The Whitechapel area of today is not the Whitechapel I remember from fifty years ago when I lived nearby for 8 years. It’s always been a filthy area and as far as I can see it still is. One noticeable change is that it has been almost entirely taken over by the Muslim community. Unfortunately this seems to have done nothing to improve the place. It is still as grubby as it ever was, if not worse.
The Royal London Hospital takes up a very large part of the area away from the main street. The main entrance to the new building the(largest hospital in Europe) is now in a side street It's fourteen floors of blue glass is visible for miles. The old building is still in Whitechapel Road itself but at the time of writing (March 2018) there has been hoarding along it's entire length for at least five years while building work takes place. I used to work in a pub at the back of the hospital in the days before Tower House was closed and saw the plight of the homeless alcoholics who were all over the area at that time because they could get a room there. Booth House hostel is still there in the main road, but I wonder what happened to the regular Tower House users.
This was also Jack the Ripper’s hunting ground, the narrow back streets of Whitechapel, many years ago. This is the only mention he will get on this page as there are many web sites devoted to him that contain more information than I could ever cram on here.
The same goes for the Kray twins and Blind Beggar pub just down the road. An major addition to the area since my days there is the large East London Mosque. I now feel like an outsider in my own country when I have reason to visit the area. In the main, the dress code and language are totally alien to me I'm afraid.
One other famous part of Whitechapel was the Bell Foundry that made Big Ben and the Liberty Bell. The now defunct foundry has its own page here >>
The London Hospital as it was then known was founded in 1740 and the medical college in 1785. This was the first medical college in the country.
The Royal London Hospital amalgamated with Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital (Barts) in 1995 under the aegis of Queen Mary, University of London, to become Barts and The London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry. The London Chest Hospital was also a part of the trust but is now (2018) in the hands of property developers!
The Royal London underwent major alterations in the early 21st century and a massive 14 storey glass building was added to the complex. The new building was completed in 2011 and is now the largest hospital in Europe. The old building still looks out onto Whitechapel Road and has been undergoing renovations since Still going on in 2018. Dame Edith Cavell was once a nurse there. The new wing has done away with ward names and use clinical letters and number identification now _ C11, B3 etc. I don't know if this is due to the lack of English reading skills or just down to modernisation. The air ambulance has operated from the London for many years. The new building now has three helicopter pads on it’s roof.
There have been many famous people pass through it’s doors over the years as patients but one of the most famous and also the saddest must be Joseph Merrick, known as the “Elephant Man”, who spent the last years of his life there. His skeleton was kept in the hospital museum.
In 1940, three houses were purchased on Commercial Road in the east end of London and a permanent place of prayer was setup to replace the previous arrangement where a small room was hired on Fridays for Jumma prayers. The following year, the combined houses were inaugurated as the "East London Mosque" and became the focal point for the growing number of migrant workers taking part in the rebuilding of the city in the post war era.
In 1975, the local authority bought the properties under a compulsory purchase order but provided temporary buildings on Whitechapel Road. The local community set about raising funds to erect a purpose built mosque on the site. Apparently the funds were boosted by a contribution from the King of Saudi Arabia. Seven years later, the rebuilding of the new mosque commenced with foundations laid down in 1982 and completion achieved in 1985.
The Whitechapel Gallery, which was founded in 1901, is in Whitechapel Road next to Aldgate East tube station and is normally associated with exhibitions of modern art. It was founded by Canon Samuel Augustus Barnett. He mounted exhibitions to bring art into the lives of local East Enders. Today the Whitechapel Gallery runs a program of exhibitions of modern art throughout the year.
Following the former Whitechapel library’s move to a new facility, the gallery has acquired the building to restore it and keep it open as a free art gallery all year round. There are all manner of books and other items of interest for sale in the bookshop. There are always projects, exhibitions and events being arranged at the gallery. I can only give very brief details here. For more information go to the website here >>
I spent some time living and working in Whitechapel during the early 1970’s and at that time was the Mecca for alcoholics, and homeless down and outs. They were everywhere, with their bottles of cider and VP Wine or worse still, methylated spirits. Many had to sleep rough in the parks or in shop doorways. Others, who could manage to look and act sober (or indeed were genuinely sober) and had the small cost of admission, could get a bed for the night in Fieldgate Street at Tower House. Another place for them was Booth House, the Salvation Army hostel, was along Whitechapel Road. It offered the same service, but was far stricter than Tower House about who got beds. They were known as "doss houses"back then.
Tower House was one of the famous Rowton Houses opened all over London by Lord Rowton in the late 1800’s. This philanthropist was also a member of the Guinness Trust. He put massive amounts of cash into the project. It closed permanently many years ago and stood derelict until property developers converted it into luxury apartments for the wealthy in 2006. Booth House is still doing the job it was intended for today (2018).
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