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.

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 ?,


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.


  1. John Perry

    Bernard may well have known my brother Robert Perry same age as Bernard and went to Parmiters after the war. We lived at 266 Corfield street where I was born. I understood there was some bomb damage in 1940 and we had to move out. We lived with friends for a while until we were re-housed in Dagenham. I was only 3 in 1940. However, at 15 I returned to work for Bethnal Green Council for the next 40 years (some of course with Tower Hamlets Council)

    • B.Catt

      I didn’t know any of the people you mentioned, I was at the age when I did not take a lot of notice of people around me, other than relatives. I would be interested to know if you have any idea of the bomb damage in1944.Could it be the unexploded bomb I referred to and people had to move out as precaution?

  2. Janis Edwards (as was)

    My Dad James Cecil Edwards was Mayor of Bethnal Green throughout the war, and was also given the OBE for Bomb Disposal by King George. I’m sure he probably attended the incident mentioned. My Mum lived in Finnis St, with her parents Ralph and Lucy Burston then married my Dad (born in Treadway Street) and they lived at 116 Wilmot from about 1940 to 1962. We then moved to Cranbrook Estate in Ames House, then on to Alzette House.

  3. Ron Richards

    I lived at number 12 Corfield st from 1938 when I was born until 1959 when I got married and moved to 20 Finnis st. I lived with my Nan and Mum at number 12 and knew many people on the estate. As a kid the barber shop on the corner of corfield st was run by a Mr Cole and later years by a guy with a false leg named Ron. The shop on the corner of Ainsley st and Wilmot st was run by a guy named Georgie Copeland.I went to the good shepard mission in the Boys brigade which was run by a Mr Shaw.

    • Maureen McGowan

      Do you remember Ted and Amy Molden that lived in No 7 Corfield Street?

  4. Barry Smith

    It has been very interesting reading all the comments about Wilmot Street. My Aunt Molly and her husband Sam Wastell owned the green grocers in Three Colts Lane and my Grand parents owned a cafe two or three doors along. The photo of the little girl with her mother and the priest in the back ground is talking to Sam Wastell, they lived Wilmot Street I think it was 126. The comments about the man winning the football pools is true. He used to live downstairs from the Wastell’s, and did pay a weeks rent for everyone who lived in his block. His name was Charlie ( can’t remember his surname) but the newspapers nicknamed him “champagne ” Charlie. He bought my Aunt a brooch and for himself a Rover P5 Rover 1966. My aunt was born in her flat and lived there for 92 years until she was moved out to a home so that the flats could be redeveloped

    • Sydney

      Hi Barry, thanks so much for your kind comments and for sharing some of your own family history with the estate. Some great details on Charlie there as well thank you, I’ve been trying to write up a story about him for a few months now but I don’t have the complete picture yet ! .. the detail of the car and buying your Aunt a broach is great.

      • Shirley nee Beard

        Although Charlie worked for the LEB his hobby was repairing watches. My father saved silver three penny pieces and Charlie made bracelets for my sister and me one of which I still have (the other was stolen in a burglary many years later). When Charlie won the pools it was just after the prize money for pools winners was increased from £75,000 which was why his win generated so much national news.

  5. ivan rabanski

    wastells in three colts lane was a fishmonger who may have sold green groceries he was a nice old man

    • Shirley nee Beard

      Wastells was in two parts, one side for fish and the other side green groceries. My father, born in 1905, before school would unhitch their horse after they had been to market and ride it to it’s stable in Brady Street and bed it down

  6. Janice Stichbury Riley

    My Stichbury family are originally from Bethnal Green. They owned James Stichbury and Sons Fried Fish Shop in 1898 through at least 1920 when it might have been called Frederick George Stichbury Fried Fish Shop. It became Feigenbaums by 1924 and was run, I think, by Louis Goldman. It was on the corner of Three Colts Lane, number 1. Does anyone have any photos of it or information about it. Thanks.

  7. Richard Mundy

    I was born in Corfield St in June 1965. We moved to 202 Wilmot St when I was 1. We live opposite Pete’s sweet shop. I was surrounded my Great Grandmother Grandparents Aunts Uncle and lots of cousin’s. I grew up with a huge amount of love and care. Our family names were Mundy North Murry Richardson Cassidy and Farmer.

  8. Richard Mundy

    It was a good childhood. I never felt poor. Went to Hague School and looked over and helped build Weavers adventure playground.
    Not sure you would give a 6 year old a 6″ nail and hammer these days

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