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: wilmot street

Marketing leaflet from Barrett Homes

Today I was contacted by Gareth, who said

“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.

All that talk of being near to Channel Ports sounds quite dated, I can’t imagine many residents were jumping their car and nipping off for a weekend in the South of France but perhaps I’m wrong.

You can see a more complete breakdown of the Barrett layouts in the two blueprints reproduced below.

Speaking of idyllic scenes there was a plan at one point to close off Wilmot Street to traffic. There is a drawing of how that could look in some of the original plans from Barrett. This seems to be looking south down Wilmot Street with the school on the left.

Barrett also explored the idea of putting two bed houses along one side of Corfield Gardens although that never came to fruition.

On a related note I also recently spotted these Barrett ‘ghost signs’ on the corner of Wilmot Street and Bethnal Green Road. I’m guessing that they date from the early 1980s redevelopment.]

I’m always excited to hear from readers who have stories, photographs or any other material from any era of the estate. If you do have something to share then leave me a comment below and I’ll get back in touch via email.

 

Minstrels in the Courtyard

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!”

 

The Waterlow Estate under scaffold

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 !

Credit to John Mossell of the Waterlow Estate group for finding this gem (https://www.facebook.com/groups/WaterlowEstate/)

Memories of the Waterlow Estate 1928-1963

A few months ago I received message from a gentleman named Bernard. He outlined his long relationship with the estate which went all the way back to his birth on Finnis St (No 21) …

“..In 1928 , and in time went to Wilmot St. school. We then moved to Wilmot St.(No22) and I went to Stuart Headlam school, through the arch across Three Colts Lane,on the right hand side, opposite Barnsley St. From there I was evacuated to Suffolk until after the bombing stopped. That’s another story. After the war my wife and I lived in No.327 Corfield St. for a time”

He also responded to my post about a photograph I’d found of Wilmot St before or during WW2. His Message:

“A bomb did fall in Wilmot Street and although I was evacuated at the time, my mother told me about it.The bomb landed in the backyard and went under my parents bedroom at number 22. Fortunately, it didn’t explode. After this everybody had to leave. After a few days and before the Bomb Disposable people arrived my mother went back in she said ”to get the insurance books”. The air raid warden saw her and she got a severe ticking off ”Don’t you know that walking on that floor could have set that bomb off”

I dropped Benard a line and he very kindly agreed to talk further with me about his memories of the Waterlow Estate.

You mentioned that you were born on Finnis Street in 1928, do you know how long your family had lived there ?

I suspect that it was near enough from the time they were married in 1926.

What did your family do ?

My father was an iron moulder, which was an apprenticeship, so he must have started at about 14 yrs old. He was excluded from armed forces service because his job was in the exempt class. My mother in her early days worked as a ‘finisher’ for a baby clothes firm, then worked for Godfrey Phillips – the cigarette manufacturer – then on to Allen & Hanburys – the well-known pharmaceutical company as a cook in the Directors restaurant.

The rear of the Corfield Street buildings in 1966.  Taken from the Allen and Hanburys carpark (now the Pillbox building). Reproduced with the permission of The Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.

Did you have any relatives living nearby ?

My aunt lived in Corfield Street on the corner with Ainsley St, and a cousin who lived near the top end of Wilmot St, not far from Phillip & Scoones, a drapers store.

How old were you when your family moved to Wilmot Street ?

I must have been around 5 or 6 yrs old when we moved to Wilmot St.

Can you describe your childhood when living on Finnis and Wilmot Street ?

I have very few memories of my time in Finnis St, just snatches of memory of Wilmot St School, although it was a period when I wore leg irons but still annoyed my mother in running around the yard there. I can’t remember moving to Wilmot St, but went to Stewart Headlam School from there. Was also evacuated to Suffolk, aged ten.

Can you tell me about your experience during the war ?

During the war i went to a small village and was billeted with 3 other boys. school was intermittent. after a time I learned I had passed the 11-plus exam, and went to the West Suffolk County School. Sometime, I think in l944, I came home and went to Parmiter’s School in Approach Rd. until the VI’s and V’2 – flying bombs and rockets – began to fall. I then went back to Suffolk, but to a different area.

Considering the size of the estate it’s amazing that it remained unscathed from the Blitz, was there a lot of damage nearby that you remember ?

I have mentioned elsewhere on the website about the unexploded bomb under my parents flat. A buzz bomb landed on the Francis of Assisi Church at the Cambridge Rd end of Three Colts lane.. but as far as I know that was the nearest damage.

You then mention that you married and that you and your wife moved into a flat on Corfield Street, which year was this ?

My wife and I married in 1950 and moved into a flat in Corfield St (No.327) and We lived in Corfield St for 7 yrs.

It’s quite extraordinary that you lived in nearly every street in the Estate. Do you remember the buildings themselves ? .. were they in good condition at that time ?, Do you know if they had been altered much from their original Victorian state ?

