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Terraces, Tenements and Tower Blocks

A self-guided walk around the housing heritage of Bethnal Green

Terraces, Tenements and Tower Blocks

Bethnal Green – in the heart of the East End – has a remarkable mix of housing, ranging from Georgian villas to modern-day estates. On this self-guided walk you’ll take a closer look at this housing heritage. Walk the full route, tackle it in stages, or just nip to locations that especially interest you; however you use this booklet, we hope it gives you a sense of how housing in Bethnal Green has developed over the last 200 years.

This booklet brings together photos and research undertaken during the ‘Terraces, Tenements and Tower Blocks’ project in 2013, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. To see further photos and the historical research undertaken during the project, visit our blog and photo-gallery at We’d love to hear your feedback. Please post a comment on the blog or get in touch at Graham Barker and Natalie Clarke, Project Coordinators

Step out on our housing heritage trail Terraces

On this walk you’ll discover a diverse range of terraced housing, including handsome Georgian houses on Old Ford Road, Cyprus Street’s wellpreserved 1850s terraces, the Winkley Estate complex of live-work units developed for Victorian furniture makers, and modern copper-clad houses and flats at Claredale Street.


Victorian philanthropic housing organisations – and later the London County Council – were keen to help the ‘deserving poor’ by providing comfortable self-contained flats. Throughout this walk you’ll encounter several good examples, including Leopold Buildings on Columbia Road, the East End Dwellings Company blocks in Globe Road, and the LCC’s Boundary Estate.

Tower Blocks

The Blitz, coupled with slum clearance, triggered a flurry of residential building in the 1950s and 60s. Bethnal Green commissioned leading architects to design several large estates. As you walk, take a closer look at the innovative tower block designs of Berthold Lubetkin at the Dorset and Cranbrook Estates, and Denys Lasdun at Keeling House.

1 Boundary Estate (1890s) The Boundary Estate is England’s first council housing development, built by the LCC to replace the notorious Old Nichol slums. The centrepiece is Arnold Circus, from which seven tree-lined streets radiate. Designed with distinctive striped brickwork, all 19 of the Boundary blocks are named after places along the Thames. The estate incorporates a former laundry block, shops, and small workshops. On Club Row, St Hilda’s East community centre – rebuilt in 1993 – mirrors the stripe and chequerboard designs of the residential blocks.

2 Leopold Buildings (1872) Developed by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company – one of several philanthropic housing organisations active in the Victorian East End – Leopold Buildings offered the ‘deserving poor’ a step up. As company chairman Sir Sydney Waterlow proclaimed, “We look forward to the time when no family need be compelled to live in a single room.” Originally, residents reached their flats via tightly curling staircases, but now they use rear service towers added during the 1996 refurbishment by the Floyd Slaski Partnership.

3 Dorset Estate (1955-7) Designed by architects Skinner, Bailey & Lubetkin, the Dorset Estate is dominated by two 11-storey Y-shaped blocks, with eye-catching geometry and remarkable ‘elliptical’ staircases. The estate marked a shift towards the use of reinforced concrete in municipal housing. Block names commemorate the Tolpuddle Martyrs – early trade unionists – and the Bethnal Green borough emblem sits on high. A decade later, 20-storey Sivill House was added, with a façade featuring interlocking concrete and brick C-shapes.

4 Nag’s Head Estate (1933-7) The Nag’s Head Estate, which sits either side of Horatio Street, was named after an old Hackney Road coaching inn. As you pass the Sundial Centre, wander behind to see the vibrantly coloured extension, providing sheltered accommodation for residents with dementia. The Sundial Centre is managed by the Peabody Trust and offers exercise classes, knitting circles and IT workshops for older people. In the eastern courtyard you’ll find simple but elegant 1930s stair towers and balconies, updated with flashes of blue tiles.

5 Jesus Hospital Estate (mid 1860s) Columbia Road and several streets to the south together form the Jesus Hospital Estate; there are some 350 houses in all, including three long terraces framing the triangular green. Every Sunday morning, Columbia Road is transformed into London’s most fragrant market, packed with cut flowers and houseplants. There’s also an eclectic mix of gift shops, café-galleries, and boutiques. Around Ezra Street’s courtyard, look out for old dairy sheds and furniture workshops, a glimpse into the trading history hereabouts.

