diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 24, 2019

Local History Month
Bow Streetrunners

August is Local History Month on diamond geezer. Over the years I've circumnavigated my home borough, walked the length of the New River and followed in John Betjeman's steps across Metro-land, to name but a few of my enthralling quests. This year I thought I'd visit an A-Z of roads in my local postcode and explore their past histories, in a series I'm calling Bow Streetrunners.

Bow comprises over 250 different roads, some of them major arteries, others seemingly insignificant. None of you will care about any of them, unless you live close by, which is why this parochial series is ideal for the summer months when my readership is at its lowest. To keep things snappy I intend to zip through my alphabet two at a time, ending with Yeo Street and Zealand Road, but let's start off with a listed stable block, a disused station, a lunatic asylum and the inevitable match factory.

A is for Addington Road

Bow locals will know Addington Road as the invaluable connection that links the police station to Tom Thumb's Arch. It first appeared around 1853, replacing a track across the fields from Bow Road to the delightfully-named (and long-lost) Bearbinder Lane. At its northern end it ducked beneath the new mainline railway, and at its southern end it skirted the even newer London and Blackwall Extension Railway. Fifty typically-Victorian terraced homes grew up along it over the next decade, absolutely none of which remain. It was probably named after Henry Addington, our Prime Minister at the start of the 19th century, who died shortly before it was built. [1853 map] [1895 map]

The police station opens onto Bow Road, so we can ignore that, but not the magnificent stable block behind. It was added in 1938 when Bow became the divisional HQ for the mounted police, and horses still trot out on match days to keep West Ham's fans in check. It was built in Moderne style by Gilbert Mackenzie Trench, Surveyor to the Metropolitan Police, and combined fully functional stabling facilities (on the ground floor) with separate quarters for married officers (on the upper levels). It's very white. It's very concrete. Its chimney once served the blacksmith's forge. I love the two chunky staircases descending from each of the flats, which are numbered 1a and 1b Addington Road.

Across the street on the viaduct you can see what remains of Bow Road station - the railway station not the tube station - which is barely anything at all. The station opened in 1876 on the opposite side of Bow Road, switched to this side in 1892, was served by trains running between Fenchurch Street and Stratford. It closed permanently in 1949, and today the Bow Curve is retained for freight and empty rolling stock movements only. The builders yard on the corner once used to be a garage, and contains within its perimeter an air shaft for the Central line. Anyone bored witless by trains might prefer to look at this 1907 photograph showing A.C. Crowder's Fancy Stationer and Tobacconist corner shop instead. [1949 map]

The remainder of Addington Road was wiped clean by Tower Hamlets council in the late 20th century as part of an extensive housing estate stretching all the way along Malmesbury Road. A warren of maisonette blocks now dominates, the majority of the original street pattern cast aside, with the northern end of the road since renamed Lawrence Close. Car parking spaces are abundant. Pigeons have colonised the intermediate grass verges. The Addington Arms pub is long gone. All the signage and street furniture is one particular shade of dark blue relating a period when the Liberal Democrat administration branded the entire area as Bow Neighbourhood, suggesting almost nothing has been improved since. This chunk of E3 is not gentrifying, but we all walk through it.

B is for Brymay Close

On the face of it the only interesting thing about this stumpy cul-de-sac is its name. All we have here is a broad access road passing a couple of bin stores on its way to the parking spaces outside two facing blocks of flats. To the left is the back of Bow Bus Garage. To the right is the A12. A separate inaccessible row of modern apartments cuts across the rear, squeezed into a thin strip alongside the DLR. But yes, that is the tower of Bow Quarter rising behind, formerly the infamous Bryant and May match factory, and its presence will eventually explain what's been going on here.

200 years ago this was the site of a large mansion called Grove Hall, set in 12 acres of land and used as an academy for boys. After its owner died in 1821 it was leased to Mr Edward Byas who opened a 'pauper farm', a private workhouse for those deemed too mentally ill to work. In 1844 he opened up more of the building as a Licenced House, taking in lunatic patients on behalf of the authorities at a knockdown rate of six shillings a week. By 1879 Grove Hall was the largest Licensed House in London with 443 inmates, most of them ex-servicemen subsidised by the War Department. The asylum finally closed in 1905 at which point some of its grounds became my local park and most of the rest went for housing. But not all.

A strip of land alongside what was now Wrexham Road was retained for recreational use by employees of the adjacent Bryant and May match factory. This sports & social club boasted tennis courts and netball pitches, a large square bowling green, a kickabout space and of course a clubhouse, and was officially opened in July 1912. Unfortunately on the first day of the Blitz it got bombed, and it wasn't until October 1957 that a replacement pavilion was opened. The Brymay Club continued to serve the workforce until the match factory closed in 1979 and its sports facilities were no longer required, after which Brymay Close replaced it. Three stone plaques from the clubhouse were embedded into the brick wall out front, but everything else was swept away.

The even numbered flats in Brymay Close are spread across what used to be the main entrance to London's largest lunatic asylum. The odd numbered flats cover the fountain at the heart of its formal gardens, which later became the site of the Gilbert Bartholomew Memorial sports club. The parking space inbetween used to be the bowling green, while the fence at the far end crosses what were once the tennis courts. As for Bryant & May's war memorial, a slender cross since relocated to Grove Park, this was originally positioned somewhere underneath flat number 13. Even the most undistinguished of sidestreets can sometimes boast a fascinatingly unexpected history.

Update: Except Bow doesn't have any streets beginning with Q, nor any beginning with X, and although I can do all of the other 24 letters of the alphabet it means this feature is essentially unsustainable.

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