Film-maker celebrates first social housing

Boundary Estate was Britain's first example of social housing Photo:

A Poplar film-maker will explore the history of social housing in the East End during the Story of London in October, focusing on the country’s first-ever example of such a scheme in Bethnal Green.

The London-wide festival celebrates the rich history of the capital as a centre of invention, art, creativity and pioneering science  from this Friday 1 October to Sunday 10 October.

The area of the city that is now the borough of Tower Hamlets has been witness to the pioneering development of social housing with the creation of the Boundary Estate – one of the country’s first social housing schemes built by the London County Council between 1894 and 1900 after some of the earliest slum clearances in the East End – and ‘The Nichol’. Where 6,000 people once lived crammed together in 700 houses, in conditions mentioned in 1844 by Frederick Engels in his Condititon of the Working Class in England as the worst he had seen anywhere, there are now 20 Grade II listed flats – many of them today, sadly, privately owned – around a raised central garden, with spacious views from every window.

As Poplar film-maker Shane Davey put it, “The unique context provided by the extreme deprivation and slum clearances of the 19th century and the post-war reconstruction of the Blitz-damaged borough provided fertile ground for experimentation in addressing key issues of poverty and regeneration. But how did this affect the lives of local people and families, whose homes were lost, made and re-made?”

To celebrate this rich history, the documentary 14th Floor by Shane Davey will premiere at Rochelle School – former school which served the first Old Nichol slum and later the Boundary Estate and is now a converted
gallery – at 6.30pm in Arnold Circus on Thursday 7 October. The film charts the development of social housing in the East End using rarely seen imagery from the archive collections and interviews with former and current residents, architects, artists and historians.

Other free events at the Council’s Local History Library and Archives in Mile End include two guided walks on selected estates in 5 and 9 October and a debate on the history of social housing with Guardian journalist Lynsey Hanley, CEO of Tower Hamlets Community Housing Mike Tyrrell and Marcel Baettig from Bow Arts Trust on 4 October  at 6pm. For more details visit To book a place on any of the events contact Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives on 020 7364 1290 or email

Earlier this year Shane Davey won the 28-Day Feature Film Challenge Best Film Award with The Horror of the Dolls, a chilling movie set in Poplar’s Balfron Tower.

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