Peabody Buildings, Commercial Street, London E1

From: Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1957:

“In 1863 the Peabody Trustees purchased a site in Commercial Street from the Commissioners of Works for £3,300, and opened their first block of family dwellings there on 29 February 1864. The architect was H. A. Darbishire, who had previously designed Columbia Square, Bethnal Green, for Miss Burdett Coutts.

The arrangement of these first Peabody Buildings is noteworthy, the planning being on similar lines to that of Columbia Square, and setting a pattern which was to be followed in many subsequent Peabody estates. This sombre red brick building takes the form of two five-storeyed ranges merging together at the acute-angled corner of Commercial Street and Folgate Street. The longer range fronts Commercial Street and has shops on the ground storey, each with ample storage in the basement, and a five-room maisonette arranged behind and above the shop. In the original plan, four storeys of the Folgate Street range and the third and fourth storeys of the Commercial Street range contained flats of two and three rooms, arranged on each side of a central corridor. The living-rooms, entered directly from the corridor, measured on average thirteen feet by ten feet, and the bedrooms thirteen feet by eight feet, all the rooms having a clear height of eight feet. The lavatories were separated from the flats, being grouped in pairs on each side of the staircases, the allotment of water-closets being one for two families. The top storey was given over to communal laundries, drying-rooms, and bathrooms.

The shops and maisonettes were let at economic rentals to provide income offsetting the loss on the low-rented flats. Of these there were seven with three rooms, letting at 5s. per week; forty-one with two rooms, letting at 4s. per week; six with two rooms, letting at 3s. 6d. per week; and three single rooms letting at 2s. 6d. The porter was allotted a five-room maisonette in the middle of the Commercial Street range, with easy control of the two main staircases of that range.

The unplastered walls of the rooms, the direct access without lobbies from the corridors, the absence of fireplaces in all but the living-rooms, and the rents, were adversely criticized in The Builder. Despite these faults, however, there is no doubt that this first block of Peabody Buildings was an important step towards the proper housing of the poor of East London.”

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