Once it was where the Victorians of East London took their deceased loved ones before burial, the black horses and coaches providing a spectacle along Commercial Road. Now it is being restored to its former grandeur – but as an American style burger restaurant.
Despite the radical change of use, the project has the backing of heritage bodies, with The Heritage of London Trust leading the restoration.
From the 19th Century, the building in Tower Hamlets was a family-owned funeral parlour called Francis & C Walters. It was the last of its kind in East London by 2005, before being sold in 2008.
Despite its Grade II status that protects the building’s heritage and architecture by local authorities, the new owners at the time stripped the building of its unique Victorian features and illegally removed its shop-front lettering.
Over a decade later, with the building still tarnished, its new owners, local landlords Ash Rahman and Abs Shaid, are hoping to restore it to what it once was.
They said: “The building was in terrible shape when we bought it and it is wonderful to see it now enjoying a bright future, reflecting the East End’s traditions. We are proud to be a part of this building’s history.”
The building will be home to an American-style burger restaurant called The Burger Hub, which is set to open for dining at the end of February.
Tower Hamlets Council, along with those involved in the restoration, believe this historic building’s new purpose will revitalise Commercial Road’s economy and allow members of the public to show greater interest in local heritage attractions given the unique nature of the build.
After years of the building having different purposes, such as a money transfer shop, the restaurant hopes to give the building a new and valued life.
The Heritage of London Trust, an independent charity established in 1980 to recover at-risk historic buildings and ensure history is not forgotten, have provided a £15,000 grant.
Along with partners, such as the council, the Trust are working with the last historic wood turning family firm in London, Nichols Brothers, to restore the building’s historic features.
Nicola Stacey, Director of the Heritage of London Trust, said in a statement: “We are thrilled to be rescuing this last of London’s iconic funeral parlours and helping support the East End’s historic character when so much of it is under threat.”
The building will be brought back to life with recreated Francis & C Walters branding on the shop-front, while the restaurant’s signage will be discreet and advertised inside – subject to the council allowing consent for the business to display visible signing in the window.
Anthony Waghorn, whose family once ran the parlour, said: “It was devastating to all our family when the shop was damaged after so many generations of caring. I feel my grandfather would be very happy seeing our name back up on Commercial Road.”
The Victorian Society, a UK charity dedicated to protecting Victorian and Edwardian heritage, have supported the restoration. Conservation adviser and southern buildings caseworker, Connor McNeill, told Eastlondonlines the building’s restoration is an “extraordinary example of Victorian advertising” which will “inform us of the working-class heritage of Tower Hamlets”.
He added: “We hope that this project will become a catalyst for the preservation and restoration of other examples of Victorian and Edwardian heritage in the area.”