Bandstand in the sky

I don’t know why, but I’ve always found this little enclave on the edge of the City a little sinister. The badly lit roads are narrow with the tall grimy red-brick tenements seemingly to bear down on one, the whole edifice more akin to Glasgow.

And what is the point of a bandstand 20ft above your head with hardly anywhere for an audience to sit and listen to the music?

[N]ow a fashionable, due in part to its proximity to the City the Boundary Estate was anything but for most of its existence. Built from 1890 on the site of one of London’s most notorious slums, the Old Nichol was squalid with a population density of 8.6 people to a small house with 1,400 houses in an area less than 400 square yards. Populated by thieves and prostitutes with many living in cellars, little sanitation and running water only available for 10-12 minutes each day, excepting Sundays. With a death rate four times that of London, one child in four died before their first birthday.

Henry Mayhew writing in 1850 for the Morning Chronicle described the area:

. . . roads were unmade, often mere alleys, houses small and without foundations, subdivided and often around unpaved courts. An almost total lack of drainage and sewerage was made worse by the ponds formed by the excavation of brickearth. Pigs and cows in back yards, noxious trades like boiling tripe, melting tallow, or preparing cat’s meat, and slaughter houses, dustheaps, and ‘lakes of putrefying night soil’ added to the filth

The Rev. Osbourne of Holy Trinity Church took up his ministry in 1886 and appalled by the conditions persuaded Arthur Morrison to visit the area, the result was the barely fictionalised account ’A Child of the Jago’ an account of the life of a child in the slum. Word spread and demolition of the rookery began before the book’s publication. As the flats were built, one of the earliest social housing schemes by a local authority, the original inhabitants were forced further East towards Bethnal Green.

Impresarios and brothers Lew Grade and Bernard Delfont (born Winogradsky) moved to the Boundary Estate in 1914 that at that time 90 per cent of children attending their local school spoke Yiddish.


London planes now line these streets with exotic French named: Navarre, Ligonier, Montclaire, Camlet and Palissy. In Calvery Avenue is Sid’s cabbies’ tea stand, open five days a week, serving refreshments since 1919.

Hardly surprising that I find this area intimidating. In the 1990s when on The Knowledge drug use here was widespread with groups of Bangladeshi youths fighting local Indian gangs protecting their turf. Stolen dumped cars proliferated the estate that slowly were dismembered with only the cabbies’ tea shack seemingly sacrosanct. Squatters lived in the abandoned Rochelle School once attended by brothers Lew Grade and Bernard Delfont, while peacocks’ cries pieced the night, giving the area an even more sinister ambience.

Arnold Circus, the name of the mound produced from demolishing the old rookery upon which now stands the bandstand, was the subject of the BBC’s The Secret History of our Streets.

2 thoughts on “Bandstand in the sky”

    1. The BBC ran two series which, I think, won awards. Check them out they are fascinating. Thanks for your comment


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