The Relay Building, 1 Commercial Street

2008 and 2012-14, 23-storey offices, flats, shops and entrance to Aldgate East station. Entrance to social housing in Tyne Street | Part of Relay House and the Ibis Hotel

Working at Wooly's, early 1960s
Contributed by patricia on July 5, 2017

I had a job at Netties hair salon in Black Lion Yard when I was 13 or 14 but most of Nettie's clientele were old, and I found it difficult to wash their hair. After a few weeks, I was fired as I think most of the customers complained I didn't do a good job shampooing. No matter, soon after I got a Saturday job at Woolworths (or Wooly's as everyone called it) on Whitechapel High Street, close to Aldgate East station. I think I was 14. A few girls from my school, Robert Montefiore secondary, also worked there. We wore green uniforms, and the cash was at the counter you worked at (no check outs). I was on the haberdashery counter. I think I stayed a year or two.

Earlier history of the site of the Relay Building
Contributed by Survey of London on July 4, 2018

The Seven Stars, 111-112 Whitechapel High Street, demolished

A longstanding establishment on the High Street was the Seven Stars public house, probably part of Robert Cooper’s holding in the mid-seventeenth century. In 1690 John Morris, an innholder, who was married to Cooper’s granddaughter Anne, died leaving property in Whitechapel High Street to his widow and his daughter Mary, and the ‘widow Morris’ is taxed for herself and her daughter in the house adjoining Sarah Cooper’s in 1693.1 The apothecary John Skinner, who owned two freehold houses, and majority shares in three others adjoining, between Nag’s Head Yard and Moses and Aaron Alley (see below), left a half share in the Seven Stars at his death in 1720.2 The first certain landlord of the Seven Stars is Skinner’s tenant, William Chadsey, ‘of ye High Street’ (previously ‘at Bolt & Tun Alley’) by 1712. Chadsey was a parish officer in the 1720s, and died at the Seven Stars in 1736.3 The Seven Stars was destroyed by fire in 1820, and damaged again by a serious fire in 1864 in the property adjoining, after which it was rebuilt on both sites as 111-112.4

The new building was anaemically Italianate but solidly commercial, three windows wide and three stories beneath a bracketed cornice with keyed cement frontage. The building stretched back 80ft, the rear and passageway top-lit. The rebuilder was George Webb, who had been in occupation since 1839, operating the pub and as a wholesale wine and brandy merchant till 1868. The establishment, known variously as Webb’s or Webb’s Seven Stars (perhaps to distinguish it from the Seven Stars in Brick Lane) into the twentieth century, was owned by the family of G.E. Barker from 1898 to the 1950s, with a new Brewers’ Tudor shopfront installed in the 1930s. The building survived the wartime devastation of Kent and Essex Yard to about 1964 when it was demolished and a new Seven Stars, run first by Ind Coope later by Taylor, Walker, was built as part of the Denning Point/Tyne Street estate on Commercial Street. It was a utilitarian two-storey concrete-frame building, the first-floor offices with strip windows and brown-brick facing, the ground- floor pub which extended into a single storey at an angle across the corner of Commercial Street, with full-height projecting concrete-framed windows. That Seven Stars was demolished c. 2004 for the building of One Commercial Street/Relay House.5 Although the final iteration of the Seven Stars stood at the corner of Commercial Street, the site to its east before successive road widenings had included four more houses until the 1840s. On their site and cleared c. 1964 along with the 1860s Seven Stars for the Denning Point estate, 110 Whitechapel High Street had been built in 1849. The builder was S. Grimsdell of Bishopsgate working for John Aldington Perry (1786-1853), the ironmonger previously in the recently demolished 109 High Street, presumed purchaser of the site in 1848.6

The shallow site was squeezed in between the new Commercial Street frontage and the site of the Seven Stars, so the new building, with heavy cornice and rusticated quoins, had a long frontage to Commercial Street, but only a narrow High Street frontage. It was one of the earliest developments on Commercial Street, whose development was slow to get going (the site opposite to the east, also adjacent to the High Street, was not rebuilt for more than 10 years). No. 110 was first a linendrapers, run by Richard Crouch (1819-83), previously at No. 116, who lived in the substantial upper parts, reached by a separate entrance in Commercial Street, with his family, servants and several shopmen and milliners till 1867. Then it was taken by the East London Bank, a joint stock bank serving the needs of local shopkeepers, founded in 1856 and which had opened premises at 97 High Street in 1863. It changed its name to the Central Bank of London Ltd in 1869 and the building remained a bank, through merger with the London City and Midland Bank in 1891 and as the Midland Bank from 1923 until its closure and demolition c.1964 in connection with the Tyne Street/Denning Point estate and widening of Commercial Street.7

