Blackwall Buildings

Blackwall Buildings

Blackwall Buildings were built in 1890 in Thomas Street, Whitechapel. Thomas Street was later renamed Fulboune Street. They were demolished in 1969.


Originally built by the Great Eastern Railway Blackwall Buildings were started because of an obligation created by Parliament when large scale Engineering works were constructed and a number of houses were demolished, that these dwellings were replaced and the people were re-housed. In 1885 the London and Blackwall Railway applied to Parliament for permission to widen their line between Fenchurch Street and Stepney. This was granted and as a result the houses demolished had to be replaced. Blackwall Buildings were the result. The Buildings were thought to have been actually built by Mark Gentry from Castle Heddingham, He had a depot in Stratford and built many similar philanthropic flats. There is no first hand proof of this, but it is highly likely from the style of the Buildings. citation needed The London and Blackwall Railway was leased to the Great Eastern Railway and all the major construction work for this line was carried out by the Great Eastern.

The first mention of the Buildings is in Charles Booth (philanthropist)'s Life and Labour of the People of London. In 1889 Booth surveyed the area around Thomas Street and says of Blackwall Buildings "North up Queen Ann St. 3 st. (3 storey), rough, children very ragged, some prostitutes. Bread and bits of raw meat in the roadway, windows broken & dirty; all english: one woman called out "let us be guv'nor dont pull the houses down & turn us out! On the West side not coloured in map is a small court: hot potato can standing idle, dark, narrow. D/blue N (North) up Thomas St. at the N.W. corner 10 men waiting for the Casual Ward to open. (It opens at 4, it was now 1.45PM). North end of Thomas St is a gate leading to private Rd. on the West side of which are 3 blocks of dwellings called Blackwall Blds belonging to Blackwall Railway. decent class. purple. at either end is a gateway which is shut at night. The furthest gate opens on to the stoneyard of the White Chapel Union."Purple refers to his classification of the state of poverty and is "Mixed. Some comfortable others poor". This gated community was at the time good quality housing and offered a relief from the poverty around. The gates were designed so the residents could not stay out late at night and get too drunk in local pubs. It was known as "philanthropic housing" as the tenants paid a nominal rent. However not everyone liked this new housing, which was open and airy and very different from the surrounding slums. In "Child of the Jago" by Arthur Morrison (1896) mention is made of the fact the slums offered refuge from the police and a place of sanctuary when this was needed. The new housing did not offer such a refuge.

In 1933 the Freehold of the Buildings were sold by the London and North Eastern Railway. [The Times Newspaper, 14th and 22nd February 1933] This company took over the Great Eastern in 1923. The sale realised £21,300 and was managed by Reynolds and Eason of Bishopsgate. At the time the rent roll was £3226 for 156 flats. The purchasers were Challoner's of Kensington. [London Borough of Tower Hamlets rating roll]

During the period from the sale until their demolition in 1969 the buildings fell into disrepair and by 1969 were regarded as slums by the residents.

Layout of Buildings

The Buildings were in 4 blocks, each 4 stories high. They were mainly two room flats, although one flat on each floor of each of the blocks (making 16 flats in all) had 3 rooms. Up to a dozen people lived in each flat according to the United Kingdom Census 1901. The flats were staircase orientated - with 4 flats leading from each landing. There was a cast iron range in each flat and two communal toilets on each floor. There was also a washroom/scullery for communal use on each floor. Most flats used blankets or curtains to divide the beds within a room for privacy. Bedbugs were rife as were other forms of vermin. It is thought they lived in the lathe and plaster walls. [Roy Lapidge - whose mother lived at the Buildings]

Notable residents

Mary ('May') Hughes (1860-1941)

Mary was a voluntary parish worker. This work took her into slums, workhouses, doss houses and infirmaries (including ones for people with venereal disease, known as lock wards), in order to try and better the state of these places and share the troubles of the lower classes. She often became personally involved in cases. Mary increasingly lived as one of the poor, keeping her diet simple (bread, margarine, little pieces of cheese and rudimentary vegetables), not buying goods such as new clothes that she saw as luxuries, not holidaying or sleeping on mattressed beds and in 1915 moving into the community settlement of Kingsley Hall, Bow. The Hall was an old chapel that was re-decorated and fitted by local volunteers in 1915. It was a 'people's house', where locals including, workmen, factory girls and children came together for worship, study, fun and friendship in order to better their lives.

In 1917 Mary was made a Justice of the Peace for Shoreditch, she specialised in rates and educational cases and was commonly known to cry at the evidence and pay fines for the poor. Mary referred to herself as a Christian and a communist. She took part in marches of London's unemployed, even when mounted police were in attendance. She was also a pacifist for example, after the German blitz on London (1940) she was appalled by people, especially Christians, who called for retaliation. Christianity was an important factor in Mary's life and what drove her social work. In 1918 she joined the Quakers (Society of Friends) and moved to Blackwall Buildings, Whitechapel in order to become a poor law guardian and volunteer visitor to the local poor law infirmary and children's home. Locally she was known as a benefactor of the poor and local unemployed people would knock on her door seeing if she knew of work. In 1928 Mary moved to a converted pub on Vallance Road, Whitechapel and renamed it the Dew Drop Inn. The purpose of the Inn was to act as a social centre and refuge for the local homeless. Through the 20's and 30's she was passionately involved with the problems of the unemployed and she took part in a number of marches and rallies. In 1931 when Gandhi was visiting Britain for the Commonwealth conference, he insisted on meeting Mary. When they met, they clasped hands, looked at each other and burst out laughing. Hardly a word was said but 'each had recognised the quality of the other's life'.

Mary Hughes died on 2nd April 1941 in Whitechapel. [ - Copyright © 2000-2008 The Archives Hub, reproduced with permission.]

PC Alfred Arthur Martin - A real war hero (1886 - 1915)

PC MARTIN was born on 12th March 1886, the son of James and Eliza MARTIN of Orpington, Kent. He was married to Caroline MARTIN and lived at 51, Blackwall Buildings, Fulbourne Street, Whitechapel, London. The officer joined the Railway Police in June 1914 having transferred from the Engineers Department of the Great Eastern Railway.. A Sergeant, number 5918 in the 10th Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry, he was killed in action on Friday 12th November 1915 aged 31 years. He is buried at Ypres reservoir Cemetery in Belgium. [reproduced courtesy of Kevin Gordon, [ British transport Police History Society] ]


External links

  • [ Blackwall Buildings]
  • [ The Charles Booth Online Archive]

  • Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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