty miles from Trafalgar Square, several hours by horse and carriage. In 1836, Mr John Whyte took a twenty-one year lease on at least 140 acres of the then undeveloped part of the Ladbroke Estate. He built a race-course, the ‘Hippodrome’, which was far more easily accessible than Epsom to all Londoners. One problem that Whyte encountered, and it gave rise to a lot of trouble, was that a public footpath ran across his course, which, understandably, he wanted to surround by a fence. This trouble arose in the potteries and their surrounding slums, which were to the immediate west of the race-course. Despite this problem, racing began at the Hippodrome in June 1837. Because of continuing agitation by local protesters, a considerable police presence was required at race-meetings. At one point, in 1838, Whyte considered building a subway beneath his course to get around the footpath problem. In May 1842, after only thirteen race-meetings in five years, Whyte admitted failure, and relinquished the lease. For a short while, the race-course returned to being countryside, and then James Weller Ladbroke allowed building on it to commence with a vengeance (this simplified history extracted from: http://www.housmans.com/booklists/Entrance%20to%20Hipp%20Vague%2044.pdf).

In what follows, we shall explore the area around and upon the land, which was once the Hippodrome. To do this, it is necessary to know where the race-course was. Several detailed maps contemporary with the Hippodrome exist, but were drawn long before the present road layout existed. Superimposing the old maps with current ones is not easy, but it gives us a rough idea of where the former racecourse lay. However, given that almost all the landmarks drawn on the old maps have disappeared, some intelligent guesswork is required. In the description of my walk around the area, I will point out the possible (but not by any means certain) sites of places associated with the old Hippodrome. Let us begin near Holland Park, which was never part of the racecourse.

Holland Park Station

Holland Park Station

Holland Park Station on the Central Line is housed in an attractive low building on Holland Park Avenue. It opened in 1900, and was one of several Central Line stations designed by Harry Bell Measures (1862-1940). The tops of the pilasters between the windows on the north side of the station are decorated with gargoyle-like sculpted faces.

Holland Park Station

Holland Park Station

Holland Park Station

Holland Park Station

Almost opposite this side of the building, there is a tall building with distinctive chimneys, Lansdowne House on Lansdowne Road.

Lansdowne House

Lansdowne House

Lansdowne House was designed by architect William Flockhart (1852-1913), and built for the Australian millionaire Sir Edmund Davis (1861-1939), who lived at 9 Lansdowne Road (see: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/visitkensingtonandchelsea/seedo/people/blueplaques/recordsh-l/lansdownehouse.aspx). He was a mining financier and an art enthusiast. He built Lansdowne house, which contains six flats with two-storey artists’ studios and other amenities.

Artists who lived in Lansdowne House

Artists who lived in Lansdowne House

They attracted up-and-coming artists, a few of whom are named on the blue plaque attached to the building. None of their names mean anything to me.

Holland Park Avenue

Holland Park Avenue

Holland Park Avenue, a part of the old West Road running between London and Oxford, was developed in the nineteenth century. Lined with mature shady trees, this avenue runs alongside many fine buildings.

On  Holland Park Avenue

On Holland Park Avenue

A statue of the Ukranian Saint Volodmyr stands outside the Hotel Ravna Gora (named after one of several places with that name in the Balkans). Volodmyr ruled the Ukraine as king between 980 and 1015 AD.

St Volodmyr Holland Park Ave

St Volodmyr Holland Park Ave

His statue was put up in 1988 to celebrate St Volodmyr’s establishment of Christianity in the Ukraine in 988 AD. It was sculpted by the Ukrainian-born Leonid Molodoshanin (aka ‘Leo Mol’; 1915-2009).

The Benns lived here

The Benns lived here

Further up the hill, we reach the home of the late Anthony (‘Tony’) Benn (1925-2014) and his wife Caroline (née De Camp; 1926-2000). With its front door painted appropriately in red, this is where two active, intelligent socialists lived their last years. It is worth noting in passing that these leaders of the left in the UK lived in a valuable home in a very prosperous part of London. Almost opposite, but a little way uphill, is the house where the artist James McBey (1883-1959) lived in the 1930s. Its large studio windows face north to catch what many artists believe to be the best light for working.

