Osborn Street just north of Whitechapel Road
The Roman road to Colchester left the city walls at Aldgate, one of the historic gateways into the City of London. In the medieval period, when it was known as ‘Alegatestrete’, the road was moved to its present-day alignment following the foundation of Bow Bridge to the east in 1110. Archaeological evidence has revealed a thriving suburb by the end of the Saxon period, and by medieval times the whole area was built up around the stone ‘White Chapel’. By the 17th century the area had 3000 houses and had begun to be settled by Jewish immigrants. The surviving narrow building frontages and alleys are typical of this early settlement.
Whitechapel Gallery (17) was built in 1898-1901, founded by the social reformer and missionary Canon Samuel Augustus Barnett and his wife Henrietta to bring great art to the people of east London. Designed by Arts and Crafts architect Charles Harrison Townsend, the gallery survives as one of the few examples of Art Nouveau architecture in London. The painted panel above the arch was originally intended to support a mosaic by artist Walter Crane, but was never executed.
Whitechapel Library (adjacent) (17) was established in 1891-2 as one of three free libraries in the East End by Passmore Edwards, and was acquired by the Gallery in 2003; it has now been ingeniously incorporated into the complex by Witherford Watson Mann Architects. Nearby is Altab Ali Park (18), named after Altab Ali who was murdered in a racist attack nearby. It contains the distinctive Bangladesh Martyrs Memorial and a memorial gateway. This was formerly the churchyard of St Mary’s Whitechapel and the site of the original “White Chapel”.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry (19) was established in 1570, and is the oldest manufacturing company in the UK, casting bells for over 400 years. Some of the more notable of these include Big Ben and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell. The foundry, house and shop moved across Whitechapel Road to the present site in 1738, and today reflect the remarkable survival of an age-old trade.
Over Whitechapel High Street is Central House (London Metropolitan University) of 1964 which dominates the eastern edge of the Commercial Road and Whitechapel High Street intersection. Further to the west on Commercial Street lies the red brick gothic Toynbee Hall of 1885 (20), the original university settlement house where students could come and do social and educational work. It was established as an important centre for social reform, its work continuing in the present day, by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett and named after Oxford reformer Arnold Toynbee, a young academic who died while serving the poor.
All this area is now protected by Conservation Area status.
The Whitechapel Gallery is a venue for landmark exhibitions of modern and contemporary art over the past century. For more information please go to the website http://www.whitechapelgallery.org.