Between 29 - 31 March 2017, an international conference entitled ‘Unsettled – Urban Routines, Temporalities and Contestations’ was hosted by the Technical University, Vienna, Austria. It aimed to explore conditions and conceptions of the unsettled. At this event Sarah Milne and Shahed Saleem presented their paper ‘A Kind of English: The East London Mosque and Whitechapel’s German Churches as Diasporic Religious Spaces’.
The paper explored the role of religious buildings for migrant communities in Whitechapel, considering how such groups created and connected to conceptions of ‘home’ through their places of worship. Two particular migrant groups were examined as they moved into and dispersed from Whitechapel. The analysis started with the German community (Deutsche Kolonie) in the East End, and its close links to the sugar refining industry in the nineteenth century. Sarah and Shahed then considered the Bangladeshi community who started to settle in large numbers from the 1970s.
Drawing on the Survey’s research into three local German churches (St George’s Lutheran, St Paul’s Reformed and St Boniface Catholic), Sarah and Shahed also interviewed Sigrid Werner, associated to St George’s, and Father Chris Dieckmann of St Boniface to further understand the churches’ funding, sociability, cultural and spatial practices over time.
Utilising research from Shahed’s forthcoming book The British Mosque, the paper then outlined the development of the East London Mosque (ELM) in the context of a growing working class Muslim community in East London. It suggested that there were many more barriers to integration for the first-generation Bengali migrants than for the Germans. It argued that the ELM in fact has served to unite different ethnicities under a pan-Islamic and transnational vision for the mosque. As the present-day Bengali community trickles out of Whitechapel, the mosque’s aspiration to move beyond the local and address regional and perhaps national Muslim needs finds expression organisationally as well as architecturally.
The conference itself thought seriously about the diverse manifestations of urban instability in a range of international situations both past and present. Presentations ranged from ‘Creeping Urban Apartheid’ in Tel Aviv to ‘Unsettling the Sociopolitical Order through Hip Hop Practices’ in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. There were many exciting conversations and propositions for active engagement in places all over the world as a result of the discussions.
In collaboration with the Institute of Historical Research, we are running a guided walk around Whitechapel focussing on places of worship, immigration and personal memories drawn from our oral histories.
Walk through layers of social history, visiting the sites of former German sugar refineries, an 18th-century German Lutheran Church and 20th-century German Catholic church, the park where St Mary Matfelon (the 'white chapel') once stood, the East London Mosque, former workhouses, the Royal London Hospital and the variety of buildings across its estate, amongst other diverse and fascinating places.
This event is part of the London Festival of Architecture 2017.
Date and Time: 5:30 p.m., Thursday 29th June, 2017
Film Night: Whitechapel 1968
In collaboration with Tower Hamlets Archives, we are delighted to present a screening of two contrasting documentaries featuring Whitechapel made in the 'year of revolutions', 1968.
Georgia Brown: Who are the Cockneys Now? is a very personal look by the singer and actress Georgia Brown, returning to her childhood haunts in Whitechapel. She reflects on her own Jewish heritage and that of the area (inluding the Brady Club) and looks at the changing character of Whitechapel, which she celebrates as a place that has always welcomed immigrants. It features interviews with Lionel Bart, who she went to school with, Vidal Sassoon, the writer Wolf Mankowitz and the legendary Tubby Isaacs, the jellied eel man, and many other locals. There are evocative scenes of Petticoat Lane, Old Montague Street, Whitechapel Road, Black Lion Yard and Hessel Street and the streets just north of Wentworth Street, including her old school in Deal Street, much of which was soon to be demolished for redevelopment.
The London Nobody Knows, filmed in the same apocalyptic year, is described as a 'trippy documentary', presented by the actor James Mason. It is not just about Whitechapel, but includes a major segment about it, an outsider's view in contrast to Georgia Brown's.
Afterwards we'll have time for a discussion about the films, and memories from that time, and we'll have a large copy of our Whitechapel map so you can add your recollections of the places seen in the films. We'll also have a hand-out with the locations in the films identified, and we’ll share some of the material that we have gathered so far on those places in our research and from contributions.
In collaboration with the Institute of Historical Research this lecture by the Survey of London will review the Histories of Whitechapel project to date, looking at issues raised and insights gained through this experimental project. Survey historians Sarah Milne and Aileen Reid will consider the question of who writes history, and will present a sample of the most thought-provoking contributions and explore how history can be co-created through a combination of archive and memory.
