News and Events

Whitechapel Art and History Walk

Posted by Shahed Saleem on June 8, 2017

Date and Time: 8 p.m., Saturday 1st July, 2017 - Saturday 1st July, 2017

A guided walk across Whitechapel, exploring in its history plus Art Night installations

8-10pm (meet in Altab Ali Park)

Join the Survey of London on a guided walk through Whitechapel’s rich and diverse history along with selected Art Night installations, a festival of all night outdoor art with the Whitechapel Gallery ( Learn about the artworks en route, as well as Whitechapel's places of worship, immigration, social and industrial history and hear personal memories drawn from the Survey's oral histories. Visit sites of former German sugar refineries, the first Lutheran Church, the park where St Mary Matfelon, the white chapel, once stood, the East London Mosque, former workhouses, see how textile industries have given way to new industries, the Royal London Hospital and the variety of buildings across its estate, amongst other diverse and fascinating places.

The tour will feature the following Art Night commissions: Benedict Drew at the Whitechapel Gallery, Güneş Terkol at The Cass & Middlesex Street Estate, Lawrence Lek at The White Chapel Building, Do Ho Suh in Commercial Street.

Please register for the walk here


Going Digital: Mapping Family Histories of Whitechapel

Posted by Survey of London on June 5, 2017

On Saturday 3rd June we held a fascinating workshop on personal and family histories of Whitechapel at the Tower Hamlets Archives on Bancroft Road. The event was attended by a range of people who represented diverse strands of Whitechapel’s history. Here’s a quick summary of some of the stories we listened to, to give you a flavour of the day:

Sufia Alam opened the session by narrating the story of how her father settled first in Princelet Street in the 1960s, before moving to Yorkshire with his young family. Her uncle remained in the East End, and Sufia and her family would spend summers in Whitechapel where they felt a great connection with the place and the Bangladeshi community living there. After her marriage Sufia moved back to East London and has spent the last 20 years working in local womens’ organisations, including the Jagonari Centre, and she is now the manager of the East London Mosques’s Maryam Centre from where she continues to run programmes for local women.

Another participant, Jackie, grew up on Petticoat Lane in the 1950s and reminisced about how the lanterns on the market stalls were lit up as night fell, as well as eating a lot of smoked salmon. She remembered there were many shoe shops on the street as well as a grocers which was very well known, Mossi Marks, located on the corner of Wentworth Street and Toynbee Street. 

Eleanor Leverington has memories of a happy childhood in Whitechapel before moving later in life further east. Her mother Pat, who also spoke at the event, migrated to the East End from Ireland in 1950. Reflecting back over many years, she felt that Whitechapel has provided a fulfilling home for her and her five children. Meanwhile Denis cast his mind back to his early years growing up on Anglesea Street and attending the well-known Brady Boys' Club.


Also a long-standing resident of the area, Stanley Meinchick and his wife’s wedding was the last to be held at the New Road Synagogue in 1973, he remembered that it was such a small synagogue that they had to walk down the aisle one behind the other. 

Rosemarie Wayland recalled a visit to the home in Old Montague Street of the first Bengali girl to arrive in her class, around 1960. She remembers the girl's mother giving her Jacob's Cream Crackers with strawberry jam, to make her feel at home with "English food", which disappointed Rosemarie whose mouth was watering at the smell of the spicy food the woman was cooking.

Tony Wetjen, spoke about his research into the history of his family, who settled in Whitechapel after arriving from Germany several generations ago. His was one of many families who arrived to work in the sugar refining industry locally. He uncovered the mystery of his Norweigan-sounding surname which he found had been adopted during the First World War to deflect anti-German feeling. As he pointed out, it was a strategy adopted by our own Royal Family when they changed their name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the more English (and manageable) Windsor. 

We are collating the many memories shared, and linking them to sites in Whitechapel to be put onto our map. We are always on the look-out for more, so do contribute yours, either online or simply send us an email.

Recording the Pavilion Theatre in 1961

Posted by Survey of London on June 1, 2017

John Earl, doyen among historians of theatres, remembers recording the derelict remains of the Whitechapel Pavilion in 1961:

It was a dauntingly complex task, as to my (then) untrained eye, it appeared to be an impenetrable forest of heavy timbers, movable platforms and hoisting gear, looking like the combined wreckage of half a dozen windmills!  I started by chalking an individual number on every stage joist in an attempt to provide myself with a simple skeleton on which to hang the more complicated details. Richard Southern's explanations enabled me to allocate names to the various pieces of apparatus, correcting my guesses.  (‘Stage basement’ for example was, I learned, an imprecise way of naming a space with three distinct levels).  He also gave me a brilliant introduction to the workings of a traditional wood stage and to the theatric purposes each part fulfilled.

The attached sketch attempts to give a summary view of the entire substage.

