I took advantage of the rare hours of January sunlight yesterday to take a stroll over to Globetown. You walk east from Museum Gardens in Bethnal Green through Sugar Loaf Walk and immediately recognise you have entered a different neighbourhood, where an atmosphere of domestic quietude prevails in distinct contrast to the clamour you encountered at the junction of Bethnal Green Rd and Cambridge Heath Rd. Cats prowl the empty streets while the residents are either snug in their homes or enjoying a long afternoon in The Camel or The Florists’ Arms.
This former marshland bisected by Globe Lane – now Globe Rd – takes its name from a old tavern that once stood here. The area was built up in the early Nineteenth Century by exploitative developers, throwing up poor quality homes for weavers on low incomes. Before long, commentators were comparing the notorious Globetown slum with Saffron Hill and St Giles High St. Consequently, most of the good quality nineteenth century building that remains today was constructed as social housing to alleviate the legacy of this poor development.
In Globe Rd, the first structure that you come upon is the handsome red brick Merceron Houses constructed by East End Dwellings Company in 1901. It was built upon the garden of Joseph Merceron, the most reprehensible eighteenth century resident of Bethnal Green, whose notoriety had faded by the end of the nineteenth century. Across the road is a modest sequence of terraces of workers’ cottages in the Arts & Crafts style from 1906 and, directly to the south, towers the handsome Board School with Mendip House and Shepton House beyond. All these buildings were the work of East End Dwellings Company and together they form a sympathetic complex of streets on a human scale, with The Camel adorned with its attractive Art Nouveau tiles at the centre.
Walking south and turning east into the Roman Rd, I was dismayed to discover the beloved Victoria Fish Bar has closed forever. After a lifetime of service, the proprietors have finally retired. On Sunday, Globetown Market Sq was empty but on weekdays this is a popular destination with stalls of keenly-priced fresh produce and the East End’s best wet fish barrow run by Del Downey, third generation fishmonger in this location.
I walked north up Bonner St and turned west again at the former Bishop Bonner pub into Cyprus St, built in a distinctly aspiration style as ‘Wellington St’ in 1850, still remembered in the name of the former Duke of Wellington pub. This is an astonishing and handsome example of an unaltered mid-nineteenth century streetscape.
These distinguished nineteenth century survivals are surrounded by twentieth century housing of greater and lesser quality, evidencing the continuing struggle to overcome the grim legacy of exploitative development – both historical and recent – and give everyone in the East End a decent home.
The Camel on Sugar Loaf Walk dates from before 1861 when it was named as the Museum Beer Shop
Cottages built by East End Dwellings company in Globe Rd
In Gawber Rd
Board School of 1900 in Welwyn St
Open staircase at Mendip Dwellings built by East End Dwellings Company in 1900
The Florists’ Arms in Globe Rd dates from before 1871 and its name refers to the former local culture of competitive flower growing introduced by the Huguenots
The Victoria Fish Bar in Roman Rd has recently closed forever
The Bishop Bonner, Bonner St, dates from before 1863 and its name refers to Bishop Bonner whose palace formerly stood nearby on the site of the London Chest Hospital
In Cyprus St
Memorial to former residents of Cyprus St who died in war – Bethnal Green provided the highest number of volunteers of any London borough in the First World War
Drinking fountain in Museum Gardens
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This post first appeared on Spitalfields Life | In The Midst Of Life I Woke To, please read the originial post: here