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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.