The Halifax estate in Spitalfields

Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1957.

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'The Halifax estate in Spitalfields', in Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, (London, 1957) pp. 237-241. British History Online [accessed 1 March 2024]

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CHAPTER XV - The Halifax Estate in Spitalfields

ThE area included in this chapter was in the mid-seventeenth century bounded on the north by the back part of the houses in Smock Alley and Raven Row (now Artillery Passage and Lane), on the south by Wentworth Street, on the east by Bell Lane and on the west by Petticoat Lane (now Middlesex Street). (fn. n1) It formed the south-western extremity of the hamlet and parish of Spitalfields.

Lying adjacent to the City it was one of the earliest parts of Spitalfields to be built up, with a haphazard and irregular lay-out. It was one of the first parts of Spitalfields in which substantial houses degenerated into slums.

In 1550 the area formed part of two closes of some eighteen and a half acres, held of the Manor of Stepney and extending from ’Hogge Lane’ (Petticoat Lane or Middlesex Street) on the west to Brick Lane on the east. (fn. 1) These are shown without buildings on Agas's map off c. 1560–70, which also shows Petticoat Lane without buildings. But by the end of the sixteenth century this street was built-up. Stow commented on the development here in the 1603 edition of his Survey of London: ’This Hogge lane stretcheth North toward Saint Marie Spitle without Bishopsgate, and within these fortie yeares had on both sides fayre hedgerowes of Elme trees, with Bridges and easie stiles to passe over into the pleasant fieldes, very commodious for Citizens therein to walke, shoote and otherwise to recreate and refresh their dulled spirites in the sweete and wholesome ayre, which is nowe within few yeares made a continuall building throughout of Garden houses, and small Cottages: and the fields on either side be turned into Garden plottes, teynter yardes, Bowling Allyes, and such like, from Houndes ditch in the West, so farre as white Chappell and further towards the East.’ (fn. 2)

The edition of Stow published in 1720 by John Strype, who was born in a court off the Lane, tells a story of the building-up of ’Hog Lane ’ which although probably not relating to the Spitalfields section of the street indicates some of the disputes arising out of its development. The two uses of suburban London clearly shown by Agas, for archery grounds and tenter yards, were here in conflict. The enclosure and development of the area is interpreted more favourably than by Stow: ’In this Hog Lane& helop;, lying on the back side of Whitechapel, were eight Acres of Land, which about the year 1574 were in the Possession of one Benedict Spinola, a rich Italian Merchant; where of he made twenty Tenter Yards and certain Gardens. These, some pretended, were first enclosed by him, being before open and common. And hence it came to pass, that in the Year 1584 it was presented as an Annoyance to the Archers, and all the Queen's Liege People. And a precept was awarded to the Tenants & Occupiers of the Premises to remove their Pales and Fences, and all Buildings made thereupon: For now many Clothiers dwelt here, who hereupon applied themselves to the Lord Treasurer of England, and brought Witness to the contrary: Shewing, that the same Field, before it was so converted as then it was, was a piece of ground several, not common, nor never commonly used by any Archers, being far unmeet for Archers to shoot in, by reason of standing Puddles, most noisome Laystals, and filthy Ditches in and about the same. Also the Way called Hog Lane was so foul and deep in the Winter time, that no Man could pass by the same. And in Summer time Men would not pass thereby for fear of Infection, by means of the Filthiness that lay there. So that the Presenters were utterly deceived, and not well informed in their Presentments. Afterwards Benedict Spinola bestowed great Cost and Charges upon levelling and cleansing the Premisses; and made divers Tenter Yards, by means whereof the common Ways and Passages about the said eight Acres were greatly amended and enlarged, that all People might well & safely pass…’ (fn. 3)

This part of Spitalfields, lying towards Brick Lane, was similarly laid out in tenter yards, on ground forming the ’Tenter Ground’ and Fossan estates. The part more particularly discussed here, west of Bell Lane, does not, however, seem to have been so used but to have had a more domestic character.

