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.

Category: mystery

The legend of Charlie Cooper

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.

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Wilmot Street in 1938

I recently found this photograph of A.R.P. (Air Raid Protection) parading along Wilmot Street in 1938. There’s an interesting brick structure on the west side of the road, it seems to be about 6 feet tall. I’ve no idea what it is and it’s no longer present on the street. If anyone can shed any light on this I’d appreciate the help !

UPDATE: I’ve had some suggestions that this was might have been a communal air raid shelter. Interestingly it seems that a high explosive bomb fell very near this spot on Wilmot Street at some time between October 1940 and June 1941 (link). This bomb could be related to this event referenced by the ARP WW2 Twitter project:


There is also mention of an air raid shelter near Wilmot Street in this book about the Kray Twins (Reggie Kray’s East End Stories: The lost memoirs of the gangland legend).

The structure does look similar to this communal shelter:

If you can help solve this mystery then please leave a comment !

Here’s a photograph from today from roughly the same area (although a little further north).