223 Bow Road

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building which you might have passed without noticing, and this one took quite a time to find.

The building this month is passed unnoticed by thousands every day standing as it does incongruously next to a drive in McDonald’s close to the Bow flyover, so anonymous are its outward features they belie the building’s importance.

[T]here is a story that the name Bow was derived from the shape of the arch of the 12th century bridge which spanned the river Lea where Bow flyover now stands. This bridge is thought to have been the first stone-arched Bridge in Britain and this was 60 years before the first such bridge was built across the Thames in London.

There is a story that this bridge was commissioned to be built by Queen Matilda after she ‘had been well washed in the waters’ when trying to cross by the ford when on her way to Barking. During the 14th century there was a chapel on the bridge dedicated to St Katherine and in this there lived a hermit. Chaucer referred to Bow in his Canterbury Tales which takes the name back at least to the 14th century.

No. 223 Bow Road seems to sit rather shyly near to the brash new MacDonald’s nearby. The building dates back to the 17th century and so it is possible that Will Kempe, a leading Shakespearean actor, who crossed the river Lea at Bow in 1600 on his 9-day Morris Dance from Stepney to Norwich, might have known this little house with its two quaint bay windows on the first floor.

Its rounded bays on the ground floor were added later in the early 19th century to make a shop front in the rural village of Bow. The oldest photograph of this building is of M. Howes was an old established corn and flour dealer selling animal feed, horse mixture, straw and hay from this double-bay 17th century house. Grade II listed it is one of the oldest properties in East London.

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