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STEPNEY GREEN Hammersmith & City, District Lines 
A LONDON TUBE RAMBLES WALK (about 1 ½ or 2 ½ miles*)

So much has been written about Whitechapel and Spitalfields that I decided to investigate further east.  Along the way you can admire Georgian architecture, find some secret cottages and visit a farm where chickens lay blue eggs. *This is a circular route, but can be extended to the trail starting from Mile End station.

Before beginning your exploration you might like to read about the history of the East End,  which has been shaped by successive waves of immigrants. By the end of the nineteenth century the East End was predominantly Jewish. However, during the rebuilding process following slum clearance in the 1930's and bomb damage during WW2, old neighbourhoods gradually disappeared and many families left. Bangladeshis began arriving in the 1960's and are now firmly established, so things are changing once again.

From the station, which opened in 1902 as the Whitechapel & Bow Railway, turn right. On the corner of Stayners Road are the former Mile End Public Baths (1932), now the Globe Centre, a resource for those living with HIV. Continue to the right to find two houses built in the 1740's. Half-hidden by an overgrown hedge, they give the impression of being full of mystery. You have to peep through iron gates to glimpse the tiny gardens - even these are eccentric. Next comes the Anchor retail park on the site of Charrington's brewery - you can't miss the huge chimneys which were a decorative (as a matter of fact they're fairly ugly) feature of the old offices. The terrace beyond is more appealing - an astonishing row of Queen Anne houses. Nearby is a modernised drinking fountain, originally provided by the Metropolitan Cattle Trough and Drinking Fountain Association. Shortly you'll see the Genesis Cinema (1939) with the typical curved frontage of the Deco period, plus a handsome white bank building (1928) with Tuscan pillars. 

Both these are dwarfed by the two 1920's buildings that dominate the street to the west. These were intended to be an imposing department store in the Oxford Street style. Unfortunately for the ambitions of the owner, the jeweller in the house at No.75 refused to sell his property, so the proposed emporium ended up in two section, one on either side of his small shop. Inevitably the effect is comical, though I doubt the would-be Mr. Selfridge was laughing.

At the end of the block, turn into Cleveland Way, where there is some unusual blue brickwork on the wall of what was once the Old Red Cow pub. Next to it a traditional shuttered shop front. Now for a surprise. Keep your eyes open for a modest green door with 'Bellevue Cottages' written above it. This is sometimes wedged open for deliveries but if closed, just push to enter one of the most secluded places in London. First you are in a narrow pathway with a high wall on the left. Suddenly a row of cottages pops into view, each with its own neat front garden. They were built on Charrington's brewery land c.1830, probably tied accommodation. As a builder working on one of the cottages said 'It's a great place to get away from the craziness outside'. Please creep in and out quietly, respecting the privacy of the residents.

Go back to the main road and continue right to pass Tower Hamlets Mission which was founded by a member of the Charrington family - ironically a temperance campaigner. Trinity Green Almshouses next door are a joy. Established in the late 17th century for '28 decayed masters and commanders of ships or the widows of such', they are another haven of peace I particularly like the models of ships at the front entrance (originals are in a museum.) On the grass verge opposite is a statue (also repro) of William Booth founder of the Salvation Army.  This is actually an example of Manorial Waste - left-over strips of common land, in this case belonging to Stepney Manor. Adjoining the almshouses is the Edwardian baroque house with carriage archway built for the engineer of the Albion Brewery in the Whitechapel Road. The dray horses that delivered beer to pubs were stabled to the rear of the building. Walk back in the direction you came from. As you pass the Mission, look up to the large mural painted by Mychael Barrett (2012). Here is the key to the places and people portrayed. A few steps on,  near the traffic lights,  is a bust of King Edward VII bearing the legend: 'Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war'. Cross at the lights and turn left Soon you will come across a slate plaque on the site of explorer Captain Cook's house. Unfortunately, this was demolished in the 1960's. Go into the cobbled alleyway, keeping an eye open for vehicles, to see the courtyard and remaining buildings of the old Mile End Distillery. Return to the Mile End Road and wander along a well-preserved set of old shop fronts, Assembly Row. As the name suggests, the area behind the 18th century buildings was once a pleasure ground, with rooms where all kinds of entertainment took place.  At No.102 the line is broken by a pair of houses, one with a creepy plaster face over the door. Three shops down is Assembly Passage (1790) which has a bay window perched above. It led to the excitements of the Assembly rooms but today is less inviting. Take the next turning, Stepney Green.

