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GREATER LONDON INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY SOCIETY

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No.14 Whitechapel: Along Rosemary Lane

In 1994 GLIAS produced this walks leaflet, compiled by Tim Smith.

We have reproduced it here for historical interest. Links to entries in the GLIAS Database are given.


Beginning in a fine City square, this walk is one of contrasts where affluence and poverty have always been near neighbours and the ghosts of the past are never far away. Life here was influenced greatly by the proximity of the docks and the river. Even the railway and the Commercial Road owe their origin to the port and much of the area's industry was dependent upon imported material. It was an area where immigrants settled; just far enough for them to hump their baggage from the ship.

At one time, the 'Rag Fair', a notorious second hand clothes market was held in Rosemary Lane, now Royal Mint Street. In Victorian times the area beyond, around Back Church Lane and stretching northwards, was the site of several large sugar bakeries, ten stories high or more, many owned by Germans employing immigrant labour. All had gone by the turn-of-the-century and nothing of them remains now.

The walk covers 1½ miles and should take about two hours.

No.14 Whitechapel: Along Rosemary Lane

The walk starts in Trinity Square, adjacent to Tower Hill

① This is one of the few squares in the City. In the north-western corner is the former 1920s HQ of the Port of London Authority (PLA) (GTL00352), set up in 1909 (architect Sir Edwin Cooper). The PLA has recently moved down river to Tilbury.

Port of London Authority (PLA) Trinity House

To the right only the Portland stone façade, Samuel Wyatt, 1792-4, of Trinity House is original; the rest was rebuilt after bomb damage. Henry VIII granted a charter in 1514 to the Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Guild, Fraternity Brotherhood of the Most Glorious and Undivided Trinity and of St Clement in the parish of Deptford Stronde in the County of Kent, for administering the lighthouses around the coasts of England and Wales.

Turn east and follow signs for the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) Tower Gateway Station; turn left into Minories and cross by the subway.

② The London and Blackwall Railway was opened in 1840 to the Minories and extended to Fenchurch Street, 1841. Rope haulage was used to allay fears of fire in the densely populated area close to shipping but was displaced by locomotives in 1849. Two stationary engines at Minories, each of 115hp, were supplied by Maudslay Son and Field, with another two at Blackwall. Breakages of the original hemp ropes led, in 1841, to successful trials of wire rope, the first such use on a railway. The DLR Tower Gateway Station opened in 1987.

Cross south by the lights and then cross East Smithfield.

③ Lack of space caused the mint to be moved from the Tower, the first coins being struck at the new mint in 1810 (GTL00771). The architects were John Johnson and Robert Smirke. The layout of the workshops was the work of Matthew Boulton, the machinery from Boulton & Watt's Soho factory in Birmingham. Minting at Llantrisant, South Wales began in 1968. The last coins were minted on this site in 1975 since when it has been redeveloped. Only the gatehouses and officers' quarters remain.

Royal Mint

Walk north on Mansell Street, stopping at Royal Mint Street.

④ Goods depots for the Great Eastern Railway (GER), Great Northern Railway (GNR) and Midland Railway (MR) on each side of the railway viaduct handled dock traffic. All three depots had hydraulic hoists to bring wagons to ground level. They were moved by hydraulic capstan and goods lifted by hydraulic crane. The MR had a hydraulic pumping station with two steam engines and boilers under the second arch east from Mansell Street. There was a 150ft chimney. The surviving red brick tower (GTL01204) housed two weight-loaded accumulators (demolished?). Close by, the DLR emerges from its deep tunnel from Bank.

Mansell Street viaduct

⑤ In an area where land values have always been high, every inch of space was utilised. The viaduct (GTL00005, GTL03800), from here almost to the Minories, was used for storing duty paid wines and spirits and for washing empties, by Browne, Gore & Welch Ltd and Deinhard & Co Ltd.

Turn right into Royal Mint Street.

⑥ The telephone exchange, 1934, is on the site of the Royal Mint's gold and silver refinery, leased and later sold to the Rothschilds.

Telephone exchange, Royal Mint Street

The area to the south of Royal Mint Street was the first redeveloped under the Whitechapel Clearance Scheme after the Cross Act, 1875. Tenements were erected by Octavia Hill and others. The western section has been redeveloped but the Peabody estate, 1881, survives further east (GTL01016).

Peabody estate

⑦ The renovated building, an 1880s GNR warehouse, became a ship's chandlers in the 1890s and, from 1922, was used by the United Sponge Company until c1950 (GTL00926). The inscription on 'The Artful Dodger', formerly the 'Crown & Seven Stars', shows that it too was once a warehouse (GTL01226). It is hard to believe that the GER spur viaduct East Smithfield Depot and London Docks curved past in the narrow gap to the east. On the corner of Dock Street is a former tobacco factory, c1900, which, for a few years in the 1930s, was a tea warehouse for Brooke Bond Ltd.

