Cambridge Heath, Tower Hamlets
The neglected north-eastern corner of Bethnal Green
Cambridge Heath has no connection with the university town; the Saxon who gave his name to the heath was probably called Centbeorht, which might as easily have been corrupted to Canterbury as Cambridge.
The heath lay on a gravel plateau surrounded by marshland and was part of the ‘waste’ of Stepney manor in the Middle Ages. Apart from a house that was described as ‘ancient’ in 1275 there was very little building among the vegetable patches and hayfields until cottages began to appear in the mid 18th century. Later that century a more intense period of development began which produced terraced houses, factories and chapels.
During the first half of the 19th century the locality was almost fully built up, although a windmill survived in 1836. Among the active builders here was the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, which built Palestine Place. Cambridge Heath station opened on the Great Eastern Railway’s new branch line to Enfield in 1872. Most of the residents were poor, especially in the streets around the railway line and the Regent’s Canal and on Russia Lane. London’s greatest philanthropic developer, the Peabody Trust, built its first Bethnal Green blocks here in 1910 and municipal flats began to replace slum housing after the First World War.
Bethnal Green borough council, at that time under communist–socialist control, built the Lenin estate in 1927, and the incoming liberal–progressive administration changed the estate’s name to Cambridge Heath the following year. Municipal building continued up to and after the Second World War and Cambridge Heath remains dominated by blocks of flats, including some recent private builds and conversions mostly targeted at young singles. Local commercial premises generally operate at the lower end of the market.
Postal district: E2
Station: Greater Anglia (zone 2)
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