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Shoreditch Town Hall | Electricity, boxing, music hall and gangsters in 150 years of history

Discover the history of the progressive former Shoreditch Borough Council and its headquarters.

Shoreditch Town Hall exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Shoreditch Town Hall was built in different phases in the 19th and 20th centuries

Standing on Old Street amidst the tech companies and hipster coffee shops is a towering monument to civic duty. Shoreditch Town Hall hasn’t had its own council for over 50 years, but was known in the Victorian era for being progressive. Before establishment of Borough Councils in the late 19th century, parishes of London were administered by vestry halls. The ancient parish of Shoreditch had boomed in population during the early Victorian era, with over 129,000 residents by 1861. Before building the Town Hall, the site contained the old Fuller’s Hospital, a collection of almhouses founded in 1605. Shoreditch district surveyor Caesar A Long designed the original town hall, which was smaller than the building you see today (see a 1865 sketch of the building). The façade was made of Portland stone, with five bays across the two-storey building. The exterior features Corinthian columns at the front entrance and allegorical keystones, representing Justice, Labour, Mercury and others. Inside, it impressed many with its Doric columns, stained glass windows, glittering chandeliers and ornate interiors. The entrance hall still features the original Victorian details, such as a triglyph frieze, ceiling roses and red Minton tiled floor. Its grand façade and interiors led to it being described as ‘the grandest Vestry Hall in London’.

Shoreditch Town Hall exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The striking entrance hallway with its Doric piers and Mintons tiles

When it opened in 1866, there were 120 members of the Shoreditch vestry. As well as being a civic centre for the vestry members, the hall was also a local entertainment centre. It was used for the popular Music Hall style of entertainment, with big names such as Arthur Lloyd (1839-1904), Max Miller (1894-1963), Dan Leno (1860-1904) and George Leybourne (1742-1884) performing there. The vestry’s main hall (now the Council Chamber) hosted the inquest into the last Jack The Ripper victim, Mary Jane Kelly, in November 1888.

In 1899, the Shoreditch Vestry became the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch when London’s local government system was re-organised. The new council adopted the motto, ‘More Light, More Power’, which is seen frequently throughout the building. This referenced the council’s innovative approach to bringing the new technology of electricity to the area. In 1897, the vestry had built the St. Leonard Shoreditch Electric Light Station, (later known as the Shoreditch Borough Refuse Destructor and Generating Station). Revolutionary at the time, it burned rubbish to provided steam for an electricity generator, with the waste heat heating the public swimming baths next door. Today, the generating station is now the National Centre for Circus Arts school. Shoreditch Vestry was the first municipal energy company to generate electricity by burning waste.

Shoreditch Town Hall exterior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

The western extension and tower from 1899

Increasing council duties meant more space was required so architect William George Hunt (b.1870) was enlisted to design a western extension at a cost of £30,000. Hunt lived in Kensington and had also worked on an extension for his local town hall in 1898-9, as well as the Harrods Furniture Depository in 1894. Hunt added the large Assembly Hall, a tower, caretaker’s cottage and more offices. A new staircase was added with cast iron balustrades, along with a stained glass window depicting a municipal crest His designs retained the old Vestry chamber to be used as a council hall. The tower united the original and new extension and featured a female sculpture of Progress, which alludes to Shoreditch’s innovative reputation at the time. Progress wears a winged helmet (symbolising speed) and is holding a torch (to shine the light of progress) and an axe (to cut through forest to make way for civilisation). The extension features more allegorical keystone heads just like the original: Labour, Justice and Protection. Meanwhile, the top western pediment features two reclining figures, with a shield in between and the council motto underneath. Read the rest of this entry

The Invitation from the Secret Theatre Project: An immersive evening of murder mystery and intrigue

The Invitation by Secret Theatre Project launches in January
© Jeremy Rice

The new decade is kicking off with a new immersive theatre show from Secret Theatre Project. The theatre collective, which was founded by Richard Crawford in 2008, has travelled the world with their unique site-specific immersive experiences. Following their recent sold-out run in Hong Kong, the Secret Theatre Project are launching their new production, The Invitation, in January 2020.