The houses at the corner of Essex Street demolished in 1844 to make way for Commercial Street, were narrow, but with the usual long plots, vestiges of the burgage plots. Cordwainers were much in evidence in this corner of the High Street: Henry Pedley (d. 1769) and three of his sons, William, Henry and Joshua, had 107 and 108 from the 1750s to the time they were demolished in the 1840s; No. 107 was the Tung Shun Tea Hong, tea and coffee dealers in the 1830s.8 The most desirable was the corner house, No. 106, with its long frontage to Catherine Wheel Alley/Essex Street. In 1834, after its grocer occupant, Alexander Gibson, had gone bankrupt, it consisted of a ‘substantial dwelling house with private entrance a handsome shop and warehouse, recently modernised at considerable expense, a brick-built warehouse and dwelling, stabling for five horses, carriage yard enclosed with folding gate and separate entrances’, the premises taken over by T. Venables, drapers, before the building’s demolition in 1844.9 George Harvey watch- and clockmaker was at 110 in 1828-35, before moving to St George in the East.10

Woolworth’s, 114-118 Whitechapel High Street, demolished

Adjoining the last two iterations of the Seven Stars to the west, and occupying most of the site cleared in 2004 for the Relay Building, had been a branch of Woolworth’s opened in 1960, replacing the Woolworth’s at the other corner of Commercial Street damaged in the war.11 It occupied the sites of Nos 114 to 118 inclusive, the whole of Kent and Essex Yard (see below), and incorporated the 1938 entrance to Aldgate East tube station at its east end (se xx). The design was by D.W. Hardy, an in-house architect for F.W. Woolworth. It was a typical Woolworth’s design of the period, two storeys over basement, fronted with a curtain wall of narrow framing and beige fibre-glass panels, with beige brick to the flank and rear. The sales floor was restricted to the ground floor, with offices, stock room and storage to the first floor and offices, restrooms and kitchen to the second. From the late 1970s further shops, Frankenberg’s Aldgate Shopping Centre, operated from the first floor of the building.12Because of war damage, much of the Woolworth’s site was ruinous by 1959. It included the sites of Nos 114 to 118 Whitechapel High Street, and Kent and Essex Yard, discussed separately below. No. 114 Whitechapel High Street was the shop-house between the Seven Stars, and the entrance to Kent and Essex Yard (numbered promiscuously 113 and 114, presumably because it covered the site of two earlier houses), and like the Seven Stars  rebuilt following the 1864 fire.13 Fronted in stock brick, with vestigially Gothic gauged-brick windowheads, it was for nearly 50 years from the 1850s, through the rebuilding, and into the 1890s occupied by Robert Cramp and his son, wholesale twine and matting merchants.14 The building remained empty after 1937, gutted when the new entrance to Aldgate East station was inserted into the ground floor and following war damage the frontage was cleared, leaving behind the station entrance.15 Previous occupants of the site included Joshua Crowden (1694-1773), a cordwainer, from the 1720s to his death in 1773, and Peter Reed (d. 1829), a haberdasher and some-time Deputy Lieutenant for the Tower Hamlets.16

Later development on the frontage west of Kent and Essex Yard included the substantial premises at No. 115, which gave access to Kent and Essex Yard. This had passed by 1737 to the tenant, the oilman John Stephens, and in 1786 was leased from Stephens’ son by the wholesale cheesemonger Joseph Cuff (previously at No. 125, 1778-84, and 139, 1785-86), later owner of the whole of Kent and Essex Yard, and a large warehouse and counting house built across the rear of 115 and the smaller house at No. 116.17 In the 1830s it was French and Meredith’s crown-glass warehouse and leadworks, soon succeeded by linendrapers in which use the building essentially remained until destruction during the Second World War.18  In 1894 The drapers Thomas Venables & Sons expanded from their base at 102-105 (see above) into this building, which had most recently been the ‘Hen and Chickens’ drapery store, and adapted it, through Ashby Brothers, introducing large plate-glass windows to the first floor showrooms, flanked and separated by decorative panels of painted flowers, and ‘all the floors connected by a powerful lift’.19

The premises were taken over in 1929 by M. Duke & Son, knitted woollen manufacturers, who continued in the blitzed premises, reduced to the ground floor and basement, till 1946, when the firm moved to Margaret Street, off Oxford Street. The remains were cleared in the 1950s.20Adjoining to the west of No. 115 was an identical pair of four-storey shop-houses with semi- circular-headed windows to the first floor, Nos 116 and 117, described as ‘newly built’ in 1839, and cleared c. 1950.21  No. 117 was rebuilt in 1952-3 in utilitarian style, with buff facing brick and strip windows, only to be demolished in 1959 for Woolworth’s.22 The final building cleared in 1959 was No. 118.23 Along with Nos 119 and 120, which survived until demolished for the Relay Building c. 2004, it was part of the 1880s development that included the surviving No. 122 (see above). No. 120 included a small warehouse, situated behind No. 119, accessed from an alley off Newcastle Street.24