In December 1639 and February 1639/40 Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Cleveland, Lord of the Manor of Stepney, made a bargain and sale to Henry Montague, Earl of Manchester, for £1,180, of most of the area here discussed, with half the soil of the bounding roadways. Some sixty-nine messuages were then mentioned on the site. (fn. 4) In June 1643, after the Earl's death, William Smith (or Smyth) of the Middle Temple, esquire, and others, who had obtained possession of the Manor in the previous March, (fn. 5) made a further bargain and sale of the same property, and of other land in Mile End New Town, to Mawrice Tresham of the Middle Temple, esquire, Edward Montague of Boughton, Northamptonshire, esquire, and William Montague of the Middle Temple, esquire. (fn. 6) The two Montagues were perhaps the Earl of Manchester's nephews. The Spitalfields and Mile End New Town properties appear, however, to have passed eventually to the Earl's son, George, and from him to Edward Montague of Horton, Northamptonshire, the two properties being always held together. Both subsequently passed to the Osborn family (see page 227).

In about 1642 a survey of the Manor excluded the north-eastern part of the area, later occupied by the Spitalfields workhouse and the original site of the Jews’ Free School: this part seems never to have been owned by the Montagues.

The survey lists eighty or ninety buildings on the site, appreciably more than the 1639–40 deeds, giving the considerable yearly rental of some £460. Twenty of the houses were held by ’Alderman Hyford’. In Bramble Alley (now obliterated) and Wentworth Street were seven ’paper built’ houses, probably of plaster. (fn. 7)

Among the largest houses were the four owned, with three gardens, in 1639 by Phillip Jacobson. (fn. 8) These presumably included the house of John Strype, silk throwster, where John Strype the antiquary was born in 1643. He describes in his edition of Stow's Survey the vicinity of Middlesex Street. ’And a little Way off this, on the east side of the Way, down a paved Alley, now called Strype's Court, from my Father, who inhabited here, was a fair large House, with a good Garden before it; built and inhabited by Hans Jacobson, a Dutchman, … King James's Jeweller, wherein I was born. But, after French Protestants, that in the said King's Reign, and before, fled their Country for their Religion, many planted themselves here, viz. in that Part of the Lane nearest Spittle-Fields, to follow their Trades, being generally broad weavers of Silk, it soon became a contiguous Row of Buildings on both Sides of the way.’ (fn. 9) The elder Strype died here in 1648. (fn. 10)

The decline of the area from one of prosperous domesticity to one of small tenements is illustrated by the history of the Strypes’ property. In 1691 the younger Strype leased to George Ford, a dyer, his freehold estate in Strype's Yard, consisting of a workshop and three messuages. By 1714 one of these, described as formerly ’one great messuage’, had been divided into two tenements, and by 1723 further subdivision had made the original three messuages into six. (fn. 11)

Ogilby and Morgan's map of 1677 shows the area between Petticoat Lane and Bell Lane fairly well built-up in irregular courts and yards divided by gardens, having an appearance similar to that of adjacent parts of the City and Whitechapel rather than to the rest of Spitalfields which had been more recently laid out in streets.

This irregular development was never thoroughly reconstructed until modern times, but considerable piecemeal rebuilding took place between the periods of Ogilby and Morgan's and Rocque's maps.

In 1691 a private Act gave Elizabeth, the widow of Edward Montague, power to grant, with her trustees, leases of her property in Stepney for not more than fifty-one years. The houses on her land, presumably both in Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, were said to be mostly ’old Timber buildings and very apt to be ruinous and in decay’; but if building or repairing leases for an assured term of years could be granted there were several persons willing to take leases ’ of the said Houses which are old and ruinous and of small value and in the place thereof and in other voyd places to new build good and Substantiall Houses whereby very considerable improvements may be made’. (fn. 12)

