“St. Leonard, Shoreditch”*

Image: Brick Lane, Shoreditch

From *closing chapter, by Francis Sheppard, of The Government of Victorian London, 1855-1889: The Metropolitan Board of Works, the Vestries, and the City Corporation (1982), by David Owen:

“…in the closing years of its existence the Shoreditch vestry transformed itself into an active, efficient, and enlightened body.

…by 1893 an extensive scheme of sewer reconstruction had been adopted, the first public open space in the parish (other than graveyards) had been acquired and opened in Goldsmith Square (https://www.facebook.com/TheHistoryOfStokeNewington/posts/goldsmith-square-renamed-st-matthias-square-howard-road-stoke-newington/2477933945659567/), and the Baths and Washhouses Act had been adopted once more. Public Libraries Commissioners had also been established; and after John Passmore Edwards, the philanthropist, had paid for the purchase of the old offices of the Independent Gas Company in Kingsland Road, a library was opened there in 1893, and extended in 1896.

Extensive unemployment in the parish prompted the vestry to set up its own labour bureau (public labour exchanges did not, of course, exist then), and the Municipal Technical School for the training of workers in the furniture trade, which the vestry established in 1892-93, was the first institution of its kind in London. The Town Hall was enlarged, and underground lavatories were constructed in the streets. Nor was the more intractable problem of housing neglected; the sanitary inspectorate was again enlarged (twice)…, and the Medical Officer at last prevailed upon the LCC to deal…with some of the houses in the vicinity of Nile Street…

But the vestry’s piece de resistance was undoubtedly its scheme to provide, on one large site, a library, baths and washhouses, an electricity generating station, and a refuse destructor – with the heat from the furnaces of the destructor being used to provide power for the generators, which would supply the whole parish with electricity…(H.M.) Robinson, the vestry clerk…persuaded the vestry to apply to the Board of Trade for the licence required by the electric lighting acts of 1882 and 1888. Shoreditch thus became the second local authority in London to obtain this right (St. Pancras being the first), and in 1894 the vestry acquired a good, centrally placed site in Pitfield Street, recently vacated by the City Iron Works, for £33,500. By 1899 the entire scheme…had been completed, and in the first nine months of its operation the electricity undertaking made a profit equivalent to a dividend of 5.5 percent.”

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