From 1784 to 1852, before rebuilding, No. 119 was occupied and later owned by Alexander and Edmund MacRae, father and son oil and colour men.25 Later longstanding occupants of these houses included Blacklock, stationers, at 118 and later 117 from the 1830s to the 1890s, and Singer Sewing Machines at No. 118 from 1905 till wartime destruction when they reopened at No. 119 in the 1950s, remaining till the early 1980s.26

Kent and Essex Yard, formerly Nag’s Head Yard (demolished)

Until final clearance in the 1950s, the Woolworth’s site had been Kent and Essex Yard, previously Nag’s Head Yard, the largest inn yard on the High Street. It had been known by the mid-seventeenth century as the Nag’s Head, a name that became associated with the inn a few hundred yards to the east, now 17-19 Whitechapel Road, though that inn was known before the 19th century as the Horsehead and Woolpack, or Nag’s Head and Woolpack, perhaps to prevent confusion. Trade tokens likely for the High Street ‘Nagg’s Head, Whitechapel’ were issued in 1650.27 It was known as the Nag’s Head into the 1730s: the innholder since the 1670s, John Swanson, left the lease to his son Abraham in 1712, and in 1715, following Abraham’s death, is was described as a ‘Good large accustom’d inn’, after which its leaseholder, Richard Heath, left the lease of the ‘Nagg’s Head Inn’ to his daughter Susanna in 1726.28 A half share in the Nag’s Head belonged at his death in 1720 to the apothecary John Skinner, on the High Street west of Nag’s Head Yard by 1675, and passed to John White, a tallowchandler (d. 1735) who owned extensive land on the north side of the High Street.29 The inn was occupied until 1742 by Thomas Bartlett, but after he left the Nag’s Head remained mysteriously empty for more than thirty years, the site apparently cleared. In 1779 the Revd Charles Phillips of Black Notley, Essex, White’s heir, leased the yard to a Whitechapel carpenter George Hadfield. When Hadfield assigned the lease the following year, the yard contained a workshop on its east side, and a small, double-fronted but shallow house, of two storeys with garrets, described as ‘new-built’, a washhouse, a small yard giving access to Rose and Crown Court (which had opened into both Catherine Wheel Alley and Nag’s Head Yard in the 17th century), and a three-stall stable, but no inn.30

Between 1783 and 1813 the yard’s freehold was assembled along with, in 1783, a large, newly built warehouse on the west side by Joseph Cuff, the wholesale cheesemonger at No. 115, the warehouse let, along with the small house, to Peter Minns, a ‘chinaman’ who died in 1791.31 In 1803, Cuff’s sub-lessee, John Gosling, rebuilt the small house as part of the inn, now known as the Kent and Essex Hotel and Tavern, which ranged around the northwest corner of the yard, with warehousing to its south. The accommodation included, letting bedrooms for fifty people (each one ‘with a window’), coffee room, small bar, parlour, tap room kitchens and pantries and a ‘ball, auction or election room, 56ft x 22ft.32 The cost was £4,000, claimed by the builder Henry Peto in a court case of 1825 when seeking unpaid fees from the estate of the client, John Gosling, then recently deceased).33

Cuff extended the yard eastward in 1813, acquiring strips of land from adjoining landowners to build four small houses.34 After Cuff’s death in 1817, the freehold of the yard passed to his sons Joseph and Thomas, and other trustees. Though offered for sale in 1818, ownership remained with the Cuffs and their trustees until 1837.35

The assembly room’s uses were many and varied. In 1811 John Clennell, proprietor of the New Agricultural and Commercial Magazine, gave a series of lectures on manufactures.36  The Whitechapel Reform Union, established in the wake of the Spa Fields ‘riots, met there in 1833.37

In 1830 the licensee, Amelia Tutin, had successfully applied for an additional music licence, on the grounds that:

‘there were a large number of the Jewish people who resided near the tavern and were customers. Weddings were constantly taking place … but they could not be celebrated at Mrs Toots’s (sic) as she had no music licence. Music was a very essential addition to these weddings, and, in fact, without it, according to the Jewish persuasion, could not be celebrated…. This was all well known to the magistrates of the division, and they had attached their names to the recommendation.’38

In 1832 the public was invited to inspect the ‘gorgeous magnificence and superb decorations’ of the Kent and Essex Tavern’s newly renovated Royal Persian Saloon and Concert Room, entrusted to Mr P. Phillips, ‘whose name is too well known to need encomium’, the ‘arrangement of the Vaudevilles’ assigned to ‘Mr Naphtali’.39

