Decayed Masters, Booth, and a people’s palace

Mile End Road bridge
The Green Bridge over Mile End Road [Photo: Fin Fahey]
Counting down to the London Moonwalk 2014, I completed my 20-mile training walk today and the last mile was the toughest (especially with all the rain). So Mile End Road seemed a good subject for today’s post.The name comes, possibly, from a mile-long Roman encampment, or possibly from the fact that it is a mile from the City wall at Aldgate.

The road has a history of association with charitable works. In 1695 the Trinity Almshouses were built there, on land made available by a man whose name was, certainly not metaphorically but literally Mudd. Captain Henry Mudd, to be precise. The houses were for “28 decayed Masters and Commanders of Ships or ye widows of such”.

People's Palace
The original People’s Palace [Photo from the archives of Queen Mary University of London]
There is a statue of William Booth in the road: in 1865 he began work here that was later to lead to the formation of the Salvation Army. Mile End Road was also the site of the People’s Palace, which was officially opened by Queen Victoria on 14 May 1887, damaged by fire in 1931, and is now part of Queen Mary University of London. It was reopened in 2013 following a £6.3m investment into the venue.There were already facilities for working men’s education and recreation in the area, as well as almshouses and a school. The various authorities involved in those facilities decided to open an entire social, recreational, and educational centre for East London – an area known for poverty and poor working conditions. (And the haunt of Jack the Ripper – see Flower and Dean Street and Dorset Street.)

Walter Besant
Sir Walter Besant

The palace was modelled after a fictional palace: Sir Walter Besant wrote, in his 1882 novel All Sorts and Conditions of Men – An Impossible Story, of a ‘Palace of Delights’. This novel centred around a young couple who forsook their glamorous Mayfair life to concentrate on improving the lot of East Londoners. Besant (1836-1901), who founded the Society of Authors, also wrote many non-fiction works, including several on the history, topography, and people of London.

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