Waterlow Estate History

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.

Waterlow Estate shops

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

During my recent conversations with John Mossell I managed to learn a lot more about the history of the original corner shop. John says:

“The corner​ ​shop​ ​on​ ​1​ ​Ainsley​ ​Street​ ​was​ ​a​ ​fantastic​ ​shop​, of which many​ ​people​ ​living​ ​on​ ​the​ ​the estate​ ​have​ ​many​ ​great​ ​memories​ ​of.​ ​​​It​ ​was​ ​a​ ​combination​ ​of​ ​a​ ​grocers​ ​shop​ ​and newsagents. and​ ​was​ ​known​ ​for​ ​most​ ​of​ ​my​ ​time​ ​as​ ​”Phil​ ​and​ ​Pete’s”.​ ​As​ ​it​ ​was​ ​run​ ​by​ ​a married​ ​couple​ ​called​ ​Peter​ ​and​ ​Phyllis​ ​Hambleton. ​They​ ​were​ ​very​ ​popular​ ​and​ ​got​ ​on​ ​very well​ ​with​ ​the​ ​residents.​”

Photograph – Lee Rice

Photograph – Lee Rice

“​​​During​ ​the​ ​1970’s​ ​supermarket​ ​shopping​ ​was​ ​still​ ​a​ ​relatively​ ​new thing,​ ​and​ ​families​ ​including mine​ ​still​ ​got​​ lot​s ​of​ ​their​ ​provisions​ ​from​ ​these​ ​shops.​ ​​​There were​ ​three​ ​main​ ​supermarkets​ ​you​ ​could​ ​go​ ​to – ​a​ ​Coop​ ​store​ ​in​ ​the​ ​section​ ​of shops​ ​before​ ​where​ ​the​ ​trendy​ ​​ ​cafe​ ​338​ ​and​ ​Peliccis are​ ​located.​ Where ​the​ ​McDonalds​ ​is now​ ​was​ ​a​ ​very​ ​popular​ ​supermarkets​ ​called​ ​”Keymarket”​ ​that​ ​was​ ​larger​ ​than​ ​Tesco​ ​at​ ​the time.​ ​​​

Up​ ​until​ ​1982​ ​Tesco​ ​was​ ​smaller​ ​than​ ​it​ ​is​ ​today and ​only​ ​occupied​ ​the​ ​small grey building​ ​but​ ​then​ ​expanded​ ​with a ​red​ ​brick​ ​extension​ ​that​ ​you​ ​see​ ​today.​ ​​​Tesco​ ​then​ ​had two​ ​floors,​ ​the​ ​food​ ​section​ ​where​ ​the​ ​entrance​ ​is​ ​today​ ​and​ ​above​ ​this​ ​was​ ​a​ ​popular clothes​ ​and​ ​homeware​ ​section.​ ​​”

Tesco in Bethnal Green around the time of it’s opening in 1969

“Phyllis​ ​and​ ​Pete​ ​had​ ​the​ ​corner​ ​shop,​ ​I​ ​think​ ​from​ ​mid 1960s ​to​ ​moving​ ​out​ ​to​ ​live​ ​in​ ​Clacton​ ​in​ ​summer​ ​of​ ​1979.​ ​The​ ​shop​ ​was​ ​then​ ​taken​ ​over​ ​by a​ ​man​ ​who​ ​already​ ​was​ ​running​ ​a​ ​shop​ ​and​ ​got​ ​his​ ​step​ ​daughter​ ​Linda​ ​and​ ​her​ ​partner John​ ​to​ ​live​ ​in​ ​and​ ​run​ ​the​ ​shop.​ ​Linda​ ​and​ ​John​ ​were​ ​also​ ​popular​ ​and​ ​nice​​ ​but​ ​unfortunately​ ​business​ ​was​ ​hit​ ​by​ ​completion​ ​from​ ​the​ ​two​ ​local supermarkets.​ ​​She​ ​closed​ ​the​ ​shop​ ​in​ ​December​ ​1983​ ​and​ ​moved​ ​out.​ ​​Apart​ ​from​ ​a brief period ​after that the​ ​shop​ ​has​ ​remained​ ​empty​ ​since​ ​then.”

