Nearly a hundred years ago, plans were shown of for a mighty civic new building for the east-end of London that would have dominated the skyline for miles around.

The new scheme, prepared for Stepney borough was prepared by Mr. Thomas H. Mawson, and in addition to the gigantic new tower, also included various “improvements” such as new roads and railway links.

In the time, central government was much smaller than today, and local government more powerful, so as politicians are wont to do, they liked spending money on themselves — especially new Town Halls. Manchester’s town hall is so grand that it doubles up for the Houses of Parliament in TV shows. Stepney’s wasn’t quite on that scale, but still an impressive slab of municipal power.

However, it was something else that the politicians planned that would have transformed the skyline.

What was planned was a mighty War Memorial Campanile (bell tower) which would have stood just to the south of Albert Square (today Albert Gardens) about half-way between Shadwell and Limehouse stations on the DLR. Based on the architects drawing, it would have been the principle landmark across much of the East-End of London.

Based on the drawing below, I estimate it to be about the same height as Big Ben/Elizabeth Tower.

stepney-tower-1919

The tower was itself just part of a series of rebuilding works, the most dramatic of which called for the railway running between Limehouse and Fenchurch street to be buried underground, and a 110 feet wide road built on top.

The new road was to be called the “Stepney Greeting” and would have seen huge numbers of workers housing and workshops demolished to further the goal of shifting more cars more rapidly.

Meanwhile, Fenchurch Street station would have been replaced with a terminus with a direct link to the London Underground. So actually, that bit wasn’t a bad idea.

And Albert Square would be rather more famous for its tower, than for a soap opera.

stepney-map-1919

Sources

The Building News and Engineering Journal, June 1915, Jan & Feb 1919

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6 comments on “Unbuilt London: Stepney’s Massive Clock Tower
  1. LadyBracknell says:

    This would have been a grand scheme, indeed. Albert Gardens today looks quite select, so I imagine this re-working would have greatly enhanced the area.

  2. David Williams says:

    We seem to have lost the vision in London for developing grand schemes on this scale. Had it been built it would have been largely destroyed by the bombing in the Second World War so it might have had a somewhat short life. Where we have redeveloped imaginatively on a grand scale such as at Canary Wharf and Surrey Quays it has been transformational to the prosperity of the areas.

    There are certainly swathes of the East End that could really do with demolition and reconstruction as part of a new grand plan with a vast reduction in the number of small shops now that shopping habits have largely switched to supermarkets.

  3. LadyBracknell says:

    Everywhere has ‘swathes’ that could do with demolition and rebuilding but in poor areas, redevelopment means the less well off will be squeezed out and forced to the margins or even out of the locality completely. All these monsterous new developments that are blighting London bring benefits only to the wealthy or those fortunate enough to already have a place to live. Make no mistake, London boroughs, in particular, are falling over themselves to attract the monied at the expense of the poor.

    Lewisham that has a high immigrant population and a lot of quite poor housing stock is now being re-positioned by the labour council as a ‘dormitory’ town for the Canary Wharf and city workers. The tiny spot of land adjacent to the stations which was once the bus station is now the site of two multi-storey blocks. How long will it be before these residents start complaining about the ‘undesirable elements’ using the public stations?

  4. Bob says:

    Is it known which Underground station would have replaced Fenchurch Street as the rail terminus had the route from Limehouse to Fenchurch Street been buried underground?

    Apart from the BoE’s Vault, Bank would appear to be an obvious choice along with Moorgate yet on the other hand a terminus located northeast of Tower Hill with a direct link to the Underground seems more likely.

    • Waysider says:

      Well its on the map attached to the article?
      The road and railway line both end on the circle/district line so a new underground station would have replaced Tower Hill a little further north.

      This scheme is dated 1919.
      The slum clearances this scheme would have entailed happened ANYWAY – just look at the amount of 1930’s housing estates in Stepney? They were all build in the sites of slum housing.

      The new road ‘Stepney Greeting’ is following the path of the railway line into Fenchurch Street so actually wouldnt have caused that much demolition of housing

    • Bob says:

      Thanks, couldn’t quite make out the details of the map.