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: three colts lane

Waterlow Estate in 1965

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

I was right to be excited by Peter’s offer, this is a rare glimpse at the blocks that used to sit on Finnis and the western side of Corfield Street. They and the inscription are now lost as the blocks were demolished in the mid 1970s (you can glimpse them along with the inscription in this image).

The full text of the inscription reads –

Waterlow Buildings
Bethnal Green
Dwellings for 1025 Families
Erected by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Co. Ltd

I asked Peter how he came to take the photograph: “I used to live in Highams Park and regularly took the train to Liverpool Street, so I saw Waterlow Buildings from the train and was quite taken with the distinctive Victorian style of the inscription: “Erected by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company” which I had often seen from the train. One day I got off the train at Bethnal Green and photographed it. The photo was taken from the platform of Bethnal Green Station.

All I knew of Waterlow Buildings was what I could see from the train. As it happens my father was born in the Bethnal Green Road and attended the school in Wilmot Street, but he had moved away during the 1920s.

I think I would have been interested in Waterlow Buildings in any case. The sheer scale of the estate was impressive, if rather forbidding”

Other than the inscription I was also struck by the dark and grubby condition of the brickwork, I asked Peter if this was a product of the film stock or whether the buildings did appear to be so dark in person –

“The photo was taken on Kodachrome. I’d say the colours are fairly accurate, allowing for the fact that – to judge from the sky – it was taken on a dull day. At that date much of inner London, including many of the famous buildings, was still blackened from a century of London soot. Some films of the time bear this out – e.g. The Ipcress File. Cleaning was just starting; I think St Paul’s Cathedral was one of the first of the famous buildings to be cleaned. It is sometimes hard to believe how London looked then compared with today.

Recently I took a nostalgia trip on the same line from Liverpool Street to see what had changed. I tried to make out what had happened to Waterlow Buildings and how much had survived, and this was what led me to your website”.

Thank you to Peter for taking the time to share his photograph and memories of the buildings as he saw them on his daily commute in the 1960s.

I went up to the Bethnal Green Station platform today and took a photograph from roughly the same spot.

The same view of Finnis Street taken from the platform of Bethnal Green Overground station in 2018. You can see the block on the eastern side of Corfield Street still standing.

Related – Here’s an image of these Finnis / Corfield Street blocks during demolition

Photographs of Corfield and Finnis Street

In a recent post (Memories of growing up on Corfield Street) I mentioned that I have come across a number of photographs of Corfield Street before the blocks on Western side of the Street were demolished. As promised here are the photographs (with sources where available).

Corfield Street 1968.

Source: London and Middlesex Archaeological Society Journal Vol22 part1 (http://www.lamas.org.uk/transactions-archive/Vol%2022.pdf)

Corfield Street, looking North from Three Colts Lane. c1970

Source: unknown

The rest are a series of photographs by Andrew Scott which were posted on the Spitalfields Life website.

Looking north up Corfield Street. The blocks on the left are boarded up ready for demolition.

Inside one of the Corfield Street flats.

Below I’ve posted a couple of images showing Corfield Street today, both are taken looking South to North.

Returning now to Andrew Scott’s photographs, but this time showing Finnis Street.

This is a guess but I think this photograph is taken from the rear of the now demolished Western side blocks on Corfield Street looking North West toward the rear of Finnis Street buildings with the Wilmot Street blocks in the far distance.

This is looking North towards Ainsley Street somewhere between Finnis and Corfield Street. By the looks of things this is during the demolition of the Corfield and Finnis Street blocks seen in the earlier photograph. You can also see a portion of what is now the Hague School on the left (this school used to be known as Wilmot Street Primary, and the Hague school was situated in the building which still stands on Mape Street). The blocks on the right are the rear of the now demolished western Corfield blocks.

This is a similar angle looking up through Finnis Street today.

Finally an image of Three Colts Lane with Ron’s Saloon to the right (also mentioned here). This photograph is by Tony Hall and is featured on Spitalfields Life.

If you look at the plans below (from the Metropolitan Archive) you can get an idea of where these photographs could have been taken.