Walk 121: Spitalfields Circular: A melting pot of history

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 6.1 miles (9.8km)

Time to walk: With all the stops this could easily be a full day’s walk

Difficulty: All on flat, hard surfaces so this is an easy walk

Parking: Central London, therefore just catch public transport

Public toilets: Cafes, bars etc en route

Map of the route:

We make no apologies that this is another recommended route taken from the excellent series of books ‘London’s Hidden Walks’. As always, we try & follow their route, but find extra things to see & explore, plus all our words are our own

This walk starts outside Liverpool Street Station & explores the streets, history & architecture of Spitalfields, before moving into Whitechapel, visiting the fabulous Brick Lane, local markets, pubs, food & the culture of the East End. It comes full circle into the world famous Petticoat Lane. One of the biggest plusses of this walk is that it combines some of the most modern buildings in the City, before, just around each corner, stepping back in time

If you like diversity then this is the London walk for you. Strap yourself in because it’s all going to come thick & fast, so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Have you ever ventured inside Liverpool Street Station? No…well you must to start this walk because it’s rather a lovely place…

Now…we’d never normally recommend starting off with a coffee, cup of tea, or aperitif before a walk, but you really must visit the pub inside the station called Hamilton Hall as it’s spectacular

It’s named after Lord Claud Hamilton, chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Company, which originally built Liverpool Street station. The pub is the former ballroom of the old Great Eastern Hotel – you really must pop in here & even have a quick waltz!

2. Leave the station by the main entrance, turn left (north) & cross the extremely busy Bishopsgate…

On the right’s a pub whose name always makes us smile…‘Dirty Dicks’. As with all these places, it has a story to tell. Nathaniel Bentley (1735–1809), commonly known as ‘Dirty Dick’, was an 18th century merchant who owned a hardware shop & warehouse in London. He’s one person who is considered as the possible inspiration for Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens‘Great Expectations’ after he refused to wash following the death of his fiancée on their wedding day

Bentley once owned this pub which was originally called ‘The Old Jerusalem’. It changed its name & recreated the look of his warehouse shop. The contents, including cobwebs & dead cats, were originally a part of the cellar bar, but have now been put into a glass display case. Successive owners of the Bishopsgate distillery & its tap capitalised on the legend. By the end of the 19th century, its owner, a public house company called William Barker’s (D.D.) Ltd., was producing commemorative booklets & promotional material to advertise the pub. It’s well worth venturing inside

3. Slightly further on is the rather ornate Bishopsgate Institute, which was the first of the three major buildings designed by architect Charles Harrison Townsend. Since opening on New Year’s Day 1895, the Bishopsgate Institute has been a centre for culture & learning. The original aims of the Institute were to provide a public library, public hall & meeting rooms for people living & working in the City of London

4. Continue along Bishopsgate with all its modern office buildings…

…turning right into Folgate Street where it looks like we’ve moved back 300 years to the Georgian period. This is what we love about London – you can move through different  periods of time just by turning a corner

5. If you aim to visit ‘The Water Poet’ on the left, we recommend you avoid early evening, when it gets packed with office workers. It’s named after John Taylor (1578–1653), an English poet who dubbed himself “The Water Poet”. The owner of the pub had the same name!

Taylor spent much of his life as a Thames ‘waterman’, a member of the guild of boatmen that ferried passengers across the River Thames in the days when London Bridge was the only passage between the banks. He became a member of the ruling oligarchy of the guild, serving as its clerk, but it’s mainly through his writings that history is familiar with the watermen’s disputes of 1641–42, in which an attempt was made to democratise the leadership of the Company

6. This area of London has always attracted immigrants over the years. The position of Protestants in France was always precarious in the 16th & 17th Centuries. Although they were tolerated for much of the latter, in 1685, King Louis IX revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted Protestants the freedom to worship in specified areas

Stigmatised by oppressive laws & facing severe persecution, many Huguenots fled France. In 1681, Charles II offered sanctuary to the Huguenots, & from 1670 to 1710, between 40,000 & 50,000 Huguenots from all walks of life sought refuge in England. Historians estimate around half of these moved to London, many settling in Spitalfields, where food & housing were cheaper. By 1700 there were nine Huguenot churches in Spitalfields, whereas in 1685 there had been none

The Huguenots made a huge impact on Spitalfields, particularly its economy. There had always been a silk industry of sorts in the area, but with the diligence & skills of the Huguenots this industry thrived & Spitalfields became known as ‘weaver town’. The increase in the availability of silk affected British upper class fashions, as new styles became popular incorporating more of the readily available material. The wealthier Huguenots built large houses in Spitalfields, both for their families & for the weavers they employed. These houses, which still remain, are extremely distinctive, with enlarged windows in the attic to let in the maximum light for the weavers

