This is an alley in all but name squashed behind shops in Bethnal Green, but in recent years some exceptional architecture has appeared down here.

The layout here is also one of the oldest in the area, for while little survives of the original houses built here, their legacy remains in the road layout set down when most of the area was still fields. What was built in the late 1700s was two rows of houses with back gardens with a narrow passageway behind them.

What is today called Voss Street spans three blocks and was originally three separate passages running west to east, as Granby Row, Elliott’s Row, and Thomas Passage.

R Horwood Map 1799

Within 30 years, most of the area around Bethnal Green Road had ceased to be fields and had become the heavily developed area that it is today. Over time the original houses facing Bethnal Green Road were rebuilt as shops and the back gardens filled in. Likewise, the southern side of the row saw most of the backs of the gardens filled in with lock-up garages and their gardens shrunken into small courtyards.

The area largely survived WW2 undamaged although after the war the three separate passages were merged into the single Voss Street. That aside, the passageway didn’t change much, being mainly a back entrance for the shops and access to the flats above, and on the opposite side, mostly sheds and lockups for the market traders.

Recently though, the alley has become almost fashionable, as a number of the old sheds have been redeveloped into very small, but architecturally interesting flats. Some are award-winning commercial developments for sale, and others seem to be single developers building something very nice for a client.

At the eastern end, closest to Oxford House can be found a corner unit that’s been clad in a strikingly geometric metal cladding and is a set of live/work apartments.

There’s a few patches of undeveloped land and one wide stretch where former garages are now an open-air car park, but otherwise, the whole row is a huge range of densely packed buildings squashed into almost impossibly tiny spaces.

One of the delights therefore of the alley is the extraordinary mix of use down here, from lingering light industrial to shabby shop backdoors and residential flats It’s the flats that show the range of residency here, from strikingly modern doors to B&Q aspirational doors to the most basic of necessities.

I doubt there’s a street in London with such a rich confection of door styles in such a small patch of land.

It’s the sort of alley that everyone will find something interesting to see.


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  1. Julian says:

    My old Manor! I know Voss Street well, I lived just off Bethnal Green Road for thirteen years before I moved to Devon. I miss Bethnal Green although I am also pleased to be in Devon.

    Thanks for the memories.

  2. Tony Lockett says:

    I was born in Bethnal Green hospital and my mum and dad lived in a weavers cottage in Granby Row. That was 1951 so the name hadn’t changed to Voss Street until after 1951. I have Granby Row on my Birth Certificate as my place of residence at birth.

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