Month 5: Mile End

Mile End Old Town
Mile End Old Town

Today’s outing had everything: history, mystery, religion, architecture, waterfowl, the first signs of spring and lots of shiny things. I started my journey near Queen Mary University, with its colourful glass building reflecting its less modern surroundings. As I left the campus, I was soon greeted by the sight of a really old cemetery, with most of the headstones crumbling or fallen down. Although it was fenced off and locked, with no sign indicating what it was, I managed to snap a couple of shots through the fence, and noticed that some of the tombstones were written in Hebrew. Having now Googled the location, I discovered that what I had seen was actually the oldest Ashkenazi Jewish cemetery in the UK, wherein lie some of the most famous Rabbis of the 1700s.

A bit further down the road I came across a railway arch, beneath which was a passageway leading to a nearby park called Meath Gardens. As I passed under the bridge, I looked up to see the mysterious letters M.E.O.T. carved in stone, under what was clearly at least 100 years of soot and city grime. I grabbed a shot of the carving, and vowed to find out what it means. After some research, I now know that M.E.O.T. stands for Mile End Old Town, and according to a map from 1830s, this stone sits opposite the site of the Mile End Old Town parish workhouse, where hundreds of the city’s poorest men, women and children were forcibly put to work and housed in crowded, prison-like conditions.

As I walked towards Meath Gardens, I was sidetracked by the appearance of a very strange building on a housing estate, which looked like something that might transform into a rocketship, not a block of flats. I loved the symmetry and was bemused by the idea of having to walk across the catwalk-like gantries to get to and from your flat. I have since learned that this building, called Sulkin House, was erected in 1959 and designed by the same architect who designed the Southbank’s iconic National Theatre nearly 20 years later. Wow – that was some vision for the 1950s. More about Denys Lasdun here.

Nesting Swan
Nesting Swan

Back on track in Meath Gardens, I could not resist photographing the emerging bulbs and buds, having endured one of Britain’s coldest winters in history. In the middle of the park I saw a slide, and managed to grab a closeup shot which looked like some kind of robotic oesophagus, before the neighbourhood kids jumped on. I then decided to head towards the canal, Regent’s Canal, which I had photographed back in Month 1 of this project. I saw quite a different side of the canal here, as it runs through Mile End Park, with its walking trails, landscaping and art pavillion. Walking along the canal, I caught a glimpse of a nesting swan among the reeds, and a bit further along, a new housing development that looked like stacks of tiny shiny boxes. After a full afternoon’s photography, I turned to head for the tube station, only to be greeted by a massive field of crocuses and daffodils, a wonderful, cheery way to end a really interesting, truly ‘London-y’ spring day.

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One Response to “Month 5: Mile End”

  1. David Charnick

    The Jewish cemetery on Bancroft Road is actually the cemetery of the Amude Yesharim Synagogue, which broke away from the Westminster Synagogue in 1810. The damage to the graves is from a V1 rocket that landed on the graveyard in 1944. A friend of mine is trying to get a memorial erected there. Cheers, Dave.

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