7. Opposite the pub is No. 18, also known as ‘Dennis Severs’ House. The American was drawn to London by what he called “English light” & made his home in the dilapidated property in Folgate Street in 1979. This area had become very run down, & renowned artists had started to move in, including Gilbert & George

Severs started on a programme to refurbish the ten rooms of the house, each in a different historic style, mainly from the 18th & 19th centuries. The rooms are arranged as if they are still in use & the occupants have only just left. There are therefore displays of items such as half-eaten bread, & different smells & background sounds for each room

Woven through the house is the story of the fictional Jervis family, originally Huguenot immigrant silk weavers who lived at the house from 1725 to 1919. Each room evokes incidental moments in the lives of these imaginary inhabitants. Severs bequeathed the house to the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust, an architectural preservation charity, shortly before his death. It’s now open to the public, who are asked during their visit to respect the intent of the creator & participate in an imaginary journey to another time

Your experience is conducted in silence as you pass through the rooms, lit only by candle & firelight

8. It’s always good to look up when out walking, but don’t forget to check out the views behind as well…

Turn right towards Spital Square, where other well known landmarks become into view. The Square was laid out in the 1720s & 30s on the site of the earlier Spital Yard. That in turn stood on the site of the Augustinian Priory & Hospital (hence the abbreviated name ‘Spital’). The hospital had been the first major building on the existing farmland, & was founded in 1197.

In the week Spital Square is a real thriving environment with hundreds of workers flooding out to buy coffees & lunch. It’s pretty much deserted at weekends though. If the weather’s good there’s plenty of places to sit & admire the various statues

9. Turn left & walk between the cafes etc…

…to arrive at the fabulous Spitalfields Market. There’s been a market on the site since 1638 when King Charles I gave a licence for flesh, fowl & roots to be sold on Spittle Fields, which was then a rural area on the eastern outskirts of London. After the rights to a market had seemingly lapsed during the time of the Commonwealth, the market was re-founded in 1682 by Charles II in order to feed the burgeoning population of a new suburb of London

Market buildings were sited on the rectangular patch of open ground which retained the name Spittle Fields. The existing buildings were built in 1887 to service a wholesale market, owned by the City of London Corporation

The wholesale fruit & vegetable market moved to New Spitalfields Market, Leyton, in 1991 when the original site became known as Spitalfields Market. It currently hosts a vintage market each Thursday, a vinyl fair some Fridays & a general arts & craft market throughout the week continuing through to the weekend. It’s also got an amazingly varied food section where you can eat your way across the world

10. Exit the market on the west side where, over the road’s the imposing Christ Church Spitalfields which we’ll visit later in this walk

But for now, turn right & walk back down the side of the market, along Brushfield Street, passing some more exclusive shops…

…including one that’s local to Northamptonshire!

11. Take your time wandering down Brushfield Street as there’s some beautifully preserved shop fronts & signs from days gone by

12. Ahead’s modern London again as we walk past the other side of the square…

Once more there’s some interesting statues

13. It’s time to leave the modern days behind & head back in time again to explore some narrow alleyways that haven’t changed for many years, so turn left into Fort Street…

After a short while cross into Sandy’s Row

On the left’s Sandy’s Row Synagogue, which was constructed in 1766 by refugee French Huguenots as a community church, named ‘L’Eglise de l’Artillerie’ (the Artillery Church). The church took its name from the street, which in turn took its name from the fact that in the time of Henry VIII, the artillery practiced there. With changing demographics, the church passed into the hands of the Universalist Baptists, the Unitarian Baptists, the Scottish Baptists & the Salem Chapel

In the mid 19th century, it was purchased by a Jewish society, the ‘Hevrat Menahem Avalim Hesed v’Emeth’ (The Comforters of Mourners Kindness & Truth Society). The society had been founded by immigrants in 1853 as a mutual aid & burial insurance society, but evolved into a synagogue. The members were workingmen of Dutch Ashkenazi background, employed as cigar makers, diamond cutters & fruit traders. They acquired the building in 1867

The building’s renovation was opposed by London’s established synagogues, whose officials believed that new immigrants ought to join one of the established congregations. The poor, immigrant Jews of London’s East End, however, felt so strongly about having a synagogue of their own that, rather than sitting in the free or cheap seats reserved for the poor in the established synagogues, they raised money to purchase & renovate the building at the rate of a penny per family per week

By 1881 Sandy’s Row was amongst the largest congregations in the East End, with a membership of over 460 families & adult men. Today the synagogue is the last remaining Jewish place of worship in Spitalfields. It’s in use for weekday afternoon prayers, for Sabbath services every other week, for Jewish Festivals, & for tours of the historic building

After the Great Synagogue of London, the city’s first Ashkenazi congregation, was destroyed by German bombing in the Blitz on May 10, 1941 & Sandys Row became the oldest surviving Ashkenazi synagogue in London

14. It now get’s even narrower as we turn left down Artillery Passage where some of the buildings date back to 1700s. Little has changed since Jack the Ripper prowled along here…

When the passage opens out, look at the two old shop fronts on the right which are remaining examples of original shops built in 1705. They were occupied by the Jourdains, a Huguenot family of silk merchants

15. On the corner of the junction with Crispin Street’s, the former Providence Row Night Refuge & Convent, which was founded as a non-sectarian charity by the Reverend Daniel Gilbert in 1860. Originally a night refuge for homeless women & children in a former stables in Providence Row, Finsbury Square, these premises soon proved to be too small & a site in Crispin Street was purchased for a new building which was opened in 1868. It provided accommodation for 300 women & children, & 50 men, as well as a convent for the Sisters of Mercy who ran the refuge. Annexes in Gun Street & Artillery Lane were opened as hostels for working girls

According to history, Ripper victim, Mary Jane Kelly is alleged to have stayed there, a claim also made by Joseph Sickert & expanded by Stephen Knight. The story has it that Mary Kelly was staying here when she was chosen by the nuns to take up a position as a shop assistant in Cleveland Street, thus instigating her involvement in the ‘Royal Conspiracy Theory’

In a BBC interview in 1973, an elderly nun at the refuge claimed that she had been a novice there in 1915 & was told by an old sister who was there in 1888 that “if it had not been for the Kelly woman, none of the murders would have happened”

The refuge continued to operate until 1999. Much of the rear parts of the properties were demolished (although the facades still remain) & since 2006 the building has been called Lilian Knowles House. It’s used as accommodation for students of the London School of Economics

Look towards the multi storey car park on the left. Here was once one of the worst slums in the area & the site of where Mary Kelly‘s body was found on 9th November 1888. Her’s was the most gruesome of the Ripper’s murders with her body having been dismembered & intestines hung up around the room

16. Our route though is straight ahead into Brune Street to arrive at a building with so much history, the former Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor

A rather poignant quote we found said…”With me in one hand & a saucepan in the other, my mother would stride in & follow the queue to get a dollop of stew & a loaf of bread. Outside by the exit I remember a group of about 20 or 30 non Jews asking for some bread & my mother breaking her loaf in half & handing it over”

Now that’s history…

The Brune Sreet (Butler Street) Kitchen opened in Leman Street in 1854 & relocated  here in 1902. At its peak it was providing meals for over 5000 people a week &, in the 1950s, it was still regularly feeding 1500 clients. When the premises closed in 1992 to merge with Jewish Care in Beaumont Grove it still had some 100 elderly clients on its books

17. At the end of the road, turn left & walk along to busy Commercial Street – we loved the name of the barbers here…

Cross Commercial Street into Fashion Street with all its incredible street art…we’re heading towards the fantastic Brick Lane now

Fashion Street was previously one of the area’s biggest slums, so today it seems amazing it’s such a cultural area

18. At the end of this street we meet the melting pot that’s one of our favourite places to wander around in London, especially on a Sunday…Brick Lane. On the building ahead’s an amazing mural advertising the 2019 Cricket World Cup

It’s also the heart of the Bangladeshi community in London & often known as Banglatown. Winding through fields, the street was formerly called Whitechapel Lane & derives its current name from brick & tile manufacture started in the 15th century, which used the local brick earth deposits

Brewing came here before 1680, with water drawn from deep wells & we’ll see the old brewery shortly. The Brick Lane Market was first developed in the 17th century, producing fruit & vegetables sold outside the City

Successive waves of immigrants settled in the area & in the later 20th century, Bangladeshis comprised the major group of immigrants & gradually predominated in the area. Many immigrants were from the Greater Sylhet region. These settlers helped shape the Bangladeshi migration to Britain. If you fancy a great curry on this walk, you’re spoilt for choice

