Electricity Station

c.1953 for the Co-operative Wholesale Society

Chamber Street - introduction and general history to 1970
Contributed by Survey of London on Aug. 4, 2020

Chamber Street is easily overlooked. In so far as it is noticed, it is perhaps best known as a vehicular rat-run. With a railway bridge creating a dark underpass at its west end, it also suffers a reputation for harbouring illicit activity, some of an unusual tenor – £7,500 worth of corned beef was stolen from a trailer parked on the street in 1968.1

Chamber Street was laid out around 1680 at the same time as other roads in the development of Sir William Leman’s Goodman’s Fields estate. It was narrower than the estate’s other westerly streets, apparently always intended to be secondary. With Sir Thomas Chamber as developer, it was soon lined with two- storey and garret houses,  modest in comparison to those of Mansell Street, Prescot Street and Leman Street. Swallows Garden and Abel’s Court or Buildings opened off the south side, supplying links to the increasingly densely populated and disreputable Rosemary Lane. By the end of the eighteenth century there were also enclosed courts, Yeoman’s Yard to the north and Fryer’s Court (later Bond’s Buildings) to the south. Gunmaking concentrated in the street’s houses, alongside other domestic industry. Sugar refining dominated the street’s east end from the 1840s, and railways intruded to the west in 1851–3 and more extensively on the south side in 1892–3. Tower Hill School, a Roman Catholic establishment linked to English Martyrs’ Church, was built on the north side to the west in 1870–2 and demolished in 1985. The oldest surviving building on the street is a single-storey garage of 1920–1. The Co-operative Wholesale Society redeveloped the east end of the north side in the 1930s and ’50s. Elsewhere a miscellaneous crop of undistinguished buildings has risen up since the 1970s.

General history: 1680 to 1970

Chamber Street was named after Sir Thomas Chamber, who by 1685 held lands intended for development across the south part of Goodman’s Fields. As on Prescot Street, Chamber employed William Chapman, a carpenter, to build along Chamber Street in the late 1680s. At the same time Chamber was developing another Chamber Street, in Shadwell, also involving Chapman. William Ogbourne, another carpenter, was an early resident of Whitechapel’s Chamber Street. Two of fifty-seven houses were unfinished in 1693–4 when Thomas King had a large holding, as yet unbuilt. Moses Kendall (d. 1699), a bricklayer, held six houses and Nathaniel Whithill had the largest house, with a rental value of £30 as against £19 for the next largest (William Julian’s), no others being valued at more than £10. There were some indications of wealth. In 1693 John Ezar was living in the house of Henry Simcox at ‘the Shears’, having allegedly had thirty-one guineas, eighteen broad pieces of gold, and 250 pounds of silver stolen from him by Elizabeth Clarke.2

By the 1730s, the street appears to have been more or less fully built-up with sixty-four property holders taxed, evenly split north and south. At the end of the eighteenth century there were more than eighty properties, forty-some on each side of the street.

Chamber Street’s houses of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries tended to be of just two storeys with garrets, opening straight onto the street, with short yards to the rear. Some had no more than three rooms, being of one-room plan. A number were larger, with six rooms. Some rose three full storeys, and there were a few broad plots.3

The west end of the largely residential street, which always cranked northwards towards Goodman’s Yard, may have been somewhat more industrial and commercial, but it seems there was a general mix. To the west of Abel’s Buildings, which passage survives near Chamber Street's east end on the south side as a curious cut through under a hotel, a large yard that opened off Rosemary Lane and backed on to Chamber Street was built for the Board of Ordnance in the 1680s to store waggons. It was adapted to be a timber yard that pertained to Ogbourne and others through the eighteenth century. A large tobacco warehouse was noted in 1736 and Petersburg hemp was being stored on the street in 1744. By 1750 William Dukes (d. 1760) had a cooperage on the south side. George Sambrooke (d. 1773), of Wanstead, had property on both sides that included warehouses and carriage houses.4

Chamber Street had four licensed victuallers by 1730, including at the Custom House and the Clothworkers’ Arms. In the 1770s, there were just two public houses, the Duke’s Head, on the north side to the west at the corner where the road cranked. It continued to trade until it was cleared for the Haydon Square railway spur in the early 1850s. The Red Lion was at the Leman Street end of the street on the south side. By 1838, the site had been purchased from Whitbread and Co., probably for the building of a sugarhouse, and the pub had relocated to No. 31, to the west on the south side where substantial three- storey premises extended to link to an arch under the newly built London and Blackwall Railway, the widening of which in 1892–3 displaced the pub.5

