In 1919, with men having returned to the East End of London from fighting for their country through the horrors of the First World War, a combination of factors – including slum clearances and west end residents spotting the opportunities of value for money and sturdy properties being available in the East End – led to an acute shortage of housing in the district.
So, when news broke that residences and businesses around Brick Lane were to be demolished to make way for a luxury cinema, the locals, understandably, were up in arms at the prospect of being turfed out onto the streets, and a huge and angry protest to stop the redevelopment was implemented.
The Scotsman, on Tuesday, 2nd September, 1919, published the following article on what was happening:-
ANGRY EVICTION DEMONSTRATION IN WHITECHAPEL
“Notice having been served upon the tenants of Brick Lane, Finch Street and Old Montagu Street, Whitechapel, terminating their tenancy, in most cases in a week, it is intended, so it is announced, to pull down the block of property in order to build a cinema-theatre.
Shortly after the expiry of the notices three weeks ago, workmen commenced to demolish the premises concerned.
FEELING BOILS OVER
Feeling has grown in the district. Then last night this reached a culminating point.
A hoarding has been placed around a greengrocer’s shop in Brick Lane, and the rumour spread that no notice had been given.
A crowd gathered, pulled down, the hoarding, and threw it into the roadway.
A police inspector and a constable who attempted to pacify the crowd had a hostile reception. Extra police were later put on duty at this point, and kept the crowd on the move.
About 135 persons, the Press Association says, are affected by the demolition of the property.
Many of these families have been there for over twenty years, and many thriving businesses have been built up by years of work; yet at a week’s notice they are being ‘turned out, without much prospect in these days of housing shortage of finding other homes.
THE FORMER SOLDIER
The most heart-breaking case, said Mr Weinburg, of No. 6 Brick Lane, one of the spokesmen of the tenants, to a representative of the Press last evening, is that of a discharged soldier named Millar, who lives at No.10. On joining the Army he lost his knife and scissors and grindery business, and on being discharged he spent his savings on a little shop in trying to build up his business anew.
He had to wait four months for an electric motor, and he had just got his business going when they pulled down the top floors of the house, and he does not know when he will be turned out himself.
A HIGH COURT HEARING
Mr Weinberg said that an application for an injunction is to come up in the High Courts today.
The owners say that the property has been condemned by the London County Council, and its demolition ordered.”
STOP THE HOME-BREAKERS – EAST-END SCANDAL
The next day, Wednesday, 3rd September, 1919, The Globe gave a further voice to some of the residents that were being affected by the demolition, and posed the question, was it fair to reward men who had fought in the trenches by, essentially, making them homeless and ruining the business they had struggled for years to build up :-
“The Ministry of Health is giving the question of the Whitechapel house demolition to make room for a cinema its “earnest consideration”. At present, however, there is no law that permits drastic action to stop the home-breaking, but Dr. Addison has brought the facts to the Government’s notice.
Meanwhile, feeling in the neighbourhood is growing, and all London, knowing only too well how scarce houses are, is joining in expressing indignation at this new vandalism.
HOUSES OR CINEMAS?
“Yus, that’s ‘ouse, or I should say as it was my ‘ouse before they started pulling of it down! An’ after two years trekkin’ in Mespot and one in France, I’ve got to get aht and trek again. And all because some blighter wants to build a blinkin’ cinema!”
This is a condensed version of the comments made by one of the evicted tenants in Whitechapel, where extensive demolitions are being carried out.
The streets concerned are Brick Lane, Finch Street, and Old Montague Street.
In one case in Brick Lane, the demolition is being carried out in consequence of an order issued by the London County Council, which has condemned the house in question on account of structural defects; but it appears that the complaint quoted is justified.
A PROTEST MEETING
A crowded meeting of protest was held last night under the auspices of the Whitechapel Labour Party in Osborne Street, near the property which is being pulled down.
All the speakers complained of the activity of the authorities in not stopping such demolition, which they declared was unnecessary, particularly at a time when the housing shortage was so acute.
“We have been out fighting for our country,” said one speaker, “and we came back to claim the country we have saved, and this is what we find – over a hundred people turned out to build a cinema.”
THE RESOLUTION CARRIED
The following resolution was unanimously carried:-
“This meeting of the residents of the Borough of Stepney strongly protests against the vile and iniquitous action of turning people out of small houses and ruining businesses built up after hard toil, for the purpose of creating an unwanted picture palace, when there is another within 75 yards of the spot.”
Copies the resolution were forwarded the Mayor of Stepney, the Ministry Health, and to the London County Council.
All these bodies were implored to take immediate action.”