The rebuilding included some reconstruction of the layout. Part of this, the making of Montague Street in the south-eastern corner of the area, is shown completed on Gascoine's map of 1703. Other changes, including the making of Cox's Square and its linking with Middlesex Street and Bell Lane, were probably carried out later, perhaps under leases granted to John Cox and to Henry Philp of Stepney, bricklayer, by Elizabeth Montague and others in about 1708. (fn. 13)

In the second quarter of the eighteenth century the first and second Earls of Halifax of the third creation, George Montague and George Montague-Dunk, granted leases probably associated with rebuilding. Builders taking leases of old or newly erected property in this period included William Yates of St. Anne's, Westminster, or St. George's, Bloomsbury, bricklayer, John Lovell of St. Botolph's, Aldgate, joiner, Thomas Laxon or Saxon of the same, bricklayer, and Samuel Simpson of St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate, bricklayer. The last undertook in 1741 to spend £350 on building four brick houses. (fn. 14)

In 1728 a site in the north-eastern part of the area, fronting on Bell Lane and Frying Pan Alley, was acquired by Spitalfields parish for a workhouse (see page 285). It seems not to have been manorial or Montague property in the mid-seventeenth century, and in 1720 had been owned by John Furnes, a clothworker, whose descendants retained the freehold in the late eighteenth century. In the 1750's the workhouse was vacated, and by 1791 the site, still largely open, was occupied by houses and lodgings. (fn. 15) By 1810 a ’new-built Freehold Porter Ale and Table Beer Brewery’, ccupying part of the site and boasting of ’ (fn. 2) inexhaustible wells of very fine water’, was being offered for sale. (fn. 16) In 1818 the mortgage of a warehouse and storehouse on this site, described as ’lately part of Constitution Brewery’, in which Thomas Fowell Buxton had an interest, was being assigned. (fn. 17) The site was later occupied by the London General Omnibus Company (fn. 18) and in 1890 was acquired for the Jews’ Free School which had been established on the north side of this site in 1820. (fn. 19)

By this time the area had acquired a strongly Jewish character. Nightingale, writing in 1815, said that Strype's Yard, then corrupted to ’Tripe's Yard’, had become ’like Petticoat Lane, the resort of the lowest order of Jews’. (fn. 20) The streetmarkets of Petticoat Lane and Wentworth Street (the latter growing up mainly after the great immigration of the 1880's) and the former Jews’ Free School are diverse aspects of Jewish life in this area.

In 1849 an Act authorized the trustees under the will of Sir George Osborn, to whom the Montague estate had descended, to sell the Spitalfields property in order to discharge mortgages on other parts of the Osborn estate. (fn. 21) A considerable part of the estate, however, remained unsold in the twentieth century.

The present aspect of the area is largely of late nineteenth-century origin. It was created partly by the expansion of the buildings of the Jews’ Free School and partly by the London County Council's widening of Petticoat Lane and reconstruction of the area between Strype's Yard and Cobb's Yard.

In 1883 the Metropolitan Board of Works widened Middlesex Street between Whitechapel High Street and Wentworth Street, as part of the Goulston Street improvement plan. (fn. 22) In 1889 the London County Council was asked by the Whitechapel District Board to extend the improvement northward by widening that part of the present Middlesex Street which lay north of Wentworth Street, and which was then known as Sandy's Row. The street hitherto had had no direct communication with Bishopsgate Street. When, therefore, the City Commissioners of Sewers at this time asked the Council to contribute towards their project for widening the western end of Widegate Street where it joined Bishopsgate Street, the Council took the opportunity to arrange for the construction of a new street to join Widegate Street to Sandy's Row. A further line of communication from Bishopsgate Street to Whitechapel and the docks was thus provided. The Council agreed to pay half the cost of the Widegate Street improvement and also to widen Sandy's Row to forty feet between the new street and Wentworth Street. In September 1891 the Council resolved to apply to Parliament for power to carry out that part of the work which lay within the County, which was granted in the London County Council (General Powers) Act of 1892. (fn. 23) The Council began to act on their powers in July of that year.