Gunmakers were widespread across Goodman’s Fields till the nineteenth century. There was a particular concentration on Chamber Street. The prevalence of gun making in the wider locality antedates the development of Goodman’s Fields, the Minories and East Smithfield having been established as a centre of the trade by the mid seventeenth century. Proximity to the Board of Ordnance at the Tower of London, a source of contracts, underpinned this settlement. The comparatively modest houses of Chamber Street were accessible to those engaged in what was a small-scale domestic industry in which many individuals specialised in aspects of production such as making gun stocks, locks or cases. Workshops would have been in the houses or their yards, and the finished stock-in-trade was dispersed in sheds across the district. Gunmaking was certainly present on Chamber Street by the 1720s, and grew increasingly prevalent through the rest of the eighteenth century. Joseph Loder, a gun- stock maker and Master of the Gunmakers’ Company in 1784, was resident in the 1770s, as was Charles Chambers, a gunmaker and Master of the company in 1798. Cornelius Radley, a gunmaker, smith and chandler, was close by on Swallows Garden. The trade was not entirely male. Elizabeth Barnett made gun stocks in partnership with Edward Elliot at 25 Chamber Street, on the south side, in the 1780s. From the 1790s, Samuel Pritchett, twice Master of the company in the early nineteenth century, had a large house and workshop at No. 59, on the site that would later become that of Tower Hill School, where he was followed by his son, Richard Ellis Pritchett, who supplied the East India Company and the Board of Ordnance. His son, Robert Taylor Pritchett, moved to Prescot Street in the 1860s.6

Among numerous other gun makers on Chamber Street in the decades either side of 1800, James Yeomans (1768–1839) was notable. He was at Nos 45–46 by 1792, opposite Samuel Pritchett on the south side, and kept his stock in a shed behind 5 Magdalen Row (later 21 Prescot Street), in the service yard that had been formed with Magdalen Row in 1778–81, which later became known as Yeomans’ Yard. Yeomans profited from the French Wars and invested in property. By the 1830s, he lived in gentility in Plaistow, with a view of the Thames and large walled gardens. At the time of his death, his estate included 65–73 Chamber Street, embracing the entrance to the service yard, 1 Magdalen Row (later 17 Prescot Street) and two houses at the east end of the north side of Prescot Street, as well as buildings on Gower’s Walk. Beyond Whitechapel, he also had property in Stepney, Hoxton and Essex.7  Elizabeth Yeomans, his widow, and his son, also James, continued in the gunmaking trade on Chamber Street, operating from Nos 67–68 and keeping adjoining freeholds. They were suppliers to the Confederate Army in the American Civil War. The loss of a quantity of the firm’s guns in attempts to break the blockade of Confederate ports caused the business to fail in 1864.8 The Yeomans’ freehold estate was sold in 1866. It included fourteen houses at 60–73 Chamber Street, a three-storey warehouse behind Nos 68–69, and another store behind No. 73 at 1 Magdalen Passage.9

By 1881, only two gun makers were left still living on Chamber Street, where once there had been dozens. The London and Blackwall Railway Company had taken ownership of properties on the street’s south side in the late 1830s when its viaduct went up just to the south (see p.xx). Houses came down at the west end and others lost their rear yards. The viaduct’s arches were let in what was a well-connected location, convenient for warehousing. Stringer and Daniell, export oil merchants and Italian warehousemen, were present in the 1840s and ’50s, and there were firms of carmen, such as Seward Brothers and Travers Brothers, based on Chamber Street in the 1860s and ’70s. The proportion of those resident in the houses who were in railway and dock work steadily increased.10

Extension of the railway to a depot at Haydon Square in 1851–3 caused the clearance of fifteen houses at the west end of Chamber Street which was henceforward bridged for another massive viaduct. The impact of trains aside, this did not improve living conditions. ‘Mark Matfellon’ complained in 1858 that the west end of Chamber Street was ‘adorned on both sides with open urinals’, and that buildings in front of the older arches were ‘of the most shabby character and in some places little better than huts’; others had ‘their upper stories taken off and then roughly roofed over with felt or zinc’.11

