Memories of 1960s Black Lion Yard
Contributed by Moby on Nov. 13, 2018
My father had emigrated from Bangladesh to settle in the East End of London in
June 1960. He was born, raised and educated in Sylhet Town, Bangladesh
(originally part of Assam Province during British India). He specialised in
the Bengali language and politics.
In 1963 he moved into a room above the jewellery shop of No. 18a Black Lion
Yard. Most of the businesses in Black Lion Yard were jewellery shops, hence
was known as 'Hatton Garden of the East End'. His next-door neighbour was also
a jeweller (Solly Granatt) whom he described as a respectful gentleman and got
to know well.
My father purchased a red Ariel Leader motor-cycle to use for commuting to
work to and from the West End. The revving sound of his motorcycle engines
used to echo across the narrow Black Lion Yard. He very much liked his
friendly neighbourhood and subsequently moved out of 18A to relocate further
up the street by purchasing a residential lease at No. 11 Black Lion Yard.
My parents were married in 1968 and they stayed in No. 11 for a few years. My
mother, who arrived new from Bangladesh, felt somewhat isolated as she didn't
have any family contacts in the UK. Of relevance, one my father’s closest
Bangladeshi friends was married to a kind British lady named Iris who had two
boys of mixed race. Iris was of immense help in supporting my mother with
language and intercultural support in settling in London. Iris later became
one of my mother's closest friends. My father also voluntarily served the
local community in tackling issues on poverty, better education and social
justice for the newly arriving Bangladeshi community that began to thrive in
the East End of London in the early 1970s.
In 1972 my parents made the decision to leave the East End and head for the
southern views of Devon and then relocated again to Cambridgeshire where my
father served as a local radio broadcaster for BBC Radio Bangla,
My grandparents' jewellery shop
Contributed by Brenda2 on Oct. 31, 2018
My grandparents had a jewellery shop and workshop in Black Lion Yard, along
with several other jewellers. They lived above the shop. I went there as a
young girl, after the war, and till the shop was closed. The living room and
kitchen were behind the shop; that's where we ate. Somewhere out of Black Lion
Yard there was a street with shops to buy bread, chickens were slaughtered and
sold there. I remembeer the smell. Along Whitechapel Road to the left out of
the yard, past Blooms, was an ice-cream-soda bar - I must have been about
seven (1948) when I remember sitting on a stool with this most delicious
Working at Netties in Black Lion Yard in the early 1960s
Contributed by patricia on July 5, 2017
When I was 13 or 14, in the early 1960s, someone got me a Saturday job as a
shampoo girl in a little salon called Netties in Black Lion Yard. I remember
the shops in Black Lion Yard, mostly jewellery shops and silverware shops and
a couple of Indian food shops. Most of Nettie's clientele were old, and I
found it difficult to wash their hair. I had to sweep the floors also. After a
few weeks, I was fired as I think most of the customers complained I didn't do
a good job shampooing.
Black Lion Yard
Contributed by alan on May 23, 2017
As a child in the late 1940s I remember being taken by my parents to a Kosher
restaurant at the end of Black Lion Yard. It was very good, a rival to Blooms.
Unfortunately I don't remember the name. In my memory one walked down the Yard
and it spanned across with I think a passageway in the middle to go further
into the Yard. I can picture the restaurant but cannot remember what I ate
although I assume it would have been salt beef and chips. I remember it as
having been a great meal though. I believe there were two restaurants in Black
Lion Yard but this one was across the end.
I was born in Plumber's Row in 1950. In 1955, as my father became more
prosperous, he bought the shop across the road, 91 Whitechapel Road. We lived
above the shop. Eventually he went on to buy 91 and 89 Whitechapel Road and
converged the two shops together. My father ran the cloth shop until the late
1970s when he sold the property and we moved to South London. The shops aren't
there anymore, they're gone.
Back in the day I went to Robert Montefiore Primary School and my earliest
memory of school was sleeping on a cot-bed in the playground at lunchtime. In
those days young children were encouraged to have a nap in the afternoon. If I
close my eyes I can see all these army cot-beds in the playground. You were
given got a pillow and a blanket. Not everybody slept but it was rest time.
The headmaster was Mr Padden and his deputy was Miss Graham, a formidable lady
that always wore khaki green, but she was an excellent teacher, really really
good. You knew you were in trouble when you saw her walking towards you.
I remember being a toilet-roll monitor believe it or not. Toilet paper wasn't
in abundance at school and we used Izel loo paper, which wasn't the best loo
paper to say the least. One of the privileges of being a slightly older child
was that you were given the duty of standing outside either the boys toilets
or the girls toilets with a roll of loo paper and handing out two sheets of
loo paper to each child as they went in to the bathroom. You say that now and
children say 'really?!' But yes that's what we did.
