Arnold CircusTake in a slice of East End history over a proper East End lunch
Credit: Friends of Arnold Circus
Wandering along the streets around Brick Lane is a wonderful way to explore London’s East End history, but if you want to sit for a while to take it all in, there’s arguably no better spot than Arnold Circus, the pretty raised circular garden just off Shoreditch High Street. Before you park yourself on its grassy knoll or on one of its benches to admire your surroundings, perhaps enjoying an impromptu performance from a rehearsing band utilising the Grade II listed bandstand, head first to Brick Lane Beigel Bake and grab a right proper smoked salmon and cream cheese or salt beef beigel… or do as I once saw a local Bengali youngster do, namely buy a samosa, buy a beigel, stuff the former inside the latter, and enjoy what must surely be one of the most offbeat versions of fusion food ever. I digress. Now armed with your beigel (with or without samosa), it’s time to head for that bench and enjoy, in no particular order:
1. The community garden and raised central mound you’re sitting on, created from the rubble of the notoriously grim Old Nichol Rookery slums that crammed the site with thousands of cramped dwellings until the last decade of the 19th century.
2. The 19 handsome red-brick buildings of the Boundary Estate radiating out from the circus. Dating from 1890, these Arts and Crafts-influenced apartments housed some 6,000 residents at their peak, though barely any of them were drawn from the former residents of the slum area, who were simply displaced then priced out of the new gentrified homes by the often morally confused philanthropy of the Victorians.
3. The elegant urban planning and design of the circus and estate buildings. Built by the newly formed London County Council and widely thought of as the world’s first council estate, both estate and circus are a far cry from the unplanned and uncontrolled urban building explosion that had gone before it.
4. Being at the heart of a socially minded project that continues to this day. Despite the chi-chi surroundings of nearby Spitalfields and the City, around two-thirds of the 500+ flats here remain under the control of Tower Hamlets Borough Council, with a unionised residents’ group and the Boundary Community Launderette on Calvert Avenue, a not-for-profit volunteer-staffed community centre and yes, launderette. Done with your beigel? Drop in to find out when one of the local community events is taking place, maybe stopping at Leila’s Café & Shop for a wi-fi-free moment of peace and contemplation over a damn fine cup of coffee.
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