Commercial Street, E1

Road in/near Spitalfields, existing between 1844 and now

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Road · Spitalfields · E1 ·
MARCH
11
2017

Commercial Street is a major thoroughfare running north-south from Shoreditch High Street to Whitechapel High Street.

Commercial Street looking south, c.1907. Spitalfields Market is on the right.
The first plans for a new street in Spitalfields and Whitechapel was made by a Select Committee on Metropolitan Improvements in August 1836. This Committee recommended the construction of a street ’from Finsbury Square to Whitechapel Church and the Commercial Road’, to run in a straight line from the Bishopsgate end of Middlesex Street to near the southern end of Osborn Street. An alternative scheme put to the Committee by the chairman of the Tower Hamlets Commissioners of Sewers was, however, closer to the line finally chosen.

By 1838, the proposed path of the new road was beginning to take shape after taking into consideration the opinions of various organisations and it was considered fortuitous that the road would cut through and remove numerous slums such as those in Rose Lane and Vine Street. Therefore, not only would it link northern routes to Commercial Road and thus the docks, but also achieve ’the destruction of a neighbourhood inhabited by persons addicted to vices and immorality of the worst description’ (the linking of Thrawl Street to the new street via Keate Court in 1859 was considered a highly desirable development).

The work of clearing these densely packed and often dangerous slums was no mean task. Men worked at night to empty and fill in the ’privy-pits’ in the congested courts on the line of the street. In November of 1844, the gas-pipes were laid and by December the street line from Whitechapel High Street to Christ Church had been completely marked out. The termination of the street at the church was ridiculed ’as if the only object of the line was to enable the sailors of our merchantmen to attend divine service on Sunday’

The laying of the new road effectively wiped out a number of streets. They were Essex Street, Rose Lane, Red Lion Street, Vine Street and much of Wheler Street.
The original name for the new road was Spital Street, but as a street of this name already existed nearby (in Mile End New Town), the name Commercial Street was agreed in September 1845 with building commencing in October.

An act of July 1846 authorised the extension of Commercial Street northwards (from Christ Church to Shoreditch High Street), though building did not start until 1851. By 1856 it had been paved as far as Fleur-de-lis Street and was finally completed in 1858.

Commercial Street presented a strange assortment of architectural styles, but the most popular became known as ’warehouse gothic’, examples of which are still extant today.

The cutting of Commercial Street through the notorious rookeries of Spitalfields failed to alleviate the criminality of the district, despite opening up notorious thoroughfares to greater scrutiny. Thus it played an important part in the lives of the local community and indeed the lives of the victims of the Whitechapel Murders.

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Commercial Street looking south, c.1907. Spitalfields Market is on the right.
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Spitalfields

Spitalfields is near to Liverpool Street station and Brick Lane.

The area straddles Commercial Street and is home to several markets, including the historic Old Spitalfields Market, and various Brick Lane Markets on Brick Lane and Cheshire Street. Petticoat Lane Market lies on the area's south-western boundaries.

The name Spitalfields appears in the form Spittellond in 1399; as The spitel Fyeld on the 16th-century Civitas Londinium map associated with Ralph Agas. The land belonged to St Mary Spital, a priory or hospital erected on the east side of the Bishopsgate thoroughfare in 1197, and the name is thought to derive from this. An alternative, and possibly earlier, name for the area was Lolsworth.

After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Spitalfields was inhabited by prosperous French Huguenot silk weavers. In the early 19th century their descendants were reduced to a deplorable condition due to the competition of the Manchester textile factories and the area began to deteriorate into crime-infested slums. The spacious and handsome Huguenot houses were divided up into tiny dwellings which were rented by poor families of labourers, who sought employment in the nearby docks.

The area has recently attracted a IT-literate younger population.
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