The first plans for a new street in Spitalfields and Whitechapel
was made by a Select Committee on Metropolitan Improvements in August 1836. This Committee recommended the construction of a street ’from Finsbury Square
Church and the Commercial Road’, to run in a straight line from the Bishopsgate
end of Middlesex St
reet to near the southern end of Osborn St
reet. An alternative scheme put to the Committee by the chairman of the Tower Hamlets Commissioners of Sewers was, however, closer to the line finally chosen.
By 1838, the proposed path of the new road was beginning to take shape after taking into consideration the opinions of various organisations and it was considered fortuitous that the road would cut through and remove numerous slums such as those in Rose Lane and Vine St
reet. Therefore, not only would it link northern routes to Commercial Road and thus the docks, but also achieve ’the destruction of a neighbourhood inhabited by persons addicted to vices and immorality of the worst description’ (the linking of Thrawl St
reet to the new street via Keate Court in 1859 was considered a highly desirable development).
The work of clearing these densely packed and often dangerous slums was no mean task. Men worked at night to empty and fill in the ’privy-pits’ in the congested courts on the line of the street. In November of 1844, the gas-pipes were laid and by December the street line from Whitechapel
reet to Christ Church had been completely marked out. The termination of the street at the church was ridiculed ’as if the only object of the line was to enable the sailors of our merchantmen to attend divine service on Sunday’
The laying of the new road effectively wiped out a number of streets. They were Essex St
reet, Rose Lane, Red Lion St
reet, Vine St
reet and much of Wheler St
The original name for the new road was Spital St
reet, but as a street of this name already existed nearby (in Mile End New Town
), the name Commercial St
reet was agreed in September 1845 with building commencing in October.
An act of July 1846 authorised the extension of Commercial St
reet northwards (from Christ Church to Shoreditch High St
reet), though building did not start until 1851. By 1856 it had been paved as far as Fleur-de-lis St
reet and was finally completed in 1858.
reet presented a strange assortment of architectural styles, but the most popular became known as ’warehouse gothic’, examples of which are still extant today.
The cutting of Commercial St
reet through the notorious rookeries of Spitalfields failed to alleviate the criminality of the district, despite opening up notorious thoroughfares to greater scrutiny. Thus it played an important part in the lives of the local community and indeed the lives of the victims of the Whitechapel