Cambridge Heath

Cambridge Heath, Tower Hamlets

The north-eastern corner of Bethnal Green

Cambridge Heath estate

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 here besides veg­etable patch­es and hay­fields until cot­tages began to appear in the mid-18th cen­tu­ry. Lat­er that cen­tu­ry a more intense peri­od of build­ing began with ter­raced hous­es, fac­to­ries and chapels.

The local­i­ty was almost ful­ly devel­oped dur­ing the first half of the 19th cen­tu­ry, although a wind­mill sur­vived until at least 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. The Beth­nal Green infir­mary opened on Cam­bridge Heath Road in 1900.

Most of the res­i­dents were poor, espe­cial­ly in the streets around the rail­way line and the Regent’s Canal, and on Rus­sia Lane. The phil­an­thropic Peabody Trust built its first Beth­nal Green blocks here in 1910. In the same year the bor­ough coun­cil com­plet­ed its neo-baroque town hall on Cam­bridge Heath Road, lat­er adding an art-deco exten­sion.

The communist–socialist con­trolled coun­cil built the Lenin estate in the mid-1920s – and the incom­ing liberal–progressive admin­is­tra­tion changed the name to the Cam­bridge Heath estate in 1928. Now it’s called Cam­bridge Court and is shown in the pho­to above.* The Munic­i­pal Dreams blog has the full sto­ry of the Lenin Estate’s ‘Lux­u­ry Flats for Social­ists’.

Munic­i­pal build­ing con­tin­ued up to the out­break of the Sec­ond World War – and resumed after­wards. When the for­mer infir­mary (lat­ter­ly a geri­atric hos­pi­tal) closed in 1990, the Vic­to­ria Park hous­ing asso­ci­a­tion rede­vel­oped most of the site with hous­es and flats. Only the hos­pi­tal entrance block has sur­vived, sit­u­at­ed imme­di­ate­ly south of Cam­bridge Court.

Cam­bridge Heath remains dom­i­nat­ed by blocks of flats, includ­ing some recent pri­vate builds and con­ver­sions, most­ly tar­get­ed at young sin­gles. Sev­er­al of these projects have replaced for­mer fac­to­ries and ware­hous­es, such as the 106 res­i­den­tial units built on the site of the Par­miter Street indus­tri­al cen­tre.

Local com­mer­cial premis­es gen­er­al­ly oper­ate at the low­er end of the mar­ket – with one star­tling excep­tion: the old town hall is now a ridicu­lous­ly splen­did hotel.

Postal district: E2
Station: London Overground (zone 2)
* The picture of Parmiter Street (Cambridge Court) at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright wfmillar, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.