Swanlea Secondary School

1991-3, secondary school, on the site of Brady Street Dwellings and Brady Street Mansions

From manure works to tenement dwellings
Contributed by Survey of London on Jan. 3, 2018

Much of the previously undeveloped site that now houses Swanlea School had fallen to use by the Whitechapel Distillery by the 1840s. This land was sold to George Torr in 1861 and adapted within a year to be a manure or ‘animal charcoal’ works, conveniently adjacent to the Whitechapel Coal Depot. Around the corner from his sheds, Torr built offices and a chimney on Buck’s Row (Durward Street) employing William Snooke and Henry Stock as architects. Torr died in 1867, but the manure works continued into the late 1890s having receded to its northern parts.1 The Buck’s Row office had by 1890 been adapted for club and library use and came to be known as the Brady Street Boys’ Club. This was rebuilt in 1936–8 to plans by Messrs Joseph. In the 1970s and 80s the building was used as a Tower Hamlets Council and Department of Health and Social Security training workshop called Brady House.2 Further east along the north side of Buck’s Row, Browne & Eagle had a long wool warehouse from 1870. This was auctioned off in 1936 and later used by Stepney Council before clearance in the 1970s.3

The manure works gave way to housing in stages. Brady Street Dwellings were built by the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company in 1889–90, 286 densely packed flats in twelve four-storey and attic blocks with concrete floors, designed by N. S. Joseph and Smithem, architects. By the end of the 1890s they were said to be wholly tenanted by Jewish people. This was a major location of the Stepney Tenants’ Defence League’s successful rent strike of 1938. Brady Street Mansions, adjoining to the north, was a Great Eastern Railway Company project. A scheme of 1898 by H. H. Collins, architect, was partially seen through in 1901, for 120 flats in six blocks, again with concrete floors. Brady Street Mansions were sold off in 1933 and cleared around 1975. Brady Street Dwellings stood until about 1980.4


  1. London Metropolitan Archives, SC/PM/ST/01/002; District Surveyors Returns (DSR): Metropolitan Board of Works Minutes, 11 Oct 1861, p. 724; 21 Feb 1862, p. 156: Post Office Directories: London School of Economics Library (LSE), Booth/B/351, p. 239 

  2. DSR: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, pamphlets 022: Post Office Directories (POD) 

  3. Royal London Hospital Archives, LH/5/5/21: POD 

  4. The Builder, 20 April 1889, p. 305: Goad map, 1890: DSR: LSE, Booth/B/351, p.239: London County Council Minutes, 29 March, 28 June and 26 July 1898, pp. 384,768,973; 2 July 1901, p. 899: Estates Gazette, 4 Feb. 1933, p. 1 

Shopping-mall schemes
Contributed by Survey of London on Jan. 4, 2018

From 1972 to 1988 there were plans for a large shopping mall to the north of Whitechapel Road and Whitechapel Station. These were initiated by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which owned land north of Durward Street and was in the process of acquiring Greater London Council owned property, and planned co-operatively with London Transport, which owned most of what lay to the south of Durward Street. A first scheme incorporated substantial office and residential elements and proposed building above the railway line. The factories north of Durward Street and the housing between Durward Street and Winthrop Street were cleared in the early 1970s, leaving just the coal-drop viaduct, Rosenbergers and Brady House on Durward Street, Brady Street Dwellings, and a garage immediately south of the Jewish Burial Ground in Bethnal Green.

The Shankland Cox Partnership put forward four development options in 1975, soon reduced to three, ranging in extent from just the east side of Whitechapel Station to Brady Street, to all the way to Vallance Road in the west. Redevelopment planning extended well northwards into Spitalfields and Bethnal Green. Abbott Howard, architects, took forward a preferred scheme before 1979 when the Council briefed Sam Chippindale Development Services to prepare a plan for almost fourteen acres ‘loosely based on a Brent Cross/Arndale theme’; Chippindale, a founder of Arndale, had not previously been active in London.1 Through Trip and Wakeham Partnership, architects, this had become a huge project (larger in fact than Brent’s Cross) extending to the northern boundary of the parish, intending 800,000 square feet of retail including six or seven department stores, 300,000 square feet of office space, flats and parking for 1800 cars and a bus station.

