A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11, Stepney, Bethnal Green. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1998.
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Until the 19th century Bethnal Green relied on springs or wells. There was a conduit and lead pipes in Conduit close, part of Pyotts on the east side of Cambridge Heath, by 1601. (fn. 1) According to an 18th-century owner, the close contained a spring dedicated to St. Winifred in 1160 within a Gothic building from which copper pipes led to neighbouring villages and a monastery. (fn. 2) The building may have been erected by the Austin Friars to whom Richard II granted in 1394 land with a spring on Cambridge Heath, with permission to enclose it and bring water by conduit to their house in London. (fn. 3) In 1760 the 'conduit' was marked in the north of Conduit close. (fn. 4) The spring was sealed and the Gothic building pulled down when 'Bow water was laid into Bethnal Green', presumably in 1807. (fn. 5)
Simcock's or Sincook's well in the Great Hyde, mentioned c. 1399, (fn. 6) supplied the hospital of St. Mary without Bishopsgate before the Dissolution (fn. 7) and was there in the 1570s. (fn. 8) It may have been a well found in Old Nichol Street during work on the Boundary Street estate in the 1890s. (fn. 9)
By 1547 a well and conduit were 'of common use to the inhabitants' on the waste on the east side of the green, in front of the later Kirby's Castle. Enclosed with a brick wall, it was apparently the main village well until 1652 or later. (fn. 10)
Another 'spring or conduit head', in Markhams field on the west side of Cambridge Road, was granted in 1567 to William Paulet, marquess of Winchester, with the right to lay pipes to his house in London, formerly of the Austin Friars to whom the watercourse was said to have belonged. (fn. 11) The conduit, mentioned in 1652 (fn. 12) and marked in 1703 as the 'High Fountain' in the south-west corner of Sebrights, was too far from Cambridge Heath to have been the alleged spring of 1394. (fn. 13)
In 1723 a lessee of part of Bishop's Hall found plentiful springs and installed a well and pump, (fn. 14) although presumably there had been a supply at the manor house from the Middle Ages. A 27-ft. deep well, found in the garden of St. James the Less Vicarage, (fn. 15) may have served the farm buildings east of Bishop's Hall.
In 1807 Bethnal Green was among those parishes which, 'become very populous', did not have a sufficient supply of good water. An Act then set up the East London Water Co. and empowered it to draw upon the Lea and build waterworks and reservoirs at Old Ford. (fn. 16) In 1811 Bethnal Green village and its vicinity were said to be properly supplied. (fn. 17) The company was laying large pipes in the parish to connect with its main reservoir at Old Ford in 1827 (fn. 18) but it could not keep pace with the spread of building. By 1848 the water was said to be generally good but it was supplied only thrice a week for two hours at a time and many houses were not connected. Wells and standpipes, serving older houses, were often contaminated. (fn. 19)
An investigation in 1863 occasioned by the deaths of 12 children in Hollybush Gardens revealed that all but 3 out of 222 houses relied on a static tank and defective pump. Nichol Street had no supply. (fn. 20) Cholera in 1866 was associated with contamination by sewage from the Lea. (fn. 21) By 1867 the East London Co. supplied northern Bethnal Green from Lea Bridge and the rest of the parish from Old Ford works. Newer streets were supplied continuously and others for about 30 minutes a day. (fn. 22) In 1875 the company promised a constant supply to parts of Bethnal Green (fn. 23) but there were still streets with no water for their W.C.s in 1887. (fn. 24) The company was taken over by the Metropolitan Water Board in 1904. (fn. 25)
Drainage ditches or common sewers were recorded by 1660 near Kirby's Castle, (fn. 26) by the 1670s next to Shoreditch cemetery, (fn. 27) and by 1703 as forming the boundary between Bethnal Green and Mile End New Town. (fn. 28) Called Spitalfields sewer, the last was the responsibility of Tower Hamlets commission of sewers, to which Bethnal Green was assessed by 1723. (fn. 29) Until 1815 houses were supposed to discharge sewage only into cesspools. (fn. 30) A catgut manufacturer was presented in 1831 for polluting the sewer in Haresmarsh, presumably the main Spitalfields sewer. (fn. 31) Although the growth of building overburdened the existing system, the vestry opposed the commissioners' proposals for new sewers in 1826 because of the alarming expense. (fn. 32)
Fever around Lamb's Fields was attributed in 1838 to an area of stagnant water covering 700 ft. by 300 ft. and encircled by an open ditch into which the privies of North Street drained. (fn. 33) A gutter in the centre of Virginia Row received all the waste from the Nichol and Nova Scotia: in 1846 the London City Mission abandoned the Nichol after all its missionaries had succumbed to disease caused by the absence of sewers. (fn. 34) A detailed report in 1848 (fn. 35) castigated Tower Hamlets commission of sewers and found that there were fewer than 8 miles of sewerage in the parish. Besides the old Spitalfields sewer and an ancient sewer along the east side of the green, part of which was open, there was a west-east sewer flowing into them from Shoreditch church along Castle and Virginia streets, Wellington Row, and Old Bethnal Green Road, and also east-west sewerage from Bonner's Fields and Green Street. Other sewers formed short stretches but there were none along Bethnal Green Road, Brick Lane, parts of Hackney Road, or the western and most densely built-up part of Cambridge Road. In 1847 house drainage into sewers was made compulsory (fn. 36) but in 1848 only 9 per cent of streets and courts were listed as sewered. In 1850 only 12 houses were connected to a sewer which had been laid a few years earlier between Pollard Row and Shoreditch church. Cesspools were seldom cleared and one open privy could serve 50 people. (fn. 37) In Town district only two houses had water closets.