The freeholds of all of Kent and Essex Yard were finally sold by Thomas Cuff in five lots in 1837 for £4,200.40 They included the inn, a three-storey warehouse, a two-storey warehouse with booking office (for the carriage of parcels to and from Essex), two ten-stall stables with lofts, a cattle shed, dwelling house, counting house and other warehouse, and the four small houses. The buyer was John Gingell (1763-1838), a Wiltshire-born hay and straw salesman who had been in Whitechapel, with premises in Red Lion Street, since the 1790s, and whose family business came to dominate the yard over the next century.41

Part of the inn and warehouses were taken over and altered in 1838 as the wallpaper factory of Jeffrey, Wise & Co., house furnishers and paper stainers, founded in 1836, with retail premises in St Helen’s Place, Bishopsgate, and from 1839 in Gracechurch Street.42 From the mid-1860s Jeffrey & Co was to become synonymous with artistic wallpapers of the highest quality of design – William Morris, William Burges and E.W. Godwin all supplied designs or had their wallpapers printed by Jeffrey & Co.43 Most of this came after the firm left Whitechapel in 1868, and came under the control of Metford Warner, but during its thirty years in Kent and Essex Yard, the firm had been equally innovative, though for technical rather than aesthetic reasons. In 1840 it acquired the Crease process for producing truly washable wallpapers, and installed the first machine in London for roller printing wallpaper in their factory at Kent & Essex Yard.44

Russell Jeffrey (1806-67) was a Quaker paper stainer who, perhaps to devote time to his religion, in which he was active as a minister and a missionary in India, departed Whitechapel in 1855 for Cheltenham and set up in Gloucester as a chemist, druggist, and dealer in photographic materials.John Pilkington Wise had died in 1841 and Jeffrey entered a succession of partnerships with Robert Horne (of Horne & Co., who also exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851), from c. 1842, and William Allen, opening a shop at 500 Oxford Street in the West End in 1854, before becoming Jeffrey & Co. in 1858.45  In 1862, while Jeffrey & Co. still had premises in Kent and Essex Yard, and the partners were William Allen, Alfred Brown and Edward Hamilton, the firm carried out building work overseen by William Beck, architect, that involved a chimney shaft and began printing wallpapers for William Morris, beginning with his first printed wallpaper design, ‘Daisy’. This was presumably printed in Whitechapel as although Jeffrey & Co. merged with Holmes & Aubert of Essex Road, Islington, noted for their hand-blocked wallpapers, this did not occur until 1864. Metford Warner, who completed Jeffrey & Co.’s transformation into the leading ‘art wallpaper’ manufacturer, printing designs by Owen Jones and Bruce Talbert in 1867, joined the firm as a junior partner in 1866 but Jeffrey & Co. retained their premises in Kent & Essex Yard till 1868, after which production was consolidated in expanded premises in Essex Road.46

Kent and Essex Yard, however, became increasingly dominated by the business of the Gingells. As well as supplying hay and straw in Whitechapel’s hay market and in quantity to the Great Northern Railway, Gingells also ran the parcel- booking office, ‘all parcels and goods are safely warehoused and immediately forwarded to the places directed… Horses taken in to bait, and good accommodation for Carriages’.47 The 1803 house on the north side that had been part of the Kent and Essex Hotel served as offices for the Whitechapel Charities, the hay market tolls office and a rates offices  from the 1840s till Stepney Borough was created in 1900; and in the late 1860s and early 1870s there was a home in the yard for fourteen blind people, founded by the blind physician, Dr Thomas Rhodes Armitage, and run by the Indigent Blind Visiting Society. The residents worked in a workshop in Commercial Street (basketmaking, carpentry, etc) and the home was found ‘particularly useful in providing a refuge for the unmarried and friendless’.48

The much-reduced Kent and Essex Inn closed in 1871, and Gingell and Son, now run by John Gingell’s son James, and grandson William Henry, altered Jeffrey’s former warehouses and factory in 1884 with open ground floors for haycarts, installing a weighbridge. The early nineteenth-century house on the north side remaining as rates offices for Stepney Borough Council until the early 1930s. Following William Henry’s death in 1896 the firm had become Gingell, Son and Foskett Ltd which it remained till it was wound up in 1935.49 Kent and Essex Yard was sold in 1933, acquired by London Underground for the new entrance to Aldgate East Underground station that opened in October 1938 (see below). The shell of the warehouses on the site of the Kent and Essex inn rebuilt by Gingell on the west side survived into the 1950s.50

