Documenting the history of the Waterlow Estate in Bethnal Green, East London. Comprising Wilmot, Corfield, Ainsley and Finnis Street the Waterlow Estate was built by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company starting in 1869.
Ray Herrington lived with his family on the Waterlow Estate for the first 17 years of his life (from 1939 to 1956). His (step) grandmother was also the landlady of The Lamb pub. A few months ago Ray’s son Mark contacted me about talking with his father.
Ray’s life story would fill a book, and in our short conversation we managed to cover gangsters, street parties, bombs, nazi bashing and even the royal family. It was a real pleasure talking with Ray, his stories bring to life the real community spirit of The Estate. So grab a cup of tea and settle in, as Ray has a lot of memories and local knowledge to share !
A few weeks ago I was contacted by reader Peter Gasson who mentioned that he had a photographic slide he had taken many years ago. I was very keen to see the photograph and so dropped him a line.
Peter said: “As promised, here is a copy of the colour slide of Waterlow Buildings. The date on the slide is September 1965; this would be the date it was processed, but it would have been taken not more than a month or so earlier”
Photograph of Waterlow Estate taken in 1965 by Peter Gasson
Many who live in London’s East End will have had the experience of black cab drivers regaling them with stories of growing up in the area, usually followed by an explanation that they moved out to Essex long ago.
Living on Wilmot Street is no different, many drivers know the street due to its proximity to the black cab repair businesses on Three Colts Lane or will know due to it featuring in a gotcha question in The Knowledge (apparently as you’re not able to take a right turn out onto Bethnal Green Road, or so I’ve been told). A more uncommon story that I had heard from at least three taxi drivers over the years was of a guy who lived on Wilmot Street in the sixties who won the pools and paid his neighbours rent with the winnings.
There is something about this story that has held my attention over the years. I had tried many times to find a record or a name but with no luck. So much so that I started to assume he was an urban legend.
Many years passed, with many an idle evening spent chasing links on the internet trying to find even a scrap of information without any luck. This all changed last year when I started posting on Facebook and found the Waterlow Estate group. I asked members of the group and immediately everyone agreed that he did indeed exist and that he had paid his neighbours rent. Although it seemed everyone had their own slightly different take on the story.
I’ve always been fascinated by the old corner shop on Wilmot and Ainsley Street, especially as there did seem to be a business in there but they never seemed to be open. I had managed to find the planning application to switch the premises from use as a shop to an office back in 1998, but other than that the current occupier was a mystery. It was a great coincidence that I took a taxi a few months ago and got talking to the driver, it turned out that his brother was the current tenant running a sports shoe business.
1a Ainsley Street today. Photograph from John Mossell
John has many memories of the Greencoats Tenants Association, an organisation I’d previously only known in relation to the rent strike in the early 1960s. The community spirit evident in the wide range of activities was forged in the residents struggle with their landlords Greencoat Properties Limited.
Before we get to John’s recollections I thought it’d be useful to detail the events of the strike which was held in response to the state of the buildings and the ever rising rent demands.
Having a (very) niche obsession such as the Waterlow Estate means months of trawling the internet finding very little and then once in a while hitting the jackpot. It was in this vein that I recently happened across The Streets of Waterlow Estate and Bethnal Green Facebook group. I’m not sure why I’d never tried searching Facebook before but this group has proved to be a treasure trove of memories and photographs of the Estate.
A particular highlight was a link to a clip from Thames News in 1982 detailing the state of disrepair the buildings had fallen into by this time. You can see the clip here.
“I recently rediscovered some of the Barratt sales literature from the mid-eighties redevelopment. I found the Barratt sales folder at the back of a drawer in the kitchen – respect to the various owners for keeping it. The printed folder is A5 with a few inserted sheets providing plans of a couple of property types.
The idyllic illustrations on page 4 are a joy to behold.”
I’ve very excited to share the pages from the brochure here.
You can also download the PDF that Gareth sent me.
I recently came across this brochure from McInerney homes for the houses on the South West side of Corfield Street and along Finnis Street. These homes were built around 1981 and so far this is the only information I’ve been able to find about them. They are very typical of suburban homes built in the 1970s and early 80s but as such seem a little out of place in Bethnal Green.
It’s impossible to shake the shock of seeing black face, but this is a fascinating image that captures something of the era and shows how the rear yard would be used in the buildings. I love finding these sort of scattered and fragmented images of the buildings and the lives lived in them.
I found this photograph a few years ago whilst on one of my many internet excursions searching for historical information about the Waterlow Estate. Unfortunately it seems the original site has disappeared, if you are the owner I hope you don’t mind me reusing the image. Please drop me a line or respond in the comments so I can add your credit.
The website I found it on stated that “It was taken around 1910-14 at Waterlow Industrial Dwellings in East London. The players names, I was told, are: Standing, Bertie Kirby, Bill Kirby. Seated, Messrs Avis, Warner, Thompson, Warner and Harry Reynolds.”
He continues “This group would play in the courtyard of the block of flats where they lived. This was real home entertainment. Neighbours from the flats would assemble in the courtyard, bringing food and drink and enjoy the show. I believe this type of show was very popular at the time. Today some ‘modifications’ would certainly be needed!”
A fantastic news report from Thames TV in 1982. It seems that the buildings were starting to become dangerous in the early 1980s and scaffolding was erected to protect the residents from falling masonry !