6 St Peter’s (1965-7) and Avebury East (1976) St Peter’s Church – with knapped flint walls and well-tended gardens – stands centre stage, with housing clustered around about. To the north, the St Peter’s Estate – a Tower Hamlets Council development – has a stark design, with high-level walkways, metal fin railings, and a central playground. To the south there’s the Avebury East Estate. Old maps reveal there was a fishpond here, which explains why the blocks have fishy names such as elver, grayling and mullet. In the middle, the Zander Court community centre gardens flourish.

7 Hackney Road (1820s) Handsome terraces run along the north side of Hackney Road, built as quality housing for the middle classes. Three-storey terraces, with long front gardens (Nos 337-53) lead towards pairs of villas, with arched windows and tented iron porches (Nos 359-61) and an 1820 date stone (Nos 363-65). To the west, the former Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Sick Children – founded in 1866 to meet a pressing need for paediatric healthcare – is currently being redeveloped into housing.

8 Keeling House (1955-9) Towering over Claredale Street, Keeling House was controversial when erected in the late 1950s – a time when building ‘streets in the sky’ was considered the way forward. But it has since become a landmark admired, and inhabited, by architectural aficionados. This sixteen-storey ‘cluster block’ – with maisonettes angled out in four wings from a central service tower – was designed by Denys Lasdun to maximise sunlight and privacy. Lasdun also designed Silkin and Trevelyan Houses, south of Roman Road.

9 Claredale Street (2009-10) This award-winning development of 77 homes by Tower Hamlets Community Housing echoes the layout of the Victorian streetscape, but with a modern twist; entire terraces are clad in copper, giving them an elegant lustre, and what at ďŹ rst appear to be townhouses are, in fact, duplexes. The design incorporates small front yards, recessed balconies, green roofs and solar panels. There’s a lush central garden, whilst the colouring of the copper beech trees complements the block of ats on Mansford Street.

10 Winkley Estate (1899-1904) This speculative four-block development by brothers Charles and Henry Winkley was designed with furniture makers in mind; there are high-fronted shops on the outer streets, warehouses and terraced housing in the centre, and small workshops – originally used by cabinet-makers, upholsterers and French polishers – nestling in gated courtyards behind. On Temple Street, peek through to Crown Works – now home to screen printers, skateboard designers and other creative enterprises.

11 Minerva Estate (1946-8) Opposite Crown Works, cut along the footpath into the Minerva Estate, the LCC’s first large development after WWII. Built at a time of national austerity, the housing was constructed – cost-effectively and quickly – out of pre-fabricated concrete slabs. Blocks were named after Trojan War characters such as Nestor, Hector and Achilles. In the centre of the estate, the Minerva Community Centre is a base for the Aspire Foundation – a social enterprise providing estate management services and training to local residents.

12 Peabody Estate, Cambridge Crescent (1910) The Peabody Estate stands out in striped red and yellow brickwork. George Peabody – an American-born banker and philanthropist – established the Peabody Trust in 1862 with a £150,000 donation. His aim was to “ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis, and to promote their comfort and happiness”. Clustered around a triangular courtyard and play space, the Bethnal Green estate was the first Peabody development to have large numbers of self-contained flats.

7 8 4




11 10









16 17 20

18 19

Housing history, step by step With this map as your guide, you can track your way to 20 housing heritage locations across Bethnal Green. You’ll encounter terraces, tenements and tower blocks, spanning 200 years of local history. Pause, take a look at the architecture, and refer to the historical notes in this booklet to find out more. Start: Shoreditch High Street station (Overground line) Finish: Bethnal Green tube station (Central line) Distance: 3.7 miles Allow: two hours, with time for sightseeing, or tackle it in shorter sections Take a break: Pause for coffee at Columbia Road, Hackney City Farm, Larder on Globe Road, Gallery Café on Old Ford Road, or the Museum of Childhood.

Map data © 2014 Google

13 Patriot Square (1977) Set around a cobbled and slabbed courtyard, Patriot Square is a tucked-away enclave of houses and low-rise flats. Blocks are named after men with local connections: type-founder William Caslon, bibliophile Ebenezer Mussel and agricultural writer Sir Hugh Platt. Opposite, the former Bethnal Green Town Hall – now a luxury hotel and restaurant – includes a depiction of another local figure, the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green over the entrance.