I used to belong to Greatorex Street Synagogue and that was good fun. I
learned Israeli dancing in there.
Living as long-haired lefties in Black Lion Yard
Contributed by David_Hoffman on Aug. 30, 2017
I had friends who were living in Black Lion Yard so I spent time there as
well, and when one of them moved out I took over the room and lived there for
a year or two. That was a room above a jewellery shop, it was pretty tatty but
relatively ok, it was a nice building, it was a shame it was demolished. I
lived in No.17.
There were jewellers shops, the streets were filled with jewellers shops
earlier, it was a place where people came from all over London to buy clocks,
watches, rings, jewellery of all sorts, it was a big centre for jewellery. It
always seemed odd to me that they would be next to each other where they would
be competing, but it brought people in.
I moved in in 1971 or 1972 and at that point the east side had been cleared or
partly demolished, it was fully demolished while I was living there, and there
was a couple of buildings used as cafes by local West Indian Guys. They'd be
up and down the road selling dope, you could lean out of the window at No.17
where I was living and whistle and someone would flick up a bit of dope, and
you'd throw down a 50p.
Originally the jewellery shops were on both sides of the street, but by the
time I moved in they were on the west side. When I moved in about half of the
east side was gone, and when I was there they were demolishing the last part
of the east side, I've got pictures of guys with hammers knocking bits down
which I shot from my window looking across the street.
Our landlord was Solly Granatt, he would go to Hatton Garden and then come
back to his shop, he did a lot of diamond trading as well as the jewellery in
the shop. There was no diamond cutting, it was purely retail. I think it was
entirely Jewish run.
There was a derelict dairy, a milking parlour at the end of Black Lion Yard.
There were steps up and a couple of bollards where it meets Old Montague
Street, and the dairy was in the corner. It still had the stalls and bits of
stuff, no milking was taking place but there had been I think as late as the
Most of the shop owners were pretty old, and were retiring as they closed
down. Solly Granatt was going to retire but he died before he actually moved
out, so at that point we turned from paying rent into a squat, because there
was no landlord to collect our rent, so we just stayed there.
We didn't have much communication with the other jewellers, they were very
closed. Granite I got on well with, but I don't know his plans. I don't know
where he was from but out of this area, Stanmore or Finchley. He had been in
the shop a long time, I have a feeling his father had been in the same shop
too. We didn't ask him much and he didn't talk much about that sort of thing.
He'd ask me to walk him down to the tube if he had a lot of diamonds, there
had been a few robberies.
Because we were young dope smoking, squatty types, lefty, long-haired, flares,
the other jewellers hated us, pretty much all the other residents didn't like
us at all. We had parties, we had women round, generally we had a pleasant
I moved out in autumn 1973. Solly went into hospital and died there, probably
spring or summer 1973.
Jewellers in Black Lion Yard
Contributed by Sarah Milne, Survey of London on June 3, 2017
Eleanor remembers walking through Black Lion Yard as a child:
My mother emigrated to the East End from Ireland in 1950. I was one of five
children who grew up in the area. I used to have to walk through Black Lion
Yard to get to my school in the morning. About twenty to eight, I remember
leaving my house and finding a thick fog outside. It was still the days of
coal. I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face. It was a narrow alley
and on the right hand side were lots of Jewish jewellry shops. They were
beautifully arranged and their big display windows were sort of tudor in
style, with little panes of glass making up the whole window.
45 to 85 Whitechapel Road - early history including King's Arms Court and Black Lion Yard
Contributed by Survey of London on March 29, 2017
The original Black Lion House (on the site that was later that of 37
Whitechapel Road) was with adjacent properties held in the 1760s by Paul
Johnson, a ropemaker, and then, in the 1790s, by his relative James Exeter.
James Davenport, a surgeon instrument maker, was at the site of No. 33 in 1790
and the Windmill public house was at that of No. 41 early in the eighteenth
century. Between what became Nos 43 and 45 was the entrance to Size Yard,
a builder’s yard with four or five houses. These and others nearby (seven in
total) were destroyed by fire in 1783. Edward Colebatch, a builder, was
probably responsible for reconstruction; in 1790 he had a workshop and other
premises here. The builders’ yard passed to Joseph and James Little by
1810, then to Thomas Little. There was also sugar-refining in Size Yard from
1808 to the mid 1820s. After another huge fire in 1873 that fed on Little’s
stocks of timber, there was extensive rebuilding. The Whitechapel Road
frontage was redeveloped in 1884. From 1894 what became No. 47 was Isaac
Abrahams & Sons cigar factory, destroyed in the Second World War.
In the early eighteenth century, the King’s Arms public house was at the site
of Nos 55–57, about where King’s Arms Court now meets Whitechapel Road.