Camden Hill Tower

Camden Hill Tower

Notting Hill Gate at the top end of Holland Park Avenue is dominated by a residential tower block, Campden Hill Towers. This unattractive building is, and has always been, privately owned, despite it looking as if it might once have been social housing. It was erected in the early 1960s, or, maybe, late 1950s. I remember visiting a schoolfriend who lived there sometime before 1965. Little did I know it then but my future wife and her family were also living in a flat there at the time. Then during my visit, I was particularly impressed that he lived in a two-storey apartment high above the ground. It was the first time I had ever seen a ‘duplex’ flat. The building is not the only eyesore in Notting Hill Gate. It competes in ugliness with nearby Newcombe House.

Notting Hill mural

Notting Hill mural

Just west of the Towers, there is a lovely mural in a narrow alleyway. This was painted by Barney McMahon in 1997 (see: http://www.tiredoflondontiredoflife.com/2014/05/see-notting-hills-barney-mcmahon-mural.html). The alleyway runs alongside Marks and Spencer’s food store, which was once the building that housed Damien Hirst’s original (in all senses of the word) Pharmacy Restaurant (now re-created and updated at the Newport Street Gallery, near Lambeth Palace).

The Coronet

The Coronet

Fortunately, the area has at least one lovely building, the former ‘Coronet Cinema’. This was designed as a theatre by WGR Sprague (1863-1933) who designed many of London’s theatres. It opened in 1908. By 1923, the Coronet had become a cinema, and remained so for many years. Apart from the screen, the fittings inside the auditorium were those of an unmodernised Edwardian theatre. Until smoking was banned in all public places, the Coronet was one of the last cinemas in London which permitted smoking (but only in the balcony seating). Between 2004 and 2014, the Coronet doubled up as both a branch of the Kensington Temple Church and, also, as a cinema. And, in 2015 the Coronet reverted to being used as a theatre, now called ‘The Print Room’. This theatre puts on interesting plays, which are well-produced.

In The Gate Cinema

In The Gate Cinema

Close to the Coronet, enclosed in an ugly modern building, is The Gate Cinema. Its beautiful old auditorium was converted in 1911 from a former Italian restaurant, which had been designed in 1861 by William Hancock. The foyer and the offices built over the cinema were built in 1962 by the architects Douton and Hurst. By now, you may be wondering what happened to the Hippodrome, which I promised you earlier on. Your patience will be rewarded soon.

Prince Albert pub

Prince Albert pub

The popular Prince Albert pub on Pembridge Road, where Kensington Park Road begins, has a small alternative theatre, ‘The Gate’, on its first floor. The early 19th century pub and its former brewery stood close to the beginning of a long footpath or track that led to the public entrance of the Hippodrome. This and the pub is recorded on maps drawn while the race-course was in existence. A green-painted wooden ‘cabmen’s shelter’, now used as a café, stands in the middle of Kensington Park Road close to the Prince Albert. This shelter is believed to be located very close to the spot where the path to the Hippodrome’s public entrance began. The path would have run in a northwest direction towards the course’s entrance.

Cabmen's Shelter Kensington Park Road

Cabmen's Shelter Kensington Park Road

Directly opposite the cabmen’s shelter, there is the Kensington Temple. This is a Pentecostal church, which was built originally as the ‘Horbury Chapel’ in 1849. Its neighbour on Ladbroke Grove is the Mercury Theatre (building erected in 1851). This was opened in 1933 by Ashley Dukes (1885-1959), who was deeply involved in theatre. The theatre, which put on plays until 1956, was also used by Duke’s wife the Polish-born ballet dancer and teacher Marie Rambert (1888-1982). It was the birthplace and home (until 1987) of her world-famous Ballet Rambert.

The Mercury Theatre

The Mercury Theatre

Kensington Park Road, which did not exist at the time of the Hippodrome, leads past Ladbroke Square with its huge private garden to the neo-classical St Peters Church designed by Thomas Allom (1804-1872). It was built 1855-57 when much of the Ladbroke Estate had been covered with houses.

St Peters Notting Hill

St Peters Notting Hill

The church stands opposite the short Stanley Gardens. Where the latter meets Stanley Crescent is close to where the public entrance to the Hippodrome is believed to have been.

Stanley Crescent seen from Stanley Gardens - approximate position of the public entrance to the Hippodrome

Stanley Crescent seen from Stanley Gardens - approximate position of the public entrance to the Hippodrome

Ladbroke Grove, just west of Stanley Crescent crosses much of what would have been the eastern part of the Hippodrome. The Grove rises from Holland Park Avenue to a summit close to St Johns Church, which was built on Hippodrome Land in 1845, very soon after the racecourse closed. It was designed in a gothic style by John Hargreaves Stevens and George Alexander.