The Metropolitan commission of sewers replaced Tower Hamlets commission in 1847 (fn. 38) and contracted out the construction of sewers from 1851, (fn. 39) including brick sewers for the rest of Hackney Road and Cambridge Road in 1853. (fn. 40) Sewers were supplied to the Nichol in 1854-5 (fn. 41) although houses were still not connected to them in 1863. (fn. 42) The Metropolis Local Management Act of 1855 (fn. 43) divided responsibility between the vestry and the M.B.W., whose main middle-level intercepting sewer along Bethnal Green Road and Green Street was built between 1861 and 1864. (fn. 44) The board contracted for over a mile of brick sewer and the reconstruction of existing sewers in southern Bethnal Green in 1867. (fn. 45) The vestry by 1857 had effected a great improvement with many houses connected, the open sewer behind Hackney Road arched in, and the ditch in Lamb's Fields replaced by a pipe. (fn. 46) In 1863 Bethnal Green had 44 miles of streets, of which 30 miles were drained by the vestry, including 17 miles constructed since 1856. The surveyor's plan to drain every street awaited completion of the main intercepting sewer. (fn. 47) A contract for stoneware pipes was given at the end of 1863 to Cole & Son for 48 undrained streets. (fn. 48) By 1872 'almost all houses' had been drained, mostly at the owners' cost, and between 1856 and 1872 13½ miles of pipe and 2½ miles of brick sewers had been laid. (fn. 49) By 1887 another three miles had been built by the vestry, (fn. 50) which was castigated in 1898 for leaving a defective sewer open for a fortnight. (fn. 51)
For storm relief between 1881 and 1884 the M.B.W. built the high-level and Ratcliff relief sewer along the line of Cambridge Road and from 1921 to 1928 its successor, the L.C.C., built the North-Eastern relief sewer from Hackney Road across Bethnal Green Road to Whitechapel Road and beyond. (fn. 52) In the 1930s the M.B. considered reconstructing the sewers to relieve unemployment. (fn. 53)
Among the earliest officers of the new parish were a woman searcher, appointed in 1749, (fn. 54) and a surgeon and apothecary for the workhouse, whose replacement in 1753 was to be paid £20 a year, to live in the parish, and to attend all 'except broken limbs, midwifery and persons who are foul'. (fn. 55) In 1790 the appointment of searchers was disputed between the vestry and the J.P.s. (fn. 56) Two women searchers were listed as parish officers in 1800, (fn. 57) but parish midwives were mentioned only when accused of incompetence in 1831 (fn. 58) and of drunkenness in 1832. (fn. 59) In 1793 the office of surgeon and apothecary was held by a firm (Gilson & Bliss) (fn. 60) and from 1812 it was held by Frederick Agar, from 1817 assisted by his son. (fn. 61) A Frederick Agar still held the office in 1849. (fn. 62) Agar asked for salary increases in 1825 and 1831, claiming that in 1830 he had 2,000 tickets to attend the outdoor sick besides those in the workhouse and that he had to buy drugs himself. (fn. 63)
In 1818 the vestry paid 10 guineas to the fever hospital at Battle Bridge for the care of its sick poor. (fn. 64) In 1827 it opposed the building of a new lunatic asylum for the metropolis on the ground of expense. (fn. 65) There were many cases of fever, probably cholera, especially in the workhouse, in 1831 (fn. 66) when the vestry temporarily accepted the government's advice to establish a local board of health, which in November was actively clearing 'nuisances', the breeding ground of cholera. (fn. 67) The vestry allocated £160 a year for the duties of surgeon and apothecary and, in addition to Agar, employed a doctor for the outdoor poor of Green and Hackney Road divisions and another for Church and Town divisions. (fn. 68) The board spent most of the £2000 granted by the government for a cholera hospital, which was never built, a balance of £100 being used before 1859, supposedly during one of the later cholera outbreaks. (fn. 69)
Cholera returned in 1837-8 and in the quarter ending Lady Day 1838 the three doctors attended 521 cases and sent 26 to the London Fever hospital. There had been 2,084 cases of 'fever' in the parish in 1837 and it was recognized that in many parts sickness was always present because of bad drainage and sewerage. (fn. 70) In 1841 poorly drained houses in Bethnal Green Road and Cambridge Road were sometimes flooded to 2 ft. It was said that effective drainage might have prevented the 1,700 cases of fever 'arising from miasma' treated by the parish surgeon alone in 1838. (fn. 71) A death from cholera at a sweep's house by the canal near Pritchard's Road in 1848 was directly attributable to an immense dunghill; filth along the banks, condemned by 13 local doctors but left through the 'supineness or wilful neglect of the parish officers', was the alleged cause of typhus, scarlatina, and other fevers. (fn. 72) In the year ending October 1847 the five medical officers of health (recte district medical officers), attended 1,590 cases of zymotic disease, 119 of them fatal; 560 were cases of diarrhoea and 532 of 'typhus'. The average age of death was 26.6, having been 25.8 in 1839. More than a quarter of deaths were from epidemic disease, mostly of young children. (fn. 73)