More recently the area has also broadened to becoming a vibrant art & fashion student area, with considerable exhibition space. Each year most of the fine art & fashion courses exhibit their work near Brick Lane. It has a regular display of graffiti, which features artists such as Banksy – there was even some going on when we were there…

19. Turn left out of Fashion Street onto Brick Lane, passing Christ Church School which dates back to 1874, although the original church school was founded in 1782

There’s street art everywhere you look & it’s all very individual, but all very engaging

20. We’re going to leave Brick Lane for a while, but will return & cover its whole length. Our route though lies left down Fournier Street where, on the corner’s the Jamme Masjid Mosque, which is the only place in the country to have been used by Christians, Jews & Muslims

It was first established in 1743 as a Protestant chapel (“La Neuve Eglise”, ie. “the New Church”) by London’s Huguenot community. In 1809 it became a Wesleyan chapel, bought by the ‘London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews’, an organisation now known as the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People, but this phase of its history lasted only 10 years. From 1819, the building became a Methodist chapel

In the late 19th century, the building was adopted by yet another community when it became the Machzike Hadath, the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. During the 1970s, the area was populated mainly by Bangladeshis & that growing community required a place of worship. In 1976, it reopened as a mosque & still serves that community today

21. Fournier Street contains some of the finest Georgian Houses in the country & was the last to be built on the Wood-Michell estate in Spitalfields, London. It was designed to be both well appointed & of a higher standard than previous residential developments in the local area & consequently the houses were purchased & leased by the ‘master’ silk-weavers & silk mercers

These buildings are notable for their fine wooden panelling & elaborate joinery such as carved staircases, fireplaces & highly detailed door-cases which were constructed by the craftsmen of the day

Look out for number 33A on the right which still has the original Jewish shop sign above it…

22. The houses along Fournier Street are just so beautiful…

Christ Church Spitalfields which we saw earlier in the walk’s at the end of the street, but first we pass the Minister’s House at No.2 which is still in use today

23. So… Christ Church Spitalfields…it was built between 1714 & 1729 to a design by Nicholas Hawksmoor & was one of the first (& arguably one of the finest) of the so-called “Commissioners’ Churches” built for the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches which had been established by an Act of Parliament in 1711

The purpose of the Commission was to acquire sites & build fifty new churches to serve London’s new settlements

24. It was time for a stop for us, & what better place than the Ten Bells Pub on the other side of Fournier Street noted for its supposed association with two victims of Jack the Ripper, Annie Chapman & Mary Kelly

The Ten Bells pub has existed in one guise or other since at least the middle of the 18th century. The name of the pub has changed over time, but those names have generally derived from the number of bells in the peal from the church next door

In 1755 it was known as the “Eight Bells Alehouse”. The name is likely to have changed in 1788 when the church installed a new set of chimes, this time with ten bells. The interior of the pub is decorated floor to ceiling with original Victorian tiling – we had a look around & they’re excellent. Some accounts of the Jack the Ripper story link two of his victims, Annie Chapman & Mary Jane Kelly to the pub

Between 1976 and 1988, the public house was named “The Jack the Ripper”, & memorabilia relating to the case were displayed in the bars. The brewery ordered the change back to its original name. In October 2011, the Ten Bells was featured in the Jamie Oliver series ‘Jamie’s Great Britain’. Oliver’s great, great, grandfather was a landlord of the pub during the 1880s. Oliver is shown visiting the Ten Bells to discuss his East London roots, & to see how Londoners lived, drank & ate at the end of the 19th century

25. Now that was well worth a visit, but now it’s time to carry on with the walk so turn right & then right again along Puma Court

The almshouses along here date back to around 1886…

26. At the end turn left & then right into Princelet Street – this is a lovely place to live, if you can afford it!!

Numbers 6-10 on the right were once home to a Yiddish Theatre, founded by Jacob & Sarah Adler in 1886…

27. Number 19 dates back to 1719 & was originally the home of Huguenot silk weavers, but in 1869 was taken over by a group of Polish Jews who built a synagogue at the rear – apparently the remains can still be seen of what’s now the oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in London

28. Walk back to Brick Lane & look at No. 92 which was once a shop that sold string & paper bags & was one of the last Jewish owned businesses on the Lane…

It’s time to go & have a look at that brewery so head north up Brick Lane – this place is just so vibrant

But hang on…we can’t get to that brewery yet as there’s another diversion…this time down Hanbury Street which was laid out in the 17th century, & was originally known as Browne’s Lane after the original developer. Its present name is derived from that of a local family who owned land here in the 17th century