It is set at the first level below the stage, with the proscenium wall at the top and the back wall of the stage house at the bottom.  In the terminology of the traditional wood stage, this is the ‘mezzanine’, from which level, all the substage machinery was worked by an army of stage hands. In the centre, the heavily outlined rectangle is the ‘cellar’, deeper by about 7ft below the mezzanine floor.  Housed in the cellar are a variety of vertically movable platforms designed to move pieces of scenery and complete set pieces.

It may be observed at this point that not all of this apparatus will have resulted from one build.  A wood stage had the great advantage that it could be adapted at short notice by the stage carpenter to meet the demands of a particular production.  The substage, as seen, represents a particular moment in its active life.

There are five fast rise or ‘star’ traps for the sudden appearance (or disappearance) of individual performers (clowns, etc) through the stage floor. The three traps nearest to the audience are ‘two post’ traps, rather primitive and capable of causing serious injury to an inexpert user.  Upstage of these are two of the more advanced and marginally safer ‘four post’ traps.  In both types, the performer stood on a box-like counter-weighted platform with his (usually his) head touching the centre of a ’star' of leather-hinged wood segments.  Beefy stage hands pulled suddenly (but with split second timing) on the lines supporting the box, shooting him through the star.  In an instant, it closed behind him, leaving no visible aperture in the stage surface.

Farther upstage is a row of ’sloats’,  designed to hold scenic flats, to be slid up through the stage floor. Next comes a grave trap which, as the name suggests, can provide a rectangular sinking in the stage (‘Alas, poor Yorick’).  Finally, a short bridge and a long bridge, to carry heavy set pieces, with or without chorus members, up through (and, when required, a bit above) the stage.  These bridges were operated from whopping great drum and shaft mechanisms on the mezzanine.

In order to get all these vertical movements to pass through the stage, its joists, counter-intuitively, have to span from side to side, the long span rather than the more obvious short span.  This makes it possible to have removable sections ‘(sliders’) in the stage floor, which are held level position by paddle levers at the ends.  When these are released, the slider drops on to runners on the sides of the joists and are then winched off to left and right.

The survey of the Pavilion stage was important at the time because it seemed to be the first time that anything of the kind had been done, however imperfectly. Since then, we have learned of complete surviving complexes at, for example, Her Majesty’s theatre in London, the Citizens in Glasgow and, most importantly, the Tyne theatre in Newcastle, which has been restored to full working order twice (once after a dreadfully destructive fire) by Dr David Wilmore.  Nevertheless, the loss of the archaeological evidence of the Pavilion is much to be regretted.

I can have enjoyable fantasies about witnessing an elaborate pantomime transformation scene from the mezzanine of a Victorian theatre.  The place is seething with stage hands, dressers and flimsily clad chorus girls climbing on to the bridges, while the stage is shuddering, having been temporarily robbed of rigidity by the drawing off of the sliders.  Orders must be observed to the letter and to the very second, but there can be no shouting, however energetically the orchestra plays.  Add naked gas flames to the mix…

That's enough!

Unsettled Whitechapel – a conference report

Posted by Sarah Milne, Survey of London on May 22, 2017

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.

Whitechapel Histories Map

Posted by Shahed Saleem on April 18, 2017

Date and Time: Thursday 1st June, 2017

A display of the Whitechapel Histories map where you can interact physically with it by sticking your pin on a place, and writing your contribution about it.

Further infomation about the project on screen and print will also be displayed.

Location: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Local Archives, 1st floor gallery

Date: June 1st 2017 - September 1st 2017

Whitechapel on Film

Posted by Shahed Saleem on April 18, 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.

Date 29th June

Time: 5.30-7.30pm

Location: Tower Hamlets LHLA, 277 Bancroft Road, London E1 4 DQ

Free to attend, limited numbers - registration link to follow


At Home in Whitechapel

Posted by Shahed Saleem on April 18, 2017

Date and Time: Thursday 1st June, 2017

An exhibition of photographs by local photographer Rehan Jamil of people in their homes in Whitechapel.

The photographs show the range of people and living spaces in this diverse area.

Location: The Aldgate Coffee House, 68 Whitechapel High Street E1 7PL

Date: June 1st - August 1st 2017

Lecture - Boundary blurring in Whitechapel: Whose history is it anyway?

Posted by Shahed Saleem on April 18, 2017

Date and Time: 6 p.m., Wednesday 21st June, 2017

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

Date: Wednesday June 21st 2017

Time: 6.30pm

This event is free, but please register at:


Whitechapel Guided Walk

Posted by Shahed Saleem on April 18, 2017

Date and Time: 6 p.m., Saturday 17th June, 2017

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: Saturday 17th June

Time: 6.00-8.00pm

Meet in Altab Ali Park

Cost £3 please register here:

Going Digital: Mapping family history in Whitechapel with the Survey of London

Posted by Shahed Saleem on April 18, 2017

Date and Time: 1 p.m., Saturday 3rd June, 2017

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.

Date: Saturday 3rd June 2017

Time: 1-4pm

Attendance is free but please register:

Location: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, 277 Bancroft Road E1 4DQ

Illustration by Judit Ferencz