Whitechapel Market, Whitechapel Road

street market, with furnishings including the King Edward VII Memorial Drinking Fountain

The Waste: a history of Whitechapel Road's market
Contributed by Survey of London on Nov. 30, 2017

All day long and all the year round there is a constant Fair going on in Whitechapel Road. It is held upon the broad pavement, which was benevolently intended, no doubt, for this purpose. Here are displayed all kinds of things; bits of second-hand furniture, such as the head of a wooden bed, whose griminess is perhaps exaggerated, in order that a purchaser may expect something extraordinarily cheap. Here are lids of pots and saucepans laid out, to show that in the warehouse, of which these things are specimens, will be found the principal parts of the utensils for sale; here are unexpected things, such as rows of skates, sold cheap in summer, light clothing in winter; workmen’s tools of every kind, including, perhaps, the burglarious jemmy; second-hand books – a miscellaneous collection, establishing the fact that the readers of books in Whitechapel – a feeble and scanty folk – read nothing at all except sermons and meditations among the tombs; second-hand boots and shoes; cutlery; hats and caps; rat-traps and mouse-traps and birdcages; flowers and seeds; skittles; and frames for photographs. Cheap- jacks have their carts beside the pavement; and with strident voice proclaim the goodness of their wares, which include in this district bloaters and dried haddocks, as well as crockery. And one is amazed, seeing how the open-air Fair goes on, why the shops are kept open at all.1

By the 1880s, when this was written, trading on Whitechapel Road’s open spaces was long established, if not exactly by benevolent intent. It was informal and undocumented, simply tolerated by the Manor of Stepney, which owned what was generally known as Mile End Waste (waste or common manorial land). That name applied to around 300 to 400 yards along an exceptionally wide road either side of Mile End Gate, a tollgate just east of Whitechapel’s parish boundary for a turnpike that had been established in the early eighteenth century. Covenants in seventeenth-century manorial leases of building plots on Mile End Green (which included the eastern part of Whitechapel Road) provided for the paving of footpaths in front of buildings and cleaning of the ditch beyond, along with the planting of elm trees at 10ft intervals between the footpaths and ditches. They did not preclude trade.

In the 1850s there were stalls and costermongers’ barrows along the north side of Whitechapel Road from St Mary (Davenant) Street to Charrington’s Brewery in Mile End Old Town. Some sections of the waste were given over to the setting- out of furniture and, street junctions aside, paved cart roads separated the ground at several points. There was a urinal at Court Street and an omnibus stand in front of the Blind Beggar. The Grave Maurice and the London Hospital public houses had seats and tables out in front. The south side was far less busy, but furniture and ironmongery was displayed on parts of the waste east of the London Hospital.

The status quo was destabilised after 1855 by the newly formed Whitechapel District Board of Works. It laid down gravel and placed iron posts across the waste at intervals and then in 1858 laid claim to control of the waste and its market, attempting to enforce the removal of a temporary structure in front of the site that is now Whitechapel Station. This usurpation of manorial rights was successfully resisted in 1860, 71 property holders, among whom Henry Wainwright was a leader, having petitioned the Lord of the Manor for protection, a strong indication of the extent to which shopkeepers displayed their own wares on the waste.2

Undeterred, the Board pushed ahead with plans to pave the waste. That work was carried out in 1863 through Henry R. Fricker, the Board’s Surveyor. Granite- cube paving was laid on several sections of the interstitial space between the road and the footways. Despite the Board’s regularising intentions, something truly like a fair did arise. Sheds of canvas screens as long as 50ft and 10ft high were erected on framing-rod uprights rammed between the paving cubes, with naphtha lamps on other rods to light stalls with ball pitches, coconut shies, quoits and a shooting gallery. The Manor tolerated this use for many years up to 1898 when there were prosecutions to enforce its cessation.

In 1904 Stepney Council sought to take control of the market on the waste in both Whitechapel and Mile End to regulate nuisance traders. Terms were agreed with the Manor in 1909 and the Council acquired strips on both north and south sides from Vallance Road east into Mile End where gardens were laid out in 1909–10.

Thus regulated, trading west of Mile End Gate came to be called Whitechapel Market, though it is still regularly referred to as ‘the Waste’. It was noted in the 1970s for clothing, jewellery, flowers, second-hand records and hi-fi equipment. By the 1980s, when there were 124 pitches between Vallance Road and Cambridge Heath Road, the market was being transformed by a transition to Bangladeshi stallholders. They remain predominant, and there is still much clothing, as well as a range of foods hard to come by elsewhere.3

The market’s street furniture was renewed as part of the High Street 2012 project. Alan Baxter & Associates and East Architecture Landscape Urban Design oversaw standardisation of demountable market stalls, and the additions of perforated metal screens to face the road and catenary lighting along the pavement on a row of standards, as well as new bollards and seating.