St Johns Notting Hill

St Johns Notting Hill

St Johns interior

St Johns interior

It is widely believed that the hill upon which this church perches was the public grandstand from which the entire racecourse could be seen from above. Far below it, and on the far side of the course, roughly where Clarendon Road runs today, there was “… an enclosure for carriages of the Royal Family”. This is marked on a 1841 map of the Hippodrome. This map, published in the “Sporting Review” of 1841, shows the Hippodrome as having a common starting and finishing track that ran in a north-south direction, and three parallel loops that ran off it at its northern end to produce tracks varying in length from one to two miles.

It has been suggested to me that at least one of these loops (it would have to be the one mile loop) ran where the curved section of Lansdowne Road runs today. I cannot comment on this. The 1841 map shows a “Road to Stables” leading from what is now Holland Park Avenue into what is now either Pottery Lane or its close parallel Portland Road. “Hippodrome Stables” is marked between these two lanes on an 1860 map (see: http://www.theundergroundmap.com/map.html?item=1&id=956). This is close to the spots marked as “Judges Stand”, “Saddling Paddock and Stables”, and “Starting Post”, on the 1841 map.

Montpelier Gardens on Lansdowne Rise

Montpelier Gardens on Lansdowne Rise

Lansdowne Rise descends from the hill where the spectators used to stand towards Clarendon Road. It passes across a private garden named ‘Montpelier Garden’, which is probably growing on land that might well have been a part of the long straight stretch of the racecourse. The 1860 map marks the Rise as being then called ‘Montpelier Road’.

Clarendon Works brickworks, Clarendon Cross

Clarendon Works brickworks, Clarendon Cross

A red brick building on the short Clarendon Cross bears the name ‘Clarendon Works’. This was a Victorian brick-making factory. It has been tastefully converted into luxury apartments. Its location is not accidental, as you will soon discover. Clarendon Cross leads to a pleasant little intersection shaded by trees and surrounded by a few shops.

Clarendon Cross

Clarendon Cross

Hippodrome Place

Hippodrome Place

The continuation of Clarendon Cross is the very short Hippodrome Place. On the 1860 map, it was marked as “Clarendon Place”, but by 1900 it had acquired its present name.

Hippodrome Mews

Hippodrome Mews

It is very close to Hippodrome Mews, which apart from its name and being close to the site of the former Hippodrome but outside its bounds, displays no evidence of having been part of the Hippodrome.

Pottery Lane

Pottery Lane

Pottery Lane gets its name from the fact that it led to the potteries that ran alongside the western edge of the Hippodrome. There are two buildings of interest in the lane. One is the former ‘Earl of Zetland’ pub, which served drinkers between 1849 and 2009. It has now been converted for other purposes.

Earl of Zetland in  Pottery Lane

Earl of Zetland in Pottery Lane

Across the road from it is the Roman Catholic St Francis of Assisi Church. In the 1840s and the 1850s, the Roman Catholic population of west London increased greatly. This church was built in 1860 to address their spiritual needs.

St Francis of Assisi

St Francis of Assisi

During the second half of the nineteenth century and before, this part of Notting Hill close to the potteries (and some piggeries), known as ‘Notting Dale’, was very impoverished and the haunt of many people involved in unlawful activities. It was people from this area, who tried disrupting races on the Hippodrome because of the disputed footpath crossing it (see above). The church’s interesting website (see: http://www.stfrancisnottinghill.org.uk/history/) relates:
“During this period the ‘West London News’ reported that “If the church of St. Francis be of gloomy aspect, it certainly throws a gleam – a ray of hope – on the outside moral darkness in the midst of which it is situated.”
Although the outside of the neo-gothic church is not eye-catching, it is worth entering its peaceful small courtyard and the church itself.

Inside St Francis of Assisi

Inside St Francis of Assisi

Apart from a road name, nothing remains of the potteries and brickfields in the area except one solitary kiln on Walmer Road. A plaque attached to it describes it as a ‘bottle kiln’. It is shaped like the neck and top of a wine bottle. Although very few of these exist in London, another one can be seen at the Fulham Pottery next to Putney Bridge Underground Station.