29. In 1884, Florence Eleanor Soper, daughter-in-law of General William Booth of the Salvation Army, inaugurated The Women’s Social Work, which was run from a small house in Hanbury Street. This home for women was set up in the hope they would not have to turn to prostitution & provided a safe haven for those who were already suffering from the trade

On 8 September 1888, the body of Annie Chapman was found in the backyard of No.29 Hanbury Street & is generally held to have been the second victim of Jack the Ripper. Today, buildings with shops below & flats above can still be found on the south side of Hanbury Street, across from the murder site. But No.29, which was on the north side of the street, no longer exists, having been demolished

There’s some more quirky street art along here & it was about 7 foot off the ground…

Entertainer Bud Flanagan, leader of the ‘Crazy Gang’ was born at No.12 Hanbury Street in 1896 & there’s a blue plaque to commemorate that fact

Neo-Nazi militant David Copeland attempted to detonate a nail-bomb on the street on Saturday 24 April 1999. Copeland intended to place the bomb on adjoining Brick Lane during its weekly market held on Sundays, but mistakenly planted the bomb on a Saturday when the road was less busy. After realising his mistake & unwilling to change the timer on the bomb, he left it on Hanbury Street instead. At 5.45pm a member of the public found the bag & took it to Brick Lane police station which was closed, & then put it into his car boot, driving along Brick Lane. On realising it could have been a bomb he left the car at the junction with Fashion Street & called police, at which time the device exploded injuring six people & destroying two vehicles

30. Walk back down to Brick Lane stopping at Hanbury Hall on the right, also known as Christ Church Hall

Hanbury Hall has a fascinating history that dates back to 1719. Originally built as a small Hugenot chapel, it has accommodated many different East London congregations over the years eventually becoming part of Christ Church in 1887. Charles Dickens was a regular visitor in the 1800s using the building for public readings of his works & in 1888 the Match Girls held their strike meetings here as they prepared to protest against working conditions at the nearby Bryant & May factory – that were addressed by Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl. John Wesley also preached here

Today Hanbury Hall remains at the heart of the Shoreditch community, serving sandwiches, slices, pastries & hot drinks from its street front café just around the corner from historic Brick Lane. The main hall is an intimate venue for hosting corporate events, groups & community meetings & is regularly used for filming

31. Return & continue up Brick Lane…

It’s time to look at that Brewery! Truman’s Brewery was a large East London brewery & one of the largest brewers in the world at the end of the 19th century. Founded around 1666, the Black Eagle Brewery was established on a plot of land next to what is now Brick Lane. It grew steadily until the 18th century when, under the management of Benjamin Truman & driven by the demand for porter, it expanded rapidly & became one of the largest brewers in London. Its growth continued into & through the 19th century with the expansion of its brewery & pub estate. In 1873, it purchased Philips Brewery in Burton & became the largest brewery in the world

The situation changed for Truman’s in the 20th century as it had to come to terms with the rise of lager, cheaper competition from imports & the consolidation of the biggest names in British brewing through mergers. Attempts to come to terms with these changes through management restructures & rebranding did not succeed, & in 1989 the brewery was closed. The Truman’s brand was revived in 2010 &, since 2013, beer is again being brewed in East London under the Truman’s name – a bit like Phipps in Northampton!

32. We loved the street art here, although it was disappointing that someone had ‘tagged’ all over it…

Walk under the railway bridge. We did this walk just after Armistice Day & the initiative that the locals had taken by posting messages in the form of texts was rather special & poignant

33. It’s almost lunchtime &, in Brick Lane, most people might head for a curry, but for us there’s only one place…the Beigel Shop! You can either choose this one or ‘Beigel Bake’ nearby, as both are as good as each other

This is the oldest one, dating back to 1855 & they make around 7000 beigels a day. There’s only one filling to have…hot salt beef, english mustard & pickle. Because we don’t eat this that often, we have to put it in one of our top 10 eats – it’s just amazing!

34. We’re now going to walk back the length of Brick Lane so make the most of visiting all the quirky shops – we told you this is a walk that could take all day

Look out for Chicksand Street on the left which features in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ where boxes of earth were stored at No. 197

Opposite look up to the tower on the building which has a frying pan in its ornate design. This property was once a Victorian pub names ‘Ye Old Frying Pan’. Mary Ann Nichols, the first of Jack the Ripper’s victims was seen drinking here on the night she was murdered

35. Turn left along Old Montague Street…

…the old mortuary was once here & was where some of the Ripper’s victims were stored. Turn right along Greatorex Street which leads back to the busy & fascinating Whitechapel Road

