Boundary Street was at first called Cock Lane.
After the Dissolution of the monasteries, the local gardens and folds passed into private hands.
The various parcels of land became known by names such as Preston’s Gardens and Swan Field (later Mount Street and now Swanfield Street
. At some point. Cock Lane was formed with a curious L shape.
Cock Lane was already graced with some buildings according to a 1703 map. It seems to be first mentioned in the 1670s when a Gray’s Inn lawyer called John Nichol bought just under five acres of land ’between the two arms of Cock Lane’. In the fields there he built seven houses.
In 1680 he leased the land to a mason - Jon Richardson. Richardson then subleased his land to builders to construct houses. Virginia Row and Old Castle Street
had been built in the 1680s. Also in the 1680s, Nichol Street (later Old Nichol Street
) was developed. Nichol Row was added by 1703: New Nichol Street dates from 1705 and later Half Nichol Street.
Many of the Huguenots - whose main trade was silk-weaving - arrived from France in the 1690s and settled here. Mount Street (Rose Street) existed by 1725. Between there and Half Nichol Street lay fields until the first decade of the nineteenth century.
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, the Old Nichol slum began as the rest of the area was urbanised with close-knit housing. ‘Old Nichol’ eventually became a byword for the worst of London’s slum housing. The area was immortalised in Morrison’s 1896 work, ’The Child of the Jago’.
The predominant industry in the Old Nichol was cabinet making, chair manufacturing, French polishing and allied industries. The furniture trade was accelerated after 1820, as it was possible to bring in imported timber via the Regent’s Canal. When in 1890, 15 acres of slum clearance was proposed, in this area alone, there were 120 cabinet makers, 74 chair makers and 24 wood cutters and sawyers.
In the 1890s, the London County Council (LCC) decided to rebuild an area of 15-acres, including the Old Nichol slum and Snow estate. What became known as the Bethnal Green Improvement Scheme demolished 730 houses and displaced 5719 residents.
Owen Fleming designed the Boundary Street scheme. He retained only Boundary Street in the west and Mount Street in the east. Fleming designed 50 feet-wide tree lined streets to radiate from an ornamental space called Arnold Circus
Old Nichol Street
was also widened and extended to Mount Street and renamed Swanfield Street
. The LCC architects designed 21 and Rowland Plumbe two of 23 blocks containing between 10 and 85 tenements each. A total of 1069 tenements, mostly two or three-roomed, were planned to accommodate 5524 persons. The project was hailed as setting "new aesthetic standards for housing the working classes". It included a new laundry, 188 shops and 77 workshops. The two schools, Rochelle School, which was built in 1879, and Virginia School, built in 1887, predated the estate. Churches were also preserved. Building for the project began in 1893.
The new flats replaced the existing slums with decent accommodation for the same number of people, but with a change of occupiers. The new blocks had policies to enforce sobriety and the new tenants included clerks, policemen and nurses.
Such was the success of the campaign, that the Prince of Wales officially opened the estate in early March 1900.
The impresarios and brothers Lew Grade and Bernard Delfont (born Winogradsky) moved to the Boundary Estate in 1914, from nearby Brick Lane
and attended Rochelle Street
School. At that time, 90% of children attending the school spoke Yiddish.