The east end of Chamber Street was little more salubrious by this time. James Gadesden & Son, sugar refiners here, became Wainwright and Gadesden and under Augustus William Gadesden (1816–1901) built substantially on both sides of Chamber Street in 1847–8 and 1850 with additional frontages to Leman Street, including for an eight-storey six-bay sugarhouse at what later became No. 116. To its south, on the corner at what became 118 Leman Street and 94 Chamber Street, part of the refinery was replaced in 1879 by a large warehouse, built by Merritt & Ashby, possibly a speculation by Michael McSheehan following that of 1877–8 by the same parties further north on the opposite side of Leman Street. In seven storeys it was as tall as the sugarhouse, having five bays to Leman Street with central loopholes, and seven bays to Chamber Street with an entrance in a big architrave. It appears to have stood empty until 1885 when the Co-operative Wholesale Society took a lease of the warehouse, the adjacent sugarhouse, and an early four-bay, three- storey house at 93 Chamber Street. The Duke of Marlborough had the freehold of this large corner property around 1910.12

Chamber Street’s houses had declined in number, though there were still more than fifty standing in the 1870s. Living conditions deteriorated, with corresponding increase in the number of families in occupation. There was creeping social depravation, but all too typical desperation was not at all new in the later decades of the nineteenth century.

In 1836, twenty-four asylum-seeking German refugees had been recorded living in two rooms on Chamber Street. Having been expelled from Switzerland to France under suspicion of political activity associated with ‘Baron Von Eib’ (Zacharias Uldinger von Dörzbach), a Jewish activist suspected of the murder of a Prussian student in Zurich, this group was forcibly transferred to London, despite protestations of innocence and requests to be sent to the USA.13

Thirty years later, Mary Cocklin’s three-week-old son died of malnutrition at 6 Chamber Street, his mother’s milk said to be ‘no better than water, owing to the privation which she was undergoing’.14 In 1874, Eliza Hewlett, aged forty-two, was found mute sitting in a ‘public dusthole’ in Chamber Street, having discharged herself from Lambeth Workhouse and without living relations. She died soon after, the cause of death recorded as ‘apoplexy from exposure and destitution’.15 A free lodging house for destitute men was established on the south side at No. 26 in the 1870s, becoming the Dock Labourers’ Mission in the 1880s. Overcrowding, especially in unregulated lodging houses was a regular concern. An article of 1891 titled ‘Waiting for Cholera’, noted an unregistered Chamber Street lodging house run by ‘Fabien London’, a Russian Jew, with nineteen living in five rooms.16

The London and Blackwall railway line was widened on its north side in 1892–3, displacing another eleven buildings on Chamber Street’s south side, including the Red Lion and the Dock Labourers’ Mission, and the tiny dwellings of Bond’s Buildings. Only eight houses (Nos 6–13), seemingly still small late seventeenth- or eighteenth-century buildings, were left standing on that side of the street. Another thirty-two mostly early houses (Nos 62–93) on the north side came to be largely inhabited by tailors. On what had been the Yeomans’ property, Nos 60 and 61 had come down around 1870 for Tower Hill School. Nos 62 and 63 were early buildings that survived into the 1930s, as did Nos 64 and 65, which appear to have been rebuilt in the late 1860s. Nos 66–70 were rebuilt in 1882 and 1893 and Nos 80–82 in 1908–9. Nos 71–73 were early houses that were casualties of Second World War bombing and Nos 66–70 were cleared in the 1960s. The CWS redeveloped everything east of Magdalen Passage on the north side of Chamber Street in the 1930s and 1950s.17

  1. Interview with Father Oliver Barry, 23 March 2018: The People, 1 Nov 1964, p.1: Sunday Mirror, 25 Feb 1968, p.2 

  2. British History Online, Four Shillings in the Pound Assessments, 1693–4: The National Archives (TNA), C5/148/42: Ancestry: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), cuttings 022, London Gazette, 14–18 Sept 1693 

  3. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), Land Tax Returns (LT); LMA/4673/D/01/004/002: Richard Horwood's maps of London, 1792–1819 

  4. LT: TNA, C5/148/42; PROB11/992/376; PROB11/852/217: London Daily Post and General Advertiser, 1 July 1736, p.2: Daily Advertiser, 25 Dec 1744, p.2: Horwood 