36. Turn left along Whitechapel Road, passing the impressive East London Mosque which was one of the first in the UK to be allowed to use loudspeakers to broadcast the adhan

Construction of the three storey mosque began in 1982 on land left empty after bombing during World War II & was completed in 1985. It’s capped with a golden dome of about 8.5m diameter. The minaret rises to about 28.5m above ground level, & the main entrance is finished with two smaller copies of the minaret. The mosque has two large halls, a gallery, classrooms, offices & a retail unit

In 2009 phase 2 commenced, a nine storey addition on the Fieldgate Street side to be known as the Maryam Centre, on a site originally used by the mosque’s funeral services, designed by the same architect. The Maryam Centre opened to the public on 4 July 2013, adding a new main prayer hall, improved funeral services, a visitor centre, & over five floors of facilities for women including prayer spaces, education facilities, a fitness centre, & support services

37. There’s a lot of development going on in this area caused mainly by the Cross Rail project, but some of Vallance Road remains on the left where at No. 178 Reggie & Ronnie Kray lived as children. The identical twins were one of the most feared perpetrators of crime in the East End of London during the 1950s & 60s. They mixed with politicians & entertainers

The Krays were arrested on 8 May 1968 & convicted in 1969. Each was sentenced to life imprisonment. Ronnie remained in Broadmoor Hospital until his death on 17 March 1995 from a heart attack. Reggie was released from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2000, eight & a half weeks before his death from bladder cancer

38. Continue east along Whitechapel Road, passing its fabulous, ethnic street market where you can buy a multitude of things – check out the fresh fish stalls

It’s a bit of a zig-zag, but turn left again up Fulbourne Street…

…& right at the end into Durward Street. Close to the old school was where another of Jack the Ripper‘s victims, Mary Ann Nichols was murdered on 31st August 1888. There’s a tremendous amount of building work in this area, which is all down to the redevelopment of Whitechapel Station to accommodate the new London Cross Rail line. Walk past the station back to Whitechapel Road

39. Ahead, on the other side of the road’s the Royal London Hospital. The part we see is the old hospital which is being converted into a civic centre for Tower Hamlets Council. The new hospital is more to the rear & sides

The current building is a large teaching hospital which was founded in September 1740 & was originally named the London Infirmary. The name changed to the London Hospital in 1748, & in 1990 to the Royal London Hospital

Joseph Merrick, known as the “Elephant Man”, was admitted to the hospital in 1886 & spent the last few years of life there. His mounted skeleton is currently housed at the medical school, but is not on public display

In the late 1890s, Edith Cavell, who later helped some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German occupied Belgium during World War I, trained & worked as a nurse at the hospital

40. It’s time for another stop (& we’ve been here several times before), just past the market, near the junction, at ‘The Blind Beggar’

The pub was built in 1894 on the site of an inn which had been established before 1654, & named after the legend of Henry de Montfort. In the Blind Beggar legend, de Montfort was wounded & lost his sight in the Battle of Evesham in 1265 & nursed to health by a baroness, & together they had a child named Besse. He became the “Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green” & used to beg at the crossroads. The story of how he went from landed gentry to poor beggar became popular in the Tudor era & was revived by Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, published in 1765

In 1865, William Booth preached his first open-air sermon outside the Blind Beggar, which led to the establishment of the East London Christian Mission, later to become the Salvation Army

The Blind Beggar is notorious for its connection to the Kray twins. On 9 March 1966, Ronnie Kray shot & murdered George Cornell, an associate of a rival gang, the Richardsons, as he was sitting at the bar. The pub was frequented by Harry Rednapp & was once owned by England World Cup winning captain, Bobby Moore

41. This is the furthest limit of this walk, so turn back down Whitechapel Road on the same side of the street, where we’re now walking into the setting sun…

The betting shop at No. 269 used to be The Grave Maurice, a Truman Brewery public house which was frequented by Ronnie Kray & other underworld gangsters including Frankie Fraser & George Cornell during the early 1960s.

