Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Secret Whitechapel by Louis Berk and Rachel Kolsky

Mile End mural at No. 31 Mile End Road, E1. (Courtesy of artist Mychael Barratt, commissioned by T. V. Edwards, Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

Revealing the secrets of four centuries of history in Whitechapel

In 2016 Amberley published our first joint collaboration, Whitechapel in 50 Buildings which has proven to be a very popular title. At the time we were also asked by Amberley to create a similar title for their ‘Secret’ series of books and Secret Whitechapel is the result.

Whitechapel in 50 Buildings celebrated buildings that proclaimed from the exterior their age, history or purpose. Secret Whitechapel encourages readers to look up and down, discovering stories not immediately evident to the passer-by.

Edward VIIth statue on Whitechapel Waste with the Royal London Hospital in the background (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

The story of Whitechapel is not always emblazoned on walls but there are often other clues to its fascinating past – they just need interpreting. When passing the Royal London Hospital, you might notice the distinctively shaped windows of the top floor. What do they mean? You can pass by a shopfront on Whitechapel Road without knowing it contained a peep show connected to one of the most moving human stories in English history. Within this book, doors, windows, pavements and even drainpipes – among other items – all have a hidden story to tell.

‘Light is my glory’: The ornate but largely unnoticed bas relief on the former Captain Montefiore secondary school, a typical Victorian building created by the School Board of London. (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

 

 

Whitechapel continues to captivate people from all over the Britain – indeed the world. Many have passed through on their journeys, either living or working there. Within this small area, you discover a microcosm of London’s social history and those who strove for change including the Dancing Academy on New Street that hosted missionary meetings that led to an international philanthropic movement. One of the most popular songs of the twentieth century was created in a modest recording studio on Osborn Street and shopfronts and ghost signs are reminders of both past businesses and those now in fourth-generation family ownership.

The surprisingly rural feel of the workers cottages in Belle Vue Place between Whitechapel and Mile End. (Secret Whitechapel, Amberley Publishing)

It would be impossible to reveal all the secrets within Whitechapel in one single volume. Indeed, as we wrote this book we continued to discover more wonderful stories that for reasons of space we had to omit. If we had to sum up this collection of special places, we chose to concentrate on the minutiae and truly hidden meanings in buildings and locations. There is a vicarious delight in knowing you are following in the footsteps of famous men and women in history, or finding spaces that, even in Whitechapel, are so ‘off the beaten track’ they appear almost rural.

There is no doubt that Whitechapel is going through an important transition as the thirst for space pushes outwards from the nearby City of London. Central Whitechapel is likely to go through dramatic changes during the rest of this decade as Crossrail arrives and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets commences its vision for a new twenty first century civic centre for its borough. There may yet be time to savour some of the back roads and surprisingly tranquil spaces shown in this book and we hope it will both inform and fulfil its role as a guide to secrets in the area.

Louis Berk & Rachel Kolsky's book Secret Whitechapel is available for purchase now.