In 1851 engineering wunderkind Isambard Kingdom Brunel (and I mean if you were given that name and didn’t accomplish something famous, what a waste!) sketched what would become the SS Great Eastern. It was designed to travel further without fuel stops and be larger than any other ship.
As an engineering feat, it is notable for it’s novel double-hull design. As a talking point, the cost, deaths of riveters working on the ship and lack of commercial success have marred it’s history.
31 January 1858 it is believed the SS Great Eastern was launched from this site in the Docklands. By 1888 it was resigned to scrap and was broken up in Mersey the following year.
However, what I like is the remaining evidence of the hard work and optimism of Victorian engineering and the reminder of the brutal conditions in which people were forced to realise others’ dreams.
There has been Christian worship on this site since at least the early 10th century AD. Apparently this pattern of worship sites being on the roads leading to the river is evident all over the UK. It is now a very busy Anglican church.
The first stone structure was put here in 952, but the current structure was built from 1250 onwards and is regarded as a good example of medieval church architecture with different bits added and replaced over a few hundred years. St Dunstan’s and All Saints is the oldest church in the east end.
Originally All Saints church, when St Dunstan, Bishop of London, was canonised in 1029 his name was added to the church. Fun fact: he is the patron saint of gold and silversmiths.
Keep an eye out for: behind the pulpit, near the organ is an Anglo-Saxon carving that is from the early stone structure of the church. It’s at least 1000 years old!
This interesting building has been beautifully re-purposed to be a performing arts venue with a cute cafe/bar and the patronage of Sir Ian McKellan.
But, it was built in 1859 as a Presbyterian church to cater for the influx of Scottish Presbyterian migrants who came to the area to work in the shipyards – this is the docklands area after all.
There had been a mission in the area since the 1840s but they had not had the number to require a permanent place of worship and they didn’t have this congregation for long!
When the shipyards were closed in the 1960s and 70s the worshipping population declined severely and the church closed in 1972.
The St. Paul’s Art Trust was established in the 1989 and took over the now-vacant building. A lot of work has been done to restore it. Now visitors can enjoy a very detailed facade with lovely stain glass. Architecturally, it is revered for its demonstration of early use of laminated timber.
Worth checking out for the building, its story and the good it is now providing the local community!
Best nearby: The Space’s resident cafe/bar the Hubbub.
You have not truly lived the earnest East London yuppie/hipster/organic-conscious combo until you have visited Broadway Market. While the bustling Saturday market is a great place for all your food and drink needs, the street has interesting shops, great cafes and old boozers which can delight seven days a week.
While this area looks old and cute, it has changed it’s face a few times in its history.
Broadway Market was originally called Duncan Lane when the area around London Fields was established in the early 1800s as the population of London spread further out. We know that the street was there by 1811. A smaller street, Duncan Road, runs off Broadway Market to the east and is a reminder of its humble beginnings.
The area around Duncan Lane was interesting in that it sat between a middle class and mixed housing area to the north-west up along London Fields, and a much poorer area on the south and east.
It was renamed Broadway in 1881 and it became a market from the 1890s when produce sellers set up there. The street’s name became Broadway Market in 1937. Sadly, by the 1950s, the market life had all but died. However, 2004 saw it reviving in its current state as the popular Saturday hot-spot we know today.
Fun facts: the pub on the north end, at the intersection of Broadway Market and Westgate Road is called the Cat & Mutton because Westgate Road actually used to be called Mutton Lane.
Best nearby: the Saturday market, coffee at Climpson and Sons or brunch at The Bach.
Behind the decrepit brick exterior, a more famous and infamous drinking venue in East London would be hard to find.
It’s hard to abbreviate the colourful history of The Blind Beggar because there’s so much juicy historical goodness so here’s the Sparknotes, quick-fire, last-shots-of-tequila-before-closing version:
Built 1894, but an inn had been on the site since at least 1654.
It is outside this site that William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, gave his first sermon (in 1865).
It’s apparently called the Blind Beggar after an old story called The Ballad of Bethnal Green that tells of how nobleman Henry de Montfort (1238-1265) who lost his sight in battle begged on the cross-roads that the pub sits on.
Extra for experts: this poem has a happy ending, his daughter marries for love, Henry unveils himself and gives her lots of money. Yassssss!
Frequented by the Kray twins, it’s the pub in which Ronnie Kray murdered rival gang member George Cornell on 9 March 1966.
It’s now very proud of its beer garden and history, with drawings and old photographs of Victorian East London adorning the walls, and a fair bit of Kray memorabilia.
Best nearby: Mouse Tail coffee, 307 Whitechapel Road.
The Blue Plaque on the outside of 55 Graham Road (between London Fields and Dalston Junction) commemorates Marie Lloyd, a “Music Hall Artiste.” Seeing as I have walked so much in this area and not seen many of the famous plaques on small residential streets, this one caught my eye.
Marie Lloyd (1870-1922) was born Matilda Wood and chose this stage name in 1886. At 16, she was performing all around the East End in venues in Bethnal Green, Hoxton and Old Street. Soon she had a West End career and a solid income to match.
She appears to have been a ‘scandalous’ character, with three very publicly unhappy marriages and a songbook full of saucy lyrics and double-entendres. This worried organisers of the 1912 Royal Variety concert so much that they refused to invite her to perform. In sassy style, she sold out a theatre nearby instead!
Named the “Queen of the Music Hall” she was not only a commercial success but played for troops and factory workers in World War One to boost morale.
I wonder what she would make of the sometimes scandalous popstars who now live in this trendy part of town!
Make a detour on your way to/from Dalston or London Fields
It is second nature for us East Londoners to wander, run or sit in different parts of Victoria Park, but despite how well you may know it, it’s worth a second look at the imposing structure of the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Drinking Fountain.
In my opinion, it is not the fountain itself that is particularly unique but what it represents as evidence of the kindness of its namesake. Angela Burdett-Coutts (yes, of those Coutts’) was quite a trailblazer of philanthropic women. She campaigned for education and life skills to be taught to prostitutes, gave significant sums to the Royal Marsden and Brompton hospitals. She became known as the “Queen of the Poor.” She was well read, held an interest in the sciences and was very very wealthy by an inheritance from her grandfather.
She spent the equivalent of approximately half a million pounds to furnish Victoria Park with the fountain that now bears her name. The fountain was erected in 1862 and provided clean drinking water to the local poor. Originally called the Victoria Fountain, it was renamed after Burdett-Coutts’ death in 1906.
Things to look out for: on the very top of the structure is a mermaid which acts as a weathervane.