Ronnie would often sit at the bar with a clear view of whoever walked in the pub door, being one of his most favoured pubs in the East End

When the Met’s Inspector, Leonard Read learned that Ronnie Kray was to be interviewed here for TV, he visited the pub incognito, sat by the window & saw a flash American car draw up outside, a smartly dressed man get out, feel in his pocket for his gun, & enter the pub. The man looked carefully around, went back outside, looked up & down the road to make sure that the pavement was clear & then opened the back door of the car in a grand manner. From the vehicle stepped Ronnie Kray, dressed like Al Capone, his cashmere coat nattily tied at the waist reaching down to his ankles. Flanked by minders, Kray made a suitably grand entrance while his entourage frisked the interviewer, even though the latter was in a neck brace. When the interview finished Kray left as ostentatiously as he had arrived, with the minder visually sweeping the street before allowing his charge outside

42. Close by, the sari shop at No. 259, has a rather gruesome past. This is the building which once contained a “freak show” & where “The Elephant Man”, John Merrick was put on show to the general public

It was also here that Sir Frederick Treves, a surgeon at the hospital over the road, came across Merrick & took him into his care for the rest of his life

43. Cross over to the hospital side of the road & turn first left down New Road, before crossing over & down Fieldgate Street…

The green turreted building on the right’s quite interesting. Originally called Rowton House, it was one of five new types of hostels built in London for the down & out, or low paid working men created by philanthropist Lord Rowton. His aim was to provide cheap accommodation that was better & cleaner than anything else available at the time

The first Rowton House, at Vauxhall, which opened in December 1892, was personally financed by Lord Rowton. Following its success, a limited company was formed to expand the scheme. The Whitechapel Rotton House was the fifth to be built, opening on 11th August 1902 & provided 816 beds

Rowton Houses were all constructed along the same basic lines. The ground floor & basement contained the entrance hallway, dining room, smoking lounge, reading room, washrooms, barber’s shop, shoemaker’s & tailor’s rooms, clothes & boot cleaning rooms, parcels room etc. The upper floors contained large numbers of private cubicles each of which contained a bed, chair, shelf, & a chamber pot. Residence in the establishment cost 6d per day, although no access to the cubicles was permitted during the daytime. Lodgers could either buy meals in the dining room or cook their own food, also obtainable from a shop in the dining room

In 1907, Joseph Stalin & Maxim Maximovitch Litvinov (a Jew who later became Stalin’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs) spent two weeks at the Whitechapel Rowton House whilst attending the Fifth Conference of the Russian Social Labour Democratic Party

44. Further along the street’s the back entrance to the East London Mosque

Just past the mosque is one of our saddest stories, & a place that when we were last visited was still open, but is now closed & has taken its history with it…the world’s most famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry which, at the time of the closure of its Whitechapel premises, was the oldest manufacturing company in Great Britain. The bell foundry primarily made church bells & their fittings & accessories, although it also provided single tolling bells, carillon bells & handbells

The foundry was notable for being the original manufacturer of the Liberty Bell, a famous non-religious symbol of United States independence & for re-casting Big Ben, which rings at the Houses of Parliament

The foundry closed on 12 June 2017, after nearly 450 years of bell making & 250 years at its Whitechapel site, with the final bell cast given to the Museum of London along with other artefacts used in the manufacturing process

Such a shame & part of our country’s history lost forever

45. Turn right to rejoin Whitechapel Road & continue west, before turning left into Altab Ali Park

Formerly known as St. Mary’s Park, it’s the site of the old 14th century white church, St Mary Matfelon from which the area of Whitechapel gets its name. St Mary’s was heavily bombed during the Blitz in 1940 & all that remains of the old church is the floor plan & a few graves

The park was renamed Altab Ali Park in 1998 in memory of Altab Ali, a 25 year old Bangladeshi Sylheti clothing worker, who was murdered on 4 May 1978 in Adler Street by three teenage boys as he walked home from work. Ali’s murder was one of the many racist attacks that came to characterise the East End at that time

The exit from the park is through an arch created by David Petersen & developed as a memorial to Altab Ali & other victims of racist attacks. The arch incorporates a complex Bengali-style pattern, meant to show the merging of different cultures in East London

Next door’s a public water fountain that was once part of the church…

46. The very ornate buildings over the road comprise the Whitechapel Art Gallery. The one on the right was once the Library, which opened its doors on May 6 1892. Immediately people poured in from the poor streets whose cheap, shabby houses had been the homes of refugees & revolutionaries for centuries. It became known locally as the “university of the ghetto”

The Library quickly built up one of the biggest collections in any library of Jewish books, overtaken in 1971, by loans of books in Bengali. By the end of 1892 it had over 2,500 registered members, whose professions, carefully logged in a neat Victorian ledger, began with “actors and comedians” & ran to “ladies, no occupation given” by way of diamond cutters, lard refiners, feather merchants & curlers, & three journalists. The library closed in 2005

The Gallery was opened in 1901 as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London, & has a long track record for education & outreach projects, focused on local people. It exhibits the work of contemporary artists, as well as organising retrospective exhibitions & shows that are of interest to the local community

