Last week, ‘London Shoes’ didn’t have to venture too far from home, only a 20min train journey to the east-end for the purpose of exploring a specific area, where literally every street appears to have some sort of history behind it and its own fascinating story to tell.
So – the latest article to be published onto the London Shoes website, Twitter feed and Facebook page goes under the title of “Bow-London E3 and its amazing history & landmarks”.
For this trip out I was delighted to be accompanied again by my old work colleague ‘Les’, who I worked with way back in the late 1980’s, at Barclays Bank –Whitechapel, just a couple of minutes’ walk down the road from Bow. Les himself actually worked at the Barclays branch in Bow, during the early 1980’s, and so he was very keen to join me on this particular jaunt, and revisit some of his old haunts.
Centuries ago, Bow (like a lot of London) was a rural area, sitting just outside the Roman settlement of Londinuim, to the west.
Historic records dating back to the 12th Century show that the area was then known as ‘Stratford-atte-Bow’, which had built up around a causeway built by the Romans to aid the crossing of the River Lea.
It was an area that the Roman roads used to pass through on route to their other fortresses out-in-the-sticks in places such as Colchester in Essex.
Legend has it that in 1100, Queen Matilda wife of King Henry 1st, had a little accident which resulted in her falling into the River Lea – and as a result she ordered that a 3 arched bridge be built at ‘Stratford-atte-Bow’ to prevent such a disastrous thing happening again.
By the 1700’s, because of all its open fields and transport routes, Bow had become the centre of the animal slaughter and butchery businesses that serviced the busy London markets just down the road.
Throughout the centuries Bow witnessed a rapid demise of its countryside because of the increase in manufacturing industries, residential housing, commercial businesses – all servicing London, and all benefiting from Bow’s varied communication and transport networks (i.e. road, river & canal)
Bow also became one of London’s poorest districts – in terms of overcrowded housing and social depravity and awful working conditions – however today, like a lot of the old inner-city areas, Bow has seen a resurgence of development over the past few decades, and is today a desirable, though very expensive – place to live.
It’s one of those areas where every street seems to have some sort of history about it – some good, but other bits not so good – but a load of its historic landmarks are still in situ today, and my quest for the day was to track down some of the more important ones.
St. Mary’s Church<
St. Mary’s is the main church in Bow, and is uniquely situated on an island right in the middle of the extremely busy Bow Road.There has been a place of worship on the site for over 700 years, and the present church building dates way back to 1490.
Throughout its life, St Mary’s has certainly seen a bit of action – as it was once an execution site for topping-off Catholics – it was once a safe haven for Roundhead soldiers being persecuted by Royalists during the English Civil War.
Today though, it is probably best known for the statue of ex-Prime Minister ‘William Gladstone’ that stands directly outside in front of the church entrance.
This William Gladstone statue has its own notoriety because at its unveiling back in 1882 the outstretched hand of Gladstone was covered in the blood of a group of Match Girls from the nearby Bryant & May Match Factory in Fairfield Road – who cut themselves and used their own blood to deface the statue, in protest of their awful working conditions and the fact that the statue had been paid for by their blood, as William Bryant had commissioned the building of the statue, and had docked the ‘girls’ wages to help pay for it.
Even to this very day, unknown sympathisers cover Gladstone’s hand in red paint to commemorate this event and the terrible plight of the Match Girls.
The ‘Three Mills’ site on the River Lea is one of Bow’s many historic landmarks that is still in use today – but for completely different purposes than what it was built for.
It was originally an area of the River Lea where defense fortresses were built to prevent the Danes and then the French, from getting too far up the river and invading London.
Because the River Lea is tidal, it was the ideal place for flour mills to be built, and originally there were 4 mills situated there, grinding down grain for the baking of bread to feed London’s ever increasing population.
In Elizabethan times the mills at Three Mills were used to grind down gunpowder – and later on it was the site of a large distillery.
Today, Three Mills houses an education centre, a recording studio – and is a very popular tourist attraction.
Bow Bus Garage<
One of London’s largest historic bus garages is situated in Bow’s Fairfield Road.
This wonderful Grade II listed building first opened as a ‘Tram’ depot back in 1908, and then converted to a ‘Trolley Bus’ depot in 1939 – and then it was the main depot that garaged London’s iconic ‘Routemaster’ buses, right up until 2004 – and it is still operative today to garage the majority of TfL’s east London’s bus fleets.
No – I’m not using profane language here.
Bow’s historic and still fully operative old Locks are situated along the Bow stretch of the River Lea – and link the tidal ‘Bow Creek’ with the River Lea and the ‘Limehouse-Cut’ and also Bow’s canal networks.
Historic records show that there has been tidal control at this particular site as far back as the 1300’s.
The Bow Locks have obviously been rebuilt several times throughout the centuries to accommodate Bow’s manufacturing industries and trade, and also to prevent local flooding – but today they are still fully operative and are also a big tourist attraction.
>The Bryant & May Match Factory<
This historic factory site in Bow’s Fairfield Road, is one of London’s most famous industrial landmarks.
In 1843 a William Bryant and Francis May went into business selling matches.
The purchased an old rope and candle factory in Fairfield Road and turned it into the iconic Bryant & May Match Factory.
By 1860 the factory had a workforce of around 5,000 that were knocking out 300 million matches per day – making it one of London’s largest and most successful factory sites.
However, things didn’t always go smoothly for the owners, as in 1888 they became embroiled in the historic ‘Match Girls Strike’ – an event that paved the way in which industrial relations were subsequently conducted.
Today – this 7 acre site has been converted into luxury apartments and flats, all with a gated community – which is now known as ‘The Bow Quarter’.