The grandest and finest piece of furniture on Whitechapel Market stands in front of No. 259. It is the King Edward VII Memorial Drinking Fountain, ‘erected from subscriptions raised by Jewish inhabitants of East London 1911’, as is related on a medallion on the tall monument’s north side. The idea for this fountain originated with the writer Annie Gertrude Landa (née Hannah Gittel Gordon, and also known by the pseudonym Aunt Naomi). Her husband, Myer Jack Landa, a journalist, had learned of the death of King Edward VII in 1910 through a crossed line with Home Secretary Winston Churchill, securing a scoop for the Daily News. The fountain was unveiled in March 1912 by the Hon. Charles Rothschild and presented to Stepney Borough Council. The bronze sculptural elements are by William Silver Frith. The structure comprises a Hopton Wood stone pylon on a plinth surmounted by a figure of the Angel of Peace. Semi-circular bowls face east and west below winged figures of Justice and Liberty flanked by cherubs sporting attributes of the King’s enthusiasms. A portrait medallion of the King on the south side was stolen in the 1980s. The fountain was renovated in the early 1990s with a grant from the Heritage of London Trust. The missing medallion was replaced, but to a different form, with a profile looking west rather than east as its predecessor had. Seraph spouts were reinstated.4

Whitechapel District Board of Works formed a Sanitary Committee in late 1892, one of the first duties of which was to improve the condition and provision of public conveniences, heretofore made of iron standards and plates, with the exception of a single underground facility on Leman Street. Attention turned directly to Whitechapel Road and a site on the corner east of Bakers Row (Vallance Road) was selected for new underground conveniences (in front of 197–199 Whitechapel Road). For males only, these were built with stairs down at either end in 1893, by Walter Gladding under the supervision of the Board’s surveyor; they were reconstructed for Stepney Borough Council in 1935. It was 1900 before equivalent female conveniences were built in front of 241 Whitechapel Road.5

Deemed redundant by 1991, the male toilets were reconstructed around 1996 with a single-storey steel superstructure (199A Whitechapel Road) for a restaurant and food stall. This was done for Ruhun Nahar Chowdhury, to designs by Clements & Porter Architects (Ingerid Helsing Almaas, job architect) by the London Construction Company of Ilford. In 2006 the superstructure had to be removed after serious damage by a bus. Plans by MacCormac Jamieson Prichard for replacement with a new pavilion to include a hair salon were approved, but not seen through.6

K2 telephone kiosks of 1927, as designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, stand in front of Nos 249 and 331 Whitechapel Road, protected by listed status. There is a listed iron cannon bollard on the east side of Fulbourne Street at its north end near the corner with Durward Street. This bears the date 1818 and has been said to be a parish boundary marker. However, it is not on or near a parish boundary and, marked ‘CHt CH – MIDD’, has evidently been moved from a site in the parish of Christ Church Spitalfields.

  1. Walter Besant, All Sorts and Conditions of Men, 1882 (edn 2012), p. 98 

  2. London Metropolitan Archives, M/93/263,286,427–430: John Rocque, 'Map of London etc', 1746 

  3. Ordnance Survey map, 1873: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), L/WBW/1/5, pp. 390–2, 529; Stepney Borough Council Annual Report, 1909–10: Reynold’s Newspaper, 6 March 1898:  East London Advertiser, 24 Nov 1978: Time Out, 13 Dec 1979: Transport for London Group Archvies, LT000682/089 

  4. Historic England, London historians file TH151: eds William D. Rubinstein, Michael Jolles, Hilary L. Rubinstein, The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History, 2011, p. 543: newsreel of unveiling www.youtube.com/wa tch?v=aanvqQlVeBE: The Independent, 10 Aug 1991 

  5. THLHLA, L/WBW/1/19, pp. 61, 104, 130–1, 301; L/WBW/1/22, pp. 503–5; L/WBW/7/1, pp. 12–14, 43: District Surveyors Returns 

  6. THLHLA, Building Control files 17606–7 

Sylheti settlement on Whitechapel Road
Contributed by Shlomit Flint on Feb. 28, 2017

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', published in European Planning Studies.

Walking along Whitechapel Road to the Waste, c. 1960
Contributed by patricia on July 5, 2017

To walk to Whitechapel Road, we would go down Greatorex Street, passing the bomb sites on the street, the little houses and the factories opposite Great Garden Street, turn left at the corner of Whitechapel Road, and pass by the Gas Shop, a shoe repair shop next door, Adolph Cohen Hair stylist (where Vidal Sassoon got his start), then Dolcis shoes and continued walking, past Davenant School, where my husband went to school, past Vallance Road, and go shopping along the Waste. I got my first record player plus three records at Wally for Wireless next to Whitechapel Station. There was always music playing along the Waste. Barrow boys calling out the price of fruit and veg. In the winter they had fires going to keep warm and to roast chestnuts plus lights everywhere when it got dark early. You could also get to Whitechapel High Street by going through Old Montague Street, but I never liked going that way as the houses were old and dilapidated. It was a bit scary as a child.