The Act permitted the Council to acquire land as far east as Cox's Square and New Court. This was to allow the clearance of dilapidated property in the area, in addition to the proposed street widening. The difficulty of rehousing the displaced inhabitants, however, prevented the clearance being carried out at this time, and only the property actually needed for the street was acquired and demolished. The line between the new street and Wentworth Street was widened by setting back its eastern side. The complete thoroughfare, from Bishopsgate Street to Wentworth Street, was opened in March 1896. The cost of the work in Sandy's Row alone was £53,426. The name ’Middlesex Street’ was then applied to the whole new line of street.

In February 1897 the Council made an agreement with Sir Algernon Osborn, as part of a scheme for the clearance of the whole area between the Jews' Free School, Wentworth Street, Bell Lane and Sandy's Row. By this Osborn was enabled to purchase the property fronting on to Sandy's Row. In April 1899 the Council sanctioned his plan for the laying-out of three new streets on the site, and the work was completed in October 1904. These new streets were originally to be called Tripe Street, Cobb Street and Short Street. Just before the completion of the project Tripe Street was renamed Strype Street. (fn. 24) Short Street became Leyden Street in 1913. The congested courts previously on the site were thus completely swept away, and only the narrowness of Frying Pan Alley survives as a reminder of the previous character of the area.

Petticoat Lane Tabernacle


In March 1710/11 it was stated that there were two Anglican chapels of ease or ’tabernacles’ in Spitalfields. (fn. 25) One of these was Sir George Wheler's Tabernacle and the other presumably the tabernacle in Petticoat Lane. These two chapels were mentioned again in a petition of 17 February 1713/14 from the principal inhabitants of Spitalfields to the Commissioners for Building Fifty New Churches, and referred to as ’two Small Chappells which are and always have been maintained at the charge of such of the inhabitants who have and do frequent the same’. (fn. 26) In 1714 James Paterson described the Petticoat Lane Tabernacle as ’a Chapel of Ease to the Inhabitants of that Lane, and others of that populous Parish of Stepney; erected some Years ago at their Charge. It's built of Brick, covered with Tile, it's well pew'd, but very low and dark, being close joyn'd to divers Houses, for which it was first designed.’ (fn. 27) Presumably the tabernacle was abandoned when Christ Church was opened in 1729. A deed of 1741 gives the position of the building, then a workshop, on a plot of ground abutting west on Petticoat Lane, east on Strype's Yard and south on Strype's Passage. (fn. 28) Gascoine notes a ’Tabernacle Yard’ on this site in his map of 1703.

The Jews' Free School, Bell Lane

The Jews' Free School was founded in 1817, for boys only, and incorporated the Talmud Torah which had been established in 1732 by the first Great Synagogue, Duke's Place. (fn. 29) In 1820 the trustees purchased a site with a frontage of 93 feet in Bell Lane and 116 feet in Frying Pan Alley, (fn. 30) and built a school to accommodate 600 boys and 300 girls. (fn. 18) The school was run according to Lancaster's system, under which the boys were taught in one large school-room, 100 feet long and 50 feet broad, by a master assisted by monitors. The girls' school was arranged in the same way in a room which measured 70 feet by 40 feet. (fn. 31) Alterations and additions were made to the building in 1848, (fn. 32) and again in 1855, when the architect was James Tillott and the contractors were Brass and Son, whose tender was for £2,192. (fn. 33) These alterations were made necessary by the increase in the number of pupils, which in 1851 amounted to 1,200, (fn. 34) and in 1859 to 1,800 children, made up of 1,000 boys and 800 girls. (fn. 35) The boys' school was still taught by one master with twelve apprentice pupil-teachers. (fn. 36)

In 1864 land between the school and Sandy's Row was purchased, the trustees providing half the purchase money and Sir Anthony de Rothschild the other half. (fn. 18) Eighteen class-rooms, a gymnasium, and four playgrounds were erected on the land in the following year. (fn. 31) The Ordnance Survey map of 1873 shows the plan of the buildings after these additions.