Gavin's survey, published in 1848, conclusively linked the physical environment, for which he overworked such adjectives as filthy and abominable, with disease: 'typhus' from open privies and livestock in Paradise Row, (fn. 74) epidemics in the Nichol and Greengate Gardens, (fn. 75) and rheumatism and respiratory illness in the damp houses between Bethnal Green Road and Three Colts Lane (fn. 76) or in the oldest, south-west, part of the parish. (fn. 77) Cholera struck immediately after the report, causing 27 deaths in 1848 and a further 752 in 1849, mostly in Hackney Road and Town districts and including 211 in the Nichol in 16 days. Two fever wards in the workhouse received cases from the parish at large but the Board of Health found facilities 'totally inadequate'. It ordered the immediate appointment of an assistant for Agar, four medical visitors, nurses, two inspectors of nuisances, and lime washers; there should be more beds in the infirmary and full-time dispensaries in each affected locality. (fn. 78) After five days the parish appointed one medical officer and one inspector of nuisances, ignoring the other instructions. (fn. 79) Gavin, however, as medical superintendent of the district, began visiting and reduced the mortality by 43 per cent in the worst area; 4,845 people received free medical relief in 54 days. (fn. 80)
The cholera outbreak of 1849 was the worst, with a death-rate of 90 for 10,000 inhabitants compared with 50 in 1832-3. It returned in 1854 when the death-rate was 20 and again in 1866 when it was 60.4. (fn. 81) Of the 3,824 deaths in 1866, 614 were from cholera and 181 from diarrhoea. (fn. 82) Although their causes were pointed out, there remained no hospital other than the workhouse. The five district medical officers provided free medicine and vaccination, treating 5,026 poor outside the workhouse, sick from all causes, in 1856-7. (fn. 83) Infant mortality was particularly high: deaths of children under 5 were 52 per cent in 1858, 60 per cent in 1862, 56 per cent in 1869-70, 51.5 per cent in 1896, and 49.7 per cent in 1898. An additional threat, according to the medical officer in 1893, was the 'colossal ignorance of working-class women on the subject of infant feeding'. (fn. 84)
In 1884 chest disease and rheumatism were common around Hague Street due to the damp caused by dilapidation and by laundering and sleeping in the same room. (fn. 85) Disease was still especially prevalent in the overcrowded Nichol in 1891. (fn. 86) In 1916 a council committee recommended the establishment of a tuberculosis dispensary in an agreement with the City of London Chest hospital. The M.B.'s provision for mothers and babies consisted of an inadequate shelter at no. 3 St. James's Road in 1917, when it was resolved to appoint, temporarily, a 'lady M.D.' as assistant medical officer of health with responsibility for maternity and child welfare, and to rent no. 505 Hackney Road for 3 years as a centre. Similar centres were then being contemplated by King Edward Institution, Spitalfields, in Green Street and by Queen's Children's hospital. (fn. 87) The council had agreed with the chest hospital to employ a tuberculosis health visitor and operate a dispensary with two medical officers by 1925, when it employed several visitors and ran welfare centres for mothers and infants. The main centre, with a dispensary and a planned dental clinic, was in Cornwall Road; another centre was in rented premises at Thornton hall in Mount Street. The council also employed a midwife and wanted a municipal maternity home and day nursery in the borough. It had convalescent homes in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. Home nursing was provided by Shoreditch and Bethnal Green Nursing Association. (fn. 88) St. James the Less medical mission and dispensary existed in St. James's Road in 1935. (fn. 89) The infant welfare centre in Cornwall Avenue (formerly Road) survived in 1950. (fn. 90) Bethnal Green health centre was built in Florida Street under the L.B.'s plan of 1986. (fn. 91)
Bethnal House lunatic asylum (fn. 92) opened as a private madhouse in Kirby's Castle between its lease to Matthew Wright in 1726 (fn. 93) and the escape of Alexander Cruden (d. 1770), compiler of a biblical concordance, who sued Wright for false imprisonment, in 1738. (fn. 94) The building, extended and by 1777 stuccoed and called the White House, in 1800 was purchased by Thomas Warburton, who already owned a more select asylum in Hackney. Like other private asylums, Warburton's housed paupers paid for by their parish. It had 300 inmates, costing 9s. 6d.-10s. a head a week, in 1815 (fn. 95) and 933, of whom 654 were paupers, in 18291830. By 1831 Warburton had built the Red House for men, the White House thereafter being for women only. Abuses were reported (fn. 96) although the presence of two resident medical officers after 1828 led to some improvement. The Red House was enlarged and the White House was rebuilt in the 1840s. Bethnal Green asylum housed 614 people, 558 of them inmates, in 1851. (fn. 97) It had 410 beds in 1892, (fn. 98) a new block for men from 1896, and 203 inmates and 60 staff in 1901. (fn. 99) The asylum closed in 1920. (fn. 100)
The epidemic of 1849 led to the opening in 1850 of Queen Adelaide's dispensary (fn. 101) with a resident medical officer in Warner Place. (fn. 102) In 1865 its trustees, led by the Revd. E.F. Coke, acquired a site at the corner of Pollard Row and William Street, (fn. 103) where a dispensary was built in 1866 in a Renaissance style, with an elaborate tower and cupola. (fn. 104) In 1868 Coke appealed for funds to aid the vast numbers of sick. (fn. 105) In 1889 the dispensary dealt with 6,656 medical and surgical cases and 3,248 dental cases. (fn. 106) It ceased to be a dispensary when it was registered as Queen Adelaide's charity in 1961 and governed by a scheme in 1963 to apply the income for the benefit of the sick poor of Bethnal Green. (fn. 107) The building was a nurses' home for Queen Elizabeth's Children's hospital in the 1970s (fn. 108) but was derelict by the end of the 1980s.