14 Approach and Bonner Roads (1860s) James Pennethorne, who landscaped Victoria Park from the 1840s, also laid out the surrounding streets. It was envisaged that speculative house builders would be keen to build here on the leafy avenues – as they had done decades earlier near Regent’s Park – but in practice it took some twenty years for the houses to appear. Today, Approach and Bonner Roads present a pleasing prospect en route to Victoria Park, Raine’s Foundation School and the London Chest Hospital.

15 Park View Estate (1950-3) There are Swedish design influences at the Park View Estate. Look out for cantilevered canopies over the entrances, propped by angled posts, square window surrounds on the staircases and, in the centre, a community centre built with a rippled roof. St James the Less church stands close by, marked out by its elegant grey tower; built in 1842, and remodelled after Blitz damage, it’s one of only four of the original twelve ‘Apostle churches’ still active in Bethnal Green.

16 Cranbrook Estate (1961-8) From Old Ford Road there are views ahead towards the Cranbrook Estate’s green chequered towers. After Word War II, Bethnal Green made adventurous choices of architects, such as modernist Berthold Lubetkin. At the Cranbrook Estate he incorporated his trademarks: strong geometrical lines, dramatic staircase designs, and the use of pre-cast concrete. The estate sits around a ďŹ gure-of-eight Mace Street, designed to echo the crossroads layout of Bonner and Approach Road to the north.

17 Cyprus Street (1851-2) On Cyprus Street there are uninterrupted terraces of Victorian houses, with wooden shutters, arched fanlights, panelled doors, and iron boot-scrapers. Pause for a moment by the war memorial part way along, a sobering reminder of how many local men perished in both world wars. This charming street – the scene of street parties and arts projects – was originally called Wellington Street and the former pub still bears an image of the Iron Duke.

18 East End Dwellings, Globe Road (1900-1906) Much of upper Globe Road was developed by the East End Dwellings Company. Set around courtyards, with open staircases, the EEDC’s five-storey red-brick tenements are often topped with towers, gables and domes, creating a distinctive skyline. Merceron and Gretton Houses were built in 1901, followed by a terrace of cottages opposite that replaced old weavers’ cottages. Further on, nip into Welwyn Street, to take a closer look at Mendip and Shepton Houses.

19 Burnham Estate (1937) Between two Victorian pubs – the brown-tiled Camel and the flourishing Florist’s Arms – there’s a glimpse of the Burnham Estate, a good example of inter-war municipal housing. A foundation stone on the end wall, laid by the Mayor, proudly announces the estate’s arrival. Five-storey blocks curve around a central green. And indoor bathrooms were a first for most of the new residents. It was the last council development built before the outbreak of World War II.

20 Old Bethnal Green (1553, 1753, 1820) Netteswell House – with curved gables, largely hidden behind a high wall – is the oldest surviving house in Bethnal Green, with a date stone, “AD 1553, restored 1705 and 1862”. Opposite, on Old Ford Road, the fine Georgian terrace (1753) originally housed prosperous City merchants. No 21 has a colourful history; from 1815 it was a girls’ school for the ‘London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews’, by 1873 it had become an asylum for ‘fallen women’, and since 1900 it has been home to St Margaret’s House Settlement. On Paradise Row, the jumble of architectural styles indicates the work of speculative builders, building piecemeal, in the early nineteenth century.

Housing in Bethnal Green: an historical overview Glance at Victorian maps of Bethnal Green and you’ll find the street layout is largely recognisable; Bethnal Green Road, Hackney Road and Cambridge Heath Road are long established thoroughfares, and many of today’s side streets were laid out by the mid nineteenth century.

Had you walked the local streets 150 years ago you’d have found ramshackle weavers’ cottages, multiple occupancy housing and poor sanitation. Hector Gavin, in his book Sanitary Ramblings (1846) noted, “the enormous number of dwellings which have been constructed in defiance of every law and principle on which the health and lives of occupants depend”. Victorian social housing pioneers such as the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company, the East End Dwellings Company and the Peabody Trust helped alleviate overcrowding by providing more spacious tenement flats for working artisans. And in the 1890s, the London County Council swept away the Old Nichol slums to create the Boundary Estate, the first council estate in England. Some streets have developed piecemeal whilst, in other areas, leading architects and town planners have made their mark. Blitz bomb damage had a significant impact; post-war, the borough of Bethnal Green was notable for commissioning innovative architecture from Berthold Lubetkin, Denys Lasdun and others. Survey the skyline today and you’ll see their geometrical designs and cluster blocks rising up. More recently, housing associations – such as Tower Hamlets Community Housing and Tower Hamlets Homes – have taken on some of the council’s housing stock, and created new developments. THCH’s copper-clad blocks at Claredale Street, for example, echo back to the Victorian streetscape – it’s a glimpse of housing past, present and future.

