2-7 Moss Close

1983-5, house as part of the GLC's Davenant Street development (part of Chicksand Estate) | Part of Davenant Street Development

Davenant Street Development (now part of Chicksand Estate)
Contributed by Survey of London on Aug. 25, 2017

The south side of the east end of Old Montague Street, former Rowland land that had largely come to the parish, was first built up in the early years of the nineteenth century, mostly as a series of dense courts of small houses. From west to east there was: Prince’s Place, six houses present by 1813; John’s Place, eight of around 1810; Green’s Place, six up by 1807; Eagle Place, fourteen probably built in 1806–7 for Edward Rider; Regal Place, which was Bell Court and Bell Place until 1872, twelve somewhat larger houses built for John Wildman around 1805; and Caroline Place, nine houses built for William Heudebourck in 1820, with two more added in 1853.1

All these courts except Regal Place and houses of similar scale and age facing Old Montague Street were declared unfit for human habitation and cleared in the early 1890s, in large part for the Whitechapel Foundation. Clearance of Caroline Place made way for a tenement block immediately north of the theatre named Pavilion Dwellings (208 Old Montague Street), put up in 1897–8 to designs by Ernest Rüntz. Further redevelopment at 168–182 Old Montague Street in 1927–8 produced a row of eight three-storey tenements with a rear range of tailors’ workshops, put up for T. Morris to plans by Ernest Cannell & Sons.2

At the north end of St Mary Street’s east side John Stevens had a soap factory through the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Part of this was replaced in 1881, the Whitechapel Charity Estates putting up a row of eight houses. The rest of the site became a stable yard then by the 1890s a builder’s yard, with a house, later 14 Davenant Street. That was replaced by a three-storey office building of around 1950 for Walter Gladding & Co. Ltd’s Byfield Works.3

Almost all the Davenant Street and Old Montague Street fronts and Regal Place, now derelict, belonged to the Whitechapel Foundation as plans for post-war redevelopment took shape in the 1950s as part of the North West Stepney Comprehensive Development Area, which extended from Brick Lane to Vallance Road through Mile End New Town. Work on this block was scheduled for 1962–7, with first schemes of 1960 prepared under Kenneth Campbell in the LCC’s Housing Division projecting four- and six-storey slab blocks, one alternative allowing for a large roundabout at the Vallance Road–Whitechapel Road junction. The LCC cleared the Pavilion Theatre and its environs, and the Peabody Donation Fund (Trust) put forward schemes by F. E. F. Atkinson, Peabody’s surveyor, envisaging two eleven-storey Y-plan towers or four five- storey blocks. These were rejected as too dense and an ‘unfortunate’ interruption of ‘comprehensive development’. In 1965 a Queen Mary College application to build a student hostel on the site was refused for similar reasons. The transfer of remaining lands from the Davenant Foundation and others to the GLC was secured after a public inquiry in 1968 and most of the disused school buildings along with 156–182 Old Montague Street, Regal Place and the King’s Head public house were set to be cleared to make way for 154 new homes.4

It had been grasped that even with the lands assembled the site presented considerable constraints given the presence of listed buildings and the Post Office tunnel running under the site, the need to avoid building on a former burial ground, and an expectation that Vallance Road would be widened westwards. Type plans were prepared in the early 1970s and numbers were whittled down to 101 dwellings in blocks of three and five storeys as inclusion of the south-east corner of the block (181–195 Whitechapel Road and 1–13 Vallance Road) was abandoned. Tenders submitted in 1975 had all to be rejected in the face of difficulties reconciling them with the government’s ‘yardstick’ requirements. A failed scheme to overcome the burial-ground restrictions ran the project further into the ground in 1977. Through all this the scheme had passed across the desks of numerous council architects, from Norman Engleback to John Bancroft to Barry Udall. It was revived in 1981, this time as just sixty-one dwellings (forty-nine houses in five rows and twelve flats at 194–212 Old Montague Street) all in three-storey blocks. GLC architects settled the elevations, materials and a subdued echelon layout along with internal type plans for a ‘develop and construct’ contract that went to William J. Jerram Ltd of Barking who worked up details with Housing Systems Design. Small-panel timber-frame structures faced with Ockley Medium Multi dark-brown bricks and white cement render, went up under tiled roofs in 1983–5. Moss Close took its name from Moss’s Buildings, which had been on the other side of Davenant Street, Regal Close from the earlier court on the same site. The row at 15–35 Vallance Road was set back in anticipation of the road widening that did not happen. What was understood as the former burial ground, roughly the site so used from 1795 to 1853 minus its east end, was left open and persists as a grass mound.5

  1. London Metropolitan Archives (hereafter LMA), A/DAV/01/018; MDR 1807/2/109; 1820/7/324: The National Archives (hereafter TNA), ED27/3240: Richard Horwood's map, 1813: District Surveyors Returns (DSR): Metropolitan Board of Works Minutes, 5 Jan. 1872, p. 55 

  2. LMA, A/DAV/02/001, pp.106, 212, 288; A/DAV/02/002, pp.17–18; LCC/EO/PS/03/165: DSR: London County Council Minutes, 5 Oct. 1897, p. 979: Goad insurance map 1953 

  3. TNA, ED27/3239: Post Office Directories: The Builder, 26 Feb. 1881, p. 261: DSR: Goad insurance map 1953 

  4. LMA, A/DAV/08/001; GLC/AR/CON/03/134/003; GLC/DG/PRB/35/006/639: Goad insurance map, 1953: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, L/THL/D/1/1/65; /249: Roland Reynolds, History of the Davenant Foundation School, 1966, p. 59: Ordnance Survey map, 1969: Historic England Archives, aerial photographs 

  5. LMA, GLC/AR/CON/03/134/001–003; GLC/AR/CON/09/A2850/001–2; GLC/DG/AE/ROL/42/099: Historic England, London historians’ file TH1