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Five historical things to look out for in... Whitechapel

By
Katie Wignall
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It's not all Jack the Ripper trivia in this part of the East End, y'know. London blogger Katie Wignall shares five interesting historical finds in Whitechapel – and you won't need to stray too far from the main road.

1. Whitechapel Gallery, 82 Whitechapel Road

This impressive space was established in the 1880s when local vicar Samuel Barnett set up free art shows for Whitechapel's working class. If you stand at the entrance and look up, you'll spot two things: artist Rachel Whiteread's glistening golden leaves installation and an unusual weathervane. Designed by the Canadian artist Rodney Graham, it had been planned since the nineteenth century but they only got around to installing it in 2009. It shows the sixteenth-century humanist scholar Deciderius Erasmus perched backwards on a horse, engrossed in his most famous work 'The Praise of Folly' which, according to legend, he wrote on horseback from Italy to England.

Photo by Look Up London

2. Altab Ali Park, Alder Street E1

The park used to be the grounds of St Mary Matfelon, a fourteenth-century white stone church that was blown to smithereens during the Blitz. It's worth taking a closer look for its remnants, though, because it was the white chapel that gave the area its name. But the park got its moniker under very different circumstances after an event on May 4, 1978. A young Bangladeshi man named Altab Ali was walking home from his textile job on Hanbury Street in the evening when he was attacked and stabbed to death in Alder Street by three teenagers. As tragic as this was, it did serve to galvanise the local community who, ten days later, marched in a group of 70,000 to Trafalgar Square in protest against hate crimes in the area. In 1988, the park was named in memory of Ali and a new gate was installed, representing unity in the community.

Photo by Look Up London

3. Albion Yard, 331 Whitechapel Road 

If you look up at the gated green doors outside these now private flats, you can spot the archway spelling out Mann Crossman & Paulin's Albion, a brewery founded in 1808. It used to employ hundreds in the area – and Mann's claim to fame was that it's the first place in Britain to produce bottled brown ale. The panel below the clock shows the original logo St George and the dragon with 'Decus et Tutamen' meaning 'an audience and safeguard'.  It was taken over by Watney Combe & Reid in 1959 and you can still see their signs on the Blind Beggar pub – another historical haunt – next door.

Look Up London

4. Trinity Green, Mile End Road

The next time you visit Dirty Burger/Chicken Shop on Mile End Road look out for the two intricate model ships framing the entrance of the Grade I-listed Trinity Green aka the Trinity Almshouses next door. Built in 1695 and supposedly designed by Christopher Wren, the almshouses provided accommodation for 'decayed' ship masters or their widows (so it was basically a retirement home). It's a reminder of the link between the East End and the dockyards, as many workers would live in the surrounding area while building docks like St Katherine's, West India and London Docks during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Photo by Look Up London

5. The former Wickham department store, 69-89 Mile End Road

Draper William Wickham opened his first shop on this site in 1850, but the current grand building was erected in 1927. If you look closely, you should be able to see the remains of a squat little white shop breaking up the huge department store. This was owned by the Spielgelhalters and was the site of a family jewellery shop set up in 1850. After failing to persuade the family to sell their shop, the department store was simply built around it, becoming the Harrods of the East End. The Spiegelhalters had the last laugh though as Wickham's closed in 1969 while the jewellery shop survived into the 1980s.

Hungry for more history? Take a look at five historical things to look out for in Holborn. 

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