Bow Road in 2008, looking east.
|Population||27,720 (2011 census Bow East and Bow West wards)|
|OS grid reference||TQ365825|
|• Charing Cross||4.6 mi (7.4 km) W|
|Ceremonial county||Greater London|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
It was in the traditional county of Middlesex but became part of the County of London following the passing of the Local Government Act 1888. "Bow" is an abbreviation of the medieval name Stratford-at-Bow, in which "Bow" refers to the bowed bridge built here in the early 12th century. Bow contains Victoria Park and a part of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Mile End Park. Old Ford and Fish Island are localities within Bow, but Bromley-by-Bow (historically and officially just "Bromley") immediately to the southeast, is a separate district. These distinctions have their roots in historic parish boundaries.
Bow underwent extensive urban regeneration including the replacement or improvement of council homes, with the impetus given by the staging of the 2012 Olympic Games at nearby Stratford.
Stratforde was first recorded as a settlement in 1177, the name derived from its Old English meaning of paved way to a ford. The ford originally lay on a pre-Roman trackway at Old Ford about 600 metres (0.4 mi) to the north, but when the Romans decided on Colchester as the initial capital for their occupation, the road was upgraded to run from the area of London Bridge, as one of the first paved Roman roads in Britain. The 'paved way' is likely to refer to the presence of a stone causeway across the marshes, which formed a part of the crossing.
In 1110 Matilda, wife of Henry I, reputedly took a tumble at the ford on her way to Barking Abbey, and ordered a distinctively bow-shaped, three-arched bridge to be built over the River Lea, The like of which had not been seen before; the area became known variously as Stradford of the Bow, Stratford of the Bow, Stratford the Bow, Stratforde the Bowe, and Stratford-atte-Bow (at the Bow) which over time was shortened to Bow to distinguish it from Stratford Langthorne on the Essex bank of the Lea. Land and Abbey Mill were given to Barking Abbey for maintenance of the bridge, who also maintained a chapel on the bridge dedicated to St Katherine, occupied until the 15th century by a hermit. This endowment was later administered by Stratford Langthorne Abbey. By 1549, this route had become known as The Kings Way.
Responsibility for maintenance of the bridge was always in dispute, no more so than with the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when local landowners who had taken over the Abbey lands were found responsible. The bridge was widened in 1741 and tolls were levied to defray the expense, but litigation over maintenance lasted until 1834, when the bridge needed to be rebuilt and landowners agreed to pay half of the cost, with Essex and Middlesex sharing the other. The bridge was again replaced in 1834, by the Middlesex and Essex Turnpike Trust, and in 1866 West Ham took responsibility for its upkeep and that of the causeway and smaller bridges that continued the route across the Lea. In 1967 this bridge was replaced by a new modern bridge by the Greater London Council who also installed a two-lane flyover above it (designed by Andrei Tchernavin, son of Gulag escapee Vladimir V. Tchernavin) spanning the Blackwall Tunnel approach road, the traffic interchange, the River Lea and some of the Bow Back Rivers. This has since been expanded to a four-lane road.
There was a nearby Benedictine nunnery from the Norman era onwards, known as St Leonard's Priory and immortalized in Chaucer's description of the Nun Prioress in the General Prologue to his Canterbury Tales. However, Bow itself was still an isolated hamlet by the early 14th century, often cut off from its parish church of St Dunstan's, Stepney by flooding. In 1311 permission was granted to build St Mary's Church, Bow as a chapel of ease to allow the residents a local place of worship. The land was granted by Edward III, on the King's highway, thus beginning a tradition of island church building. Bow was made an Anglican parish of its own in 1719, with St Mary's as its parish church. The new parish included the Old Ford area, which has also been known as North Bow. The Anglican parish churches of St Barnabas Bethnal Green and St Paul's, Old Ford are in the Bow West and Bow East Wards respectively.
The late 19th century and early 20th century also saw three Roman Catholic churches built for the area - Church of Our Lady and St Catherine of Siena (1870), Church of the Holy Name and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (1894) and The Guardian Angels Church (1903).
Fairfield Road commemorates the Green Goose fair, held there on the Thursday after Pentecost. A Green Goose was a young or mid-summer goose, and a slang term for a cuckold or a 'low' woman. In 1630, John Taylor, a poet wrote At Bow, the Thursday after Pentecost, There is a fair of green geese ready rost, Where, as a goose is ever dog-cheap there, The sauce is over somewhat sharp and deare., taking advantage of the double entendre and continuing with other verses describing the drunken rowdy behaviour of the crowds. By the mid-19th century, the authorities had had enough and the fair was suppressed.
During the 17th century Bow and the Essex bank became a centre for the slaughter and butchery of cattle for the City market. Additionally the piggery which used the mash residue produced by the gin mills at Three Mills meant a ready supply of animal bones, and local entrepreneurs Thomas Frye and Edward Heylyn developed a means to mix this with clay and create a form of fine porcelain, said to rival the best from abroad, known as Bow Porcelain. In November 1753, in Aris's Birmingham Gazette, the following advertisement appeared:
This is to give notice to all painters in the blue and white potting way and enamellers on chinaware, that by applying at the counting-house at the china-house near Bow, they may meet with employment and proper encouragement according to their merit; likewise painters brought up in the snuff-box way, japanning, fan-painting, &c., may have an opportunity of trial, wherein if they succeed, they shall have due encouragement. N.B. At the same house, a person is wanted who can model small figures in clay neatly.
The Bow China Works prospered, employing some 300 artists and hands, until about 1770, when one of its founders died. By 1776 all of its moulds and implements were transferred to a manufacturer in Derby. In 1867, during drainage operations at the match factory of Bell & Black at Bell Road, St. Leonard's Street, the foundations of one of the kilns were , with a large quantity of 'wasters' and fragments of broken pottery. The houses close by were then called China Row, but now lie beneath modern housing. Chemical analysis of the firing remains showed them to contain high quantities of bone-ash, pre-dating the claim of Josiah Spode to have invented the bone china process. More recent investigations of documentary and archaeological evidence suggests the concern was to the north of the High Street and across the river.
In 1888, the match girls' strike occurred at the Bryant and May match factory in Fairfield Road. This was a forerunner of the suffragette movement fight for women's rights and also the trade union movement. The factory was rebuilt in 1911 and the brick entrance includes a depiction of Noah's Ark and the word 'Security' used as a trademark on the matchboxes. Match production ceased in 1979 and the building is now private apartments known as the Bow Quarter.
Emmeline Pankhurst began the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903 with her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. Sylvia became increasingly disillusioned with the Suffragette movement's inability to engage with the needs of working-class women like the match girls. Sylvia formed a breakaway movement, the East London Federation of Suffragettes, and based at 198 Bow Road, by the church, in a baker's shop. This was emblazoned with "Votes for Women" in large gold letters and opened in October 1912. The local Member of Parliament, George Lansbury, resigned his seat to stand on a platform of women's enfranchisement. Sylvia supported him and Bow Road became the campaign office, culminating in a huge rally in nearby Victoria Park, but Lansbury was narrowly defeated and support for the project in the East End was withdrawn.
Sylvia refocused her efforts from Bow, and with the outbreak of World War I began a nursery, clinic and cost price canteen for the poor at the bakery. A paper, the Women's Dreadnought, was published to bring her campaign to a wider audience. At the close of war, the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 1918 gave limited voting rights to property-owning women over the age of 30, and equal rights were finally achieved ten years later.
Pankhurst spent 12 years in Bow fighting for women's rights. She risked constant arrest and spent a lot of time in Holloway Prison, often on hunger strike. She finally achieved her aim, and along the way had alleviated some of the poverty and misery and improved social conditions for all in the East End.
In 1843 the engineer William Bridges Adams founded the Fairfield Locomotive Works, where he specialized in light engines, steam railcars (or railmotors) and inspection trolleys, including the Fairfield steam carriage for the Bristol and Exeter Railway and the Enfield for the Eastern Counties Railway. The business failed and the works closed circa 1872, later becoming the factory of Bryant and May.
Bow was the headquarters of the North London Railway, which opened its locomotive and carriage workshops in 1853. There were two stations, Old Ford and Bow. During World War 2 the North London Railway branch from Dalston to Poplar through Bow was so badly damaged that it was abandoned.
Bow station opened in 1850 and was rebuilt in 1870 in a grand style, designed by Edwin Henry Horne and featuring a concert hall that was 100 ft long (30 m) and 40 ft wide (12 m). This became The Bow and Bromley Institute, then in 1887 the East London Technical College and a Salvation Army hall in 1911. From the 1930s it was used as the Embassy Billiard Hall and after the war became the Bow Palais, but was demolished in 1956 after a fire.
The London E postcode area, which included the E3 postcode was formed in 1866:
Grove Hall Private Lunatic Asylum was established on the plot in 1820. This establishment primarily catered for ex-servicemen and was featured in Charles Dickens' novel Nicholas Nickleby (1839). It was replaced after it was shut and turned into Grove Hall Park was opened in 1909 following its purchase by the local authority in an auction in 1906. In 1878 it was the largest asylum in London with capacity for 443 inmates.
Bow formed a part of the medieval parish of Stepney until becoming an independent parish in 1719. The parish vestry then undertook this responsibility until a rising population created the need for the Poplar Board of Works in 1855. This was superseded by the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar in 1900 until it was absorbed into the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in 1965.
The original Poplar Town Hall is on the south side of Bow Road, near the DLR station. It continues in use for registrations of births and marriages as Bromley Public Hall. It was rebuilt in the 1920s at the corner of Bow Road and Fairfield Road, now in a dilapidated condition and used as commercial offices. It contains the Poplar Assembly Rooms, now no longer used. The Builders, by sculptor David Evans is a frieze on the face of the building, unveiled by Lansbury on 10 December 1938: the Portland Stone panels commemorate the trades constructing the Town Hall and symbolise the borough's relationship with the River Thames and the youth of Poplar.
A statue of William Ewart Gladstone stands outside Bow Church. It was donated after the war by Theodore H. Bryant, part-owner of the Bryant and May match factory.
A memorial to George Lansbury (1859–1940) stands on the corner of Bow Road and Harley Grove, near 39 Bow Road which was his family home in the constituency until it was destroyed in the Blitz. It describes him as "A great servant of the people". Lansbury was twice Mayor of Poplar and MP for Bromley and Bow. In 1921, he led the Poplar Rates Rebellion. His daughter-in-law, Minnie Lansbury, was one of the 30 Poplar councillors sent to prison, and died six weeks after leaving prison. A memorial clock to her is over a row of shops on Bow Road, near the junction with Alfred Street.
Victoria Park became known for its open air music festivals, often linked with a political cause in the 1970/80s. In 1978, Rock Against Racism organised a protest event against growth of far-right organisations such as the National Front. The concert was played by The Clash, Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex, The Ruts, Sham 69, Generation X, and the Tom Robinson Band.
In 1986 the Greater London Council transferred responsibility for the park to the London borough of Tower Hamlets and the London Borough of Hackney, through a joint management board. Since 1994 Tower Hamlets has run the park alone.
Between 1986 and 1992 the name Bow applied to one of seven neighbourhoods to whom power was devolved from the council. This resulted in replacement of much of the street signage. Bow West and Bow East are two wards formed in 2002 that incorporate Old Ford and the eastern end of Globe Town (to Grove Road, parts of which used to comprise Mile End New Town, north of the Mile End Road). Bow lost its territory south of the Mile End Road.
In 1991, St Paul's, Old Ford was closed due to poor maintenance and safety concerns in the years after the war. The Parochial Church Council and local people were determined to see that the church remained open and, in fact, was improved. The "A New Heart for Bow" project was born. More than £3,000,000 was raised from more than a dozen sources and philanthropies. Matthew Lloyd Architects was appointed to refurbish the building and enable it to serve the wider community as well as the church. Work began in March 2003 and ended over a year later, in May 2004.
Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast was broadcast live from a former lockkeeper's cottages, commonly referred to as "The Big Breakfast House", or more simply, "The House", located on Fish Island, in Old Ford from 28 September 1992 until 29 March 2002.