>The Chisenhale Gallery<
This art gallery in Bow’s Chisenhale Road was once a massive veneer factory that manufactured all the propellers for ‘Spitfire’ planes throughout WW2.
Roman Road – Market<
Named because it was originally built by the Romans as one of their main routes out of Londinium, to their fortress up in Colchester-Essex – and as a result the area surrounding it was a hive of industry, manufacturing and residential housing.
Throughout the past couple of centuries, Londoner’s particularly EastEnders, it is the site of what was one of London’s oldest, largest and most popular Street Markets.
Known by east Londoner’s as ‘The Roman’ where a visit there would be announced as ‘Im gahn dahn the Roman’ (eg ‘Im going down to the Roman Road market!!)
In 1986 two commemorative arches were erected at each end of this famous road, that are partly inscribed in Latin to acknowledge the Roman influence and heritage of the street.
Close by to Roman Road is a small quaint little cottage, that is totally out of character with all the other modern buildings surrounding it.
Built way back in the early 1800’s this beautiful little house is still in use today and has, quite rightly, been given Grade II listed status.
>Three Colts Bridge<
The Three Colts Bridge dates back to 1830 when it was constructed as a crossing the newly constructed ‘Hertford Union Canal’ that links up with the Regents Canal and the Grand Union Canal.
>Grove Hall Park<
This very small piece of public parkland is all that remains of what once was the Bow countryside.
In 1703 the huge mansion of Grove Hall and its large estate, occupied this specific area.
The estate used to be the site of the infamous annual ‘Green Goose Fair’ – a local event that also attracted people from all over London, and in 1823 had to be stopped and banned – because of the continuous drunken, bawdy and rowdy behavior by the revelers.
The beautiful trees that run through the centre of the parkland are hundreds of years old and are today protected by a preservation order.
>The Docklands Mosaic<
Tucked away underneath the canopy of an entrance door to what was the old Poplar Town Hall, is a unique, but little known and rarely noticed mosaic. Designed and built in 1938 the mosaic beautifully depicts the River Thames and the Docklands connections to Bow.
Kingsley Hall is today a local arts & crafts centre and meeting hall.
It was built back in 1928 and is famous for being the place where Mahatma Gandhi once lived, and this is commemorated by the fact that it is the HQ of the Gandhi Foundation.
>Flying Bomb-Blue Plaque<
In 1944 the Bow Railway Bridge took a direct hit from the very first V1 Flying Bomb launched by the Germans on London.
The blue plaque next to today’s bridge commemorates the fact that 6 people were killed, 30 seriously injured and over 200 Bow residents made homeless as a result of this terrible event.
References to the influence that legendary women’s rights campaigner has had on Bow.
Sylvia was the daughter of the UK’s main Suffragette campaigner Emeline Pankhurst – however, Sylvia also campaigned the plight of women surviving in London slums – of which Bow was one of the largest and worst.
Sylvia Pankhurst was a demonstrative force in the Bow area – holding regular women only meetings in some of its pubs – setting up a women only factory that manufactured toys, and had the iconic Selfridges as one of its main customers.
She also set-up nurseries for working mothers, so that their children could be looked after whilst they were out at work trying to earn a living and better their lives and conditions.
>Bow’s historic Pubs<
As with most inner city areas Bow has been the location of a number of historic and iconic old pubs – and fortunately some of Bow’s are still open-for-business today – and so London Shoes went to seek some of them out.
The Lord Morpeth
This is a pub with a wealth of history behind it.
It was originally opened as a pub in 1848, and was the regular drinking-hole and meeting place for the Sylvia Pankhurst led suffragette and women’s rights movement. Pankhurst “East London Federation of Suffragettes” headquarters was once situated right next door to the pub – making it an ideal spot for Federation meetings.
Today a magnificent mural covers the entire side of the pub building –that depicts Sylvia Pankhurst and the work and responsibility that she undertook throughout Bow, to better the lives and conditions of its women residents.
The Bow Bells
This pub has been serving pints here in the Bow Road since 1860. One of its claims to fame is that the ladies toilets down in its basement are said to be haunted – and as a result it is one of the locations visited on a ‘Haunted Pubs of London’ walking tour.
This old boozer that sits nicely in the middle of a residential street was built in 1833 and today is now a swanky and very popular gastro-pub.
The Morgan Arms
The Morgan Arms was built in 1892 in an area that was once locally known as ‘cut-throat-alley’. Today it is one of those trendy hipster pubs.
The Lord Tredegar
Is another old pub dating back to 1850, and is named after a famous military man who had connections to the Bow area. Bow’s Tredegar Square and Tredegar Street are also named after Lord Tredegar.
The Pearly King
Sadly this old 1895 built pub has been closed down for some time now, but the building still remains. The reason we sought out this one during this particular trek out is because it was once the much loved watering-hole of my accomplice Les, when he worked nearby at the Bow branch of Barclays back in the early 1980’s.
The Eleanor Arms
Another quality old Bow boozer, and probably my personal favourite of the ones visited during this blog.
Like the Lord Morpeth in the same street this 1869 built pub also has close links to Sylvia Pankhurst and her ‘East London Federation of Suffragette’ movement, as they used to use the pub to hold their meetings.
The Eleanor Arms was also the pub that me & Les chose to sink a couple of ‘cheeky’ beers in its lovely beer-garden, following a very long day traipsing the magnificent streets of Bow.
So – that is ‘Bow’ for ya – a place full of history where every almost every street has an interesting story to tell – Hope you enjoyed reading this article and its accompanying photos.
Please see below the more detailed photos of the ‘Bow’ blog