The Invitation is an immersive theatrical experience with the offer of an add-on dining option. Launching on 28 January, guests will be invited to a masquerade party in a five-star hotel in east London. Participants will wear disguises as they spend the evening in a world of action, murder and intrigue.

The action takes place at the fictional Masquerade Palace in the Edwardian Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green. Once purchasing a ticket, guests are given a password and a set of instructions. The show is only on for 10 weeks and is expected to be a sought-after ticket.

  • Secret Theatre Project presents The Invitation from 28 January – 5 April 2020. At the Masquerade Palace (Bethnal Green Town Hall), 8 Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, E2 9NF. Nearest station: Bethnal Green or Cambridge Heath. Tickets: £39.00-£109.99. For more information, visit the Secret Theatre Project website.

For a guide to what’s on in London in March, click here.

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Ready to throw? Check out the EVE Riot Grrrls of Wrestling live experience in London

© EVE Riot Grrrls of Wrestling

EVE Riot Grrrls of Wrestling is a feminist-punk-rock wrestling live experience

Women’s sports are rightly getting the spotlight they deserve right now after decades of hiding in the shadows of their male counterparts. With the hit Netflix show Glow fuelling the popularity of women’s wrestling, there’s never been a better time to hit the ring and cheer on the ladies.

EVE Riot Grrrls of Wrestling is a feminist and fabulous, punk-rock wrestling live experience. EVE was founded by married couple and activists Emily and Dann Read, who have been fighting for acceptable of women in the professional wrestling industry since 2006 and create events showcasing the talents of female wrestlers.

Already this summer has seen some of EVE’s biggest shows to date, including Wrestle Queendom II – the largest ever women’s wrestling event in Europe. On 10 August 2019, the home of the EVE Academy in Bethnal Green will host Fights and False Lashes. Expect an empowering and entertaining show of fight and fun. Following in the autumn will be the three-day 2019 SHE-1 Series in November, with Wrestle Queendom kicking off the new year in January 2020,

Meanwhile, if you fancy being the next Ronda Rousey or Nikki Bella, you can enrol at the EVE Academy’s classes. You will be taught in the art of callisthenics, core strengthening, stretches and aerobic exercises and tune-chanting by two-time EVE champion and fitness instructor Rhia O’Reilly and Lucha Libre head coach and pro-wrestler Greg Burridge.

  • EVE – Riot Grrrls of Wrestling Present: Fights and False Lashes takes place on 10 August 2019. 7.30pm-10.30pm. Tickets: £25 + booking fee. Over 18s only. At Resistance Gallery, 265 Poyser Street, Bethnal Green, E2 9RF. Nearest station: Bethnal Green or Cambridge Heath. For more information and tickets, visit EVEWrestling.com.
  • Further events: 9-11 November 2019: EVE – Riot Grrrls of Wrestling Present: THE 2019 SHE-1 SERIES @ Resistance Gallery and 11 January 2020: EVE – Riot Grrrls of Wrestling Present: Wrestle Queendom @ York Hall, Bethnal Green.

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City skyline, cocktails, lawn games and more as Skylight London returns for summer

Rooftop destination is back at Tobacco Quay for summer 2019.

Skylight 2019 © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Summer rooftop destination Skylight is back in Wapping

One thing I love about the coming of summer is the opening of London’s rooftop bars. With such an amazing skyline in our capital, along with the lovely feeling of the sun on your face, it’s not surprising these sky-high destinations are a big draw over the warmer seasons. This week, one of my favourite summer destinations, Skylight, opened for the new season with its latest makeover. I went along to the launch in Wapping and checked out the attractions, cocktails, and – of course – the views.