By 1883 the number of children in the school had reached 2,900, and the increasing pressure of applicants made it necessary to rebuild the original Bell Lane section of the school, thereby providing accommodation for 3,100 children. This rebuilding, which cost about £21,000, was from the designs of Messrs. N. S. Joseph and Pearson of 45 Finsbury Pavement, and the contractors were Ashby Brothers of Kingsland Road. The work was completed in six months while the children were accommodated in temporary buildings erected on the playgrounds. By this time the boys were being taught by a headmaster and thirtynine teachers and the girls by a headmistress and thirty-three teachers. The children paid a fee of 1d. per week where possible. (fn. 31)

In 1890 another site in Bell Lane to the south of the school buildings was acquired, (fn. 37) but it was not built upon until 1904, when, on 29 June, Lord Rothschild laid the foundation stone of a new wing which was to extend from the old building south to Strype Street. The whole project included a rebuilding of the western part of the school, and a wing facing Petticoat Lane. The building erected in 1883 was untouched by this work, which was completed in 1907 and cost £ 70,000. The architect was E. R. Robson, and the builder J. Carmichael. (fn. 38) Building work was carried on day and night with no interruption of the school's work. (fn. 39) Most of the new building was raised on piers to provide covered playgrounds for the children, who now numbered 3,500. The school was said at this time to be the largest elementary school in the country or indeed in the world. (fn. 40)

The school was closed in 1939 and the buildings, parts of which were badly damaged by enemy action during the war of 1939–45, were disposed of by the trustees and are now used for commercial purposes. It is intended that the trust funds of the school shall be applied towards the erection of a new Jewish secondary school in St. Pancras.

The wide four-storeyed front to Bell Lane is a well-ordered design of early Italian Renaissance derivation carried out in red brick and terra-cotta, materials which impart a distinctly Bolognese flavour. The composition is asymmetrical: at the south end is a narrow bay, slightly recessed from the following sequence of six wide bays, with a two-light window in each storey, and finally a recessed face with two narrow bays flanking a wide one. The single and two-light windows of the second and third storeys are set in round-headed arches, with terra-cotta arabesque lunettes; moulded string courses serve as sills for each upper storey, and the piers and mullions of the top-storey windows support the crowning entablature. The entrance is in the fifth wide bay from the south. This block was planned with four storeys of class-rooms ranged along the north, east and south sides of a large top-lit assembly-hall. (fn. n2)

The Strype Street block has a four-storeyed front of light red brick, banded with black brick and combined with white glazed terra-cotta. The style cannot be easily defined, but free Jacobean will serve for a label. The central porch with blocked columns is surmounted by a three-sided bay of white terra-cotta, extending through two storeys. Above this is a shallow loggia of three bays, with segmental arches resting on tapered columns with Ionic capitals. The faces flanking this central feature have two windows in each storey, the lower ones with flat gauged arches, the upper with ribbed segmental arches. Each outer angle breaks out into an octagonal turret and the whole fantasy is crowned with a curveting parapet. A note in The Builder of 19 January 1907 suggests that the architect ’intended to differentiate the school from an L.C.C. or C. of E. School, to make it distinctive’, and distinctive it certainly is.

The lofty four-storeyed front of the Middlesex Street block is an eclectic design in red brick and terra-cotta, reflecting the Gothic manner of Alfred Waterhouse. The body of the front, with four windows to each storey, is recessed between gable-crowned wings, the south projecting less than the north. Although moulded string courses define the storeys, the second- and third-storey windows are linked by arabesque aprons and framed by tall round-headed arches. Similar arches frame the four top-storey windows in the centre, which are surmounted by small gables. The front of each wing has a large two-light win-dow in its fourth storey, but below this the fenestration is different, the south wing having two windows per storey and the north having one, placed to the right. A flêche rises centrally from the ridge of the steeply pitched roof. The ground storey is now largely obscured by modern shop fronts, but the open bays under the south wing can be discerned.