Under it was the entrance to Coles Alley (later King’s Arms Court). In the
1770s the King’s Arms had a skittle ground, a brewhouse (with a malt shop,
loft and cooler over the passage), a millhouse and three houses, extending
back to the Cock and Key public house at what ended up as 52 Old Montague
Street. William Menish (d.1813, age 79) held all this property by 1770 and
extended his tenure with a 99-year lease in 1779. A chemist, Menish was later
identified as a ‘sal-ammoniac manufacturer’, having patented the production of
sal ammonia by a sulphate process in 1792, for use by jewellers and stained-
glass makers, possibly also in foodstuffs. Menish was manufacturing hartshorn
(ammonium carbonate), probably for medicinal purposes, at 111 Whitechapel Road
in 1805, in which year he sublet his Coles Alley premises to John Burnell, a
horner of Old Montague Street. At this point, John Warner had a foundry on
Coles Alley. The King’s Arms public house retreated to the west side of
the court entrance (No. 57) and William and Henry Clayton, drapers, held sway
at the site of Nos 53–55 from a rebuilding of 1847 to 1890–1 when those
premises were adapted to be Tee-To-Tum Tea Stores, a café and club for the Tea
Planters’ Association, with A. H. Thompson as the architect.
Black Lion Yard was present by 1674, probably formed earlier in that century. It was entered between what became Nos 75 and 77, the eponymous Black Lion public house being on the east side up to the 1770s but apparently no later. The yard was humbly built up, extensively by 1680 and solidly with as many as fifty small houses by 1728 when it accommodated a molly house (a place for gay men and transvestites to gather) owned by Jonathan Muff (aka Miss Muff) where nine ‘male Ladies’ including Muff were arrested, sex between men then being a capital offence. Confusingly, there was a Red Lion public house on the east side of Black Lion Yard by 1750 up to about 1900. John Chapman, the victualler there in the 1830s was also a surgeon’s instrument maker. By this time the ownership of property hereabouts was fragmented. In 1891 the Census recorded 264 people residing in Black Lion Yard, said in Booth’s survey to be a mix of Irish and Jewish. In 1903 a synagogue was built behind what later became No. 14 (half-way along on the east side), the work being done for A. Cohen to plans by P. Cornish. Around this time the small two- to four-storey shophouses that lined Black Lion Yard began to become a centre of the Jewish jewellery trade.
In 1723–5 John Bartholomew, a bricklayer, and Robert Abbott, a carpenter, both
of Whitechapel, built a 32ft-front house with a workshop close to Black Lion
Yard. It was first occupied by John Cordwell, a framework knitter. There
was a break in the building line between Nos 83 and 85 (present until the
1970s) that marked the entrance to Trumpet Court, another seventeenth-century
development of some 20–25 houses. From the site of No. 61 east to the
corner with Great Garden Street there were piecemeal rebuildings, Nos 61, 63,
67, 69 and 89 all being replaced in 1848–53, Nos 91–95 at the corner in 1886–7
(following the widening of Great Garden Street) and Nos 85–87 in 1925.
From Black Lion House to Magenta House, 45-85 Whitechapel Road and Greatorex Street
Contributed by Survey of London on March 29, 2017
The Whitechapel Road frontage that was formerly numbered Nos 31–95 (as far
east as Greatorex Street) is unified by a story of post-war redevelopment
characterised by public- and private-sector collaboration and conflict. A
minor event, but a determinant of what was to follow, was the insertion into
the middle of a large bombsite gap at the centre of this stretch of a modest
three-storey commercial block, put up around 1960 at Nos 57–59 immediately
east of the south end of King’s Arms Court. Size Yard endured and towards its
end in the 1960s was briefly known as Jubilee Square. Further east Nos 69–95
and Black Lion Yard had been spared, the latter continuing as the centre of
the Jewish jewellery trade. On the north side of what had been Trumpet Yard
there was a late nineteenth-century two-storey stable building that had become
a clothing factory and been raised a storey as 83A Whitechapel Road. To its
east the Greatorex Street frontage was another bombsite.