Skylight 2019 © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Try a spot of croquet or one of the other lawn games

Spread over three floors, the venue combines drinking, (casual) dining, lawn games and events, such as live sport screenings. The venue is well prepared for the unpredictable British summer, with plenty of zones undercover should the weather turn for the worst. Returning this summer are the croquet lawns and Palenque courts. My friend and I enjoyed a few games of croquet, which is significantly harder than it looks, but provided lots of laughs. In addition this year, Skylight has also added some table tennis.

Skylight offers three bars over the different levels, serving a mix of summery cocktails, such as Jalisco Sky, Raspberry Rum Margherita, Apple Sunrise and the Gin Basil Spice. There are also more traditional options, including wine, Bacardi spirits, Moet e Chandon champagne and Sharps Offshore, Staropramen, Wolf Rock IPA, Blue Moon and Aspal Cyder on tap. When you get hungry, there’s two stalls YIRO and Flipside, serving up delicious street food. I couldn’t resist some halloumi fries.

This summer sees even more seating and bookable options than previous years, with daybeds and garden booths available for intimate groups. There is more raised seating so even more people can get a better look at the views, while added greenery gives an urban garden vibe. Sports fans will be able to watch big games, including the FA Cup Final, Wimbledon and the Rugby World Cup. There will also be special events throughout the summer, including Hendricks Summer Solstice party (21 June), Gay Day, Opera and Dog Day.

Skylight London © CPG Photography Ltd.

Skylight features a range of seating, including day beds and booths for groups
© CPG Photography Ltd.

Skylight was originally launched in 2017 on top of Tobacco Dock’s multi-story car park. Located just east of the City of London a short walk from Shadwell station (only a few minutes on the DLR from Bank), it gives stunning views over the capital’s skyline, with sights such as the Gherkin and The Shard visible. As well as its summer season, it is also a popular winter spot, with a rooftop ice rink on the roof.

  • Skylight, Tobacco Quay (Pennington Street entrance), Wapping, E1CW 2SF. Nearest station: Shadwell (DLR/TFL Rail) or Wapping. Open from 2 May until (TBA) September 2019. Open Thu-Fri 5pm-11pm, Sat-Sun 12pm-11pm. Free entry, but large groups over 10 are recommended to book. Croquet: Indoor £25, Outdoor £35 (45 min game), Petanque: £15 (2-4 players), Table tennis £5 for 30 mins. Day beds and booths available for booking from £70 for up to 10 people. For more information, visit the Skylight London website.

For a guide to what’s on in London in September, click here.

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The Trinity Green Almshouses in Stepney: A 17th century mariners’ retirement complex

The history of 17th century almhouses on the Mile End Road.

Trinity Green almshouses © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Trinity Green almhouses in Stepney

Standing in a busy, built-up part of the East End, the district of Stepney couldn’t look less rural. However, there’s one particular complex of buildings that have been standing since the area was surrounded by fields. If you walk down traffic-laden Mile End Road, you may find your eye drawn to the historic Trinity Green Almhouses and Chapel.

Trinity Green almshouses © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The eastern end gable is in good condition and features the ship models and cartouche

Originally named Trinity Hospital or Trinity Almhouses, the complex was built in 1695 by the Corporation of Trinity House (est. 1514) to provide housing for “28 decay’d Masters & Commanders of Ships or ye Widows of such”. Captain Henry Mudd of Ratcliffe (1630-1692) – an elder brother of Trinity House – donated the land to the charity in his will. His grave can be found in St Dunstan’s churchyard less than a mile away. Deputy Master of Trinity House, Captain Robin Sandes (d.1721) also contributed funding the building. As well as accommodation, the retired and incapacitated mariners also received a money allowance and coal. It’s been claimed the almhouses were designed by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and John Evelyn (1620-1706), although this cannot be verified. Many historians believed it was the work of master carpenter Sir William Ogbourne (1662-1734).

The Trinity Almhouses featured two rows of cottages facing a central garden with a separate chapel in the north. Each red brick house features is spread over one storey and a basement, with wood block and bracketed eaves cornices providing some lovely period detail. The front doors feature a wide hood supported by carved brackets.

