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
This is the second of three blog posts based on my email conversations with John Mossell of The Streets of Waterlow Estate and Bethnal Green Facebook group. The first post detailing his memories of the estate can be found here.
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.
Here’s some pages from the Register of Estates :
Looking at the plans below of the Estate as it stood in 1870 it seems that there were once blocks on either side of Corfield Street, where the Barrett style houses and Ainsley Gardens are now situated.
A close up of the signed and dated text :
There’s a page missing here, I wonder if that had featured the layout of the blocks on Corfield Street ? :
I think this is the layout of the blocks on the West side of Wilmot Street :
And this the plans for the blocks on the East :
There were a number of philanthropic organisations coming into being from 1860 onwards, set up in reaction to the squalid conditions many of the working classes experienced in areas such as Bethnal Green’s notorious Jago (now the Boundary Estate).
Sir Sydney Waterlow proclaimed of his Improved Industrial Dwelling Company that
“We build for the future and look forward to the time when no family need be compelled to live in a single room. It is impossible that either sanitary or moral conditions can ever be satisfied under such a system. No proper feeling of decency or self-respect can be cultivated in families living in a single room”.
The Improved Industrial Dwellings Company started in 1863 by constructing the Langbourn Buildings in Mark Street, Finsbury (now demolished). Other than the Waterlow Estate other notable developments include the Leopold Buildings on the corner of Columbia and Hackney Road and Clarendon Flats in Mayfair. The company lasted until the 1960s by which point they owned around 6000 tenements in and around London.
The IIDC operated on a freemarket basis, although the profits were limited to 5%, the rest of the money being reinvesting into further properties and developments. Waterlow also encouraged investment from others, unlike Peabody who seemed to fashion a legacy for himself as much as he wanted to help the poor.
Links about the IIDC :
Workhouses – A site about the various Victorian philanthropic organisations.
Five per Cent Philanthropy by John Nelson Tarn
The Waterlow Estate is the collective name for the Victorian blocks of flats lining Wilmot, Ainsley and Corfield Streets in Bethnal Green, London. It was constructed from 1869 to 1890 by Sir Sydney Waterlow’s Improved Industrial Dwellings Company. The two blocks nearest Bethnal Green Rd were built first, they would have been surrounded by the old weavers cottages which were eventually cleared as the road layout was progressively altered.
This quote gives a pretty clear picture of the order in which the Estate was constructed :
“The first blocks, in the north, opened in 1869. Homes for 72 families had been completed by 1871 and for another 130 by 1873 and 90 by 1875. The School Board for London purchased ½ a. between Wilmot and Finnis streets in 1873 and work began on 21 blocks (for 210 families) in the rest of Finnis Street in 1875 and on 12 blocks for 295 families in Corfield Road in 1878. The estate, later called Waterlow, complete by 1890 and the largest built by the company, was grim and canyon-like in appearance.”
Source : A History of the County of Middlesex by T.F.T. Baker
The photograph below is taken from what is now Finnis street (then Pettits Walk) looking northwest towards Bethnal Green Rd.
Looking at the scaffolding I’m assuming it was taken during the construction of the first two blocks. It’s interesting to see that the blocks weren’t quite the shape they are now, with the top floor being set back a little.
I visited the Metropolitan Archive recently and found a number of original IIDC documents. I’ll post a few more of them in the future but this plan shows the layout of the estate on the completion of the first blocks.
A chapter about the establishment and layout of Bethnal Green Streets
Maps showing the development of the nearby road layout