The City of London Chest hospital (fn. 109) originated in a dispensary opened in 1848 on the site of Broad Street station by a committee of mostly Quaker businessmen. In 1849 they rented 4 a. next to Victoria Park, including Bishop's Hall and its associated buildings, which were demolished. In 1851 Prince Albert laid the foundation stone of a three-storeyed red-brick building with stone dressings and a central bell tower by Frederick Ordish, which opened as a consumption hospital in 1855. (fn. 110) A chapel was added in 1858, (fn. 111) and there were considerable rebuilding and enlargement in 1881 (fn. 112) and further alterations in 1891, (fn. 113) 1899, (fn. 114) and 1928 when a surgical block and X-ray department were added. (fn. 115) The hospital had 164 beds, 1,200 in-patients and 56,000 out-patients in 1892 (fn. 116) and 103 inmates and 46 staff in 1901. (fn. 117) Renamed the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Heart and Lungs by 1923, it had 177 beds in 1931, more than half of them for the tubercular cases. (fn. 118) Bombing destroyed the chapel and one hospital wing in 1940 and in 1950 there were 135 beds and 5,727 new out-patients. (fn. 119) An out-patient extension and a teaching centre were added in 1975, a block containing wards and laboratories in 1983, and a new library in 1986. (fn. 120)
Two hospitals grew out of the epidemic of 1866. The vicar of St. Philip's, whose parish included the Nichol, appealed for help from the Mildmay Deaconesses. A fund in memory of the founder William Pennefather was used to establish a medical mission with a doctor and dispensary in a cottage in Turville Street in the heart of the slums in 1874. A disused warehouse nearby opened in 1877 as Mildmay Mission hospital (fn. 121) with three 10-bedded wards, for men, women, and children respectively, staffed by a doctor, three nurses, and five deaconesses as probationer nurses. It was demolished in the Boundary Street clearance scheme and in 1890 the foundation stone was laid of a hospital in Austin Street, (fn. 122) which opened as a five-storeyed red-brick building with 50 beds in 1892. It had 35 inmates and 30 'officials' in 1901. (fn. 123) It was extended in 1926 and 1938, damaged in 1944, and extended again in 1965, (fn. 124) bringing the total of beds to 72. Jacob Home and Sir Graham Rowlandson House opened for staff in 1977 and 1979 respectively. The hospital closed in 1984. (fn. 125)
Queen Elizabeth Children's hospital (originally North Eastern hospital, renamed Queen's in 1908), owed its origins to the same epidemic. (fn. 126) In 1867 two Quaker sisters, Mary Elizabeth and Ellen Phillips, rented a house in Virginia Row as a dispensary for women and children. In 1868 it was transferred to no. 125 Hackney Road, where 12 cots were provided and treatment was restricted to children. In 1870 the sisters purchased the freehold of no. 327 Hackney Road and began raising funds and charging 2d. for out-patients and 2s. 6d. a week for in-patients. In 1892 the hospital had 63 beds, 600 in-patients, and 15,282 out-patients. (fn. 127) A large gift by John Horniman started a building fund in 1893 and led to the opening of a building mainly fronting Goldsmith's Row, then in Shoreditch, with 134 beds. Boundary changes in 1899 brought the hospital wholly within Bethnal Green. (fn. 128) In 1901 it had 58 inmates and 26 'officials'. (fn. 129) Ear, nose, and throat and skin departments were started in 1910 and an isolation ward was built in 1911 on the site of nos. 331-5 Hackney Road. (fn. 130) Work expanded to rickets and anaemia, widespread diseases of poverty. Two annexes were built in 1918, (fn. 131) a new operating theatre followed in 1922, (fn. 132) and nos. 337-9 Hackney Road were converted into a dental clinic and staff accommodation in 1934; (fn. 133) a new out-patient department was opened in 1938 and casualty, pathology, and X-ray departments were opened in 1939. Bombed in 1940, (fn. 134) the hospital was amalgamated in 1942 with Princess Elizabeth of York Children's hospital in Shadwell as the Queen Elizabeth hospital for children. It had 157 beds and an average of 7,843 new out-patients in 1950. (fn. 135) Charles Hayward research building, by Lyons Israel Ellis, John McCain, and J. Jarvis & Sons, a concrete and glass tower 'slipped over' existing buildings, opened in 1972. (fn. 136) The hospital had 133 beds in 1993. (fn. 137)
Accommodation for the sick in the workhouse was inadequate long before the first attempts to acquire part of the Poor's Lands for an infirmary in 1889. (fn. 138) The guardians in 1895 bought the site of the Episcopal Jews' chapel and its associated buildings, (fn. 139) where they built Bethnal Green infirmary or hospital, three-storeyed and of red brick with stone dressings, (fn. 140) in 1900. It consisted of a central administrative block with three double ward blocks to the west. It had 619 inmates and 117 officials in 1901. (fn. 141) Additions included receiving wards in 1926, an extra floor on the central block in 1927, (fn. 142) and an operating theatre in 1929. The hospital, which still used the workhouse for extra room, had 650 beds in 1931. (fn. 143) It was bombed (fn. 144) and by 1950 was a general or acute hospital with 315 beds and 7,477 new out-patients. (fn. 145) Between 1978 and 1985 it was reclassified as geriatric and the beds were reduced to 199. (fn. 146) It closed in 1988 (fn. 147) and was later demolished.