At the south end of the two rows of cottages stand ornate gable ends facing Mile End Road. Each gable end is two storeys high and features white, rusticated quoins. The top storey features a brick niche surrounded by an ornate, stone architrave, while the building is crowned with a stone pediment. While the eastern gable end is still in good condition, the western one’s windows have been bricked up. The main attraction of the gable ends are the four model boats perched on the corners. These are actually 1950s fibreglass replicas of the original marble ones, which are being protected by the Museum of London. The models are of 42-gun Stuart warships of the 4th Rate and carved by Robert Jones. Each gable end also features a cartouche depicting the purpose of the almhouses, the contribution of Mudd and his widow and the year it was built.

Trinity Green almshouses © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

The chapel can just be seen behind the trees with two rows of cottage either side

The centrepiece of the gardens is the Chapel. Built in a Classical Revival style, it stands two storeys high, with rusticated quoins and pediment. The chapel is entered through a white door, at the top of a flight of stone steps curving outwards. Trinity Green is protected from the street by curved brick wall, wrought iron railing and iron gates.

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Romeo & Juliet mural marks the site of original Shakespearean theatre (before the Globe)

Shoreditch street art commemorates where the tragic love story was first performed back in the 16th century.

New Inn Broadway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Romeo and Juliet mural on New Inn Broadway in Shoreditch

When it comes to checking out street art in Shoreditch, you’ll be spoiled for choice. However, one of the district’s most striking murals has a special historic significance. One particular building on New Inn Broadway features a mural depicting Romeo and Juliet… on the very spot where the play was first performed.

Long before The Globe was built on Bankside, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) used to tread the boards in the East End. In 1572, the Mayor of London cracked down on plays being performed within the City of London in an attempt to prevent the spread of the Plague. As a result, theatre companies started performing just outside the jurisdictions of the City. The Theatre was built in 1576 on the site of the Holywell Priory, which has been demolished following the dissolution of the monasteries a few decades earlier. It was started by actor and theatre manager James Burbage (1530/5-1597) and his brother-in-law John Brayne (1541-1586). At the time, Shoreditch was notoriously rough and was surrounded by brothels, gambling dens and rowdy taverns. The Theatre was built in a polygonal shape, included three galleries and a yard and was said to have cost £700 to build.

The Theatre owner Burbage was a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men theatre company, with a certain actor and playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon as one of his colleagues. The LCM was formed in 1594, when Shakespeare had already been making waves in the theatre scene for at least two years. The troupe started performing Shakespeare’s plays exclusively. Shakespeare’s tragic love story Romeo and Juliet was performed for the first time at The Theatre, estimated to have been written around 1591-1595.

New Inn Broadway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Juliet is seen leaning over her balcony looking for her Romeo

After 22 years of entertaining Londoners, The Theatre came to an end following a dispute between the late Burbage’s son Richard (1567-1619) and the site’s landowner Giles Allen. In a desperate bid to protect their playhouse, Richard and his brother Cuthbert enlisted the help of some associates to dismantle The Theatre in December 1598. The timbers were believed to have been hidden nearby in Bridewell, before being taken over London Bridge to Bankside when the weather improved. Timbers from The Theatre were used to build The Globe in 1599.

For centuries, the site of The Theatre was lost until it was rediscovered by Museum of London archaeologists in 2008. They found remains of brick and stone polygonal footings of the gallery, along with seeds and fruit pips and broken beer vessels from the Elizabethan period. Just north of the Romeo and Juliet mural we see today, a building is being erected to house offices and a permanent exhibition about The Theatre.

Today, a Romeo and Juliet mural adorns a modern three-storey office building on the site of The Theatre. The top of the piece features the heroine Juliet in a blue gown, looking down from her balcony for her Romeo, who gazes up adoringly at her from two storeys down. One of Juliet’s passages from Act 2, Scene 2 of the play is featured: ‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea’; ‘My love as deep the more I give to thee’; and ‘The more I have for both are infinite’. Fans of the play will recognise it from Romeo and Juliet’s post-Capulet ball discussion when they make plans to marry after meeting that evening. The mural was commissioned through the Global Street Art Agency in June 2018.

