An imposing row of thirteen shophouses (later Nos 151–175) was built on the site of Whitechapel workhouse in 1860–2. This four-storey speculation by John Hudson, an architect based on Leman Street, was with its Italianate stucco dressings an exceptionally unified development for Whitechapel Road.1 Only the western end survives, as 151 Whitechapel Road. This began as the premises of Robert Gladding, a bookseller who moved from what is now 203–205 Whitechapel Road (see Bob Gladding's contribution). Edward George, previously a competitor across the road at what is now 104 Whitechapel Road, acquired and sustained the bookshop into the twentieth century. There was a conversion for the Midland Bank, and by the 1930s upper-storey use for millinery showrooms and workrooms. After bomb damage and rebuilding in 1949, the plain-brick formerly top-lit rear wing was raised two storeys in 1984.2
Originally No 76, before the re-numbering of Whitechapel Road, the property was built on the site of the house of the Master of the (Old) Whitechapel Workhouse in 1860-61. The freehold was bought by the first occupant, Robert Gladding (1808-1896), a bookseller whose previous premises were at 97-98 (old numbering) Whitechapel Road. He had the building fitted up with two galleries one above the other, and as such it was described 'as one of the most admirably arranged bookstores in the country – not unlike a miniature British Museum Reading Room' 1
Robert Gladding was a publisher as well as bookseller. His obituary in the East London Observer described him as ‘the Grand Old Man of the East End’ and ‘the Father of Whitechapel’ because of his public service over many years as Chairman of the Whitechapel District Board of Works and a Guardian of Whitechapel Workhouse. 2.
On retiring around 1893 he sold the book business to his competitor Mr E. George on the opposite side of the Road at No. 231 (old numbering), but the freehold was retained in the family until 1940. In recent years the building has housed an Asian textile business.
Richard Gardiner was Whitechapel’s Rector in 1614 when parish churchwardens oversaw the acquisition of a rectangular plot of about an acre and a half of manorial common land encompassing the roadside frontage now represented by 151–179 Whitechapel Road. Seemingly in part enabled by a bequest from George Clarke (d. 1606), a Vintner, almshouses with sixteen rooms for as many widows were built on the western part of this then remote road frontage. In 1615 the rest of the site, enclosed by a brick perimeter wall, was consecrated for use by the parish of Whitechapel as an overflow burial ground called ‘the Great Church Yard at the Towns end’. By 1654 this was referred to as ‘the poors land’. A passage on the site of Davenant (formerly St Mary) Street, present by the 1660s for access to the walled garden behind, came to be called Burying- ground Court.1 A charity school was built on the east end of the burial ground in the 1680s (see 179 Whitechapel Road), yet this was still thought to be at the ‘Townsend’ in the 1730s.2
Following an enabling Act of 1763, the almshouses were replaced by a more extensive parish workhouse in 1765–8, Whitechapel’s first and smaller workhouse of 1722–4 on Alie Street having long since been found wanting. The 1760s workhouse, described as ‘a plain, modern, extensive, and commodious erection’,3 was in line with the school building that survives at No. 179 along almost the whole of the burial-ground frontage. It housed 600, making it among the country’s largest workhouses – on a par with those of St Marylebone and Liverpool; only the West End parishes of St James, with 650, and St George Hanover Square and St Martin in the Fields, each with 700, had more inmates in the 1770s.4 The adjacent school had been given leave in 1767 to take further eastern perimeter parts of the burial ground. Thus the last open ground to Whitechapel Road this far west was built over. In 1795–6, the rest of the burial ground having become the workhouse yard, the parish took a larger rectangle of what had been orchard ground immediately to the north to be a new burial ground for the poor and enclosed it with a brick wall. The workhouse was enlarged in 1812 and the western part of the new burial ground given up in 1813–15 for another school. A ‘deadhouse’ (mortuary) at the west end of the workhouse was removed to improve access to this school on what was now St Mary Street, leaving the master’s house as the corner building. The eastern part of the burial ground, extended to the rear of No. 179 in 1813, was divided off with iron railings and used for parish burials up to 1853.5
The workhouse beadle was censured in 1833 for supplying bodies for anatomical purposes, cholera having meant that 196 fatalities had been interred in the ‘workhouse garden’ adjoining to the east (behind Nos 181–185), which later became the workhouse’s stone yard. In 1838 Dr Thomas Southwood Smith’s report to the Poor Law Commissioners more generally deprecated conditions, finding that 104 girls slept in a dormitory 88ft by 16.5ft, four or five to a bed; even in the fever wards beds were shared. The Poor Law of 1834 had united the parish of Whitechapel with other districts to form the Whitechapel Union. In 1855–60 what had been Spitalfields’s workhouse, just outside Whitechapel parish to the north of Thomas Street and the Quakers’ Burial Ground on what is now the east side of Vallance Road, was rebuilt to unify and consolidate the Whitechapel Union’s workhouses. The redundant Whitechapel Road workhouse was demolished and the property sold off.6
London Metropolitan Archives (hereafter LMA), A/DAV/01/013, No.32; P93/MRY1/091, p.209: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (hereafer THLHLA), P/RIV/1/15/1/1–2: Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, vol.5, East London, 1930, p.70: Roland Reynolds, The History of the Davenant Foundation Grammar School, 1966, pp.11–12 ↩
LMA, P93/MRY1/090 ↩
Wilkinson, _loc. cit._ ↩
Parliamentary Papers, Abstracts of the Returns made by the Overseers of the Poor, 1777, pp.85,100–1,105: Kathryn Morrison, The Workhouse, 1999, p.30 ↩
John Rocque's map, 1746: Richard Horwood's map, 1813: LMA, P93/MRY1/090: THLHLA, P/RIV/1/15/3/2: Wilkinson, loc. cit.: Mrs Basil (Isabella M.) Holmes, The London Burial Grounds, 1896, p.296 ↩
LMA, P93/MRY1/090; A/DAV/01/018; E/BN/130; SC/PM/ST/01/002: Parliamentary Papers, 1837–8 (447), XXVIII, 145, Fourth Annual Report of the Poor Law Commissioners, Appx C, pp.87–8: Holmes, loc. cit.: ed. F. H. W. Sheppard, Survey of London, vol. 27: Spitalfields, 1957, pp.285–7 ↩