Stepney Green
Walk along the pretty terrace with arched doorways.  At No.4 is a former bakery with an advert for bread painted all over it. You are now at Stepney Green Gardens - two streets divided by a narrow garden with mature trees (more Manorial Waste.) On the right are flats erected by the East End Dwellings Company in 1899.  Turn left for a wonderful run of old buildings - though Nos. 21-23 are substantially reconstructed. Bombs destroyed several of the original houses, but much sensitive rebuilding/infilling has been done on the north east. (It's best to try to ignore what's happened on the other side.) You can see how No 35 was altered for institutional use by the odd arrangement of stairs visible through the windows.  Together with the neighbouring house it was once a Jewish Old People's Home. The plaque above the doorway has the information that the building was also a dispensary. Set back behind railings, No.37 is a fine example of a 17th century merchant's residence. Further along, The Rosalind Green Hall has had some interesting changes of use. It began life as a Primitive Methodist Chapel, then was used as an Orthodox Synagogue. Nowadays the hall is home to a boxing club (a traditional East End sport) and skills training centre. Nos. 61-3 were erected by a sugar-refiner in the 1760's as part of a terrace of seven houses. Some of the other people who first lived in the Gardens would also have been traders who had amassed their wealth through shipping enterprises of various kinds - both on the river and the sea.  Next door are the monogrammed gates of the Stepney Jewish School, which is now in Ilford.  Stepney Green Court (1895) has ornate white 'aprons' under the windows. It was built for the Rothschild's Four Per Cent Dwelling Company to provide housing for Jewish artisans.

Stepney City Farm
When you are at the end of the gardens continue along Stepney Green and cross just before White Horse Lane. Turn left, then right into Stepney High Street (which scarcely exists). Walk past the railings of Stepney City Farm, then right into Stepney Way to get to the entrance. The farm is a delightful place, with a cafe (see website for opening days) that specializes in simple locally-sourced food and its own allotment produce as well as selling eggs from the farm's free range hens. I was intrigued to find that it is not only ducks that lay blue eggs. At the moment (2014) Crossrail are occupying part of the land, but it will be restored when the work is completed in 2016. Ruins of a Congregational Church (built on the site of the Stepney Meeting mentioned above) are to the west, while a crumbling Georgian doorway,  once part of a Baptist College Chapel,  is visible from Stepney Green. During the Crossrail excavations the remains of a medieval manor house  were found. As the chickens wander round your feet there is a curious sense of the present time colliding with history - especially if you glance across to St. Dunstan's church. The farm is closed to the public on Mondays. 

After admiring the livestock, return to Stepney High Street and walk to the left to reach Stepney Green again. Go left and at the crossing place head towards Whitehorse Lane. Almost immediately enter Rectory Square where there is a big, rather forbidding, Victorian building, Temple Court, once the East London SynagogueRetrace your steps to Stepney Green Gardens. Carry on towards the Mile End Road, but this time take the cobbled Hayfield Passage to the right instead of the Stepney Green road and turn right at the main road for the Tube station. A couple of things you might not have noticed first time round;  the pretty fanlights over the entrance doors and the old painted sign at the top of the stairs. The East End is full of surprises.



Photos. (Click on image to enlarge.)
Ship at Trinity Almshouses, Mile End Road/Nos.133-135 Mile End Road
Nos.107-113 Mile End Road
Nos.83-89 Mile End Road
Bellevue Cottages, Cleveland Way
Trinity Almshouses/Assembly Passage
No.4 Stepney Green/Stepney Green Gardens
No.37 Stepney Green Gardens
Stepney Green Farm
Painted sign at Stepney Green Tube station

MAP

As this post is longer than usual I have produced a printer-friendly version without images here

Stepney Green is just one route from the many to be found at London Tube Rambles. There are architectural gems, beautiful country views, historic places and quirky buildings in the area covered by the outer London Underground stations. Usually the discoveries are within a mile of the Tube - often only five minutes walk away. If you reached this as an individual page via a search engine, you might like to go to www.londontuberambles.co.uk to see the other destinations explored. You'll be amazed at what's out there!

© DR