  • New Inn Broadway, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PZ. Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street.

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Dabbers Social Bingo review: Pink gin, prizes and very saucy rhyming

dabbers bingo © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Party at the bingo at Dabbers Social Bingo

If you think bingo is just for pensioners, you’re very much mistaken. In recent years, modern approaches to bingo has been gaining popularity with younger generations. In late 2018, London’s first permanent modern bingo hall opened and I went along to check it out last month. Like traditional bingo, it involves dabbing your numbers in the hope of winning a prize when your numbers are called. However, Dabbers Social Bingo involves a lot of saucy innuendo, cocktails galore, fabulous food and a general party atmosphere.

dabbers bingo © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Pink gin cocktails while you dab

Dabbers Social Bingo is located on Houndsditch, where the City meets the East End. From the street, you enter a medium-sized bar with outdoor terrace (would be great in summer, but definitely not in January thanks!). I liked the fact the cocktail bar gives no hint of the wildness to come downstairs! After a glass of Prosecco to loosen us up, we headed down to the expansive bingo hall in the basement. It was a surprisingly large space with a variety of tables to suit different sizes from couples to larger groups of friends.

After my companion and I grabbed a well-situated table with a view of the stage, we started with simple, but refreshing pink gin cocktails and settled down for some pre-bingo grub. The food menu has been inspired by bingo balls so features many physically round dishes. It consists mostly of sharing plates, sort of tapas style portions in the spirit of the ‘social’ part of the game. They range from £4-£9.50 and have a wide choice, with a decent amount of vegetarian options. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the food was as I had expected it to take a back seat to the bingo, entertainment and cocktails. We really enjoyed the seared prawn tiger skewers, buffalo glazed chicken skewers, mozzarella ball skewers and pizza bread. It’s worth noting they have brunch bingo on Saturdays and family brunch bingo on Sundays.

Round food rules! Meatballs, arancini and greens

Once we were fed and watered, it was time for the main event to kick off. Our compere for the evening was the fabulous Boogaloo Stu. After Stu gave us an introduction to the night, it was over to host James Loveridge and the glamorous bingo calling duo. Bingo newbies are given an explanation to the rules and prizes, before the first game kicks off at a steady pace. While there’s some traditional bingo lingo like ‘legs eleven’, be prepared for some very saucy numerical rhyming, which can be hilariously distracting when you’re trying to strike off your numbers. At various points during the game, a special ball being drawn kicks off a mini disco with the crowd encouraged to drop their dabbers and throw some shapes as the DJ cranks up the music. Throughout the game, people who win one or two lines or a full house are invited on stage to compete for a prize. By this stage, the alcoholic lubrication and the building excitement in the room had clearly got some of the winners as they got on stage so their enthusiastic celebrations were pretty jubilant and amusing to the rest of us in the room.

Overall, we had a really fun evening and it was probably the most raucous Wednesday night I’ve seen in years! The food and drink were brilliant and there was a really fun, high-energy atmosphere. Dabbers certainly offers a more entertaining alternative to the usual catch-up in the a pub, with the added bonus of being able to walk away with a prize. I would particularly recommend Dabbers for group nights out, particularly for birthdays and hen nights.

  • Dabbers Social Bingo, 13-22 Houndsditch, City of London, EC3A 7DB. Nearest stations: Aldgate, Liverpool Street or Fenchurch Street. Open Mon-Wed and Sun 12pm-11pm, Thu-Sat 12pm-3am. For more information, visit the Dabbers Social Bingo website.

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William Blake finally honoured with a gravestone at his final resting place

William Blake gravestone © James Murray-White

William Blake’s new gravestone in Bunhill Fields
© James Murray-White

William Blake (1757-1827) is widely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest artist in British history. The born and bred Londoner was an acclaimed poet, painter, author and printmaker, although never had much success during his lifetime. Nearly 200 years after his death, Blake’s canon continues to amaze and inspire people around the world. Among his more famous works include ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, ‘The Four Zoas’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Milton’, ‘And did those feet in ancient time’.