United Sponge Company The Artful Dodger

Continue beyond Dock Street, turn right into Ensign Street and sharp left down Grace's Alley

⑧ Behind the ornate doorway lies Wilton's Music Hall (GTL00747) built in 1859 by Jacob Maggs, rebuilt 1878 after a fire and later used by the Methodists as coffee rooms.

Retrace your steps to Dock Street, noting the bollards of the Royal Brunswick Theatre, marked RBT, which collapsed in 1828, four days after opening. Turn right into Leman Street.

⑨ Leman Street railway station opened in 1877 and was finally closed in 1941. On the right The Blue Button restaurant was the goods office of the London Tilbury & Southend Railway (LTSR). Here the scale of building changes. The Cooperative Wholesale Society (CWS) was set up in 1862 to manufacture and distribute goods to the retail societies. On the right, the imposing building with the clock tower, 1887 by J F Goodey, was offices and warehousing for the CWS grocery and drapery departments (GTL04021); opposite the Tea Warehouse, 1897 by Heyhurst, now demolished; further north is the 1910 extension by F E L Harris.

Turn right into Hooper Street.

⑩ The red brick hydraulic pumping station supplied power to the LTSR's Commercial Goods Depot, opened 1886-7 to handle traffic to and from Tilbury Docks (GTL04020). Through the window of the tower can be seen cylinders, rams and crossheads of two weight-loaded accumulators, Weight-cases, suspended from the crossheads and containing several tons of sand and gravel have been removed. They ran up as water was pumped into the system and down as it was used by the machinery. The pumping engines, by Sir W G Armstrong, Mitchell and Co, were, unusually, on the first floor with four Lancashire boilers underneath.

Continue east along Hooper Street.

⑪ Ahead are two large wool warehouses built for Browne and Eagle (GTL00058), who had several others in the vicinity. Large quantities of wool were imported through the Port of London, particularly from Australia. Note the large wall cranes and the doorway in the right hand block, for buyers inspecting the wool.

Turn left into Back Church Lane and right into Boyd Street.

⑫ On the left, is the 1920s façade of the Victoria Mills of Potter and Clarke Ltd (GTL01034), drug grinders and medicated confectionary manufacturers. Their equipment included edge-runner mills, grinding pans, vats and stills.

Turn left into Henriques Street and left again into Fairclough Street.

At the junction is a two-storey stable block, c1900, later used as a garage for steam lorries. Behind is a tall block with painted advert for 'POTTER'S CATARRH PASTILLES'.

Turn right into Back Church Lane.

⑬ On the right is a former LCC school. The small block in Back Church Lane was built as a cookery centre.

⑭ There has been much demolition on the left of the street, including the Peoples' Arcade, c1906, used to stage melodramas and boxing matches (GTL00802). In 1911 it was renamed 'Premierland' and from 1925 was known as the 'Premierland Boxing Hall'.

Turn left into Commercial Road as far as Gower's Walk.

⑮ The Commercial Road (GTL00985), 1802-10, was built by the Commercial Road Company, from Limehouse Church to Church Lane, now Adler Street, as a more direct route from the East and West India Docks to the City and the Whitechapel sugar bakeries. It was extended westwards to Gardner's Corner in 1870 by the Metropolitan Board of Works.

On the north side of the road, Morrison's Buildings North, with its iron balconies, is typical of tenement blocks of the later 19th century. Back from the road is St George's Brewery (GTL01294), 1847, a model of its day, featured in the Illustrated London News and later used as a bonded store for whisky. The small building in front, with the classical first floor, was used as a 'duty paid' warehouse.

⑯ On the south side of Commercial Road are two large clothing factories. The first used by the CWS; the second, on the corner of Gower's Walk, was a tobacco factory.

Cross Commercial Road at the lights.

The Gunmakers' Company's Proof House (GTL01580), opposite, was established here in the reign of Charles I. The present building dates from the early 19th century. Guns and gun barrels are proved, or tested, and marked with the Company's mark. The Commercial Road Act stipulated the times when the guns could be proved, limiting activities to the early hours of the morning.

Gunmakers' Company's Proof House

The building next door, 1872, was built by the Company as their Hall. It was sold to the Jewish Friendly Society in the 1920s and latterly used by BCCI.

Walk past Whitechurch Street and stop near the fire station.

⑰ On the south side of the road is a two-storey building with large, gated entry. This was the yard of J J & S W Chalk, importers of Baltic timber, whose 'Finland Wharf was in Limehouse. Inside one office still has its Edwardian fittings.

Continue round the corner to Aldgate East underground station (GTL03506) where the walk ends.


© GLIAS, 1994