Extensive slum-clearance and council-house building plans of the early 1960s
that centred on Old Montague Street included Black Lion Yard and were
confirmed by the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1967. This gave rise to
organised resistance. A petition from the Black Lion Yard Jewellers’
Association gained more than 1,000 signatures (many of them said to be those
of visiting tourists) and argued the uniqueness of the market, for the style
and nature of the jewellery, and, it having Jewish traditions, for trading on
Sundays. These traditions were emphasised, but the place was thought by others
to be a haunt of fences. In fact the yard’s occupants in the mid 1960s were
mixed, with as many Muslim/Asian as Jewish names: Mohammed Zaman Qureshi (a
hairdresser), Mohammed Aslam, Nathan Silver, Ava Choudhury, Solomon Granatt,
Morris Elgrod, Mudabbir Hussain (halal meat shop), Leon Elgrod, Bessie
Gluckstein, Mohammed Anwar (Karachi Sweets), Ghulan Mohammed Khan, Mohammed
Najeeb, Netty Levine, Abdul Matin (Sylhet Stores), Mohammed Anwar, Fishberg
Ltd, Maurice Levrant (Chairman of the Association, initiator of the petition
and owner of one of the seven remaining jewellers’ shops). Only 22 people
were identified as living above the shops. There was an inquiry into the
clearance orders after which Major Eric McArthur, Secretary of the East London
Federation of Industry and Commerce, floated the idea of adapting the yard to
be a food market for the many ‘Pakistanis’ working at the London Hospital and
living on Old Montague Street. This was opposed by the Jewellers Association,
as well as by the Race Relations Board, which thought it would tend towards
segregation. Compulsory purchases were confirmed in 1968 and later that year
Amanal Ali and Mohamed Bashir, both ‘Pakistanis’, died in a fire in a clothing
factory in the yard. In 1970 the GLC changed tack, recommending that the
site’s owners be themselves allowed to redevelop. But the jewellery trade
continued to decline and Levrant shut up shop. A closure order in 1977 was
followed by clearance to make way for the relocation of the Salvation Army’s
Hopetown hostel, to open the way for housing development further north.
The freehold of much of the land along Whitechapel Road had been acquired by
Lyndon Properties Ltd (Irish developers). From 1977 they proposed a seven-
storey office block and four-storey industrial/warehouse unit, and agreed to
undertake this collaboratively with the GLC (with Tower Hamlets Council also
co-operating). The scheme was agreed in 1978 with provision for a public
walkway (what became the new King’s Arms Court). To guard against the
developers building the offices and leaving the industrial unit unbuilt, so
failing to provide the kinds of jobs that the councils sought, the GLC agreed
in 1979 to buy the freehold and to sell the office site back on completion of
the industrial building, which it would then acquire. However, Lyndon
Properties revealed that they in fact held only a lease of 85–95 Whitechapel
Road (the south-east part of the site). The GLC anyway prevailed on the
developer to erect the industrial building first, to the east of Nos 57–59
obliterating the last of Black Lion Yard. It went up in 1980–1 to plans by
John Spratley & Partners, architects (Martin R. Warne, job architect). Of
three four-storey blocks, linked by staircase bays that were originally open,
it was clad in pinkish brick under a mansard with Thrutone blue asbestos
cement roof cladding. There were sixteen industrial units and the plans were
revised to incorporate shops at either end. It opened as the Whitechapel
Technology Centre (65, 75 and 85 Whitechapel Road). Among early tenants were
SDM Computer Services and Tower Hamlets Advanced Technology Training. By 1988
the Centre (sometimes the Whitechapel College of Technology) was run by London
Industrial PLC and used to construct and repair computer equipment. The
staircases were enclosed with glazing in about 1989 and in 2015 the building
was painted black and renamed East London Works. It accommodates a range of
businesses, including some architectural firms.
Lyndon Properties saw through the other western part of their project in
1982–3, again employing John Spratley & Partners as architects for the
seven-storey speculative office block (with ground-floor shops) that is
Black Lion House (No. 45). Its sleeker if bulkier Modernism included
polished marble and brown metal cladding.
Behind these buildings there remained a sizeable empty plot. This was used as
a car park, but the Greatorex Street end was built on in 1989–90 by London
Industrial PLC. Magenta House, 85 Whitechapel Road, was a four-storey
block for offices and light industry, designed by Architects Group
Practice. It was short-lived, replaced in 2011–12 when the rest of the car
park was also built on for student housing, retaining the name Magenta House
for iQ Student Accommodation. This development comprises three five- and six-
storey blocks north of a gated passage, for 187 bedrooms with shared living
and dining spaces, designed by Aros Architects for Capitalise Assets/Watkins
Jones. There are white rendered elevations above granite plinths (a graffiti
deterrent) and with irregularly arrayed bronze-coloured aluminium windows.
Another part of the development was the bookending of the Technology Centre by
identical metal-clad four-storey shop and office buildings, that to the west
replacing Nos 57–59, that to the east on a previously open plot on the
Whitechapel Road/Greatorex Street corner. In 2017 the shops house Quiznos Sub
sandwich restaurant (west) and Sunnamusk Arabian perfumes (east). At the time
of writing in 2017 Black Lion House is empty, set to be raised by three
storeys and extended to the rear with a singe-storey office pavilion, works
for Resolution Property designed by Buckley Gray Yeoman architects.