  • n1. The history of the designation of the street now named Middlesex Street is confusing. In the sixteenth century the whole line of street from Widegate Street to Whitechapel High Street was usually called Hog Lane. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was called Petticoat Lane, by which name it is still almost universally known. In some seventeenth-century deeds, however, the street is confusingly called Artillery Lane. In the mid-nineteenth century the part of the street north of Wentworth Street became known as 'Sandy's Row'. When the street was widened and diverted westward to Bishopsgate Street the whole re-formed line between that street and Whitechapel was named Middlesex Street. The short and narrow street now called 'Sandys Row' represents the northern part of the old street beyond the new divergence.
  • n2. A comprehensive and well-illustrated description is contained in The Builder, 7 July 1883.
  • 1. William Robinson, The History and Antiquities of … Hackney, 1842, vol. i, p. 333.
  • 2. Stow, vol. i, p. 127.
  • 3. John Stow, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, enlarged by John Strype, 1720, bk. 11, ch. 11, p. 14.
  • 4. P.R.O., C54/3194 No. 2; C54/3195 No. 26.
  • 5. Recited in M.C.R.O., Acc. 21 No. 248, and in P.R.O., C54/3552 No. 10.
  • 6. P.R.O., C54/3307 No. 32.
  • 7. B.M., Add. MS. 22253 ff. 1–2.
  • 8. Ibid., and P.R.O., C54/3195 No. 26.
  • 9. John Stow, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, enlarged by John Strype, 1754, vol. i, p. 367.
  • 10. P.C.C. 8 Essex.
  • 11. M.L.R. 1723/1/272; 1723/4/277; P.C.C. 287 Wake.
  • 12. House of Lords Record Office, MS. Act 2 and 3 Wm. and Mary, No. 9.
  • 13. M.L.R. 1719/4/6; 1726/1/354–5.
  • 14. Ibid., 1728/2/281–2; 1735/2/232; 1734/4/ 271; 1751/2/263; 1755/3/451; 1758/2/32; 1742/4/67; 1745/1/106.
  • 15. Ibid., 1791/2/7; P.C.C. 48 Buckingham.
  • 16. The Morning Herald, 22 June 1810.
  • 17. M.L.R. 1819/3/80.
  • 18. Endowed Charities, London, vol. i,1897, pp. 127–129.
  • 19. Ibid., and M.L.R. 1891/1/183.
  • 20. Rev. Joseph Nightingale, London and Middlesex, vol. iii, 1815, p. 152.
  • 21. 12 and 13 Viet., c. 24, private.
  • 22. Except where otherwise stated, the following account is based on P. J. Edwards, History of London Street Improvements 1885–1897, 1898, p. 199.
  • 23. 55 and 56 Viet., c. 238, local.
  • 24. B.A. 14989.
  • 25. C.J., vol. xvi, p. 542.
  • 26. L.P.L., Papers, Christ Church, box II, No. (4).
  • 27. James Paterson, Pietas Londinensis, 1714, pp. 268–9.
  • 28. M.L.R. 1745/1/106.
  • 29. Endowed Charities, London, vol. i, 1897, pp. 127–128; A. B. Levy, East End Story, N.D. (1951), p. 9.
  • 30. P.R.O., 054/12513 m. 39 No. 4.
  • 31. The Builder, 7 July 1883, p. 10.
  • 32. M.B.O., District Surveyors’ Returns, March 1848.
  • 33. The Builder, 14 April 1855, p. 180.
  • 34. John Weale, London Exhibited in 1851, p. 536.
  • 35. The Jewish Chronicle, 6 May 1859.
  • 36. S.C.L.L.C, Vestry Minutes, 29 Dec. 1859.
  • 37. Endowed Charities, London, loc. cit., and M.L.R. 1891/1/183.
  • 38. The Builder, 2 July 1904, p. 21; 19 Jan. 1907, p. 71; foundation stone.
  • 39. R.I.B.A. Journal, Feb. 1917, p. 94.
  • 40. Ibid., and The Builder, loc. cit.