  5. LMA, LT; MR/LV/05/026: Post Office Directories (POD): Whitehall Evening Post, 23–26 Aug 1760, p.2: Daily Advertiser, 24 Feb 1774, p.4; 10 June 1774, p.2; 7 Sept 1775, p.4; 16 Oct 1775, p.2; Morning Advertiser, 21 April 1823, p.4; 4 Nov 1824, p.4; 16 July 1838, p.3; 8 March 1843, p.4; 23 May 1854, p.12 

  6. Daily Post, 18 Nov 1725, p.2: LMA, LT; CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/273/410290; /279/420487; /278/422245; /287/433948; /452/858072; /462/881162; /466/904914; /464/891842; /464/901456: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography sub Pritchett: POD: East London Observer (ELO), 5 Dec 1863, p.3: John Causer, ‘Gun Makers of the East End’, East London History Society Newsletter, winter 2017, pp.4–6: Derek Morris, ‘Gun Makers and Gunpowder in the East End’, East London Historical Society Newsletter, Spring/Summer 2018, pp.4-7: surveyoflondon.org/map/feature/1309/detail/: Derek Morris, Whitechapel, 1600–1800, 2011, pp.62–4 

  7. LMA, LT; CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/385/598225: TNA, PROB11/1918/113: Morning Chronicle, 1 March 1798, p.4: Globe, 15 March 1826, p.3; 9 March 1839, p.4: Morning Advertiser, 30 Aug 1833, p.1: Norwich Mercury, 16 March 1839, p.3 

  8. TNA, C16/314/Y9; PROB11/2141/262: POD: Express, 7 March 1864, p.3: Stephen Tuffnell, Made in Britain: Nation and Emigration in Nineteenth- Century America, 2020, p.107 

  9. Morning Advertiser, 24 June 1861, p.3; 7 Oct 1864, p.8; 6 July 1866, p.1: Express, 26 March 1864, p.3 

  10. Morning Advertiser, 16 July 1838, p.3; 21 Nov 1840, p.4; 10 June 1841, p.1; 25 March 1842, p.1; 17 June 1852, p.8: Morning Post, 20 Feb 1849, p.8: ELO, 11 Aug 1860, p.1; 27 Nov 1875, p.3; 8 June 1878, p.7: Sun (London), 11 Aug 1868, p.7: Census: LMA, District Surveyors Returns (DSR) 

  11. ELO, 6 March 1858, p.3; 23 Jan 1869, p.6: Morning Advertiser, 21 Oct 1851, p.8 

  12. Ancestry: POD: Ordnance Survey maps (OS): DSR: Bryan Mawer, sugar- refiners database: Morning Advertiser, 13 Feb 1850, p.1: ELO, 18 Jan 1862, p.3; 25 Jan 1862, p.3: London Evening Standard, 10 June 1884, p.7; 29 July 1884, p.8: Goad insurance maps, 1889: TNA, IR58/84831/4810–11 

  13. Morning Advertiser, 15 Aug 1823, p.1; 31 Aug 1836, p.2: Heinrich Escher, Politische Annalen der eidgenössischen Vororte Zürich und Bern, 1834–1836, 1839, vol.2, p.219: Census: OS 

  14. Morning Advertiser, 29 Jan 1866, p.2; 1 Feb 1866, p.8 

  15. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 25 Jan 1874, p.12 

  16. Manchester Evening News, 10 Sept 1891, p.3: ELO, 27 Jan 1906, p.3: POD 

  17. Horwood: DSR: OS: Census: ELO, 9 Dec 1882, p.3: English Martyrs’ Church (EMC), plans of 62–65 Chamber Street, Reginald Adams, 5 June 1934: Estates Gazette, 30 Nov 1935, p.916: surveyoflondon.org/map/feature/1294/detail/#: forum.casebook.org/filedata/fetc h?id=663787&s=e681eba1870a92efb96648fa40e90dab 

78 Chamber Street
Contributed by Survey of London on Aug. 4, 2020

The single-storey electricity sub-station of 1953 that is attached to the block at 9 Prescot Street formed part of the Co-operative Wholesale Society's complex. The adjacent south side of 9 Prescot Street was given an entrance and its own address as 78 Chamber Street in 2016–17, for independent access to upper-storey offices.