History of the High Street frontage before 1775

The site of the Relay Building included, before the creation of Newcastle Street (Tyne Street) in the early 1730s, twenty houses and two alleys – Grid Iron Alley and Three Bowl Alley, at the western end. By the mid-17th century there were nine houses, of between two and seven hearths, between Catherine Wheel Alley (site of Commercial Street) and the entrance to Nag’s Head Yard.51 In 1650 trade tokens with the sign of the seven stars were issued in Whitechapel by ‘R.C.’, probably Robert Cooper, tallow-chandler and draper, recorded as taking apprentices in Whitechapel from the 1630s. He died in 1665, leaving four houses on the High Street between the entrance to Nag’s Head Yard and Catherine Wheel Alley.52 He left his own house, adjoining to the west of these, to his grandson John Cooper; John Cooper left this in 1682 to his elder sister, Sarah, presumably the ‘Mrs Cooper’ present there in 1693. Other occupants of the houses east of the entrance to Nag’s Head Yard included in the 1660s and 1670s, a tailor, George Russell (on the site of 110), and a cheesemonger, Abel Evans (d. 1687; site of No. 111) and in the 1690s John Packwood (d. 1700; site of No. 114), ‘a freeman from Nag’s Head Gate’, and Samuel Emes/Emms (d. 1699; site of No. 107 or 108).53

The frontage west of the yard ran until the early 1730s to the narrow entrance to Moses and Aaron Alley, later Castle Alley/Old Castle Street. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the first five houses were held in whole or in part by an apothecary, John Skinner, who occupied the fifth house from the mid 1670s till his death in 1720. Skinner also owned a half share in both the Seven Stars and the Nag’s Head at the time of his death.54 His house was the largest of these five (site of later No. 119), with six hearths in the 1670s. His tenants in 1720 included John Stephens, an oilman (site of No. 115 by the entrance to Nag’s Head Yard), the business continued into the 1750s by his widow and sons, and John Swaffield, a stationer, resident in the High Street for 60 years (site of No. 117).55

Between Skinner’s holding and Moses and Aaron Alley (Old Castle Street), there were six streetside houses and, until the creation of Newcastle Street (Tyne Street) in the early 1730s, two small courts, Three Bowl Alley and Grid Iron Alley. In 1590 a Whitechapel white-baker named Raphe Thickness (d. 1607) acquired a house on the High Street known as the Crown and Hammer, later renamed the Three Pigeons, and another messuage adjoining known as the Three Bowls.56 The Three Bowls was ‘fallen down’ by 1700 and the Three Pigeons recently rebuilt. The Three Pigeons site, immediately west of John Skinner’s property, was used throughout the seventeenth century by noxious trades – soapboilers and tallowchandlers.57

By 1716, John White, tallowchandler (d. 1735), had acquired the Three Pigeons and Three Bowl Alley, an irregularly shaped site with a 17ft frontage (the Three Pigeons) on the High Street, stretching back 190ft, which included a jettied workshop probably of the sixteenth century, still partly occupied by the Thickness family, and two other small house/workshops, and a piece of garden ground.58 In 1730 White leased the plot to William Newland (d. 1755) of the Inner Temple, and by 1734 Newland had laid out Newcastle Street (later Tyne Street), on the west side of the Three Pigeons, with nine small houses ranged up behind it on its former garden ground. By 1734 the corner house had been rebuilt as The Indian Queen, ‘formerly the Three Pidgeons’, on the site of the later No. 120.59

The entrance to Newcastle Street snaked westwards from the High Street around another High Street building to meet the line of the new street. This house was originally part of the Three Pigeons site, now in separate ownership; in the 1730s and early 1740s it was occupied by the Quaker goldsmith, Thomas Gray, and later his daughter and son-in-law Nathan Tillotson. Perhaps Gray declined to relinquish his house for the building of Newcastle Street, although it was demolished c. 1880 for the building of the new No. 122.60 Between this house and Moses and Aaron Alley (Old Castle Street) there was another alley, Grid Iron Alley, known b the seventeenth century, and a further three street-side houses which survived to 1883. In 1666 Rowland Cuney, a brewer and vintner, who was ‘of Whitechapel’ and ‘at the Grid Iron’ by 1645, was taxed for a substantial eight-hearth house on the High Street here, possibly the eponymous ‘Grid Iron’; he was probably also the ‘R.C.’ who issued trade tokens marked with the sign of a man in the moon, as he was also taxed in 1666 for a fourteen-hearth house in Plough Street, site of the Man in the Moon inn.61 The Grid Iron as a location rather than one house, and presumably meaning the alley, is mentioned in the will of the pattenmaker George Harvey, who occupied property there by 1716, and held tenements there when he wrote his will in 1741, but it was apparently built over, absorbed once more into the site of one of the High Street houses, not long after.62

  1. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), London Wills: Four Shillings in the Pound Aid assessment, 1693-4 (4s£) 

