diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 20, 2015

A walk around the edge of Tower Hamlets
the Tower → Shoreditch
(1½ miles) [19 photos]

For the last ten miles or so the edge of Tower Hamlets has followed the water - first the Lea, then the Thames. Now it breaks off to follow man-made boundaries, historic in origin, which makes for a completely different kind of journey. The next mile and a half straddles the dividing line between the City and merely Middlesex, hence some of the contrasts are quite sharp, after which it's Hackney alongside and the two almost merge. A planning battleground lies ahead... [map]

After dallying with the delights of the Tower, the Tower Hamlets boundary slinks back into relatively mundane territory. Shorter Street is a good example - to one side one of the City's peripheral multi-storey car parks, on the other an anonymous office block, as one-way traffic slipstreams through the middle. The Royal Mint used to stand on the corner of Mansell Street before escaping to Wales, now an adjacent site awaits rebirth as Royal Mint Gardens, bringing "luxury lifestyle living" to 500 fortunate apartment owners who'll get their own private cinema on site. Best not mention the seafood outlet and eel slaughterhouse lurking beneath the railway viaduct alongside, where the proper East End survives somewhat uneasily, for now.

Mansell Street is peculiar in that the Tower Hamlets side is lined by offices while the City side is all residential. Almost 15% of the population of the City of London live in Portsoken, the small eastern ward that's essentially Aldgate. The two long slab blocks here are Guinness Court and Iveagh Court, built around 1980 by Guinness Trust Housing on the site of a railway goods depot. The business premises opposite aren't especially prestigious, such is the effect of a Tower Hamlets postcode, running in occasionally-Georgian sequence from a bland Wetherspoons to an even blander Sainsbury's. The Aldgate gyratory is in considerable flux, enduring yet another remodelling in an attempt to finally remove all trace of gyrating. Braham Street has already been replaced by so-called public realm, essentially a semi-green strip with mounds and fountains where workers come for a fag. Soon every scrap of traffic will be forced through the Aldgate High Street crossroads, along with a remodelled Cycle Superhighway, while the former pedestrian subways are bulldozed out of existence. It's not somewhere I'd choose to linger.

Zealous restructuring also means that Middlesex Street will be sealed off, indeed already has been. Originally known as Hogs Lane, the first hints of urbanisation came in Tudor times, and by the 17th century it had become a commercial district specialising in second-hand clothes and bric-à-brac. Petticoat Lane market survives to this day, indeed is world famous, although if you've ever turned up you'll know it's more poundshop than boutique. Sunday is the big day, when Middlesex Street teems with life, while adjacent Wentworth Street market also bubbles away on weekdays (and never come on Saturday). Again the two sides of the road are very different, the City flank all 1970s residential, while Tower Hamlets boasts older smaller more run-down retail units. In amongst these are various traditional textile outlets, and several modern ethnic restaurants out to entice local office workers.

The boundary next follows a really narrow street, Sandy's Row. This kicks off at Frying Pan Alley and bends in the middle at Artillery Passage, with much to explore up perpendicular alleyways (including the last Jewish synagogue hereabouts). Walking this way is a reminder of long-ago London, both its street patterns and its buildings, which is in disappointing contrast to what lies ahead. I'd like to walk along Fort Street but it's closed for construction works, and has been for some time, the adjacent block a depressingly inoffensive brick cuboid with no redeeming creative touches whatsoever. I've arrived at Spitalfields Market, once a characterful trading hub, now a heritage shell whose retail units exist solely to empty tourists' pockets. If your idea of a good time is a hot drink and a browse and a meal and a fashionable purchase you'll love this heritage-lite marketplace, but in reality it's sheep like you whose anodyne tastes are sucking the life out of this corner of the East End, and indeed have almost succeeded.

Rather than approach the piazza we turn left to reach Broadgate, where RBS and Nat West choose to occupy major offices on the non-City side of the street. This busy financial canyon peaks in the shadow of the Broadgate Tower, 33 storeys tall, while the buildings on the Tower Hamlets side are considerably older and lower. They form part of Norton Folgate, another of London's former Liberties, again under considerable threat from developers. British Land would like nothing more than to bulldoze the block they've bought and sequentially boarded up, but last month campaigners successfully persuaded the council to refuse the planning application that would have expanded the commercial district inexorably northeast. A conservation area runs alongside, and a mighty fine one too, including the very marvellous Dennis Severs House, its Georgian setting at least temporarily preserved.

After a brief spell following the railway, the boundary breaks off through the heart of another controversial building project. This is the Bishopsgate Goods Yard, a derelict site surrounding a listed railway embankment, on which it's obvious something should be built but nobody's quite agreed what. Plans for a massive development with two forty-something floored towers have had local residents up in arms, so the masterplan keeps being rewritten to reduce the heights of things and knock down less of the existing structure. Both Hackney and Tower Hamlets councils need to agree, the site being divided between them, which may be delaying things a little longer. But eventually the developers will come up with plans that satisfy, unleashing monumental change. Boxpark will be wiped out - the container market was only ever meant to be temporary - and Shoreditch High Street station will be encased by offices - as was always the intention. Battlelines are drawn.

» today's 19 photos; 214 photographs from the whole walk; slideshow
» Map of the boundary of Tower Hamlets; map of my walk
» step on to section 8 »

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream