William Rowland was a market gardener in Whitechapel by 1637 when, age 35, he married Frances Roberts of the parish. In 1639 Rowland took a thirty-year lease (dated from 1642) of a part of a ‘great garden’ immediately east of the parish burial ground. This manorial waste ran along Whitechapel Road, with frontages corresponding to Nos 181–195 and 1–13 Vallance Road. Rowland enlarged his holding to the west, north of the burial ground, on a firmer basis and in 1643 endowed a cottage, barn and three acres adjoining the burial ground to the benefit of Whitechapel’s poor, leasing it back from the parish for 99 years. In 1654, when Rowland proclaimed himself a citizen clothworker, he further enlarged his walled garden north to the present line of Old Montague Street on land outside Whitechapel parish on the Halifax estate in a transaction with George and Sidney Mountague. By now there were four houses on the frontage corresponding to 181–187 Whitechapel Road, that to the west had been Rowland’s own and was up by 1644, the others had been occupied by George Ellyott, widow Bromefield and, at No. 187, William Daniel (a William Daniel was buried in Whitechapel in August 1640, a William Daniell in Stepney in August 1647). In 1666 the garden property was demised to Rowland’s son-in-law Robert Wareing, a citizen saddler, but Rowland remained resident, alongside William Gunn, also a gardener, in 1670. Rowland acquired freehold possession of the property that had not gone to the parish in 1672, but in 1674–5 paid tax for just a two-hearth dwelling.1
Rowland’s house on the site that became No. 181 was occupied by Nicholas Gale in 1707, by when there were nine small houses eastwards of the earlier group on the sites of Nos 189–195. Rowland’s descendants auctioned off his estate in 1734. The large market-garden holding, everything behind Whitechapel Road and the burial ground on the block now bounded by Davenant Street, Old Montague Street and Vallance Road, was depicted in the 1740s as walled round and planted as an orchard. Edward Wildman acquired land to the rear of No. 187 in 1765 and undertook to rebuild three of the roadside houses further east alongside two that Richard Tillyer Blunt, a citizen distiller and Alderman, had rebuilt earlier in the decade. In 1766 the estate was sold to Charles Digby the Elder, a Wapping ship-chandler, for £2,400. The parish leased the Mile End New Town section in 1805. Much of the rest was acquired by the sculptor John Bacon the younger by the 1830s, passing to his sons John and Thomas, both clergymen, after his death in 1859.2
The house at No. 181 had by 1800 become the Duke of Cumberland public house, run by Elizabeth Robertson. James Stephens changed its name to the Duke’s Head in 1826. It had evidently been rebuilt and, probably subsequently, gained framing pilasters and a heavy balustraded cornice. Charles Sloman (1808–70), a Jewish comic singer, hosted ‘Harmonic Meetings’ or song-and-supper evenings here in 1838. Around 1815 No. 183 pertained to Elizabeth and Jemima Thompson, haberdashers, milliners and dressmakers, and No. 185 went from housing William Ballard, an umbrella maker, in 1811 to become a baker’s premises in 1820 – that use endured. The pub at No. 181 and the house adjoining (No. 183) had been cleared by 1949, perhaps war damage. No. 185 lasted into the 1970s.
The former garden ground behind the houses was divided up in the mid 1820s as, from west to east: a workhouse garden that became a stone yard by the 1840s and then through the Whitechapel District Board of Works ‘a receptacle for the sweepings of the roads’,3 with a builder’s (later stable) yard immediately to its south; a long thin livery yard; and the Pavilion Theatre. The livery yard, laid out by William Hyland and James Parish for Samuel Bartram, coach- master, was known by the 1840s as Pavilion Stables, later as Pavilion Yard, which was also applied to the former stone yard. The livery yard was long held by George Young and continued into the 1890s. Motor garage use had come in by the 1920s, with lock-up garages where the stone yard had been from 1933. Much of the area was again a builders’ yard from 1939. Northern parts were taken for the Davenant Street housing development in the 1970s. The remaining southern part of the yard is used as a car park.4
Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (hereafter THLHLA), P/RIV/1/15/1/1–2; P/RIV/1/15/2/1–2; P/RIV/1/15/3/2–3; P/RIV/1/15/4/1: The National Archives (hereafter TNA), E179/143/370, rot.33v: Ancestry: Roland Reynolds, The History of the Davenant Foundation School, 1966, p. 59: Morden & Lea map, 1700 ↩
THLHLA, P/RIV/1/15/4/2,5,8,12; P/RIV/1/15/7–9: London Metropolitan archives (hereafter LMA), E/BN/085,131–72; MDR 1807/2/109: John Rocque's map, 1746: _Oxford Dictionary of National Biography_ ↩
TNA, ED27/3238 ↩
LMA, Land Tax Returns; Tower Hamlets Commissioners of Sewers ratebooks; E/BN/130,132,137,146–9; A/DAV/01/018; CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/505/1051583; 469/911926; GLC/AR/BR/07/0439; Collage 121908; 22182: District Surveyors Returns: THLHLA, P25891; P/RIV/1/15/11–17; P/MIS/127; cuttings 022; Building Control file 15500: Richard Horwood's map, 1813: Post Office Directoris: Goad insurance map, 1953 ↩
This four-storey stock-brick faced building of 1984–7 was designed by and for women as part of the wider Davenant Centre project that the GLC initiated and funded.