The​ ​two​ ​shops​ ​on​ ​the​ ​ground​ ​floor​ ​of​ ​the​ ​flats​ ​on​ ​Three​ ​Colts​ ​lane​ ​were​ ​also​ ​very​ ​popular. On​ ​the​ ​left​ ​was​ ​a​ ​newsagent​ ​and​ ​sweet​ ​shop,​ ​known​ ​to​ ​all​ ​as​ ​Barry’s,​ ​that​ ​was​ ​run​ ​by​ ​Barry Kirk,​ ​the​ ​son​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Landlord​ ​Tommy​ ​Kirk,​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Lamb​ ​pub​ ​(then​ ​became​ ​the​ ​Sporting​ ​Life Pub​ ​in​ ​late​ ​70s​ ​or​ ​early​ ​1980)​ ​up​ ​until​ ​the​ ​mid​ ​1970s.​ ​​​”

The Lamb Public House in 1931. Later to become The Sporting Life pub, and eventually converted into flats. In the background you can see the shops on Three Colts Lane.

The Lamb public house sometime pre 1861. Reproduced with the permission of The Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.

“The​ ​shop​ ​on​ ​the​ ​right​ ​was​ ​a​ ​grocers (can​ ​not​ ​remember​ ​the​ ​official​ ​name)​ ​run​ ​by​ ​brother​ ​and​ ​sister​ ​team​ ​called​ ​Emmie​ ​and​ ​Ernie, and​ ​was​ ​referred​ ​to​ ​as​ ​”The​ ​Dairy”​ ​or​ ​sometimes​ ​as​ ​​ ​”Emmie’s”.​ ​I​ ​seem​ ​to​ ​recall​ ​that​ ​they also​ ​had​ ​a​ ​shop​ ​on​ ​Brady​ ​Street​ ​and​ ​was​ ​run​ ​by​ ​Emmies​ ​husband?​ ​​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​the​ ​Three Colts​ ​Lane​ ​shop​ ​was​ ​in​ ​their​ ​procession​ ​until​ ​the​ ​late​ ​1980s.​ ​Like​ ​Phyllis​ ​Emmie​ ​was particularly​ ​a​ ​lovely​ ​lady,​ ​and​ ​my​ ​parents​ ​would​ ​buy​ ​from​ ​there​ ​as​ ​well,​ ​they​ ​did​ ​lovely​ ​sliced meats particularly​ ​ham​ ​off​ ​the​ ​bone.​ ​Other​ ​people​ ​recall​ ​two​ ​shops​ ​where​ ​two​ ​small​ ​houses are​ ​now​ ​located​ ​on​ ​Wilmot​ ​but I do​ ​not​ ​remember these​ ​being​ ​shops​ ​in​ ​my​ ​time,​ ​however​  ​I​ ​have​ ​a​ ​very​ ​vague​ ​memory​ ​that​ ​one​ ​of​ ​those​ shops​ ​became​ ​an​ ​Indian​ ​takeaway​ ​for​ ​a while​ ​in​ ​the​ ​late​ ​70s/early​ ​80s,​ ​​they ​are​ ​both​ ​now​ ​small​ ​residential​ ​houses/flats.”

The shops on Three Colts Lane in 1992. Reproduced with the permission of The Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.

The shops on Three Colts Lane in 2017

Thank you to John for taking the time to share his memories of the Estate. Along with this post my conversations with John also led to this post on the layout and conditions of the flats on Corfield Street in the 1970s, as well as this post about the Greencoats Tenants Association. You can find the Waterlow Estate Facebook Group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/WaterlowEstate/

11 Comments

  1. George Copeland ran the Ainsley Street shop before Pete had it. I remember him only vaguely as I was only young. I think he helped organise the Coronation Party in 1953 which was held in what was the yard between Wilmot and Corfield Streets. In the 60s, I was one of Pete’s paperboys.

    • Sydney

      January 6, 2018 at 1:46 pm

      thank you Paul, i’ll have to continue my research and update with details of Copelands. Lesley had mentioned it in her interview but i hadn’t managed to find anymore information about the shop. Do you have any specific memories of your time working there or of the shop and of George himself ?

