Mile End is full of art, writes local blogger Cecilia Cran, or @mileendmoments, in her newest walking guide. She returns to explore more of the art that’s right under our noses, with photographs taken by Massimo Ianetti.
‘London is moving East’ is something I’ve been hearing more and more. I’m not sure if that’s because I live here and so my ears naturally pick up at the mention of East London – where before I wasn’t so in tune with it. Or whether it’s being said more frequently and is actually true. Either way, apparently London is moving East.
Another thing I have noticed since moving here over three years ago is the shift in recognition of Mile End. Previously, when I said I lived in here, I’d swiftly have to follow it up with an explanation. ‘It’s on the Central Line, Zone Two.’ Nope, still faced with a glazed expression. ‘OK, in between Bethnal Green and Stratford,’ I’d murmur, almost apologetically. We usually got there, as I finally gave some Olympics reference to Stratford – which isn’t where I live at all, but close enough, I guess, when speaking to someone who has zero geographical knowledge of East London.
Along with recognising the area, there’s also a growing appreciation of the arts and culture in the neighbourhood. Art is everywhere in Mile End. Below are a few of my favourite sculptures, murals and spots to explore.
This art was the result of an event organised a couple of years ago, where a bunch of hugely talented environmental artists came together to paint some beautiful, moving images of endangered animals. The murals can be found by Ackroyd Drive on the railway arches in Mile End, which line the South of Tower Hamlets Cemetery and are the brainchild of Luis Masai and Charlotte Webster from the art platform Human Nature. You will see everything from a whale, a rhino, to a tiger and orangutan alongside other endangered animals. Above the murals are the words: ‘All of nature rests in the hands of man’s wisdom let us not be fools.’ Such a poignant and important message, delivered in an accessible, engaging way.
The magic door of Mile End
I have a feeling this is perhaps a piece of unintentional art. It looks like a film set, or maybe just a door that has been forgotten – the owners having one entrance and exit, neither of which are this door. It stands there, weather beaten, paint peeling and hinges rusting, but beautiful. It sits off an unassuming side street near the Morgan Arms pub and I have a feeling each time I pass it that if I were to open it and walk through, I’d somehow be transported into another world. Other Mile-Enders I have spoken to feel the same, which is why I feel it worthy of a mention.
From unintentional art to a brilliant gallery that (in my opinion) doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Located between Roman Road and Victoria Park, the Chisenhale Gallery is housed in a former veneer factory and brewery building. It was founded by artists in the early 1980s and has gone from strength to strength, now a registered charity and part of Arts Council England national portfolio.
The gallery commissions and produces contemporary art, supporting both UK and international artists and is always looking at innovative ways to engage young people and a diverse audience. For the last five years, the gallery has run a Curatorial Trainee Programme, which offers full time, paid roles for a year. The programme offers two lucky emerging curators the opportunity to hone, develop and practice their craft in a supportive and impressive environment. Always worth a look.
Steel statues that tell a story of the tow path
Along the tow path there are a series of fabulous steel statues, recognising local history. Flanked by the Regent’s Canal on one side and Mile End Park on the other. They are a nod to some of the famous individuals (both two and four legged!) who played a role in this part of London. You have Ledley King, born in Bow in 1980, a talented footballer – heralded as one of the best defenders of his time, he played for Tottenham Hotspur and represented England a number of times.
Standing next to Ledley, is Sylvia Pankhurst, the lady who was tenacious in her fight for women’s rights and a compassionate crusader for improving the living conditions of individuals in the East End.
Finally, there is another great symbol of the East End, a Towpath horse. These horses used to pull barges and boats up and down the canal and were once a mainstay of the area.
I can’t resist mentioning a bit of the street art that adorns Roman Road. I haven’t found the name of the artist of this piece and I’m not sure if there’s a relevance for it being in this spot. I know street art divides opinion and it is quite subjective, but I am a fan of it and like pieces that don’t cause offence and brighten up the neighbourhood.
Blind Beggar and His Dog
Sitting just off Roman Road, on the Cranbrook Estate is Elizabeth Frink’s beautiful bronze statue – the ‘Blind Beggar and His Dog’. The statue is set in the resident’s garden, on an elevated platform, easily seen from the road for passers-by. The statue has long been admired by locals and tourists and received Grade II heritage status in 1998.
There are a few versions of the legend of the blind beggar, but the most popular seems to revolve around a knight named de Montford, who was blinded in battle and left begging in East London. His daughter was wooed by four suitors, three of whom were put-off the perceived lack of dowry. The fourth recognised Besse’s nobility so they were married and he received a dowry.
Charrington Brewery was a successful brewery, founded in the area in the mid-1700s, since when it has undergone various name changes, mergers and acquisitions. Signs of the Charrington business and family are still visible around the area. I love these House of Toby Tiles, near Grove Road. The Charrington name and family were a tour de force, but not always how one may think. One story I like is that of Mr Fred Charrington, who was set to inherit his family’s significant fortunes. But upon seeing a woman begging her husband for money and being hit by her husband, as he was entering a pub, he was shocked and moved to leave the family business and instead devoted his life to social reform, campaigning against music halls and prostitution around East London, setting up an alcohol rehabilitation unit outside London.