When heading from the East, up the historic Mile End Road, there are several notable statues and plaques, beginning with an unassuming slate plaque at the site of number 88. Attached to a wall where a snooker hall stands, it’s easily missed but on this site lived the notable explorer Captain James Cook. Captain Cook was responsible for charting the Eastern Coast of Australia allowing the British to settle there some 18 years later, he is known as one the greatest explorers and Seaman to have lived.
Heading toward Whitechapel we reach the site of the William and Catherine Booth statues, figures covered briefly in our ‘Whitechapel Where Cultures Collide’ blog. William Booth was born in 1829 and moved to London in 1865. On seeing the poverty stricken locals of the Whitechapel area, he began to preach with the aim of salvation, which eventually led to the founding of the Salvation Army, a Christian group with the purpose of offering succour to the poor. Before finding lodgings for the Army’s meetings he would offer the first lectures in a tent where the statue now stands.
Slightly further up and a little behind Booth, on a hidden and leafy street, (that eventually leads to the infamous Nando’s) is a tiny building with a very interesting emblem. Look up and you will see the perfect commemoration of a tiny ship with masts included. Built in 1695 by the Corporation of Trinity House, Trinity Almshouses were offered for the use of elderly Seaman and their widows.The complex of buildings behind features a chapel and green courtyard. In 1895 the site was at risk of demolition, which was staunchly opposed by the then Prime Minister William Gladstone and a whole host of famous names such as William Morris, Walter Besant and Lord Leighton. The successful bid to save the Almshouses was the first of its kind in East London, making it the first historic building to be preserved in the area.
Further up where Mile End Road blends into Whitechapel Road, you’ll see a rather beautiful water fountain. A white stone obelisk surrounded by a bronze angel and sitting cherubs, the memorial was erected and unveiled in 1912 by Charles Rothschild. The fountain was to honour King Edward VII by the Jewish people of East London. The memorial shows us the continuing gratitude of the migrants welcomed to the area preceding this.
In the building just behind the fountain stands the purported site where Sir Frederick Treves, 1st Baronet is believed to have first laid eyes on Joseph Merrick, better known as ‘The Elephant Man’. The site now hosts a newsagents but back in 1884 was home to showman Tom Norman’s travelling ‘freak show’.
The final stop on our journey takes us to the opposite side of the road where you’ll find the now Royal London Hospital and a small blue plaque. Erected to memorialise Edith Cavell, who worked at the site in 1896. Edith was a pioneer of modern nursing who saved soldiers indiscriminately (including German troops) during the First World War. Her assistance with helping over 200 allied troops escape, eventually led to her execution in 1915.
Monuments are a part of our day to day lives, we usually walk past them in a rush to the office and again on the way home. Some imposing, some miniscule but all are a link to our past and all have stories to tell. These stories can be historical, cultural, or just a reminder of the good deeds of people in the area they stand in.
Statue of Catherine Booth in the Mile End Road – (c) GrindtXX, via Wikimedia CC.
Trinity Green Almshouses – (c) Friends of Trinity Green, via Wikimedia CC.
Trinity Green Almshouses Ship – (c) Reading Tom, via Flickr CC.
Statue on the base of the memorial to Edward VII, Whitechapel Road – (c) Mike Quinn, via Wikimedia CC.
Edith Cavell, English Heritage Blue Plaque affixed to the Royal London Hospital – (c) Spudgun67, via Wikimedia CC.