Fieldgate Mansions, E1

Block in/near Whitechapel, existing between 1907 and now.

(51.51663 -0.06315, 51.516 -0.063) 
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Fieldgate Mansions is a significant complex of tenement dwellings that was constructed between 1903 and 1907.

The history of this area traces back to the 1790s when Thomas Barnes established a narrow alley, measuring 10 feet wide, between New Road and York Street (later known as Myrdle Street) on the London Hospital estate. Over time, the alley became lined with small one- and two-storey houses, initially named Essex Street and later renamed Romford Street in 1882. However, the condition of this area did not reflect well on the hospital, prompting discussions about its closure.

In 1897, Rowland Plumbe, the hospital’s surveyor, devised a plan to widen Romford Street and redevelop both sides with terraced houses, including top-floor workshops. However, the proposal faced challenges, with concerns raised about limited space at the rear of the houses. The London County Council (LCC) denied permission for the road widening, leading Plumbe to revise the plan. Seeking LCC approval, Plumbe met with Thomas Blashill, the LCC’s Superintending Architect, and Arthur Crow, the District Surveyor for Whitechapel. Eventually, LCC approval was obtained, with the condition that the new houses would not exceed a height of 24 feet.

Davis Brothers, consisting of Israel and Hyman Davis, were chosen as the developers for the project. However, Plumbe encountered difficulties with Henry Legg, the District Surveyor for Mile End Old Town. As a result, the southern part of the project was abandoned as the land was compulsorily purchased for the construction of Myrdle Street School. The northern part was reconfigured to extend to Myrdle Street, and in 1903, Israel Davis (Hyman had passed away in 1902) planned the construction of tenements. The London Hospital granted 80-year leases and entrusted the design to Rowland Plumbe & Harvey. Construction began in late 1903, and by the end of 1905, the west side of Romford Street was mostly built-up. The eastern and western rows, along with the final pair of blocks on Fieldgate Street (known as Nos 33 and 34), were completed by 1907.

Originally, there were thirty-four blocks or sets of dwellings in Fieldgate Mansions, each consisting of eight one-bedroom flats, accommodating a total of thirty-two people. The buildings were constructed with red brick, adorned with variegated stock-brick bands on the upper storeys. Notably, the elevations featured arched gablets over fire-resistant (concrete) open staircases, adding architectural interest. The initial residents of the Mansions were predominantly Jewish immigrants.

Over the years, the ownership of the leases changed hands, leading to neglected repairs by unscrupulous companies and agents acting as slum landlords. During the war, Blocks 20 to 22 at the south end of Romford Street were destroyed by a bomb. By the 1950s, overcrowding became a recognized problem. In 1961, Edith Ramsay organized a conference to address the growing issue of prostitution in the area. The attendees advocated for improved lighting to discourage casual sexual activities in the playgrounds situated between and behind the mansions, which were often bridged by laundry lines. In the political landscape, St Mary’s Ward, including this area, elected three Communist councillors in 1964 and 1968.

Starting in 1972, Fieldgate Mansions and the surrounding streets, particularly Myrdle Street and Parfett Street, became a haven for squatters, with the exception of the eastern row of Fieldgate Mansions. This wave of squatting was inspired by the London Squatters Campaign, which was established in 1968 with the aim of providing housing for families from hostels or slums. This movement gave rise to various local offshoots and eventually led to licensed squatting. One notable figure, Terry Fitzpatrick, collaborated with homeless Bengalis through the Bengali Family Housing Association to establish squatted tenure not only in Fieldgate Mansions but also in other parts of East London. In 1976, the Bengali Housing Action Group (commonly known as ’bhag’, meaning ’tiger’ in Bengali) was formed.

In response to the situation, Tower Hamlets Council sought assistance from the Greater London Council (GLC) to address the issue of squatting and improve living conditions in the area. In 1979, Levitt Bernstein Associates, an architectural firm, along with Frances Bradshaw and Geoffrey Morris, conducted a feasibility study for the rehabilitation and conversion of the remaining 256 flats in Fieldgate Mansions on behalf of the Samuel Lewis Housing Trust. Subsequently, the Parfett Street Housing Action Area was established in 1983 through the GLC’s Area Improvement & Modernisation office. This designation enabled access to improvement grants and aimed to encourage existing residents to remain in the area. The housing action area encompassed all of Fieldgate Mansions.

