38 Commercial Street

1862-3 shop/warehouse building, frontage altered after war damage, top floor reinstated 1999-2000 when upper floors converted to flats

No. 38 Commercial Street
Contributed by Survey of London on Oct. 17, 2018

No. 38 Commercial Street is the sole survivor of a group of six warehouses built in 1862-3, some by the extended Moses-Levy family (who built the similar warehouses opposite on the site of Ladbroke Court and Resolution Plaza), with an alleyway to the rear.1 Similarly muscular and capacious as the warehouses opposite, the centre bays with loopholes and loading cranes, they had additionally dentil cornices and semicircular-headed windows to the top floor, the first and second floor with mildly Mannerist raised keystones over the lower windows and loopholes. The northmost warehouse, No. 40, adjoining the original Princess Alice pub, enjoyed brief exposure as the ‘Cooking Depot’ visited by Charles Dickens when it was newly opened in July 1863, and described in All The Year Round,  'where accommodation is provided for dining comfortably 300 persons at a time', and a full dinner could be had for 4 1/2d. 2

The depot did not last long, closed by January 1865 and demolished c.1882 when Wentworth Street was widened and the Princess Alice public house rebuilt on its site.3 No. 38 was in use by various wholesale manufacturers, including Stower’s British Wine and Lime Cordials from 1869, the business taken over by Alexander Riddle & Co. in 1875, who expanded into No. 36; from c.1920 to the 1950s No. 38 was Witty & Wyatt, asbestos manufacturers.4 No. 34 was the first home of the Guild of Handicraft, established under the aegis of Toynbee Hall by Charles Robert Ashbee in the top floor of the warehouse in 1888 where it remained till it moved to Essex House, Mile End Road, in 1891.5 All the warehouses except No. 38 were destroyed in the war, the site becoming Mallon Gardens, part of the Toynbee Hall estate, in the 1960s, which was redeveloped again by Toynbee Hall, with a new building on the site of the former No. 36, in 2016-19. No. 38 lost its top floor during the war, then had it reinstated with a simple pitched gable in the 1950s, the loopholes and much of the decorative brickwork removed. A new setback top storey was added in 2000 when the upper floors were converted to eight flats to the designs of Neil Hawes & Associates, architects, for Aldgate Warehouse (Wholesale) Ltd. The ground floor and basement are currently occupied by The Complete Works, an independent school providing theatre-based education to children who have failed to flourish in mainstream education.6

  1. The National Archives (TNA), IR58/84809/2693: Ancestry: Tower Hamets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), B/ELL/2/2 

  2. Charles Dickens, 'The Uncommercial Traveller', All the Year Round... incorporating Household Words, 15 Aug 1863, pp. 588-91 

  3. Perry’s Bankrupt Gazette, 11 June 1864, p. 14: East London Observer (ELO), 21 Jan 1865, p. 3: London Evening Standard (LES), 5 Feb 1865, p. 8 

  4. Post Office Directories (POD): Chemist and Druggist, 15 Sept 1875, p. 307 

  5. Alan Crawford, C.R. Ashbee: Architect, Designer and Romantic Socialist, 2nd edn 2005, pp. 32-41 

  6. POD: Tower Hamlets planning applications online: http://www.tcw.org.uk