Wombat's (Aldgate Hostel), 7 Dock Street

1830-5 to Ensign Street as the Brunswick Maritime Establishment, an early sailors' home, extended to Dock Street in 1863–5 (rebuilt 1953-8)

A Friendly Place
Contributed by David Charnick on May 22, 2018

In his Notes on Life and Letters of 1921, the author and former merchant seaman Joseph Conrad reflects on his experiences of the Brunswick Maritime Establishment and Sailors' Home, which he knew between 1878 and 1894. He calls it the Well Street Home (Well Street being the former name for Ensign Street, where the Home's much-altered original frontage still stands). Conrad refers to the Home as 'a friendly place':

'I have listened to the talk on the decks of ships in all latitudes, when its name would turn up frequently, and if I had to characterise its good work in one sentence, I would say that, for seamen, the Well Street Home was a friendly place. It was essentially just that; quietly, unobtrusively, with a regard for the independence of the men who sought its shelter ashore, and with no ulterior aims behind that effective friendliness. No small merit this. And its claim on the generosity of the public is derived from a long record of valuable service.'

When I lived in the sailors' home... and a few broken plates
Contributed by Norbert_Lanfranco on Aug. 2, 2017

I lived in the sailor home, Dock St, in '57, moved to the Hearts of Oak pub, Dock St. In Ensign St, corner of the Highway, my landlord was a Maltese man, Mr Sapiro... when drunk he used to throw plates and pots out the first-floor window into the Highway. I hope it brings you a bit of history!

Photograph of bollards marking site of Royal Brunswick Theatre, 1964
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 19, 2016

These iron bollards, which survive, are marked RBT for Royal Brunswick Theatre, which stood, briefly (1828), on the west side of Ensign Street (then Well Street). Like its predecessor, the Royalty Theatre (1787-1826) it was destroyed by fire. The image is a digitised colour slide from the Tower Hamlets Archives collection:


Brief history of a 'Maritime Establishment'
Contributed by Survey of London on Aug. 31, 2017

Built in 1830-5 facing Ensign Street as the Brunswick Maritime Establishment, the early sailors' home formerly on this site was extended to Dock Street in 1863-5. The hostel was purposed to ‘encourage habits of decorum, economy, and self-cultivation, and to contribute in educating [seamen] as missionaries of Commerce to the ends of the earth’ (Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 24 May 1872). Still operating successfully by the middle of the twentieth century, the hostel was known as the Sailors’ Home and Red Ensign Club and could accommodate 235 men at any one time. Serving many hundreds of thousands of seamen over the years, it was part of a network of hostels and lodging houses which catered for the East End’s mariners, conveniently located for access to employment through the ‘pool’. The Home was rebuilt in the 1950s to designs by Brian O’Rorke and Colin Murray which were intended to upgrade facilities and ensure its relevancy, but in fact financial difficulties dogged the hostel until its eventual demise in 1974, owing to changes in the maritime trade. Presently the building is utilised as a backpacker’s hostel, Wombat’s.

Wombat's (Aldgate Hostel), Dock Street, in 2015
Contributed by Peter Guillery

1860s Dock Street frontage of the Sailors' Home, c. 1905
Contributed by Aileen Reid

Dock Street hostel from the north-west in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Dock Street hostel from the west in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Dock Street hostel with vicarage from the south-west in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Royal Brunswick Theatre (Front Elevation)
Contributed by David Charnick

1896 - Dock Street Frontage of the Sailors' Home
Contributed by David Charnick