There was perceived competition from Surrey Docks, but all seemed set to go ahead in 1983. However, two big retailers pulled out and Chippindale, voicing doubt (the project ‘hadn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of succeeding’2), was sacked in 1985. The scheme’s commercial viability was further questioned, but concerned at being the only London borough both not to have a large retail centre and expecting a population increase in the 1980s, the Council issued a new development brief. Competing proposals included a scheme by Inner City Enterprises submitted with the Tower Hamlets Environment Trust on behalf of the Whitechapel Development Trust. This became known as ‘the community plan’; its architects were CZWG. A more commercial rival (more offices and parking, less residential) from Pengap Securities Ltd working with Chapman Taylor Partners was favoured. Pengap was taken over by the Burton Group in 1987 and the project was passed around, to former Pengap directors as Wingate Property and Investment, then to Chase Property Holdings and on to Trafalgar House with Consortium Commercial. The scheme they submitted and gained permission to build in 1988 would have had a large domical central feature and a nine-storey tower on Brady Street. It would also have meant clearance of 235–245 and 287–317 Whitechapel Road. But negotiations unravelled and by the end of the year the project had died, its abandonment said to be connected to proposals for the Grand Metropolitan owned Albion Brewery site. Meanwhile there had been vast quantities of fly-tipping on the empty land, to a depth of 2–3m.3

What had been the Kearley & Tonge site south of Vallance Gardens was used for car auctions, as a lorry park and as a Sunday market for second-hand goods in the 1980s and 90s. A spin-off from Brick Lane’s then gentrifying market, this was misleadingly referred to as Whitechapel Waste, and more accurately described as the 'kalo' (Bengali for black) market.4


  1. Transport for London Group Archives (TfLGA), LT000682/089 

  2. East London Advertiser, 1 Nov 1985 

  3. TfLGA, LT000682/089: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), cuttings and pamphlets 022: The Spitalfields Trust newsletter, 1990 

  4. THLHLA, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel Shopping Centre Development Brief, 1986: http://philmaxwell.org/?p=13334: Juber Hussain at https://surveyoflondon.org/map/feature/616/detail/ 

Swanlea School
Contributed by Survey of London on Jan. 4, 2018

After the failure of the shopping-mall schemes in 1988 the fly-tipped land north of Durward Street and west of the railway and Essex Wharf was tidied up through a central-government City Challenge grant for use by Tower Hamlets Council to build a secondary school. This was the first new one anywhere in London for a decade, and thus the first to be designed around the exigencies of the National Curriculum introduced in 1988, and so an influential project. Swanlea School went up in 1991–3, to graceful and innovative designs directly influenced by Hampshire County Architects, led by Sir Colin Stansfield Smith, whose reputation for school design was then without equal. Here they were involved as part of a consortium headed by the Percy Thomas Partnership, with Ron Morgan as project architect. Leading engineers, YRM Anthony Hunt Associates (structure) and Whitby & Bird (services), were also engaged. Monk Construction took the building contract, seen through after a takeover by Trafalgar House Construction (Regions) Ltd.

