Napier Ave, Isle of Dogs, London E14 3TD
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.
269 Westferry Road, E14 3RS.
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.
Victoria Park east side, E9 7DD
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.
Best cafe nearby: the well-known Pavilion.
Best pub nearby: People’s Park Tavern.
Cambridge Heath Road, nearest tube Bethnal Green
This out-post of the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington hosts a collection of toys, machines and memorabilia from British childhoods across the ages. While this collection itself is worth a visit, the building that houses these marvels deserves a bit of attention.
Originally built in Kensington 1856-7 to make part of the nicknamed ‘Albertopolis” complex of museums around Exhibition Road it relocated to Bethnal Green and was opened in 1872.
Walk around the perimeter of the building to see the mosaic panels which represent agriculture, arts and sciences. These panels were assembled by the female students of the South Kensington Museum’s mosaic class. Evidence of female artistry is also evident inside the building where the decorative pattern (called ‘guilloche’) was apparently made by female inmates of the Woking Gaol.
Best cafe nearby: Gallery Cafe. St. Margarets House, 21 Old Ford Rd, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PL
Best bar nearby: Satan’s Whiskers. 343 Cambridge Heath Rd, London E2 9RA.