  2. The National Archives (TNA), PROB 11/576/345 

  3. Ancestry: LMA, Land Tax returns (LT): Daily Courant, 28 May and 4 June 1725: LMA, MR/LV/05/26 

  4. Yorkshire Gazette, 18 Nov 1820, p. 2: London Evening Standard, 11 Oct 1864, p. 2 

  5. Post Office Directories (POD): Morning Advertiser, 2 April 1839, p. 4: Essex Herald, 21 Aug 1866, p. 2: East London Observer, 16 May 1868, p. 3: LMA, LMA/4433/D/03/011: Goad insurance maps: Tower Hamlets planning application s online (THP): Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), Building Control file 15653 location 149 

  6. POD: Census: The Builder, 18 March 1848, p. 1 

  7. POD: Census: LMA, District Surveyor's Returns (DSR); The Globe, 17 Dec 1868, p. 2: THP 

  8. LT: Ancestry: Chelmsford Chronicle, 20 March 1840, p. 1 

  9. Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 25 Jan 1834, p. 1 

  10. F. J. Britten, Former Clock & Watchmakers and their Work, London and New York, 1894, p. 336: POD 

  11. THLHLA, P07186 

  12. POD: THLHLA, Building Control file no. 15883 loc. 47: information Raju Vaidyanathan 

  13. London Evening Standard, 11 Oct 1864, p. 2: Morning Advertiser, 16 Nov 1864, p. 8 

  14. POD: Ancestry: Census 

  15. THLHLA, photographs: POD 

  16. LMA, Parish records of St Mary Whitechapel, burials 1773: University of Nottingham Special Collections, Pl X3/7: oldbaileyonline: Transport for London Group Archives (TfLGA), LT000555/569/006, 007: POD: Gentleman's Magazine, Sept 1829, p. 284 

  17. LT: POD 

  18. POD: Morning Advertiser, 8 Nov 1830, p. 1: Morning Advertiser, 28 April 1830, p. 3 

  19. Chelmsford Chronicle, 9 Nov 1894, p. 5: Chelmsford Chronicle, 23 Nov 1894, p.6: DSR 

  20. POD: THLHLA, P07192: Historic England Archives (HEA), Aerofilms, EAW021448: J.B. Hobman, ed., Palestine’s Economic Future, 1946, p. lxxix: Edinburgh Gazette, 22 Feb 1949, p. 77 

  21. Morning Advertiser, 28 Oct 1839, p. 3 

  22. THLHA, Building Control file 15883, location 47 

  23. THLHA, Building Control file 15883, location 47 

  24. THLHLA, C/OFR/1/14/9 

  25. LT: TNA, PROB 11/1570/330 

  26. POD: THLHLA, P07182 

  27. British Museum, T.3962: George C. Williamson and William Boyne_, Trade Tokens Issued in the Seventeenth Century in England, Wales and Ireland by Corporations, Merchants, Tradesmen etc_., London, 1889, vol. 1, p. 793 

  28. LMA licensees 1730: LMA, St Mary Whitechapel parish records, Burials 1715: Hearth Tax returns (HT) 1673-4: LMA, DL/C/B/010/MS09172/105, f.29; DL/C/B/010/MS09172/127, f.81: Post Boy, 24 to 26 Feb 1715-16 

  29. TNA, PROB 11/576/345; PROB 11/671/56 

  30. THLHLA, P/SLC/1/17/08: LT 

  31. TNA, PROB 11/1210/84: LT 

  32. Morning Advertiser, 12 Aug 1808, p. 1: British Library, Crace Portfolio 16-20 

  33. London Courier and Evening Gazette, 15 Dec 1803, p. 3: London Courier and Evening Gazette, 15 Dec 1825, p. 3: TNA, C13/2202/5 

  34. TfLGA, LT000555/569/006; LT000555/569/007 

  35. TNA, PROB 11/1598/96: TfLGA, LT000555/569/006, 010 

  36. Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 23 Dec 1811 p. 2 

  37. Morning Advertiser, 13 June 1833 p. 2: Ian A. Burney, Bodies of Evidence: Medicine and the Politics of the English Inquest, 1830-1926, pp. 37-40 

  38. London Evening Standard, 29 Oct 1830, p. 4 

  39. Morning Advertiser, 2 Oct 1832, p. 2; 10 Oct 1832, p. 2 

  40. Morning Advertiser, 31 March 1837 p 4 

  41. TfLGA, LT000555/569/010: Morning Advertiser, 14 Jan 1835, p. 1 

  42. TNA, PROB 11/1940/168: POD: TfLGA, LT000555/569/012: Morning Advertiser, 10 Aug 1839, p. 4: LMA, CLC/B/192/F/001/11936/562/1281976; MS CLC/B/192/F/001/11936/ 560/1281799 