To provide for 1050 pupils a central east–west spine is a storeyed corridor that was conceived as a ‘mall’ with explicit reference to a shopping idiom from Linda Austin, the school’s first head teacher. This has an S-profile glazed roof that sweeps over a tubular-steel frame with ‘radiating trusses of tree-like form’.1 It connects largely stock-brick-clad classroom blocks, many separately articulated under serried curved roofs. Beyond a southerly landscaped garden and on Durward Street there is a freestanding caretaker’s house (south-west) and an area allocated for community uses (south-east). That was reconfigured in keeping with the design of the school in 2000–2 as the Tower Hamlets City Learning Centre, an early example of a government-backed facility of the century’s first decade, designed to provide information- technology education for networks of local schools and businesses.2


  1. Bridget Cherry, Charles O’Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 5: East, 2005, p. 400 

  2. Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, Building Control files 10639, 17977_: Building_, 24 Sept 1993, pp. 35–40: The Architects Journal, 20 Oct 1993, pp. 37–47 

Off the streets and into Brady Boys' Club
Contributed by Denis on June 6, 2017

I was born and grew up on the Whitechapel side of the railway, just off Vallance road, on a street called Anglesea Street (demolished, now Fakruddin Street). It was a play street, which they had in those days. The only traffic was low-level and connected to the railway but it was very rare, so we just played in the street as kids. Of course nearby there was a lot of bombed-out houses and bomb sites and we used to play on those too and had great fun.

My father was in the Auxiliary Fire Service during the war and I'm fortunate to have some excellent photographs of him in uniform. My mother was a nurse during wartime.

The last V2 bomb that hit London was in Vallance Road, and my mother told me that she was changing my nappy when it hit and went outside into the Anderson Shelter - which probably offered less protection than the house but that's how it was.

Our house was a two-up-two-down terraced house, toilet in the garden of course. And also the water supply was also outside, but we were fortunate in that when you walked out the back of the house it used to drop down and then there was a step up onto a small area of lawn. My dad used to block up the drain, turn on the outside tap and we had our own paddling pool.

As I grew up I went to Deal Street School and made some good friends there. We used to go each other's house and spend time with each other's families. It was really nice.

When I moved from Deal Street School to Robert Montefiore School, which is in Vallance Road, my friends and myself used to go walkabouts because we were too old then to play on the bombsites. That's when my father took an interest. He realised we were doing nothing other than walking the streets. So one day he just grabbed me and took me to the Brady Boys’ Club, which was near Brady Street Buildings or Mansions at that time. There I got interested in photography and concert party. That got me off the streets.

While I was at Robert Montefiore Secondary School, one of the teachers there saw that I had a bit of a knack for metal and he got me extra metalwork lessons. He was known as Mr Hartley, and with his help I managed to get an apprenticeship at Imperial College at South Kensington and so when I was fifteen and four months I was now travelling from Whitechapel Station up to South Kensington every day. I knew that station inside out.

Brady Street Mansions, site of Swanlea school, under demolition 1975
Contributed by Aileen Reid on Nov. 3, 2016

Another Tower Hamlets Archives digitised slide, looking south down Brady Street towards the (Royal) London Hospital, with Brady Street Mansions and Dwellings undergoing demolition in 1975: https://twitter.com/LBTHArchives/status/790872578520936448

On the landing at Brady Street Dwellings
Contributed by mick

Dad on the landing in Brady Street Dwellings
Contributed by mick

In the yard at Brady Street Dwellings
Contributed by mick

On the landing at Brady Street Dwellings
Contributed by mick

Friends on the landing in Brady Street Dwellings
Contributed by mick

Aunty Pat between Brady Street Dwellings and the Mansions
Contributed by mick

Aunty Molly outside Brady Street Dwellings
Contributed by mick

Nana and mum outside Brady Street Dwellings
Contributed by mick

Nana and mum outside Brady Street Dwellings
Contributed by mick

Brady Street Dwellings
Contributed by mick

Brady Street Dwellings
Contributed by mick

On the landing at Brady Street Dwellings
Contributed by mick

Brady Boys' Club (1936-8, Messrs Joseph)
Contributed by Survey of London

Juber Hussain discusses memories of Whitechapel including his time at Swanlea

Juber Hussain recalls moving to Spring Walk, Old Montague Street, his schooldays at Swanlea secondary school in the 1990s, and attending the Brick Lane and East London mosques

Contributed by Shahed Saleem on Sept. 14, 2016