The conversion plans involved creating maisonettes by merging some flats to alleviate overcrowding and accommodate larger families, particularly within the close-knit Bengali population mentioned in a GLC press release. While the overall treatment of the buildings remained conservative, the renovation included the addition of balconettes and the demolition of one block on the west side of Romford Street to make room for a tenants’ meeting room. Levitt Bernstein Associates were responsible for the design, while Fordham Bros Ltd of Dagenham undertook the construction in the initial two phases between 1983 and 1985. Subsequently, Thomas Bates & Son Ltd carried out the work in the three later phases from 1986 to 1991, which included the construction of a communal building and a playground.

Main source: Survey of London
Further citations and sources

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Born here
Carolyn Hirst   
Added: 16 Jul 2022 15:21 GMT   

Henry James Hirst
My second great grandfather Henry James Hirst was born at 18 New Road on 11 February 1861. He was the eighth of the eleven children of Rowland and Isabella Hirst. I think that this part of New Road was also known at the time as Gloucester Terrace.



Vic Stanley   
Added: 24 Feb 2024 17:38 GMT   

The postcode is SE15, NOT SE1

Added: 17 Feb 2024 00:08 GMT   

No 36 Upper East Smithfield
My great great grandfather was born at No 36 Upper East Smithfield and spent his early years staring out at a "dead wall" of St Katharine’s Docks. His father was an outfitter and sold clothing for sailors. He describes the place as being backed by tenements in terrible condition and most of the people living there were Irish.


Kevin Pont   
Added: 16 Feb 2024 20:32 GMT   

Name origin
Interestingly South Lambeth derives its name from the same source as Lambeth itself - a landing place for lambs.

But South Lambeth has no landing place - it is not on the River Thames


C Hobbs   
Added: 31 Jan 2024 23:53 GMT   

George Gut (1853 - 1861)
George Gut, Master Baker lived with his family in Long Lane.
George was born in Bernbach, Hesse, Germany and came to the UK sometime in the 1840s. In 1849, George married an Englishwoman called Matilda Baker and became a nauralized Englishman. He was given the Freedom of the City of London (by Redemption in the Company of Bakers), in 1853 and was at that time, recorded as living at 3 Long Lane. In the 1861 census, George Gut was living at 11 Long Lane.

Emma Beach   
Added: 18 Jan 2024 04:33 GMT   

William Sutton Thwaites
William Sutton Thwaites was the father of Frances Lydia Alice Knorr nee Thwaites�’�’she was executed in 1894 in Melbourne, Victoria Australia for infanticide. In the year prior to his marriage, to her mother Frances Jeanette Thwaites nee Robin, William Sutton was working as a tailor for Mr Orchard who employed four tailors in the hamlet of Mile End Old Town on at Crombies Row, Commercial Road East.

Source: 1861 England Census Class: Rg 9; Piece: 293; Folio: 20; Page: 2; GSU roll: 542608

Added: 15 Jan 2024 15:44 GMT   

Simon De Charmes, clockmaker
De Charmes (or Des Charmes), Simon, of French Huguenot extraction. Recorded 1688 and Free of the Clockmakers’ Company 1691-1730. In London until 1704 at least at ’his House, the Sign of the Clock, the Corner of Warwick St, Charing Cross’. See Brian Loomes The Early Clockmakers of Great Britain, NAG Press, 1981, p.188

Born here
Jacqueline Mico   
Added: 14 Jan 2024 07:29 GMT   

Robert Bolam
This is where my grandad was born, he went on to be a beautiful man, he became a shop owner, a father, and grandfather, he lost a leg when he was a milkman and the horse kicked him, then opened a shop in New Cross and then moved to Lewisham where he had a Newsagents and tobacconists.