  43. A.V. Sugden and J.L. Edmondson, A History of English Wallpaper, 1509-1914, 1926, pp. 58-9, 152, 209-212: Christine Woods, ‘Jeffrey & Co.’, in Encyclopedia of Interior Design, ed. Joanna Banham, 1997, pp. 652-4 

  44. A.V. Sugden and J.L. Edmondson, A History of English Wallpaper, 1509-1914, 1926, pp. 127, 178 

  45. POD: Quaker memorials 

  46. Sugden and Edmondson, op. cit., _pp. 166-7, 209-12: Metropolitan Board of Work Minutes, 26 Sept 1862, p.718: _London International Exhibition: Official Catalogue of the Industrial Department, 1862, np {p. 533} 

  47. Essex Standard, 25 May 1838, p. 1 

  48. POD: The Atlas, 19 June 1868, p. 7: Morning Advertiser, 22 July 1867, p. 5: East London Observer, 24 April 1869, p. 4: Census: 

  49. DSR: TfLGA, LT002051/2317, LT002051/2318, LT002051/2319, LT002051/2320: THLHLA, LC10981: TNA, IR58/84816/2523; IR58/84840/5739: Estates Gazette, 8 April 1933: London Gazette, 18 Jan 1935, p. 491 

  50. HEA, Aerofilms, EAW048559 

  51. Ogilby and Morgan, map of London, 1676: HT 1666, 1674-5 

  52. British Museum, T.3950, T.3951: Essex Record Office, D/DSf/T9: LMA, LMA/4433/D/03/011; CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/321/490757; MR/LV/05/026 

  53. HT: 4s£ 

  54. TNA, PROB 11/576/345: HT 1674-5: 4s£ 

  55. LT: TNA, PROB 11/689/310 

  56. LMA London wills, Raphe Thickness 1607; E/PHI/001 

  57. LMA, London wills: William Goodwin 1677 

  58. LMA, E/PHI/003 

  59. LMA, MDR/1734/5/215, E/PHI/036 

  60. LT: Daily Advertiser, 13 Jan 1744: Ancestry 

  61. HT 1666: British Museum, T.3954: Ancestry 

  62. LT: TNA, PROB 11/737/471 

Relay House and the Ibis Hotel
Contributed by Survey of London on July 4, 2018

The site of the Relay Building and the Ibis Hotel was assembled in the 1980s, part freehold, and part leasehold from London Underground, which had in 1933 acquired Kent and Essex Yard and 110 to 115 High Street, in connection with the creation of the eastern entrance to Aldgate East Underground Station which opened in 1938. Between 1984 and 1999 seven schemes of increasing ambition and scale to redevelop all or part of the site with a hotel, a pub and offices were prepared but refused or withdrawn. By 2001 the site belonged to Columbia Developments Ltd, run by a Guernsey-based Irish developer, David Kennedy, and his family, and an associated company, Mangrove Securities Ltd. Planning permission was secured in 2002 for a 17-storey office building, shops and hotel, and the site - then largely taken up with a branch of Woolworth’s opened in 1960, along with a 1960s pub (the Seven Stars) and two 1880s shop- houses, Nos 119 and 120 Whitechapel High Street.1

In August 2006 revised permission was granted for a 22-storey mixed-use building of 217 flats (later reduced to 207, including four penthouses) on the 7th to 21st floors (as demand had shifted from office to residential), offices below and a 10-storey hotel occupying the rear third of the site, all to designs by John Seifert Architects Ltd. It was of a similar height to the original scheme, as residential floors do not require the same concealed wiring areas as offices.2 The owners were Formation Design & Build (formerly Columbia Design & Build), a subsidiary of Formation Group, offering professional and investment services to ‘high-net-worth’ figures in sport and entertainment (including the footballers Wayne Rooney and Robbie Savage and the broadcaster including Fearne Cotton), and Julius Properties Ltd, a Guernsey-based company formed for the purpose of acquiring One Commercial Street, whose proceeds benefit Kennedy family trusts.3

After negotiation, the developer included 35 per cent on-site affordable housing (below market-rent and shared ownership). Initially the entrance to all flats was to be in a spacious recessed entrance on the corner with Commercial Street, but a scheme was approved in 2007 which resited the private flats’ entrance next to the High Street office entrance; the affordable flats’ entrance was relocated to Tyne Street, otherwise now only a narrow service road, an area of the building originally designated for refuse.4