Location: The Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Join a fascinating panel of speakers and explore Whitechapel's history through their rich family and personal stories. Joe Swinburne was born on Spelman Street in 1923 before moving to Vallance Road where his block of flats was bombed in the blitz of 1941. After demobilisation he spent his working life in the local authority, observing Whitechapel's changes through the second half of the 20th century. Gary Hutton is a Whitechapel born and bred author, historian and social activist, who grew up locally in the 70s and 80s. He uses social media to connect past and present residents of Whitechapel through their stories and memories and runs a charity to mentor young people. Sufia Alam is the manager of the East London Mosque's Maryam Centre and has been involved in women's advocacy projects since the 1990s. Her father settled in Whitechapel in the 1960s before moving the family to Yorkshire, from where she returned to the East End as a young adult.
Attendees are encouraged not only to be part of the conversation, but also to be part of the writing of Whitechapel's history - bring your family photos, artefacts and memories, we can digitise them and put them onto our digital map on the day. We will also be making audio recordings of any memories and recollections, which can become part of our website and will be archived at the Tower Hamlets Archives.
There will also be a discussion on the role of digital technology in mapping, recording and sharing histories and memories, with presentations by the Survey of London and the innovative Layers of London project, currently being developed.
The event will be in collaboration with the Tower Hamlets Archives to coincide with their exhibition 'Mapping the Hamlets', which displays the different ways in which the area has been recorded in maps since 1610.
In fieldwork carried out in 2011-12 twenty-one interviewees explained the need to preserve the identification of Whitechapel Road with the Sylheti community as a reaction to the gentrification process.
Saba (53) was preoccupied with the possible loss of individual cultural identity and the uprootedness of a society that is more and more like a market in which nothing prevents the stronger from dominating the weaker: "I am worried about an oncoming blending of local culture, as other multinational chains follow Starbucks into the area and attempt to gentrify it with their bland corporate décor and homogenous facades. We must defend our area and culture from taking over".
Puja (34) said: "I see Shoreditch, about a mile from here, that every venue has the same hipster formula applied. There's no place for identity anymore".
Abida (26) claimed: "It feels like the East-End becomes a playground for the rich and Japanese. We are worried that property prices soar pushing us, the original residents, out. We’d better sell inside."
As of 2002, indirect collaborations succeeded in strengthening the Sylheti presence on Whitechapel Road. Collective behaviour thus attracted Sylheti newcomers. The area designated as Sylheti territory was marked by its own market prices, strengthening the community members' sense of place, and improving their ability to cope with local challenges.
This is an extract from a paper titled 'A decision not to decide: A new challenge for planning', to be published in European Planning Studies.
At the beginning of 2017 the late-Victorian pair of shop-houses at this address was demolished, for replacement in replica form as part of a wider development project. The circumstances of the pair's construction in 1893-4 were unusual. An early timber-framed and jettied three-storey pair here was gutted by fire on 20 August 1893. For reconstruction the landlord, Fasham Venables, a linendraper on Whitechapel High Street, employed Henry Hyman Collins as surveyor and Amos Eaton & Co. as builder, the last also based on Whitechapel High Street. The old front walls were retained for the sake of the upper-storey projection, but Arthur Crow, the District Surveyor, objected and took the matter to court, arguing that the work constituted rebuilding so the projection had to be sacrificed. He prevailed, and work with set-back brick front walls was completed in March 1894. Please have a look at the images attached to this site on our map.
Since Dorothy George’s London Life in the Eighteenth Century (1925) historians have sought to explain East London’s poorer standards of building in the context of custom of the manors of Stepney and Hackney, originating before the Reformation when they belonged to the bishops of London. By one particular custom, copyholders (tenants of manorial land) could grant leases for a maximum of only thirty-one years, risking forfeiture of their copyholds by the lord of Stepney manor if they transgressed. Such short building leases would dissuade tenants from building to proper standards. This explanation was broadly accepted by Alan Palmer, for instance, though he pointed to areas such as Wellclose Square and Swedenborg Gardens as exceptions to the usual lack of pattern. ‘The persistence of the ancient copyhold system of tenure ruled out rich rewards for speculative investment on a large scale … So curious a restraint helped to make land cheaper, but it also favoured the spread of small houses, haphazardly packed into narrow streets.’ But Derek Morris has recently pointed out that the 31-year leases could be renewed on the payment of a fine to the lord of the manor. What is more, ‘Local historians have known for many years that while [short leases] may have been the original intention of the lord of the manor, the actual practice was very different. Leases were granted of 66, 99 or 500 years in order to obtain the fines.’  If this is so, the lords of Stepney manor, first the Wentworths and then the Colebrookes, were open to corruption, as they could be induced to break their own rules to authorize development.