Timeline: a sense of time and place 1553-1820 Old Bethnal Green



Hackney Road



Cyprus Street



Approach and Bonner Roads



Jesus Hospital Estate



Leopold Buildings



Boundary Estate


1899-1904 Winkley Estate


1900-1906 East End Dwellings



Peabody Estate



Nag’s Head Estate



Burnham Estate



Minerva Estate



Park View Estate



Dorset Estate



Keeling House



Cranbrook Estate



St Peter’s Estate



Avebury East Estate



Patriot Square



Claredale Street


Sources for these construction dates include Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England (East London), British History Online and archive materials at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.

About Our Project Over ten weeks in April-June 2013, a group of local residents came together to investigate the housing heritage of Bethnal Green. We used old maps, photos, trade directories and other historical resources to explore how the local area has developed and who has lived here over the years. And we set out – cameras in hand – to photograph the architecture, streetscapes and today’s residents. Throughout the project, we shared our stories and photos on a project blog: We hope this walk booklet will inspire you to head out yourself around the back streets and estates and take a fresh look at Bethnal Green; it’s like an open-air museum of housing styles over the last 200 years, from Georgian villas to high-rise tower blocks. We were amazed to find such rich history on our doorstep, in the place we call home.

Our project participants: Fatima Ali, Alan Dann, Alan Drew, Mike Elston, Alan Fraser, Jackie Gooding, Christine Hall, Maggie Hewitt, Jay Hudson, Marion Kerr, Peter Lanes, Gary Marsh, Valerie Sheekey, Matthew Shelley, Christine Thomas and Anne Walker.

Visit our Blog: More Photos, Slideshows and Historical Research

Project coordinators: Graham Barker is a journalist and walk guide. He writes ‘Walk of the Month’ for East End Life, manages the Tower Hamlets health walk programme, and develops community projects spanning photography, heritage, journalism and cookery. Natalie Clarke runs photography workshops, socials and masterclasses at the Photo School, and is an executive coach, with a particular interest in using photography and visual literacy in her practice. With thanks to: Heritage Lottery Fund Malcolm Barr-Hamilton, Tamsin Bookey and Anna Haward at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives Mike Tyrell and Andy Coleborn at Tower Hamlets Community Housing The teams at the Sundial Centre and the Minerva Centre We’d also like to extend our thanks to the Bethnal Green residents and community workers who supported and encouraged us along the way.

Hands-on history: discovering the housing heritage of Bethnal Green

Developing a sense of place on a guided walk

Getting to grips with old maps and street names

Uncovering stories amongst the photo archives

Reading about building developments in old newspapers

Delving into trade directories for shops, pubs and businesses

Using censuses to discover who lived here before us

Photo-walks: looking afresh at the architecture and streetscapes

Exploring together around local streets and estates

Learning about camera techniques and composition

Looking at the architecture from all angles

Sharing and critiquing our photos with one another

Meeting our neighbours and chatting about local life

Finding out more from estate teams and housing experts

Bethnal Green in London’s East End is home to Georgian terraces, Victorian tenements and post-War tower blocks, often sitting side by side. As you follow the walking route in this booklet, you’ll see the huge variety of housing styles. Speculative builders,Victorian philanthropists, council planners, housing associations and high-profile architects have all left their mark.

© Walk East, 2014

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Terraces, Tenements and Tower Blocks: a walk through the housing heritage of Bethnal Green  

Bethnal Green in London’s East End is home to Georgian terraces, Victorian tenements and post-War tower blocks, often sitting side by side....

Terraces, Tenements and Tower Blocks: a walk through the housing heritage of Bethnal Green  

Bethnal Green in London’s East End is home to Georgian terraces, Victorian tenements and post-War tower blocks, often sitting side by side....

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