A temporary public sculpture called the House on Grove Road was created Rachel Whiteread and completed in on 25 October 1993 and demolished eleven weeks later on 11 January 1994. The work won her the Turner Prize and K Foundation art award in November 1993.
Bow Arts was set up in 1994 by Marcel Baettig and Marc Schimmel, the owner of the then new premises. It became a thriving artist studio supporting over 100 working artists. In 1995, the Trust became a registered arts and education charity. In 1996, after an Arts Council England grant, they were able to build the Nunnery Gallery on Bow Road.
An annual fête and music festival held on Wennington Green in Mile End Park called the St Barnabas Community Fete began in 2003, with 2007 fete being part of a case study in the 'Community' section of the Living Britain report published by Zurich and The Future Laboratory,
In 2003, H. Forman and Son learned of London's bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. The company would have to relocate from Stratford following a Compulsory Purchase Order. Then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, officially opened the newly finished smokehouse in Old Ford in 2009. The company's headquarters is the closest building (100m distant) to the stadium outside of the Olympic Park.
In May 2007 during building work, a live Second World War bomb weighing 200 kg was found north of Mile End station near Grove and Roman Roads. Approximately 100 local residents were evacuated and stayed with friends and family or the Mile End Leisure Centre until the bomb could be deactivated and removed.
In 2010 the National Lottery Big Lottery Fund awarded the London Borough of Tower Hamlets a £4.5 million grant towards a £12 million programme of major improvements to Victoria Park.
Fish Island has a long history as a home to artists and art spaces, having one of the highest densities of fine artists, designers and artisans in Europe according to a 2009 study which found around 600 artists' studios. In September 2014 Bow School moved from the old site off Fairfield Road to a new site in Bromley-by-Bow 1 mile to the south-east by Bow Locks, in a brand new building designed by van Heyningen and Haward Architects. Also Roman Road became part of a three-year Fine Art and Architecture BA degree as part of a joint project between the The Roman Road Resident and Business Association (RRRBA), Cass School Art, Architecture and Design, and Tower Hamlets Council Enterprise Team. Students studied in a purpose-built, temporary community room were they developed ideas to improve and regenerate both the road and the market. In the same year residents of Bow organized the first Roman Road Festival, this was a celebration of local life, business, and art. This grew to encompass dozens of events and hundreds of volunteers and led to the creation of the Roman Road Trust.
W.F. Arber & Co, which dates back to 1897, creased trading due to customers complaining about fines due to a permanent CCTV camera on a pole outside the shop. Also it was announced that Roman Road was finalist for the top three in the London category of the 2015 Great British High Street awards.
Cycle Superhighway 2 was upgraded between Bow and Aldgate and was completed in April 2016, with separated cycle tracks replacing cycle lanes along the majority of the route. A street party was held on Roman Road to mark the Queen Official Birthday on 11 June 2016, all profits from the stalls sales were shared with Bow Foodbank. Tesco donated various items to Woodcraft Folk. East End Church, Interact Hub, Roman Road Neighbourhood Forum and Roman Road Adventure Playground supported the event.
A orchard project was designed to celebrate the public green spaces in the Old Ford Estate in 2017, it was launched in response to feedback from local residents who wished to make better use of green space.
As part of the Bow town centre scheme, it was announced in 2019 that money had been given to Tower Hamlets Council as part of GLA liveable neighbourhoods programme. Emmanuel Buttigieg and his brother were given permission to leave their horse to gaze, Polo, by Osborne in the same year, who were redeveloping parts of the estate on a small patch of land and stable in the Redbrick Estate. They commuted from Bow to Old Street on the horse and a carriage.
Governance and representation
Bow is the north-east part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets
For Planning Policy purposes, a Neighbourhood Plan is being prepared for an area referred to as Roman Road Bow. This area affected includes much of Bow and part of Mile End. The Neighbourhood Plan is intended to produce locally specific policies to complement the Tower Hamlets Local Plan. Roman Road Bow Neighbourhood Plan has been initiated by Roman Road Trust, who are a community development organisation which is developing a community led vision for a flourishing high street and community in the area. The Steering Committee for the Roman Road Bow Neighbourhood Plan led the neighbourhood forum who currently meets every three weeks.