Tom Hughes   
Added: 5 Jan 2024 14:11 GMT   

4 Edwardes Terrace
In 1871, Mrs. Blake, widow of Gen. Blake, died in her home at 4 Edwardes Terrace, leaving a fortune of 140,000 pounds, something like 20 million quid today. She left no will. The exact fortune may have been exaggerated but for years claimants sought their share of the "Blake millions" which eventually went to "the Crown."



Whitechapel is a neighbourhood whose heart is Whitechapel Road itself, named for a small chapel of ease dedicated to St Mary.

By the late 1500s Whitechapel and the surrounding area had started becoming 'other half' of London. Located downwind of the genteel sections of west London which were to see the expansion of Westminster Abbey and construction of Buckingham Palace, it naturally attracted the more fragrant activities of the city, particularly tanneries, breweries, foundries (including the Whitechapel Bell Foundry which later cast Philadelphia's Liberty Bell and also Big Ben), slaughterhouses and, close by to the south, the gigantic Billingsgate fish market, famous in its day for the ornately foul language of the extremely Cockney fishwomen who worked there.

Population shifts from rural areas to London from the 1600s to the mid 1800s resulted in great numbers of more or less destitute people taking up residence amidst the industries and mercantile interests that had attracted them. By the 1840s Whitechapel, along with the enclaves of Wapping, Aldgate, Bethnal Green, Mile End, Limehouse and Stepney (collectively known today as the East End), had evolved, or devolved, into classic 'dickensian' London. Whitechapel Road itself was not particularly squalid through most of this period - it was the warren of small dark streets branching from it that contained the greatest suffering, filth and danger, especially Dorset St., Thrawl St., Berners St. (renamed Henriques St.), Wentworth St. and others.

In the Victorian era the base population of poor English country stock was swelled by immigrants from all over, particularly Irish and Jewish. 1888 saw the depredations of the Whitechapel Murderer, later known as 'Jack the Ripper'. In 1902, American author Jack London, looking to write a counterpart to Jacob Riis's seminal book How the Other Half Lives, donned ragged clothes and boarded in Whitechapel, detailing his experiences in The People of the Abyss. Riis had recently documented the astoundingly bad conditions in the leading city of the United States. Jack London, a socialist, thought it worthwhile to explore conditions in the leading city of the nation that had created modern capitalism. He concluded that English poverty was far rougher than the American variety. The juxtaposition of the poverty, homelessness, exploitive work conditions, prostitution, and infant mortality of Whitechapel and other East End locales with some of the greatest personal wealth the world has ever seen made it a focal point for leftist reformers of all kinds, from George Bernard Shaw, whose Fabian Society met regularly in Whitechapel, to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who boarded and led rallies in Whitechapel during his exile from Russia.

Whitechapel remained poor (and colourful) through the first half of the 20th Century, though somewhat less desperately so. It suffered great damage in the V2 German rocket attacks and the Blitz of World War II. Since then, Whitechapel has lost its notoriety, though it is still thoroughly working class. The Bangladeshis are the most visible migrant group there today and it is home to many aspiring artists and shoestring entrepreneurs.

Since the 1970s, Whitechapel and other nearby parts of East London have figured prominently in London's art scene. Probably the most prominent art venue is the Whitechapel Art Gallery, founded in 1901 and long an outpost of high culture in a poor neighbourhood. As the neighbourhood has gentrified, it has gained citywide, and even international, visibility and support.

Whitechapel, is a London Underground and London Overground station, on Whitechapel Road was opened in 1876 by the East London Railway on a line connecting Liverpool Street station in the City of London with destinations south of the River Thames. The station site was expanded in 1884, and again in 1902, to accommodate the services of the Metropolitan District Railway, a predecessor of the London Underground. The London Overground section of the station was closed between 2007 and 27 April 2010 for rebuilding, initially reopening for a preview service on 27 April 2010 with the full service starting on 23 May 2010.

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Buxton Street art, Spitalfields
TUM image id: 1653776269
Licence: CC BY 2.0

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