Under the National Health Act of 1948 Bethnal Green's hospitals were grouped under the Central group management committee of the North East Metropolitan region. (fn. 148) In 1966 the Central group amalgamated with Stepney group to form the East London hospital management committee. (fn. 149) Between 1970 and 1978 control passed to Tower Hamlets health authority. (fn. 150) By 1993 the only remaining hospitals, Queen Elizabeth Children's and the London Chest, were classified as Special Health Authorities, run by governors directly responsible to the Minister of Health. (fn. 151)
An old parish mortuary, possibly in Turville Street, (fn. 152) by 1879 was 'a standing local disgrace'. Despite ratepayers' reluctance to spend money, a protracted ecclesiastical suit reaffirmed the vestry's right to provide a new mortuary in St. Matthew's churchyard. Built by A. S. Judd of York Street, Globe Road, of Luton grey bricks mixed with Portland stone to plans by the vestry's surveyor, it opened in 1880 (fn. 153) and was in use in 1902. (fn. 154) Alterations were made to the Turville Street mortuary in 1884. (fn. 155)
Although Bethnal Green never had a municipal cemetery, burial grounds were unusually numerous. To cope with the demand on Stepney's churchyard during the plague of 1665, a burial ground was enclosed on manorial waste north of Mile End Road and west of Dog Lane and the bishop licensed the parish clerk to bury parishioners there. (fn. 156) In 1670 it was described as west of the sewer (fn. 157) depicted in 1703 as running through the middle of Simkins Gardens, (fn. 158) which had replaced it after 1673. (fn. 159) A Jewish burial ground existed from 1761 to 1858 in North Street, not far from the plague burial ground. (fn. 160)
St. Matthew's churchyard (2 a.) was consecrated as a burial ground in 1746 (fn. 161) but by 1819 was inadequate. The vestry stipulated that burial vaults should be included under the new National school built on part of the churchyard and finished by 1820, when 17 vaults could each hold 20 bodies. (fn. 162) In 1826 the vestry stopped the bringing of 'boxes or cases of bones' from St. Katharine's and other London churches to St. Matthew's churchyard, (fn. 163) where c. 50,000 had been buried by 1848. (fn. 164) In the cholera epidemic of 1849 the vaults contained 96 coffins piled up like 'bales of goods' and the common graves of cholera victims were a cause of sickness. (fn. 165) Burials in St. Matthew's churchyard and vaults were discontinued from 1853 (fn. 166) and in the vaults under St. John's from 1856. (fn. 167) The churches of St. Peter, St. Bartholomew, and St. James the Less had burial grounds of c. 1 a. or less which were restricted from 1853 and closed in 1855. (fn. 168)
The Congregational Gibraltar (1792) and the Baptist Providence (1835) chapels, both in the north-western part of Bethnal Green, had burial grounds which were in use in 1848 (fn. 169) but the first (c. ¾ a.) was closed in 1855. (fn. 170)
As a private speculation c. 4 a. of unconsecrated ground in Peel Grove, called Cambridge Heath or North East London cemetery or Kildy's ground after the owner or undertaker, opened c. 1840 (fn. 171) with a resident superintendent. (fn. 172) It rapidly became overcrowded, especially in the cholera epidemic, and was used by the parish authorities. Some 20,000 corpses, buried six deep, were interred before its closure in 1855.
A private company opened Victoria Park cemetery in 1845 on 11½ a. of the Butler estate near the Regent's canal. (fn. 173) In 1846 a superintendent's house and a small mortuary chapel by Arthur Ashpitel were built by its entrance at the western end. (fn. 174) By 1856 burials were at the rate of 130 every Sunday and there were complaints about the cemetery, which was never consecrated. (fn. 175) After closure in 1876 the neglected ground was used by ruffians for gambling. (fn. 176) The Disused Burial Grounds Act, 1884, (fn. 177) prevented building on the site, which in 1885 became a recreation ground.
