New local history project: Old Ford Neighbourhood, then and now

Roman Road by Medway Road London E3

The Geezers are pleased to announce our new history project made possible thanks to National Lottery players. The project will explore the history of where we live, and the threads which connect the past with the present. 

The work began this January and ends in March 2025. As a start, we explored the postcard above (courtesy of Philip Mernick) from about 1905 of the Roman Road, looking east from the corner of Medway Road. The buildings are still there, although most of the awnings have gone. ‘Lewis Brothers Pawnbrokers’, commonly called ‘Uncle’, which also did house furnishing is on the right. The sign is painted over, and the building converted to flats, but the boundary with Mile End Old Town notice is still easy to see.

Hanson’s Newsagents is on the left opposite. Galley’s Ironmongers is two doors along. Galley was established in 1901. Many local streets still have iron coal hole covers proudly branded  ‘J. Galley and Sons of 115 Roman Road, Bow E.’ The street numbering changed when the Roman Road was merged with Green Street in the 1930s. Galleys was still selling coal hole covers after the change as a later version gives the address as 415 Roman Road. Galley’s shop is now ‘Whole Fresh’ grocers at 415 Roman Road.

Photograph showing shop fronts of T.F Hawkins, Butcher, and J.Galley & Sons from outside, Nigel Henderson, 1949-54. ©Nigel Henderson Estate. Photo: Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)
Photograph c1950 showing shop fronts of T.F Hawkins, Butcher, and J.Galley & Sons from outside.
Photo by Nigel Henderson, 1949-54. ©Nigel Henderson Estate. Photo: Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)
View on Tate website
Coal hole covers in Old Ford area. Courtesy Jim Ives
Coal hole covers in the Old Ford area. Courtesy of Jim Ives.

Another local coal hole cover is moulded ‘J. Woodgate, Builder etc. 68 Auckland Road’. Auckland Road became Zealand Road in the 1930s. A resident who lived in Auckland Road at the time told us residents were given no explanation for the name change. John Woodgate was listed as a House Decorator in 1900. It is possible he had the covers supplied by Galleys, as they are of the same design.

In the top photo the standout letters towards the corner of Driffield Road read ‘Malton’s Stores’. This grocery business had two shops separated by George Henry Martin’s Coffee Rooms at what is now 421 Roman Road. Just as there are no shortages of builders or grocers around the Roman today, there is also no shortage of coffee shops.

And maybe the horse drawn omnibus in the background, behind the boy with the dog, is or became the number 8 in 1908 when the route was first given the number.

We will explore more about daily lives in the Old Ford area, one of Tower Hamlets oldest neighbourhoods. Old Ford, bordered by canals, Victoria Park, and railways, has an intriguing past, from ancient routes to tea gardens, from inns to industries, from trades to the street market, and all the life in between. 

Eddie Snooks, chair of the Geezers, says: ‘People of all ages want to know the stories behind the places to bring history to life. At local events, such as our ‘Where has my boozer gone’ exhibition and the East End Canal Festivals, the Geezers find a local thirst for knowledge of Old Ford history. We are often invited by organisations to talk about the area as it was and get contacted by individuals with enquiries via our ‘Our Bow’ website.’

The Geezers have stories we want to share and more to find. Many traces of the past remain visible today, but also rest in memories. Volunteers will research the streets and collect memories and stories about living in the area. A workshop with Roman Road Adventure Playground will help map out a ‘Now and Then’ take on Old Ford. We will create an exhibition, pub quiz, school pack and more. Watch this space.

Anything to add to the above, or if you have memories to share of Old Ford, particularly about working in local trades and industries, email: oldfordneighbourhood@gmail.com or call Carolyn on 07773784517.

PRESS CONTACT: Carolyn Clark: 07773784517, email mail@shoreditchtales.com

Geezers logo photo version

Made possible with Heritage Fund

2 Comments

  1. re: “Auckland Road became Zealand Road in the 1930s. A resident who lived in Auckland Road at the time told us residents were given no explanation for the name change.”

    They may not have told the residents but there was a reason!

    In 1937 the London County Council [LCC], supported by the Post Office, undertook a major street renaming project to remove duplicate street names, of which there were thousands in London at the time. The duplications were thought to be confusing. Auckland Road E3 was one of those changed, as there was another Auckland Road in the then LCC area – what is now the Inner London boroughs – in Battersea (it’s still there). How they came up with Zealand Road I don’t know but the connection between ‘Auckland’ and ‘New Zealand’ is presumably the origin.

    1. Thanks Dennis and that makes sense. Wonder if that is why Green Street got merged with the Roman about then.

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