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.

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





  1. Nicky Lewis

    Thank you so much to whoever posted this info. it’s absolutely brilliant!!! My great grandparents, Richard and Lilian Tearle lived in the Waterlow Buildings and my grandmother and her family were born there. It has really brought them to life for me and it’s great to see the plans of what their apartments looked like. Because I knew that they were living in Bethnal Green, I had assumed that they were living in a run down apartment block – how wrong was I?!!! Richard Tearle was in the Metropolitan Police. Unfortunately he had some kind of accident and had to be pensioned out (I have yet to look at his records at Kew). Lilian, his wife, died in 1914, which left my grandmother, Winifred, in charge of the family at the age of 14!!! She moved them back to Eaton Bray, Beds. where Richard originally came from.

    Once again thanks for this fantastic insight into life in Bethnal Green.
    Kindest regards Nicky Lewis

    • Pete

      Thats a great story, Nicky.

    • Author

      Thank you Nicky for your comment and memories of your Great Grandparents.

  2. susan saunders

    I can remember being fascinated by Waterlow Buildings during the 1960’s when I passed the building in the train on the way to work. I have memories of a tenement, which stated ‘Homes for 1073? families’ on the front. does this ring any bells?

    • Author

      Hi Susan, Thank you for your comment. I will have a look around at the remaining buildings and see if any have that motto still present. I’m guessing it would have been on the building which sits next to the old Sporting Life / Lamb pub (which is now flats). You can see an angle of it in the following images:

  3. Judy Coles

    Hi thankyou for this facinating and informative website. I have worked at Hague School on Wilmot Street for many years and would love to hear people’s memories related to the history of the school and locality. We know it was Wilmot Street Board School 1873 before it became Hague Primary in 1965. We know it evolved as the school community needs changed and had close links with Stewart Headlam Sch formerly Somerford Street Sch. Some of our families still live in Corfield St and round about so we are really keen to find out more as part of our local history studies from pictures, personal or family memories you are willing to share either in this site or by contacting Hague School direct.
    Many thanks Hague Headteacher

    • Sydney

      Hello Judy. I’m really sorry I only just spotted this message ! .. many years too late. I have quite a few photographs and documents relating to the school that I can forward onto you. Hopefully you’re still at the same email address !

  4. Gerard

    This history is wonderful, and well done to you for carrying out the research. When the block of flats on Ainsley Street were built, is it possible to find out if they were build with basements?

    • Sydney

      Hi Gerard, I don’t believe so. I think the Ainsley Street blocks are similar to Corfield in that they have no lower ground floor flats.

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