PARKS AND OTHER OPEN SPACES.
Bethnal Green's largest open space was the 217-a. Victoria Park, started in 1842 and opened in 1845, which lay mostly in Hackney. (fn. 178)
The Poor's Lands in the centre of the green, acquired in 1678 chiefly to prevent building, for 200 years were leased as farmland and not accessible to the public. (fn. 179) When Bethnal Green Museum (fn. 180) was built on the northern section in 1868, the 2½ a. surrounding it were conveyed to the Science and Art Department for a public garden. Responsibility passed to the M.B.W. under the London Parks and Works Act, 1887. (fn. 181) In 1888 the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association proposed that the Museum garden be extended to the 6½ a. of Poor's Land south of Green Street, at the same time as the land was requested for public buildings. Pressed by the association, the Commons Preservation Society, and 'passionate enthusiasm among the poor', (fn. 182) the trustees in 1891 conveyed the whole 6½ a. to the L.C.C., which laid it out with shrubberies and a gymnasium as Bethnal Green Gardens.
Several closed burial grounds became public gardens. In 1883 the vestry considered a request by the rector to lay out St. Matthew's churchyard as an open space. Despite the bad state of St. Bartholomew's churchyard there were objections to what was seen as an attempted revival of the church rate and no further action was taken by the local authorities. (fn. 183) In 1884 the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association agreed to maintain St. Bartholomew's churchyard as a garden, (fn. 184) for which responsibility had passed by 1896 to the L.C.C. The Kyrle Society laid out gardens in St. Peter's churchyard which were maintained by the vicar. (fn. 185) In 1897 the rector agreed that the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association should lay out St. Matthew's churchyard, transferring the freehold to the vestry and in 1903 to the L.C.C. (fn. 186)
The association's most important acquisition in Bethnal Green was Victoria Park cemetery, whose freehold the Revd. Y. B. M. Butler agreed to hand over in 1891. It was conveyed to the L.C.C. and in 1894 reconveyed to the association which had carried out the conversion. (fn. 187) The tombstones were set against the wall and the converted cemetery opened in 1894 as Meath Gardens, named after the association's chairman. (fn. 188)
The L.C.C. came to be responsible for most of Bethnal Green's open space: (fn. 189) 77 a. of Victoria Park, 9½ a. of Meath gardens, 9 a. of Bethnal Green and Museum gardens, St. Bartholomew's churchyard (0.7 a.), St. Matthew's churchyard (1.8 a.), and Boundary Street gardens (0.8 a.), part of the Boundary Street scheme, opened in 1899. The M.B. opened gardens, all of less than ½ a., in Ion Square in 1895, at the Triangle, Columbia Road, in 1913, in Craft School memorial gardens in Globe Road in 1926, and in Pelter Street playground in 1928. Under the Transfer of Powers (London) Order, 1933, Boundary Street gardens and the two churchyards were transferred to the M.B.
In 1954 Bethnal Green had just over 100 a. with public access, which, for a reduced population, were still considered 60 a. too little. (fn. 190) The building of high-rise flats cleared more land, one of the largest areas being Weavers' Fields south of Bethnal Green Road, which was extended by the G.L.C. in 1965, (fn. 191) and others including Shacklewell Street open space, from 1973. (fn. 192) Tower Hamlets refused, on financial grounds, to accept the G.L.C.'s parks in 1969. (fn. 193) By the late 1970s there was much open space, mostly around housing estates and along the canal, although improvement was needed, especially in the planting of trees. (fn. 194) In 1985 the area west of Grove Road was cleared as part of a scheme for a canalside park from Victoria Park to Limehouse. (fn. 195)
Policing, before the creation of the metropolitan police in 1829, was the responsibility of an elected constable, assisted by head boroughs. (fn. 196) In 1676 Bethnal Green hamlet was ordered to reimburse its constable, who had paid for a 'very needful' stocks and whipping post. (fn. 197)
Night watchmen by 1652 could shelter in a 10-ft. square watchhouse, 'lately built' at the inhabitants' expense on the waste near St. George's chapel. (fn. 198) In 1681 a watch of 14 men was organized (fn. 199) and in 1685 money from the Poor's Lands was spent on 'setting up the monument and four dials upon the watchhouse'. (fn. 200) The principal watchhouse was centrally situated, at the crossroads of Cambridge Road with Bethnal Green Road and Green Street. A second watchhouse stood at the junction of Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane by 1694. (fn. 201) By 1746 the western watchhouse had apparently disappeared and the central one had been moved to just north of the madhouse (Kirby's Castle). (fn. 202) In 1748 the vestry decided to rebuild, using the fines paid by those excused from office. (fn. 203) The watchhouse was of brick in 1792 (fn. 204) and was rebuilt on the Poor's Lands (probably the same site) in 1797. (fn. 205)