Roman Road Community Land Trust is an initiative that seeks to protect the diverse community by providing truly affordable housing and aims to create an alternative solution for residents who are being forced out of the area due to increased property prices.
Roman Road LDN is a hyperlocal magazine covering Bow as well as Old Ford and Globe Town and launched as a full-time publication in 2018. In 2019 the magazine had 2,500 subscribers, 10,000 followers on social media, and nearly 100,000 unique readers a year.
Ability Bow is a specialised gym for those with disabilities or long term health conditions and offers one-to-one exercise sessions, it has specialist gym equipment with tailored fitness programmes for each member.
The Roman Road Trust digital content and marketing strategy has aided in putting Roman Road on the digital map, which has a first page rankings for Roman Road London, Roman Road Market and Festival, this helps it website as powerful marketing tool this help with the profile, and to attract new visitors to Bow to support local businesses. The Trust also conducted a survey in 2016, for shop keepers and market traders on Roman Road to gain what kind of support and training they needed to stay in business.
A delivery office called the Bow Delivery Office is located in north Bow on Tredegar Road. with mail services provided by Royal Mail. Bow is in the Bow district but also recently partly in the Olympic Park district E20. Since the closure of the East London mail centre in 2012, all inward mail for the E postcode area is now sorted at Romford Mail Centre.
St Agnes, Chisenhale Olga and Malmesbury primary schools are located in Bow, as is Central Foundation Girls School on Bow Road. Cherry Trees School is a specialist primary school located at Campbell Road in Bow.
Bow is connected to the London Underground at Bow Road tube station on the District and Hammersmith & City lines, as well as Mile End tube station on the Central, District and Hammersmith & City lines and also the Docklands Light Railway Stratford-Canary Wharf line at Bow Church DLR Station.
The A11 (Bow Road) passes east-west in south Bow, linking the area to Aldgate in the west and Stratford in the east. At Stratford, the road meets the A12 where eastbound traffic can continue towards Ilford, the M11 (for Stansted Airport) and destinations in Essex.
Bow is part of the council controlled parking zone and is covered by Zone B and includes all mini zones (B1/2/3) within the district boundaries. Additionally Saturday controls are enforced in north Bow.
Bow is on London-wide and National and cycle networks. Public cycling infrastructure in the locale is provided by both Transport for London (TfL) and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Routes include:
- National Cycle Route 1 (NCR 1) - a long-distance leisure cycle route between Dover, Kent and the Shetland Islands, Scotland and forms part of the National Cycle Network. The route passes through Victoria Park and Mile End Park on traffic-free shared use paths. In North London, the route runs from Canary Wharf to Enfield Lock.
- Cycle Superhighway 2 (CS2) - a commuter cycling route from Aldgate in the City to Stratford in the east. The route runs signposted, unbroken and traffic-free on cycle track for the majority of the route. The route follows (Bow Road) through Bow, and the track is coloured blue.
- Cycleway between Hackney and the Isle of Dogs - a proposed commuter cycle route made in 2019.
The following people have lived, or currently live or had an education, in Bow:
- Amy Winehouse – jazz singer-songwriter; had a flat in Bow.
- Danny Wallace – filmmaker, comedian, writer, actor, and presenter of radio and television; lives in Bow.
- Rosa Nouchette Carey – children's novelist; born in Stratford-le-Bow
- Ashley Cole – footballer, played for Arsenal's invincibles; born in Stepney; attended Bow Boys School in Bow.
- Ledley King – former footballer; defender for Tottenham Hotspur; born in Bow
- Ian McKellen – award-winning actor; lives in Bow.
- Graham Norton – comedian and television presenter; lives in Bow
- John Robertson – Premier of New South Wales, Australia, on five occasions between 1881 and 1886; born in Bow.
- Kia Abdullah – author; born in Mile End, went to school in Bow.
- Donald Crisp - award-winning actor, born in Bow.
- Dizzee Rascal - grime rapper, from Bow.
- Wiley - grime rapper, from Bow.
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