Pottery kiln

Pottery kiln

Kiln plaque

Kiln plaque

Avondale Park is opposite the Kiln. The park was created in the 1890s on the site that had formerly been a fetid pool, an area filled with slurries from the nearby piggeries and Adams’ Brickfields (see: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/parks/avondale-park). The Adams family, who leased the land for their brickfields, also leased the 140 acre Portobello Farm located at the northern end of the present Portobello Road roughly south of Golborne Road. Incidentally, the name ‘Portobello’ commemorates Admiral Vernon’s victory over the Spanish in 1739 at the Battle of Porto Belo in Central America. It is ironic that today many Spanish people live in the Portobello area. Many of them were anti-fascist Spaniards escaping from General Franco. A monument to the Spanish Civil war in the form of a mural made in mosaic can be seen on Portobello Road under the Westway overhead bridge.

Avondale Park

Avondale Park

Avondale Park pavilion

Avondale Park pavilion

Avondale park contains a series of circular wood-clad buildings that look like inverted cones, and are linked together by a lovely curved, flat roof. These round structures, which comprise a ‘pavilion’, contain lavatories and storage rooms. They were designed by Mangera Yvars Architects in 2010, and then built shortly afterwards. In 2009, gardeners working on the deep roots of a tree stumbled across a long-forgotten WW2 bunker under the park. It would have been able to accommodate about 200 people, but few locals remember its existence (for full story, see: https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/secrets-of-avondale-park/).

Kensington Leisure Centre

Kensington Leisure Centre

Walmer Road leads north to the beautiful new Kensington Leisure Centre on the east side of Lancaster Green. This building, which covered externally with multiple, parallel, slender, vertical concrete slabs was opened in 2015, is very pleasing to the eye. It was designed by LA Architects (of East Sussex).

Old foundation stone near Kensington Leisure Centre

Old foundation stone near Kensington Leisure Centre

Close to the buildings in the grassy Lancaster Green, there is an old piece of masonry, a foundation stone for a former Kensington ‘Public Baths and Wash-Houses’ that was laid in 1886. These baths used to stand close to the newly built centre.

Kensington Aldridge Academy

Kensington Aldridge Academy

Notting Hill Methodist Church

Notting Hill Methodist Church

Near to the Leisure Centre, stands another new, colourful building, a school: the Kensington Aldridge Academy. This is a coeducational state secondary school sponsored by the Aldridge Foundation. It has been in existence since 2014. Its building was designed by London-based Studio E Architects. Close to this, stands Notting Hill Methodist Church. Its single slender tower recalls the appearance of minarets. It was built between 1878 and 1879.

Grenfell Tower, destroyed by fire on 16 June 2016

Grenfell Tower, destroyed by fire on 16 June 2016

The church, the Academy, and the Leisure Centre, all stand in the shadow of Grenfell Tower, a twenty-four storey residential tower block erected between 1972 and ’74. When I was taking photographs of the Leisure Centre on the afternoon of Tuesday the 13th of June 2017, I barely noticed the block which I was standing in front of. It was just another unexceptional tower block that I thought was not worthy of my attention. That night, it and many of its inhabitants were destroyed by fire that rapidly engulfed it. It is not yet known how many people have perished in the inferno – maybe, we will never know. It has left hundreds of people homeless, bereft of all their material possessions, and mourning for their neighbours and loved ones. The cause of the conflagration and the resulting disaster, which falls into the same category of tragedy as the ‘Twin Towers’ disaster in New York City, has yet to be determined. Now, all that remains of the building is a blackened concrete skeleton. I hope that none of the local schoolchildren I watched entering the Leisure Centre that fateful Tuesday afternoon have become victims of the fire.

Bramley Road: 'new' WALMER HOUSE

Bramley Road: 'new' WALMER HOUSE

West of the disaster area, we reach Bramley Road. Just after it passes under the elevated Westway, one of Europe’s earliest elevated highways – a modern race-track that crosses part of the former Hippodrome, we come across Walmer House. This ageing brick-built block of flats stands a little to the west of a now demolished Walmer House that used to stand on the western stretch of Walmer Road. The older Walmer House, the former Episcopal Palace of the Bishop of Norwich, is marked on a 1900 map as “Jews Deaf and Dumb Home”. This was founded in 1863 in Bloomsbury (see: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/bloomsbury-project/institutions/jews_deaf_and_dumb_home.htm) by Baroness Mayer de Rothschild. Its purpose was to teach deaf and dumb resident Jewish children to speak. The school moved to the Walmer House in Walmer Road in 1875, and then to Nightingale Lane (Balham) in 1899. It closed in 1965.