I certainly remember the buildings, and they were in very good condition, except in certain areas, for instance, we lived then in No.22, which was a basement flat and the front room was damp. I slept there and as a consequence became asthmatic in later years. There was no sign of any alterations to the original building having taken place.

Was the roof pitched or flat when you lived there ? .. were you able to gain access to the roofs ?

The roof was flat. Sometimes we played up there, and some of the residents hung washing on the roof.

Do any local characters or stories spring to mind ?

I remember that Sir Percy Harris was our Liberal M.P. and my Wife was at school with the Kray twins (dubious claim to fame, but says they were nice enough boys then).

Are there any particular local shops, businesses or pubs that you remember ?

Phillips and Scoones, the only apartment store in the district. Wastells, the local greengrocer in 3 Colts Lane. Three pubs, The Lamb on the corner of 3 Colts lane and Wilmot St.The Lion, through the arch opposite Wilmot St. The Good Shepherd Mission on the other corner of Wilmot St. Feganbaums, the fish shop at the corner of 3 Colts lane – who later moved business to the main B.G road. The third pub was at the end of Three Colts Lane and Dunbridge Street.

Were you still living in the area when any demolition or remodelling took place ? .. I’ve been unable to find much photographic evidence of the Finnis Street buildings so I’m not sure how they looked .. Do you remember if there were blocks on both sides of the road ?

No, I left before the changes took place. There were blocks on both sides of Finnis St, except were the school was.

When did you move away ?,

1960.

Have you been back and visited since you left ?

Yes,our family took us back for a visit 2 yrs ago. We couldn’t trace our flat as I believe they had been made larger by incorporating 2 flats into one and the numbers had been changed.

I’m also doing some research at the moment on the streets that were eventually demolished to become Weavers Fields, (Mape, Seabright, Viaduct, Sale St etc etc), do you remember this area at all ?

My wife and I remember those streets. She lived in Sale street until she was 16 years old and then moved to Loughton Essex. There was nothing memorable about them.

Photograph of Seabright and Cheshire Street, pre 1939. Reproduced with the permission of The Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.

I’m especially interested in Saint Andrews Church as no photographs of it seem to exist .. do you remember the church ?

I know of it. I was baptised there because somewhere I have a card that says so but I cannot find it.

 

Thank you to Bernard and his wife for taking the time to give such full and detailed answers. If you have memories of the area and would like to share please leave a comment below and I’ll drop you a line.

A.R.P. Parade

A few weeks ago I posted an image I’d found online showing the A.R.P. (Air Raid Protection) parading on Wilmot Street. The image was dated 1938, but people commented that this was probably too early (given that war hadn’t broken out yet).

On a recent visit to the Tower Hamlets Local History Library I found a few more pictures taken of the same parade.

These images are reproduced with the permission of The Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.

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).

 

Bethnal Green Police Station

On the corner of Ainsley Street and Bethnal Green Rd sits an interesting building. Numbered 458 Bethnal Green Road, it is now the home of Providence Row Housing Association who work in the local area helping people at risk of homelessness. However it was once Bethnal Green Police Station.

Bethnal Green Police Station c1984

I’m unsure when the Police Station closed but I’ve managed to find two pieces of video footage showing the Station when it was up and running. The first seems to be some exterior library shots for Thames TV News from the 1980s.

The second is more extensive and is a collection of footage and photographs from someone who worked in CID. The video is captioned as being shot in 1991.

Historically the station was home to the J Division from around 1868 until 1933 when it fell under the H or Whitechapel division. There’s a fairly detailed breakdown of the history of the station on Bryn Elliot’s Police history site.

Bethnal Green Police Station c1907

There is also a mention in the London Echo of extra police patrols during the era of Jack the Ripper:

During the month of August, and up to the 8th instant, when Annie Chapman was killed, the following beats were covered by the men of the J Division quartered at Bethnal green, these forming what is known as the “Second Section night duty.” The first police constable would commence his two beats at Wilmot street, three Colt land, Cheshire street, Mape street, Bethnal green road, to Wilmot street, and the interior, this consisting of a few streets, courts, passages, &c. The second constable would cover Three Colt lane, Collingwood street, Darling row, Dog row, Whitechapel road, Brady street, to Three Colt lane, and the interior, this consisting of about twenty streets, courts, passages

You can read the full article here.

Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find much more about the Police Station. I’d love to hear from anyone that knows about it’s history. Please get in touch via the comments.

further links:

 

More from the Archives

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 :

Pictures from the Archives

As mentioned in another post, I visited the Metropolitan Archive a little while ago and managed to get a look at two IIDC documents. There was a book of land valuations and another of plans for various blocks around London. Both books seemed to be very old or at least featured original plans and documents that were very old (the drawings are dated 1870).

Firstly here’s some images from the valuation book :



The Waterlow Estate

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.

Extra bits,
A chapter about the establishment and layout of Bethnal Green Streets

Maps showing the development of the nearby road layout

1853

1882

1952