The Whitechapel has premiered international artists such as Pablo Picasso & Jackson Pollock & provided a showcase for Britain’s most significant artists including Gilbert & George & Lucian Freud

47. No.88 has an interesting design above its door…

This was the badge of Jewish Daily Post, which founded in 1935 by H.P Danders, whose premises were once based in this building. The paper was England’s first daily Anglo Jewish newspaper

48. It’s time to leave busy Whitechapel Road & return to the narrow, cobbled lanes of a London gone by. We do this by walking down the passage by the side of the White Hart pub, into Gunthorpe Street

The White Hart pub’s claim to Ripper fame is its close link to one of the prime suspects for the murders. A Polish immigrant called Severin Klosowski, who later became known as George Chapman, worked in a barber shop in the basement of the White Hart. The murder of Martha Tabram, who many people believe may have been the first victim happened at the back of the pub

Klosowski qualified as a junior surgeon in Poland in 1987 & later that year he decided to move to London, where he worked as an assistant hairdresser. In 1891, he emigrated to America with his wife Lucy Baderski. However, in 1892, Lucy returned to England after a violent argument with Klosowski, who followed her back just a few weeks later. In 1893, Severin started a new relationship with Annie Chapman, but they split up shortly after but Severin chose to ‘borrow’ her name, becoming George Chapman

George Chapman became a suspect in the Ripper murders after he was arrested for the murder of three of his wives in 1903. This gave rise to suggestions that he could have been the Ripper. However, there were also a number of inconsistencies that led investigators to believe this probably wasn’t their man

49. At the end of Gunthorpe Street, turn left into Wentworth Street…

Look at the red bricked arch which marks the entrance to the Charlotte de Rothschild Model Dwellings built in 1886 by the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company

The company was founded in 1885 by Rothschild & a board of other prominent, Jewish philanthropists to provide “the industrial classes with commodious & healthy dwellings at a minimum rent”. The “Four Per Cent” in the name refers to the return the company expected from its investment. By 1905, it had built six large blocks (known as ‘Rothschild houses comprising around 1,500 flats, or 3,800 rooms. “Each had two rooms, shared a toilet & kitchen with the adjacent flat, & opened to outdoor halls & stairways

50. Continue straight ahead across busy roads, walking towards the skyscrapers of modern London once more…

A sign for one of the local restaurants really caught our eye here

51. Shortly we arrive at Middlesex Street, more commonly, & famously known as ‘Petticoat Lane’. In Tudor times, it was known as Hogs Lane, which was lined by hedgerows & elms. It’s thought city bakers were allowed to keep pigs in the lane, outside the city wall, or possibly that it was an ancient droving trail. The lane’s rural nature changed, & by 1590, country cottages stood by the city walls. By 1608, it had become a commercial district where second-hand clothes & bric-a-brac were sold & exchanged, known as ‘Peticote Lane’. This was also where the Spanish ambassador had his house, & the area attracted many Spaniards from the reign of James I. Petticote Lane was severely affected by the Great Plague of 1665. The rich fled, & London lost a fifth of its population

Huguenots fleeing persecution arrived in the late 17th century &, as we’ve seen, many settled in the area, & master weavers settled in the new town of Spitalfields. The area already had an association with clothing, as dyeing was a local industry. The cloth was pegged out on hooks in the surrounding fields, known as tentergrounds. From the mid 18th century, Petticoat Lane became a centre for manufacturing clothes. The market served the ‘well-to-do’ in the City, selling new garments. About 1830, Peticote Lane’s name changed to Middlesex Street, to record the boundaries between the City & local Wards 

“You’re Fired!” Alan Sugar got his start as a stall holder in the market & it remains busy & vibrant, reflecting both its immigrant history & its continuing popularity with locals & tourists

52. Turn right & then left walking towards the Gherkin…

On the right in Cutler Street are the massive, former warehouses of the East India Company, also known as the Honourable East India Company, or the British East India Company. It was formed to trade in the Indian Ocean region, initially with Mughal India & the East Indies

53. This street leads into one of our favourite London Squares…Devonish Square

Walk down Devilish Row on the left side passing ‘The Bull & The Hide’ which is also a boutique hotel, handy for this walk…

54. Emerging from the alley, we find ourselves once again opposite Liverpool Street Station where we started & now end this stroll

So…what can we say about this walk. Probably that it’s amazing how it keep flitting from the present day back through history, & then back again on every street corner

If you want diversity in architecture, culture, food & just about everything else, then this one’s for you…

Go Walk!