A scheme for refurbishment of the two surviving school buildings to the west of this site to be a community centre emerged from the GLC in 1984. In a project spearheaded by George Nicholson, Chair of the Planning Committee in the GLC’s last and defiantly radical days, more than £1m was made available for the formation of the Davenant Centre. This ‘community resources and training centre’ was to extend to include a new building on the empty site at 181–185 Whitechapel Road, all to house eight local groups: the Asian Unemployed Outreach Project, Dishari Shilpi Ghosti (musicians who had left the scene by 1988), the Federation of Bangladeshi Youth Organisations, the Progressive Youth Organisation, Tower Hamlets Advanced Technology Training, the Tower Hamlets Trades Council, the Tower Hamlets Training Forum, and the Jagonari Asian Women’s Education and Resource Centre.
Against a background of the frustrations of recent immigrants and the violence of 1978–9, local Asian women, mostly Bangladeshi, led by Shila Thakor, Mithu Ghosh, Alma Chowdhury and Pola (later Baroness) Uddin, with Varna Sudhi, Mina Thakur and Mita Den, founded the Jagonari organisation in 1982–3 (jago nari is Bengali for 'rise women' or 'women awake', from a poem by Kazi Nazrul Islam). It secured Tower Hamlets Inner Area Project funding and the GLC's Whitechapel Road plot in 1984, and linked up with the Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative, a newly formed architectural practice led by Anne Thorne and Kathleen Morrison. GLC funding was secured and the firm explained in 1985 that the centre would ‘act as a link between Asian and European cultures’, 1 providing language, health, literacy and computer classes, with a hall for dance, music and drama, as well as a crèche. Plans were devised in close consultation with the users, though not without cultural tensions. On a brick- clad reinforced-concrete frame, motifs from South Asian architecture were incorporated, deliberately avoiding religious symbolism. Security against racist attacks had to be a major consideration, thus the window screens (security grilles) or 'jali'. The building was designed with full disabled access. Ann de Graft-Johnson was the job architect during construction, working with Alan Baxter & Associates, consulting engineers (Michael Coombs and M. S. Seyan), on structural and detailed design. The mosaic surround to the entrance was designed by Mina Thakur. John Laing Construction Ltd were the contractors and Jhumur Mukherji was the Centre’s first Development Worker. Above ground-floor reception, kitchen and dining spaces, the main block was given a first-floor hall or meeting space, second-floor classrooms, and a third-floor library and offices. A two-storey rear range, to house the crèche, was linked by a covered open passage to enclose a courtyard, a conscious echo of a typical Bangladeshi house-courtyard-service range layout.
The Jagonari Centre adapted to funding difficulties and shifting demography, developing partnerships and greater cultural inclusivity, working with offenders and offering English-language training to non-EU migrants. But faced with increased rents from 2010 it had to be wound up in 2015. At the time of writing No. 183 houses the Reset Recovery Support Centre, for the treatment of drug and alcohol problems, and No. 185 is home to the Rainbow House Nursery, run by the Centre in partnership with the London Muslim Centre.2
Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), Building Control file 15500; 'The Bengali East End: Histories of life and work in Tower Hamlets', 2012, pp. 7–8: Swadhinata Trust, interview with Mithu Ghosh and Shila Thakor, 2006 ↩
THLHLA, BC file 15500; LMA, ACC/3499/EH/03/037/002: Davenant News, Oct. 1985–8: eds Jane Garnett and Sondra L. Hausner, Religion in Diaspora, 2015, pp. 55–79 (chapter 3: Nazneen Ahmed et al, ‘Historicising diaspora spaces: performing faith, race and place in London’s East End’): www.thegazette.co.uk/notice/2414958: interviews with Sufia Alam, May 2017, Anne Thorne, October 2017, and Ruhun Chowdhury, January 2018 ↩