Whitechapel Road and the market in 1975
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 16, 2016

A digitised colour slide of the market in 1975 from the Tower Hamlets Archives collection:


Whitechapel Road and the market, 1975
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 19, 2016

A digitised colour slide form the collection of the Tower Hamlets Archives:


My grandparents' stall
Contributed by Maureen on July 31, 2017

My grandparents used to be stallholders at Whitechapel Market in the 1920s. They made and sold children's clothes. They had to sleep out all night and in the morning run for a pitch and tip the inspector sixpence. There were no licences in those days.

What I think of the market
Contributed by Gulam_Mostofa_Chowdhury on Sept. 11, 2017

Gulam Mostofa Chowdhury, interviewed by his neighbour Jil Cove, August 2017

I use Whitechapel market to buy fruit and vegetables and I know that my daughters buy their scarves there. But I do think they should make the stalls look better than they do now, they look very temporary and untidy even if they’re there everyday.

The Whitechapel 'fatberg'
Contributed by Survey of London on Feb. 21, 2018

The Whitechapel ‘fatberg’, a congealed mass of solid sewage, among the largest ever found at about 250m long and 130 tonnes was removed from the sewer under this side of this section of Whitechapel Road by Thames Water in late 2017. A section is on display at the Museum of London in early 2018.

Whitechapel Market, 1975
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 19, 2016

A view of the market from a digitised colour slide in the Tower Hamlets Archives collection:


Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, from west
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market
Contributed by Judit Ferencz

Whitechapel Market, view to the Royal London Hospital
Contributed by Judit Ferencz

Whitechapel Market in July 2015
Contributed by Peter Guillery

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, from south-west
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, figure of Justice
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, cherub two
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, cherub three
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, W. S. Frith, cherub four
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market, pavement from the west in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market, view to the east in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, cherub one
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market, view along pavement from the west in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market, view across backs of stalls in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market in December 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market in December 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, plaque
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market, 2011
Contributed by ddavid212

Whitechapel Market in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

The north side of Whitechapel Road in 2006

by Sophia Fernandez via YouTube. This brief amateur footage from July 2006 pans back and forth across the north side of Whitechapel Road, the section often occupied by Whitechapel Market. It shows the houses before they were renovated as part of the London 2012 Olympics project. It also features a "bendy bus", single-deck articulated buses introduced by the then-Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone from October 2001, and withdrawn by his successor Boris Johnson when their unsuitability for London's often narrow and winding streets had become apparent, between 2009 and 2011.

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 12, 2016

A walk west to east through Whitechapel Market, December 2015

by Jahangir Alam via YouTube

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 12, 2016

Two American students' view of Whitechapel market in 2010

from YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMvSb8bVRQQ

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 12, 2016

Whitechapel Market in the mid 1990s

This footage from around 20 years ago, with a lot of fixed-camera shots, shows the Grave Maurice when it was still a pub, and the frontages of the houses on the north side of Whitechapel Road in the market area before the renovations effected for the Olympics of 2012, as well as the Royal London before the new hospital was built.

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 20, 2016

1911 unveiling of the Edward VII memorial in Whitechapel Road

Short silent newsreel film of the unveiling of the drinking fountain, paid for by donations from the Jewish community, in memory of Edward VII who had died the previous year. It is embellished with bronze sculpture by W.S. Frith.

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 21, 2016

Postcards from East London dance/film project: Whitechapel Market, 2012

uploaded by Jo Parkes, from vimeo: "Postcards from... is an international dance/film project in which teams of artists work with community groups to create short “moving postcards” of the area in which they live. The project was conceived and is artistically directed by Jo Parkes (MobileDance). Each project produces several short dance films, each under one-minute long, which present the location through the eyes of the participants. In each location, MobileDance works with an arts development agency to recruit local artists to create the films with several different groups in the area. Each community group works with a different team of artists. Each team is made up of choreographer, filmmaker, composer and assistant dance artist. In 2012, MobileDance and East London Dance came together to deliver Postcards from East London, with teams of artists based in east London and four different community groups from the area. Each community group worked with a different schedule - some meeting once a week for two months, others working intensively over three or four days. The teams each had only three hours to shoot the film. The result is nine contrasting short films revealing different viewpoints on this vibrant, diverse and rapidly changing part of east London. The project was funded by High Street 2012, a programme to enhance and celebrate the ribbon of London life that connects the City at Aldgate to the Olympic Park at Stratford in the year of the London Olympics. Postcards from East London was part of Big Dance 2012 in the London 2012 festival, the culmination of the cultural Olympiad."

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 12, 2016

From the Blind Beggar to East London Mosque

Martin Fuller takes a walk through Whitechapel Market, 2017

Contributed by Survey of London on March 10, 2018