Having been brought up as an English Dissenter (Protestant Christians which broke away from the Church of England), Blake was laid to rest in a Dissenters’ graveyard following his death in 1827. The painter died at home in the Strand and was buried in Bunhill Fields in the London borough of Islington. As well as the location of his parents and two of his brothers’ graves, Bunhill also included the burial sites of Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and Susanna Wesley. Blake was buried in an unmarked grave on 17 August – on what would have been he and wife Catherine’s 45th wedding anniversary. He was buried on top of several bodies, with another four being placed above him in the coming weeks. His widow Catherine died in 1831 and was also laid to rest at Bunhill Fields, but in a separate plot.

Bunhill Fields was closed as a burial ground in 1854 after it was declared ‘full’, having contained 123,000 interments during its 189 year history, and became a public park. Although William and Catherine Blake had both been buried in unmarked graves, the William Blake Society (founded 1912) erected a memorial stone to the couple in Bunhill Fields on the centenary of the painter’s death in 1927. The stone read: ‘Near by lie the remains of the poet-painter William Blake 1757–1827 and his wife Catherine Sophia 1762–1831.’ Re-landscaping in the 1960s following widespread damage during World War II resulted in many of the monuments being cleared. Although the Blakes’ memorial was one of those to survive, it was moved from its location at William’s grave to near Defoe’s memorial stone in 1965.  Read the rest of this entry

Schumann Street review: A fascinating musical ‘crawl’ around Spitalfields

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Andrew West and Rob Murray perform during Schumann Street, a ‘song crawl’ around the Huguenot houses of Spitalfields

The Spitalfields Music Festival is an annual celebration of innovative music, featuring local and international talent. Venues across east London play host to a wide variety of performances. The last event of the 2017 festival in December was the captivating Schumann Street. Sixteen artists from very different genre and backgrounds were invited to perform their own interpretation of the songs in German composer Robert Schumann’s 1840 song cycle Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love).

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Baritone Benedict Nelson expresses forlorn desperation in Allnächtlich im Traume

The audience were split into groups to start our journey on the immersive, promenade musical installation. For the evening, eight local residents of the Huguenot houses of Spitalfields had opened their doors to stage two performances across different floors. The whole event takes place over 75 minutes so participants were invited to come and go as we please from each house, spending just long enough to hear the 16 pieces. We started our experience in Wilkes Street, a small group of us stepping into the parlour of a charmingly creaky early 18th century home. With just six of us squeezed into the wood-panelled front room, we sat quietly as a pianist Andrew West and tenor Rob Murray provided an interpretation of one of the song cycles by candlelight. Next, we headed upstairs for a cosier experience with a guitarist Aart Stootman accompanying singer Abimaro by a roaring fire in the living room.

Despite being a classical piece, the story of Dichterliebe was told to us through hip-hop, Bengali folk, soul, jazz, R&B, blues, as well as a classical. We stood, sat on chairs, tables and floors; or lingered in dark corners as we snuck in and out of the performances trying not to interrupt. The song cycle is about love, then loss, with the musicians giving musical expressions of the joy and the torment the heart goes through. One particularly enchanting performance was Mara Carlyle and Liam Byrne in the basement kitchen of a courtyard home. Carlyle sang while wearing Marigolds and washing up at the sink, as Byrne accompanies her on the viol. She then switches direction with a musical saw, bringing a quirky, modern end to the piece. Moving upstairs, we were greeted by an incredibly emotional performance by soprano Héloïse Werner and harpist Anne Denholm in a darkly lit living room. Werner looked positively heartbroken as she forlornly belted out lines from Und Wüssten’s die Blumen. I also particularly enjoyed German duo Apollo 47 depicting the torment and obsession that love can inflict as they rapped Hör’ ich das Liedchen Klingen. In a room covered in lyrics on the wall, the pair were oblivious to the audience as they rambled around with their lanterns trying to make sense of their emotions.

