diamond geezer

 Tuesday, August 19, 2008

HS2012High Street 2012
11) BOW

Mile End tube to Bow Road tube

Morgan TerraceBeyond Mile End station, High Street 2012 changes somewhat. Up until now this has been a mostly retail street, with shops on either one side or the other almost all of the way along. No longer. From here onwards there's only the occasional parade of shops, and HS2012 has evolved instead into a neighbourhood where people live. You'd be hard pushed to spot a semi or anything detached - it's all flats, terraces, and terraces divided up into flats. But some of the terraces on the northern side of the road are rather splendid - all uniform Georgian with arched sash windows and parallel chimneypots [photo]. It's a bit of a hint that round the corner lies Tredegar Square, an impressively well-preserved white stucco quadrangle where E3's most well-to-do still reside. Welcome to leafy Bow.

St Clement's HospitalThe official changeover between Mile End Road and Bow Road comes in front of St Clement's Hospital (there's still a plaque on the wall proclaiming the edge of the Borough of Poplar, 1900). St Clement's started out as a workhouse 150 years ago before evolving into Bow Infirmary, then Bow Institution, and eventually a wholly psychiatric hospital. So full of depressed patients was the area that Mile End station had to have a Samaritans hotline installed on the westbound platform, at the "jumping" end closest to the oncoming trains. That telephone remains, if you know where to look, but the hospital closed down a couple of years ago. It's since been locked away to await redevelopment, and now a series of eerie empty towers loom through a screen of forbidding trees. Whatever the umpteen-acre site's fate (undoubtedly flats, it's always flats), I trust that the hospital's classical entrance and whitewashed front walls (with green and red shield insignia) will long remain. [photo]

Across at 39 Bow Road lived an unassuming man of the people, the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition in the early 1930s, the Right Honourable George Lansbury MP. A lifelong campaigner for social justice, he fought tirelessly for pacifism, the suffragette movement and the rights of the working man. In 1921, as Mayor of London's most poverty-stricken borough, he led the Poplar Rates Revolt by diverting local taxes to the local poor. Thirty councillors were sent to prison for defying the courts, and council business had to be conducted from inside Brixton prison. One of those imprisoned was George's daughter-in-law Minnie, who died shortly afterwards from pneumonia. Bowler-hatted George became Labour leader almost by default, after the party's rout in the 1931 General Election had left no credible alternative. But his pacifist nature was at odds with the growing threat from Germany, and after four years he was replaced by his younger deputy Clement Attlee. Lansbury remained a popular and principled elder statesman right up to his death in 1940. Germany, alas, responded by flattening the family home a few months later.

George Lansbury Memorial plaque, 39 Bow RoadAt number 39 today there's a rather ordinary block of council housing, and a plaque, and a small stone memorial, and quite possibly a couple of spliff-smoking winos on the bench outside [photo]. George would no doubt approve, at least of the former. Daughter-in-law Minnie is remembered up the road at Electric House, where a recently restored memorial clock gleams proudly above a betting shop [photo]. But you're probably most aware of Mr Lansbury's legacy through his grand-daughter Angela, the internationally renowned actress. Sadly (or perhaps thankfully) CBS decided to locate Jessica Fletcher's murder capital far from her childhood home in Bow, and so E3's innocent gangsta hoodies remain unchampioned.

four local sights
» The Milestone: A Mile End pub that can't make up its mind what it's called. Over the last decade or so it's been the Cornucopia, Horn of Plenty, Flautist and Firkin, Matter of Time, Virtue, and (as of a couple of months ago) The Milestone. No desperate rebranding would encourage me to venture inside, however.
» Spratts: Until a few months ago Tower Hamlets Planning team hung out at 47 Bow Road in what was once the sales office of the world's first dog biscuit company (founded by an electrician from Ohio).
» Milepost: A rusty black and white metal mileage marker outside Electric House declares "Whitechapel Church 2", "Stratford 1½". This 200-year-old relic is best seen from a vantage point in the middle of the road, should you dare to risk standing in the path of an oncoming stagecoach to photograph it. [photo]
» Bow Road station: "This simple brick and timber building, set above the railway cutting, is typical of an Edwardian station. The platforms, situated where the railway emerges from the 'below street' tunnel to the surface, is notable for the brick retaining walls and the massive cast iron columns, set along the curved platforms, that support the roof structure with their brick lined 'jack arches' above the tracks." So says the newly installed heritage plaque in the ticket hall, brilliantly positioned in a corner where nobody will ever stop to read it. [photo]

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