A second police authority consisted of the trustees set up by the Act of 1751, (fn. 206) which was designed, inter alia, to regulate the nightly watch and bedels. The trustees could direct the constable, who was to attend nightly with the headboroughs, to 'prevent mischiefs', detain wrongdoers in the watchhouse, and observe the watchmen; they could also levy rates and decide on the number of watchmen. The watch had apparently lapsed by 1780 when, following 'outrages' (presumably the Gordon riots), the vestry considered employing eight men to patrol at night. (fn. 207) In 1788, however, there were few watchmen and those were said to be always asleep. (fn. 208)
In 1754 the trustees and vestry jointly decided to build a watchhouse in the churchyard to curb body-snatching. (fn. 209) In 1792 a watchbox was set up in the churchyard, a watchman appointed at 10s.6d. a week, and a reward offered for the apprehension of grave robbers. (fn. 210) A patrol was appointed for the churchyard in 1804 (fn. 211) and collusion with body snatchers was alleged against the gravedigger in 1821 (fn. 212) and the sexton, gravedigger, and day watchman in 1826, when two 'old and leading offenders' were imprisoned. (fn. 213) In 1831 two local men murdered an Italian boy in the Nova Scotia area to sell his body for dissection. (fn. 214)
In 1816 the rector complained of the disorders connived at by Joseph Merceron and of the state of the police. (fn. 215) The vestry clerk James May, who was also clerk to the trustees, persuaded them to double the number of headboroughs to 28 in an apparently futile attempt to stop bull-running and dog fighting. (fn. 216) With the same object, 100 'sober householders' were sworn in as special constables in 1819. (fn. 217) In 1826 the activities of the ruffians denominated Bullock Hunters compelled the vestry to ask the Home Secretary for help. (fn. 218) Gangs of 500-600 met nightly in a brickfield in Spicer Street to cook food stolen from shops which had not put up their shutters early enough; they ambushed animals going to Smithfield and Barnet markets and drove them to the marshes, robbing anyone whom they met. Sir Robert Peel accordingly stationed 40 men throughout the parish and sent a horse patrol, whose arrests deterred the gang. (fn. 219) By 1828 the watch trust employed an elected constable and 28 headboroughs, 38 volunteer special constables and, as paid officers, a combined night beadle and inspector of watchmen, four horsemen, 49 watchmen, and 13 'sparemen'. (fn. 220) They, together with the watch trust, were replaced in 1829 by the metropolitan police. (fn. 221) Enthusiasm for Peel in 1826, when the Home Office had financed the police operation, contrasted with opposition in 1830, when a police rate of 4d. in the £ had been set to raise £1,300. (fn. 222) In 1834 the police were said to give little help to the overseers threatened by aggressive claimants. (fn. 223)
A police station for H division stood on the south side of Bethnal Green Road, almost opposite Turville Street, by 1870. (fn. 224) It was on land acquired by the M.B.W. at the western end of Bethnal Green Road in 1872 and was replaced by a station at the eastern end of the road, at the junction with Ainsley Street, by 1879. (fn. 225) In 1902 it was the headquarters of J division. (fn. 226) A new station at the rear of the fire centre behind Victoria Park Square was planned in 1986 (fn. 227) but by 1988 the site had been rescheduled for housing. (fn. 228) In response to racial violence a second police station opened in 1976 in Brick Lane, to which 14 extra officers were allotted in 1987. (fn. 229)
In 1749 the beadle was granted £2 a year to look after a fire engine. (fn. 230) A separate engineer was elected to the office by 1760. (fn. 231) The watchhouse planned for the churchyard in 1754 was to have an adjoining engine house. (fn. 232) In 1775 the parish provided fire ladders which could be borrowed at a charge depending on their size. (fn. 233) In 1820 more than one engine was repaired (fn. 234) but in 1828 the duties of engineer were combined with those of night beadle and inspector of watchmen. (fn. 235) By the 1860s there was one person specially appointed to look after the engines, of which there were two, both 'in an efficient state'. (fn. 236)
The parish maintained its engine house in Bethnal Green Road, west of Squirries Street, until 1867 when it became a fire brigade station under the M.B.W. (fn. 237) By 1886 the building was inadequate and road widening made available a site at the north-west corner of Green Street and Globe Road, where in 1889 a station opened with accommodation on the eastern side of Globe Road for an officer and six men and, on the western side of Chester Place, for two horses. (fn. 238) The neighbouring no. 4 Chester Place was acquired in 1898 and the station was enlarged in 1907; (fn. 239) a drill tower was erected in 1912. (fn. 240) Plans to rebuild (fn. 241) were delayed by the Second World War but revived in 1961 (fn. 242) and a new station was built farther west, on the corner of Roman Road (Green Street) and Victoria Park Square, in 1966-7. (fn. 243) The old station survives as a Buddhist centre. (fn. 244)
GAS, ELECTRICITY, AND LIGHTING.