The 348-bedroom hotel had been completed by 2008, and let as a branch of the international hotel group Ibis as ‘a "contemporary economy London Hotel"’, but the rest of the project, largely funded by a £93m loan from Heritable, a subsidiary of Landsbanki, then ground to a sudden halt at the 11th floor when the Icelandic banking system collapsed, and for three years its unfinished concrete frame sat as an unwelcome monument to this debacle.5 In 2011 Formation Group/Mangrove sold the hotel building to Axa Insurance on behalf of the Co-operative Insurance Society, and the unfinished office/residential building to Redrow Homes Ltd, with Broadway Malyan taking over as architects.6

Redrow completed One Commercial Street in 2014, renaming it the Relay Building, with John Sisk and Sons as main contractor. The design is both bland and bulky. The hotel, with small windows set in grey and light-grey aluminium panels, has a setback to Pomell Way to the top three floors. The office/residential/retail building, U-shaped in plan above the 6th floor, is fully glazed, with ranks of balconies to the centres of both main frontages and a projecting forward-raking bay the full height of the Commercial Street elevation, edged with a glazed strip and emphasised by a sloping metal roof fin. The ground and first floors are set back on the High Street and Commercial Street frontages, with giant metal-clad pillars circling the ground-floor shop spaces and entrances. The 1930s entrance to Aldgate East tube, which required complex structural underpinning, was accommodated into the High Street frontage, as it had been in the Woolworth’s building before.7

In its launch press release, Redrow likened it to a ‘blade of light, its glass fin protruding dramatically to add a sculptural quality to Redrow London’s first flagship development’. However, it enjoyed the dubious accolade of nomination for the 2014 Carbuncle Cup and the incredulity of Building Design: ‘First flagship development? Please God let it also be their last. No one who can liken this incoherent hulk of ill-fitting glass sheets to a blade of light deserves to build again in such a sensitive location’.8

Ghettoization of the affordable-housing entrance also did not go unnoticed. It was dubbed the ‘poor door’, a term used of similar segregation in New York. The Guardian investigated the advent of ‘poor doors’, and soon weekly protests were being mounted by the radical protest group Class War in 2014-15, including an occupation of the main reception.9 Modest improvements were made to the Tyne Street entrance, including better lighting, and the ‘affordable’ housing flats are now known as ‘Houblon Apartments’. Redrow sold Relay House at the end of 2014 to Angelo, Gordon & Co., and Hondo Enterprises (owned by ‘Texan socialite’ Taylor McWilliams), involved variously in private equity, investment and development, for whom the design practice Acrylicize installed a section of London Underground Tube carriage, adapted as a sitting area and ‘fully powered working space’.  Some alterations have since been made in Relay House for Mindspace, which offers ‘upscale, professional co-working environment with boutique-style offices and meeting rooms’ within the building, which was offered for sale again in 2017. Several of the flats are now owned by offshore companies, and others, including some of the ‘affordable’ Houblon Apartments, used as holiday rentals.10

  1. Estates Gazette, via, 7 January 2001: Tower Hamlets planning applications online (THP) 

  2. THP: Estates Gazette, via, 22 Mary 2008 

  3. The Times, 3 Sept 2011, p. 67: icers/xw9_glOabBtd3oOHqNCi0A4yU0c/appointments: Information Memorandum: The Aldgate East Property Company Ltd, 2007: content/uploads/2015/06/OCS-Penthouse-Brochure.pdf 

  4. THP 

  5. The Times, 3 Sept 2011, p. 67 

  6. hotel-for-38m/: THP 

  7. THP 

  8. seifert-architects/5069773.article: Building Design Online, 16 July 2014 

  9. london-flats: John Bennett, Mob Town: A History of Crime and Disorder in the East End, 2017, pp. 281-2 

  10. swoops-on-tower-buy/: -story-Aldgate-tower-hits-the-market-for-100m/: /london-the-south/2017/08/10/news/european-co-working-provider-expands-into- london-26879/: Markets-tenant-sells-on-to-US-investor-after-11th-hour-buy/: http://www stylish-1-bed-apartment-in-east-london.en-gb.html: 

1 Commercial street from Whitechapel High Street
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Promotional video about interior design of private flats at 1 Commercial Street, 2014

via YouTube:

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 12, 2016

110-115 High Street, 1964

The first 10 seconds of this silent unissued film stock from 1964 show the new Woolworth store to the left (opened in 1960), the entrance to Aldgate East tube station, the former Seven Stars public house, and the corner bank building, built after the creation of Commercial Street. All on the site of the Relay building and all demolished.

Contributed by Survey of London on Nov. 27, 2017

Compilation of film of Class War protests about segregation of social tenants at 1 Commercial Street

via Scrap Records, on YouTube: In 2014-15 the pressure group Class War organised a series of protests at 1 Commercial Street over the segregation of the entrances to the private and social housing in 1 Commercial Street. The social housing is accessed via a much plainer door in Tyne Street, to the side, a narrow street otherwise used as a service road for surrounding buildings.

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 12, 2016