Derelict house Bramley Road

Derelict house Bramley Road

Just before Bramley Road becomes St Helen’s Gardens, there is a dilapidated house set back from the road next to Robinson House. It bears a crest with the letters “W” or “H” and “R” and the date 1894. According to Dave Walker, a historian at Kensington Central Library, this has been used as a garage and for light industrial purposes over the years since the beginning of the twentieth century. It stands just south of the probable southern boundary of the northern section of the long-gone Hippodrome racetrack.

Scampston Mews

Scampston Mews

St Helens Gardens rises gently in an almost northerly direction, crossing what was once the north-western section of the Hippodrome. Scampston Mews, which is close to the southern end of this road, is built on land that was part of the Hippodrome. The mews are not shown as existing on a detailed 1860 map, but they do appear on a 1900 map.

St Helens Church

St Helens Church

The mainly gothic, brick St Helens Church at the top of St Helens Gardens was rebuilt in 1956 (architect: JS Sebastian Comper) on the site of an earlier church, built in 1884 and destroyed during WW2. It stood close to the former Notting Barn Farm, which shared its southern boundary with the northern boundary of the Hippodrome. The farm, which certainly existed in the 18th century and was close to Portobello Farm to its east, disappeared from maps, leaving no material trace, in the 1880s (see: https://northkensingtonhistories.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/the-st-quintin-park-estate/).

The Garden next to Latymer Road Station

The Garden next to Latymer Road Station

Retracing our steps down St Helen’s Gardens and Bramley Road, we reach Latymer Road Underground Station. It opened in 1868. Oddly, it is nowhere near to Latimer Road. It is almost half a mile south of any road named ‘Latimer’. However, when it was built, it was much closer, as I will explain soon. While at the station, you should enter the nearby ‘Garden Bar and Café’, which is housed in a former pub, the ‘Station Hotel’, which has been in existence since the 1860s. The Café, which is owned by an Albanian friend of mine, serves excellent Mediterranean food, which may be eaten inside or in a lovely sheltered back garden.

Lockton Street doorway

Lockton Street doorway

A narrow lane, Lockton Street, connects Bramley Road with nearby Freston Road. On one side, Lockton Street is lined by railway arches, and on the other by newly built apartment blocks with attractive street entrance gates.

Former Holy Trinity Church Freston Rd 1887

Former Holy Trinity Church Freston Rd 1887

Freston Road used to be called ‘Latimer Road’, and therefore the station near it was aptly named. Walking northwards along Freston Road, one cannot miss a large red brick neo-gothic building, which has housed ‘The Harrow Club’ since 1967. This used to be the Holy Trinity Church, which was built to the designs of R Norman Shaw (1831-1912), architect of the first ‘New Scotland Yard’) between 1887 and 1889.

Former Latymer Road School Freston Street 1879

Former Latymer Road School Freston Street 1879

Further north on the eastern side of Freston Road, stands the former ‘Latymer Road School’, a massive brick building with roof gables. This was built in 1880 by the school board. Now, it is used as a ‘pupil support centre’.

Under Westway / A3220 interchange. Eton fives courts

Under Westway / A3220 interchange. Eton fives courts

Under Westway / A3220 interchange. An Eton fives court

Under Westway / A3220 interchange. An Eton fives court

Just beyond the school, Freston Road ends and becomes a footpath that winds its way between public sporting facilities. Amongst the tennis courts and other parts of the Westway Fitness Centre, there is a row of four Eton Fives courts, such as we had at my (private) secondary school in Highgate. Originally an elitist game, the Centre is making attempts to popularise this sport, which very faintly resembles squash except that the ball is hit with gloved hands.

Under Westway / A3220 interchange

Under Westway / A3220 interchange

The footpath then passes under the curving concrete bridges that carry the overhead roads which connect the Westway with the West Cross Route, which carries traffic south to the Shepherds Bush roundabout. Eventually, the path emerges north of Westway close to the former Latimer Arms Pub, which closed in the 1990s. It was already open for business in the early 1870s (see: http://pubshistory.com/LondonPubs/Kensington/LatimerArms.shtml).

Former Latimer Arms pub

Former Latimer Arms pub

Under Westway / A3220 interchange: Travellers' site, Stable Way

Under Westway / A3220 interchange: Travellers' site, Stable Way

The beginning of Stable Way is near the former pub. It leads in a southwards direction, threading its way beneath the road bridges and between car repair workshops with many derelict vehicles. At its southern end is the Westway Traveller Site. This was built in 1976 (see: http://www.travellermovement.org.uk/pavee/images/pdfs/my_site_westway.pdf) to replace an unauthorised site that had been favoured mostly by Irish gypsies and ‘Travellers’ for centuries. Now, it is exclusively occupied by Irish Travellers. In 1981, the Travellers took Kensington and Chelsea Council to court to try to prove the unsuitability of the site, being as it is, surrounded by vehicles emitting noxious exhaust fumes. The Council won.

Former Bramley Arms

Former Bramley Arms

Retracing our steps, we return to Freston Road. Where this road meets Bramley road at a sharp angle, stands the ‘Bramley Arms’, a former pub. This nineteenth century pub, which closed in the 1980s, was used as a location in the films “The Lavender Hill Mob” and “Quadrophenia” (see: http://www.closedpubs.co.uk/london/w10_northkensington_bramleyarms.html). It is now used for housing. Further down the road, we reach a large red brick building bearing large notices, one inset in the brickwork and another in colourful mosaic, that inform the viewer that this was once ‘The People’s Hall’.

The Peoples Hall

The Peoples Hall

Opened in 1901,it assumed great significance in 1977 (see below). A part of it is on Olaf Street. This houses the newly opened “Frestonian Gallery”, which displays contemporary art. A friend of ours who works there invited us to its recent inauguration. This led to my interest in the People’s Hall.

The name of the new gallery commemorates an extraordinary incident comparable to that portrayed in the 1949 film “Passport to Pimlico”, in which the Pimlico area of London declared independence. This happened for real in Freston Road in 1977. By this date, the area around Freston Road had deteriorated significantly, and the Greater London Council (‘GLC’) wanted to evacuate its inhabitants to redevelop it. As a local resident, Tony Sleep put it:
“The GLC decided that it was intolerable having 120 people living in these damp old dirty houses and it would be a much better idea to knock them all down and make us homeless…” (see the fascinating and informative website: http://www.frestonia.org/).
Under the leadership of Tony Albery and other social activists, it was decided that the 120 residents (many of them squatters who had moved into almost derelict buildings that had been neglected by the GLC prior to redeveloping the area) living in the 1.8 acre plot around Freston Road should declare the area a republic independent of the UK. The republic was named ‘Frestonia’, and its inhabitants, who all added the suffix ‘-Bramley’ to their own surnames, were called ‘Frestonians’. In addition to applying (without success) for membership of the United Nations, Frestonia issued its own postage stamps, and created a stamp for marking visitors’ passports. The People’s Hall briefly became a National Film Theatre of Frestonia (see: https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/frestonia-the-past-is-another-country/).

Frestonia attracted attention of the press both inside and outside the UK. The Republic staggered on for about five years. The actions of the Frestonians were not ignored by the GLC, who ultimately re-developed the area in such a way as not to overly disrupt the old community. The People’s Hall is the only tangible remnant of the short-lived republic.

Corner of Wilsham Street and St Anns Road

Corner of Wilsham Street and St Anns Road

The final stretch of this begins on St Anns Road, which later becomes ‘St Anns Villas’. At the corner of this road and Wilsham Street, there is a flat-roofed terrace of buildings. Formerly known as ‘St Katherine’s Road’, Wilsham Street and others parallel to it lead to the former potteries described above. This street appears on an 1860 map, made at a time when there were still brickfields a few streets north of it. Charles Booth’s late nineteenth century ‘poverty map’ (see: https://booth.lse.ac.uk/) shows that the western half of the street was “Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family”, whilst the eastern half, closest to the former potteries, was “Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.” Well, all of that has changed. While I cannot vouch for the behaviour of the present inhabitants, I can safely say that they are not poor.

St James Church

St James Church

St James Gardens, one street down from Wilsham Street, contains a rectangular garden in which the neo-gothic Victorian St James Church (built 1845) stands. On Booth’s map, these streets, which neighbour a poor area, are marked as “Middle class. Well-to-do.” Here, as in so many parts of London, the rich live(d) cheek-by-jowl with the poor.