The Acts of 1751, 1813, and 1843 included provision for lighting. The first empowered the trustees to decide on the lamps. (fn. 245) There was at least one 'lighter of lamps' by 1768 (fn. 246) but the existence of only a few lamps, serving for two or three hours in the winter, was cited in 1788 as a symptom of poor parish government. (fn. 247) Gas was presumably available by 1828, when the vestry discussed lighting St. John's church. (fn. 248) The building was to be heated with it in 1831, (fn. 249) by which time the parish was 'lighted with gas'. (fn. 250) The Act of 1843 allowed the imposition of a rate and empowered new commissioners to light the streets, 'saving the rights of the Independent Gas Light & Coke Co.' (fn. 251) The main supplier, however, was the Imperial Gas Co. to which £460 was paid in the first year, compared with £63 to the 'Incorporated Gas Co.'. (fn. 252) The parish had 648 public lamps and a gas inspection by 1854. (fn. 253) In 1855 responsibility for lighting passed to the vestry. The Imperial Gas Co. soon built gasholders on part of the Pritchard estate (fn. 254) and c. 1870 it added another gasholder, designed by its engineer, Joseph Clark, in a frame of 24 cast iron columns. (fn. 255) Between 1856 and 1872 150 street lamps were added and in 1871 the parish paid £3,475 to the gas companies for lighting. (fn. 256) The Imperial Gas Co. was merged in 1887 into the Gas Light & Coke Co., which in 1905-6 supplied all Bethnal Green except a small western part which was supplied by the Commercial Co. (fn. 257) By the Gas Act, 1948, the companies were superseded by the Gas Council's North Thames Board. The Gas Act, 1972, replaced the Gas Council with the British Gas Corporation, which was privatized in 1986 as British Gas Plc and included Bethnal Green as its North Thames district. (fn. 258) North Sea gas had made the gasholders next to the Regents Union canal redundant by c. 1978 (fn. 259) but they remained in 1993.
The vestry undertook to supply electricity under an Act of 1899 (fn. 260) but Bethnal Green was the only M.B. in north-east London still without it in 1903. (fn. 261) The M.B. acquired a site by 1905, (fn. 262) began to prepare a scheme in 1911, (fn. 263) laid cables in 1914, (fn. 264) and started supplies in 1916. (fn. 265) Applications to build substations were made for New Tyssen Street in 1915, (fn. 266) for Digby Street in 1916, (fn. 267) for St. Andrew's Street in 1927, (fn. 268) and for Vivian Road in 1936. (fn. 269) In 1937 the L.C.C. applied to build Electrical Transformer House in Waterloo Road. (fn. 270) In 1947 responsibility passed to London Electricity Board. (fn. 271) By the Electricity Act, 1989, the board was replaced by London Electricity Plc, which included Bethnal Green in its North Thames area. (fn. 272)
A library in the church was to be locked by the vestry clerk in 1812, after books had been taken out of it 'improperly', (fn. 273) and was included in repairs in 1820. (fn. 274) After a failure to secure the adoption of the Public Libraries Act in 1875, Bethnal Green Free library was founded by the Christian Community in 1876. Initially in cramped rooms in London Street, it relied entirely on voluntary support, which included a gift from the Prince of Wales. In 1881 the library moved to the community's memorial hall in London Street and by 1882 it had been given c. 7,000 volumes. The library, an unsuccessful contender for a site on the Poor's Lands in 1888, survived until 1934. (fn. 275)
The borough adopted the Public Libraries Acts in 1912 and, after a delay caused by the war, opened a temporary library at nos. 1 and 3 Old Ford Road, on the corner with Cambridge Road, in 1919, the last of the libraries assisted by Andrew Carnegie. (fn. 276) In 1922 the first permanent public library opened in the newest part of the vacated Bethnal House asylum (fn. 277) with a red-brick neo-classical extension by the borough surveyor, A. E. Darby. Branch libraries opened in 1935 in the disused coroner's court in Church (later St. Matthew's) Row, and in 1937 in a former shop at the corner of Roman and Vivian roads. The latter, bombed in 1940 and closed in 1942, was rebuilt on the same site, no. 369 Roman Road, in 1949. (fn. 278) A public library in Ravenscroft Street on Dorset estate opened in 1959. (fn. 279) and a music library was established in Mayfield House, the council estate opened in Cambridge Heath Road in 1964. (fn. 280) By 1990 the libraries were divided among the neighbourhoods: Bethnal Green library, still in its original buildings, in Globe Town, Roman Road in Bow, and Dorset in Bethnal Green. (fn. 281)
The vestry adopted the Baths Act in 1895 (fn. 282) and in 1898 built baths and washhouses in Cheshire Street. (fn. 283) In 1923 the M.B. purchased the site of Colman's starch factory, nos. 5-13, at the western end of Old Ford Road, where in 1929 the duke and duchess of York opened York Hall, public baths and a hall in a neo-Georgian red-brick building with stone dressings by A.E. Darby; it contained two swimming pools, Turkish, vapour, and electric baths, and washhouses. (fn. 284) The first-class swimming bath was converted into an assembly hall c. 1950 (fn. 285) and Kenneth Wakeford, Jerram & Harris built a large new pool in 1965-7, the washhouses becoming a bar and kitchen and the remaining swimming pool a public hall. (fn. 286) Cheshire Street baths were derelict by 1988.