Historic England steps in to save chapel, pub and chimney in Tower Hamlets

The Chapel in Oxford House, Bethnal Green, following extensive repair and renovation

A 19th-century building named The Chapel in Oxford House, Bethnal Green, is among 36 at-risk sites saved for the nation this year by Historic England. It joins two other sites in Tower Hamlets, Star of the East Public House, Commercial Road, E14 and Accumulator Tower and Chimney, Limehouse Basin, E14 to receive funding from the body.

The three sites in the borough of Tower Hamlets were “falling to pieces”, but after intervention from Historic England, will be restored. Works to be completed include repairing a faulty roof, patching up general wear and tear and restoring an abandoned chimney.

Simon Buteux, Historic England Partnership team leader, told EastLondonLines: “Each building gets into a bad state of repair for different reasons and as a result of this they come off the register because when left in a state, and in order to preserve it, the building has to be found for new use and this is often the most challenging part”.

“After raising funds, ourselves to provide a temporary roof we then received a £50 000 fund from The National Lottery and backing from The Old Spot Pub company a 19th century building. We were able to re-establish one building in particular which was The Oxford House in Bethnal Green. It’s main use now is for film showings, arts centre exhibitions, theatre, gallery, cafe, and affordable office space from community groups and charities. Now we can truly say that we are giving back to the community”.

Oxford House, Bethnal Green, E2

Following extensive repair and renovation, the Grade II-listed Oxford House is now home to a lively arts centre, including a chapel, theatre, gallery, dance studio and café. Affordable office space is also used by more than 45 charities and community groups, and a volunteering programme provides local people with skills and work experience. Historic England aided an emergency temporary roof covering to protect the building and allow it to dry out while the major renovation project, with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, was designed and negotiated.

In 1884 Oxford House was the first ‘settlement house’ to open. Students and graduates from Keble College, Oxford stayed here to learn first-hand about the realities of urban poverty. 

Star of the East Public House, Commercial Road, E14

Standing on Commercial Road in Limehouse, the Star of the East, on the Register since 2017, was until recently empty and boarded up. It has now been restored by the Old Spot Pub Company. Many original features remain of this 19th century Grade II listed building. Limehouse gets its name from the local lime kilns by the river, operated by the large potteries that served shipping in the London Docks. In the 18th and 19th centuries Limehouse played a vital role in the Port of London’s international trade and many immigrants came to the area lured by job opportunities.

Accumulator Tower and Chimney, Limehouse Basin, E14

Problems with water ingress, vegetation growth and graffiti have been tackled, bringing this distinctive octagonal accumulator tower and chimney stack off the register. It was built in 1869 by William Armstrong, inventor of the hydraulic crane. Hydraulic power was used extensively in the second half of the 19th century before electric power was generally available. This is the last surviving accumulator tower of three built in Regent’s Canal Dock, now known as Limehouse Basin. All three were once connected to a pumping station which fed water into a hydraulic main that powered coal cranes. The accumulator tower ensured that the water pressure did not drop in times of high demand and was a key component of this busy industrial area on the banks of the Thames.

 Emily Gee, Historic England’s Regional Director for London and the South East, said: “Our heritage needs saving and investing in heritage pays – it helps to transform the places where we live, work and visit, creating successful and distinctive places for us and for future generations to enjoy. But there’s more work to do. There are buildings still on the Heritage at Risk Register that are ideal for rescue and capable of being brought back into meaningful use. These are the homes, shops, offices and cultural venues of the future.”

Fran Gorman, a staff member at Historic England told Eastlondonlines: “We help people understand, enjoy and value the historic environment, and protect it for the future. Historic England is a public body, and we champion everyone’s heritage, across England”.

Leave a Reply