In the end, I only visited seven houses and was disappointed to have missed the last one, due to the fault of my own time management. I enjoyed the different stagings – from a more formal setting of a singer by a piano, to a drunken singing rampage around another house. While some artists acknowledged your presence, for many of the others, it felt like we were eavesdropping on a private or mundane moment – the writing of love letters, household chores, a lonely moping session. In addition to being entertained by very different performances, I felt privileged to see inside these amazing Georgian houses. I loved checking out their original shutters, fireplaces, wood panelling and window seats. Overall, it was certainly an ambitious premise, but the Spitalfields Music Festival certainly pulled it off. The result was a quirky, innovative experience which brought the classical workings of Schumann to a new audience.

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The ceramic bakers of Spitalfields on Widegate Street

The history behind a 1920s shop building and its artistic decorations.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The façade of 12-14 Widegate Street features four ornamental bakers

Spitalfields is full of fascinating buildings, with Georgian, Victorian and early 20th century well represented. Many businesses are moving into the area, with some redeveloping or demolishing older buildings. While some historic architecture has been restored and changed for the better, there are others which meet a sorry fate (see my post on a crime against architecture in Artillery Lane). One of the things I love about the Spitalfields area is its many old lanes and alleys. Although many were destroyed during the Blitz, some still remain despite the encroaching modernity and skyscrapers of the City. As businesses come and go from the area, it’s interesting to see which ones embrace the history and heritage of the buildings they occupy… or completely annihilate any original features.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Widegate Street is named after the former ‘white gate’ entrance into the Old Artillery Ground

This post focuses on one particular street and one of its buildings. Widegate Street is just 200ft long and connects Middlesex Street and Sandy’s Row. The name Widegate comes from the former ‘white gate’ entrance into the Old Artillery Ground, which was established in the 16th century. Areas of the ground were sold off for housing and shops in subsequent centuries, with its legacy living on today in names such as Fort Street, Gun Street, Artillery Passage and Artillery Lane. Widegate Street used to be longer than what you see today, but some of it was absorbed by Middlesex Street in the 1890s. Today, Widegate Street features a mix of narrow historic buildings, including two listed houses at No.24 and 25 dating back to 1720. Over the years, the site of 12-13 Widegate Street was often home to pastry chefs. including Alexander Kennedy in the 1780s, and John King in 1790, and bakers Joseph Hawkes in the 1820s, and Edward Roll in 1834-37.

No.12-13 is currently home to Honest Burgers, who have branches across London in a variety of historic premises. However, before burger buns were being served, more traditional buns were being baked on site up until the late 20th century. The current building was designed in the 1920s by architect George Val Myer as a bakery, in a neo-Georgian style to complement neighbouring buildings. The ground floor features glazed white bricks, giving a clean, clinical look. The two upper stories are made of red brick, Crittal windows and a strong cornice projecting above. The most striking part of the building are four ceramic panels, giving a permanent reminder of its origins as bakery. ‘Bakers Relief’ were created by Brixton-born sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark (1899-1977) in 1926 and were fired by Carters of Poole. The white and blue glazes are 1.2metres by 50 centimetres and depict the baking process. The panels start with a man carrying a sack of flour; a baker kneading the dough, baking the loaf in the oven and a baker carrying a tray of loaves. The original business itself was called the Nordheim Model Bakery and was opened by Charles Naphtali Nordheim (1864-1941). It carried on trading for several decades after Charles’ death (see a 1973 photo of the bakery). In the 1970s, the words ‘French Vienna and Rye Breads’ had been fixed to façade in between the 1st and 2nd floors. Although the bakery moved on in recent decades, today customers are still their getting their carb fix thanks to buns with their burgers.

  • 12-13 Widegate Street, Spitalfields, E1 7HP. Nearest station: Liverpool Street.

Spitalfields Widegate Street © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark created the ceramic panels depicting the baking process

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