  2. Gordon Collingwood

    January 5, 2018 at 3:16 pm

    Paul Granger is correct that shop was owned by Georgie & Rosie Copeland they also had a son Johnny and a daughter Linda , when they sold the business to the Hambletons, Georgie and family moved to Hainult (Laurel Close) , l helped out in that shop from about 1959 to 1964 ish, if I remember Paul lived in a top floor flat in Ainsley Street, also the Ball family Linda, Alan, Archie & Steven , My family flat was at 229 Corfield Street, had some wonderfull times with people I knew Frankie Bennett, Johnny Costigan from Wilmot Street, whilst we are on about Wilmot Street the shop at the end by the Lamb was the Arnold’s sweet shop and Osbornes Cafe of which that family had many ties will the Boxing fraternity especially over the Yorkie, anyone who was dragged up in those times should remember Barmy Park but I suppose in this day and age I,m not being PC

    • Sydney

      January 14, 2018 at 12:41 pm

      Thank you Gordon, for all those extra details. I hadn’t known the names of the shop and the cafe on Three Colts Lane.

  3. I also remember a shop on the corner of Corfield Street and Three Colts Lane in the 50’s/60’s called ‘Vikki’s’. I think it was primarily a grocers. On the opposite corner of Corfield Street was Ron’s the Barbers.

  4. My name is Belnda Harman. I am the current admin of the FB Group The renamed The Streets of the Waterlow Estate and Bethnal Green. I took it over when it was about to be closed down a few years ago when it was called The Waterlow Estate and named all the streets of the Waterlow Estate.

    It is still based on those streets but I have widened its area to include Bethnal Green. Which has led to many new members and the gathering of some great photographs and information. We even have a member who was in a 1950s TV documentary based on a Bethnal Green family. I am happy to archive all these memories, and hope to exhibit them at some point in the future.

    John Mossell the original founder and I have very special memories of the Waterlow Estate. I started life in Wilmot Street in 1961 I’m a little older than John, I remember going into the corner shop which I knew as ‘Phylise’s’ as a small child, I remember the smell of the sugar as you walked into the small but clean and friendly shop. I think Pete and Phylise must have been there earlier than 1966 as I have vivid memories of spending my sixpence a day pocket money in there as a very small child in the early 1960s. They had machines on the wall outside selling cigarettes and cartons of Milk for when they were closed.

    I recently posted some modern day photographs of Bethnal Green Road and members recounted their memories of some of the shops that serviced the tenants of the waterlow estate and Bethnal Green back in the day.
    There was previously a grocery shop on the corner where where Tesco’s now stands. I think if you check out photographs from the early 1900s you will see the building I’m talking about, with the two doors on the corner.

    Before the Key Markets were there at the end of Wilmot Street, a member of our group recently told of what was on the site of the Key Market supermarket now MacDonalds. The original shops on that site were bombed out in the WW2. Please check out the conversation and info which you can add to your great website.

  5. This has brought back many memories from my youth we lived in Wilmot street no 275 and 275 top floor we had two flats with a door through to the bedrooms, and when the tally man knocked at one door we opened the other and said they had moved , I got married from that flat walking down those winding concrete stairs in my wedding dress trying not to trip, my youngest sister was born there in October 70 and I remember the doctors from the London hospital running up to the top floor with the gas and air completely out of breath and my mum walking round the room telling them what they could do with it, they were student doctors and never attended a home delivery before they just stood there until she was ready to deliver then one felt unwell when my sister was born. We spent many happy times in Wilmot street when I was at school in 66 my friends family owned/worked in that shop his name was Ron chambers their children were Christine and Keith. On another note the photo of the lady outside the shop looks remarkably like my nan. Thanks for bringing back lovely memories

    • Sydney

      January 14, 2018 at 12:43 pm

      Hello Sue,

      Thanks for your kind comments. I’m really pleased that the site has brought back good memories of living on the Waterlow Estate. Those winding concrete stairs still exist in the blocks on the East side of Wilmot Street, although they’ve been upgraded in the Barrett blocks on the Western side.

  6. Gill MORLEY nee SHEPHARD

    January 12, 2018 at 2:46 am

    Does anyone recall The Shephard Shop in Bethnal Green, or Derek SHEPHARD living at 225 Wilmot Street, Bethnal Green early 1960’s
    My SHEPHARD family lived in many streets in BG, too many to mention all but a few of them were 308 Corfield Street, 451 Bethnal Green Road, Waterloo Road Workhouse, Seabright Street nos.12,16,42,68+84 when families stuck together.
    Gill nee SHEPHARD

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