Holland Park Synagogue

Holland Park Synagogue

The Holland Park Synagogue is also on St James Gardens. This was built in 1928 (see: http://hollandparksynagogue.com/about/history/) inspired by the design of the much older Bevis Marks Synagogue. Its congregation was founded by Sephardic Jews who arrived in London from the Ottoman Empire.

Tabernacle School St Anns Villas

Tabernacle School St Anns Villas

The Tabernacle School neighbours the synagogue. The school is housed in a spectacular crenelated brick and white stone mock-Tudor building, similar to many of those that line St Anns Villas. A plaque on another similarly designed villa records that the music-hall comedian Albert Chevalier (1861-1923) lived there. Born Albert Onésime Britannicus Gwathveoyd Louis Chevalier in the prosperous St Ann Villas, son of a French teacher, this son of the bourgeoisie specialised in cockney-related humour.

St Ann Villas

St Ann Villas

The present school and the other villas were built in the 1840s above the line of an improved sewer that was built in the late 1830s. This sewer follows the course of an older sewer, The Counter’s Creek Sewer’, which in turn followed the course of one of London’s ‘Lost Rivers’, Counters Creek, which used to flow from west of Kensal Green to the Thames, which it enters as ‘Chelsea Creek’. Counter’s Creek is marked on an 1841 map as running alongside the western edge of the northern part of the Hippodrome. Further south, it ran along what is now Freston Street before following a course approximately where St Anns Road and Villas run.

The Organ Factory

The Organ Factory

St James Gardens crosses St Anns Villas to become ‘Swanscombe Road’. A small Victorian building, now converted to housing, carries the name that commemorates its former use, the ‘Organ Factory’. Queensdale Road, which runs parallel to, and south of, Swanscombe Road, is the home of a Sikh temple, the ‘Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha) London’.

Gurdwara Sikh Temple

Gurdwara Sikh Temple

The Khalsa Jatha was founded in London in 1908 “…to promote religious and social activities among the Sikhs who had settled in the UK. Later in the same year it was affiliated to the Chief Khalsa Diwan, Amritsar” (see: http://www.centralgurdwara.org.uk/history.htm). Initially based in Putney, it then moved to Shepherds Bush, before reaching its present site in 1969.

Royal Crescent

Royal Crescent

At its southern end, St Ann Villas meets one of London’s answers to the Regency crescents in Bath: Royal Crescent. Now slightly shabby in appearance, this crescent was laid out by Robert Cantwell (c. 1793-1859) in 1846. Cantwell was responsible for much of the building development on the Norland Estate, which includes the Crescent.

Royal Crescent

Royal Crescent

Garden of Royal Crescent

Garden of Royal Crescent

Unlike the crescents in Bath, Royal Crescent is made up of two quarter circle terraces, separated by St Anns Villas. The terraces surround a beautifully laid out private gardens, which can be seen easily from various places along its cast-iron fencing. In the middle of the Holland Park Avenue boundary of the gardens, there is a stone public drinking fountain (no longer working). This was paid for by Miss Mary Cray Ratray of 41 Tavistock Square to perpetuate her memory. She died in 1875.

Drinking fountain Royal Crescent

Drinking fountain Royal Crescent

Just south of the Crescent, there is a wide, traffic-free street, almost a piazza, called ‘Norland Road’. This was developed in the 1840s, and as its name suggests it was part of the Norland Estate, its westernmost border. From its southern end, there is a fine view of the ‘Thames Water Ring Main Tower’, which was erected by Thames Water in 1994. Clad in a transparent material, this futuristic object in the middle of a busy roundabout, was designed by reForm Architects (London). Its purpose is to house a ‘surge pipe’ on London’s Thames Water Ring Main, which carries potable water from water treatment plants to the city’s inhabitants. It is here that I will conclude my tour.

Shepherds Bush water tower

Shepherds Bush water tower

By trying to track down the few barely tangible memories of Notting Hill’s short-lived Hippodrome racecourse, I have seen many sights that bear testimony to the history of a fascinating part of west London. Notting Hill has had a diverse history: from its rustic origins to more recent events, including , most recently, the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower.

AVONDALE PARK GATES

AVONDALE PARK GATES

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 02:43 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london ukrainian travellers synagogue kensington jews sikhs racecourse hippodrome gypsies notting_hill horse-racing frestonia grenfell_tower Comments (2)

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