From April to October 2016 I was part of the Survey of London’s Whitechapel team, cataloguing records at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives describing property in Whitechapel. This was to enable the Survey to have recourse to as much primary source material as possible, and the descriptions are also available to all users of THLHLA’s online catalogue www.thcatalogue.org.uk. During the cataloguing process I certainly found that long lease terms were not uncommon in the manor of Stepney, in which most of the present-day Borough of Tower Hamlets lay, including the parish of Whitechapel. But they would not have been possible on copyhold land. Tenants’ admissions to and surrenders of copyhold land in the manor are recorded in its court rolls and books, which survive with some gaps from 1318, including an uninterrupted sequence of 88 court books at London Metropolitan Archives dating from 1654 to 1925. It would be almost impossible to indicate on a map of Stepney which land was copyhold at any particular date, because it was so fragmented even by early modern times, and the property descriptions in the court roll are rarely precise enough for accurate location. But those of the corresponding deeds held at Tower Hamlets Archives are easily recognizable as they take the form of copies from the court roll. The cornerstone of Tower Hamlets Archives’ holdings of title deeds is those parts of the private collections of J. Coleman and F. Marcham that related to Stepney, which the Metropolitan Borough purchased in 1909. Among these, there are fifty-four titles to Whitechapel land, with deeds dating from 1589 to 1838, and of them only seven are copyholds. During the course of this project about 650 title deeds have been catalogued, and my impression is that the proportion of copyholds among them would be similar. The remainder are for freehold land, which could have been bought and sold, or leased for unlimited periods.
For instance, land at the east end of Whitechapel High Street and on the Thames foreshore at Limehouse was being leased in the 1580s for 500-year terms by Henry lord Wentworth. As he was lord of Stepney, this land might have been part of the manorial desmesne, and there seemed to be no subsequent restriction on the leaseholders assigning these leases for the remainder of the term, nor about private individuals leasing freehold property for even longer terms. Such long leases of copyhold land would have been impossible, though copyholders could express intentions in their wills to keep it in their family, and even entail it. As for the manorial fine, it was a customary payment to the lord whenever a new manorial tenant was admitted to copyhold land. It should not be regarded as punitive, although elsewhere in the country entry fines are known to have increased during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while rents to the lord were set by custom and remained unchanged.
If the lords of Stepney wished or needed to raise cash from copyholders willing to purchase, they could enfranchise copyhold land, that is, convert it to freehold, long before the Copyhold Act of 1852 allowed tenants to demand this. One major copyholder of the mid eighteenth century was Edward Baynes, who held about sixty plots on the south side of Whitechapel Road and Mile End Road, including the ‘Prince of Orange’s Head’ and the ‘George Inn’ (14 Whitechapel Road). On his death in the 1760s his son was admitted to them but soon surrendered a part, to which a ‘gentleman of the Tower of London’, Anthony Foreman, was then admitted. Sir George Colebrooke, lord of Stepney, then enfranchised it, allowing Foreman to purchase the freehold and then to develop the area of Fieldgate Street and Greenfield Street in a succession of leases to builders. The restrictions of copyhold, then, were generally limited to small pockets of Stepney and could be overcome by legal means. More research on this topic is probably needed: I do not claim to have an informed viewpoint, but would suggest that we may have to look to other causes to explain the pattern of development in the East End. If we suspect the lords of Stepney were open to corruption, we need more evidence, and probably comparisons with the degree to which lords of the manor in other London suburbs adhered to manorial custom.
Map of the Baynes Estate in 1729 (Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives)
1 - Alan Palmer, The East End: Four Centuries of London Life (London, 1989, rev. edn, 2000), pp. 16–17.
2 - Derek Morris, Whitechapel 1600–1800: a social history of an early modern London inner suburb (East London History Society, 2011), p. 5.
3 - Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), P/SLC/1/17/3–4.