38-40 Commercial Road

1936-7 seven-storey office building extending to Alie Street, Commercial Road front refaced in red granite 1996

38–40 Commercial Road
Contributed by Survey of London on Feb. 13, 2020

This substantial steel-framed building of 1937–8, refaced in 1996, replaced a London Salvage Corps station of 1874. The Corps emerged, like the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, from the insurance-company-funded London Fire Engine Establishment, established in 1833. With the formation in 1865 of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade under the MBW, salvage duties were left in the hands of the insurance companies, which instituted the Corps in 1866. Three stations were established in south, west and east London, all in proximity to brigade stations, with headquarters in Watling Street in the City. These stations provided accommodation for the men of the Corps, coachmen, stables, equipment such as waterproof sheeting and a salvage van.1 The eastern district was originally served from houses in Wellclose Square, but in 1873, with the projected move of the Wellclose Square brigade station to Commercial Road (see above), Charles Pilcher (1825–1913), Secretary of the Corps, followed suit by taking this plot of land from the MBW.2 Designs were by the City architect John Wimble (1838–1877), also responsible for the Watling Street station. James Morter was the builder. At four storeys, with a bold bracketed cornice, and moulded brick and shouldered cast-stone window heads, the Commercial Road station of 1874 had a little more architectural go than most of its neighbouring buildings.3 Most of the building was accommodation for the men. A small warehouse for salvaged furniture was added in 1875, and Wimble and Morter added a storey in 1884. To the rear, three houses on Goodman’s Stile, including the old Castle public house, were made annexes and there was a small courtyard with stables.4 The station closed in 1934 when mechanisation meant fewer stations were required; the Corps itself survived until 1984.5 The current building at Nos 38–40 was erected by J. Stewart & Sons (Tottenham) Ltd as speculative warehousing for Isadore Paule (formerly Polovinsky), a Wentworth Street textile merchant.6 The site took in both the Salvage Corps building and the houses to the rear on Goodman’s Stile. Of seven storeys over a basement, with a staircase bay to the east, Paule’s block towered over its neighbours. The top two storeys of the back range cant down in a steep cat-slide, presumably to avoid overshadowing. Rag- trade use gave way to offices and in 1996 the façade was clad in red granite. From 2010 to 2015 upper floors were occupied by the London Corporate College, providing higher-education courses in business, hospitality, health and social care, mainly for international students. Following refurbishment in 2015, the whole building became a branch of Techspace, for use as flexible co-working space with meeting rooms and a ground-floor café.7

  1. Evening Mail, 17 Jan 1866, p. 5: St James’s Gazette, 5 July 1889, pp. 5–6: London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), CLC/B/017/MS15733/001: Sally Holloway, London’s Noble Fire Brigades, 1833–1904, 1973, pp. 22,135–6: John Creighton, Fire Engines of Yesterday, 1984, p. 9 

  2. LMA, CLC/B/017/MS15733/001; CLC/B/017/MS15732/001: Metropolitan Board of Works Minutes, 4 Oct 1872, p. 344; 1 Nov. 1872, p. 478: Ancestry 

  3. LMA, District Surveyors Returns (DSR): Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, L/THL/D/2/30/39; P02160: LMA, CLC/B/017/MS15732/002: Building News, 20 July 1877, p. 49 

  4. The National Archives, IR58/84823/4092: LMA, CLC/B/017/MS15735 

  5. Daily Herald, 18 Dec 1934, p. 1; 1 Jan 1935, p. 9: LMA, CLC/B/017/MS15732/015 

  6. DSR: LMA, CLC/B/017/MS15732/015 

  7. Tower Hamlets planning applications online: dera.ioe.ac.uk/15478/1/RG1015LCC.pdf: www.techspace.co/locations/whitechapel