Devons Road

Devons Road, Tower Hamlets

A Docklands Light Railway station and a road that links Bow Common with Bromley-by-Bow

Hidden London: Spratts Patent Ltd, Violet Road, by Robert Eva

Ear­li­er called Brom­ley Lane, the road may have gained its present name from for­mer landown­er Thomas Devon.

Like most of Brom­ley-by-Bow, this area began to fill with ware­hous­es and work­ing-class hous­ing from the 1820s and became pro­gres­sive­ly poor­er and more over­crowd­ed as the 19th cen­tu­ry wore on.

Using funds gen­er­at­ed by the sale of the City church of All Hal­lows Stain­ing, the Gro­cers’ Com­pa­ny paid for the con­struc­tion of All Hal­lows Bow in 1873–4. The church was wrecked by a bomb dur­ing the Blitz and was after­wards rebuilt in a style inspired by Ear­ly Chris­t­ian archi­tec­ture, util­is­ing sur­viv­ing parts of the orig­i­nal core. The inte­ri­or has since been sub­di­vid­ed to intro­duce a mul­ti-func­tion­al hall.

Beside the rail­way track and the Lime­house Cut on Vio­let Road, Spratt’s ware­house is regard­ed as one of Britain’s finest indus­tri­al build­ings. Built in 1899 to make and store pet food and bis­cuits, it has now been con­vert­ed into flats and offices and is shown in the pho­to at the top of this arti­cle.

Munic­i­pal slum clear­ance and flat-build­ing trans­formed the vicin­i­ty of Devons Road over the course of the 20th cen­tu­ry – with­out sig­nif­i­cant­ly improv­ing its aes­thet­ics – but a hand­ful of Vic­to­ri­an struc­tures have sur­vived.

Post-war devel­op­ments includ­ed the LCC’s Lin­coln estate, which was fea­tured in-depth in Dan Cruick­shank’s three-part BBC TV series At Home with the British in 2016.

Two semi-derelict Vic­to­ri­an shops in Devons Road were the first prop­er­ties to be man­aged by Acme Stu­dios, mark­ing the begin­nings of an organ­i­sa­tion that would become the largest provider of work­ing and liv­ing space for artists in Lon­don.

Devons Road was one of the orig­i­nal 15 sta­tions on the DLR when it opened in 1991 on a dis­used sec­tion of freight line. It was for­mer­ly the site of British Rail­ways’ first all-diesel main­te­nance depot.

South-west of Brom­ley-by-Bow sta­tion, the new flats in and around Han­naford Walk and Oxley Square occu­py the site of St Andrew’s Hos­pi­tal (orig­i­nal­ly the Poplar and Step­ney Sick Asy­lum), which was demol­ished in 2008.

Light indus­try and ware­hous­ing dom­i­nate the quar­ter south-east of Devons Road sta­tion, prin­ci­pal­ly inhab­it­ing the cor­ru­gat­ed sheds that line St Andrews Way. This com­mer­cial zone was cre­at­ed in the 1980s and 90s on land for­mer­ly filled with rail­way sid­ings and engine and car­riage sheds.

Across the rail­way line and east of Vio­let Road, the hous­ing asso­ci­a­tion Peabody has built 400 new homes in blocks lin­ing Bar­ry Bland­ford Way, which is named after a com­mu­ni­ty activist and Tow­er Ham­lets coun­cil­lor who died in 2011. To the north of the Peabody project, almost engulf­ing the Widow’s Son pub­lic house, Lin­den Homes have built the Lime Quar­ter, which is shown in the CGI below.

The Widow’s Son, at 75 Devons Road, is also known as ‘the Bun House’. Both names derive from the story of a widow who put aside a hot cross bun for her son, who was on a sea voyage. But he never returned, so she hung the bun from the ceiling in mourning and repeated this act every Easter afterwards.

When a pub was built on the site, around 1848, the publican retained the custom and the annual ‘hanging of the bun’ was made a clause in the lease of the building. Sailors to this day perform the ceremony on Good Friday.

The Widow’s Son has been reinvented as something of a gastropub in recent times. Hidden London doesn’t always approve of such revamps but some kind of improvement was sorely needed at this establishment.

Postal district: E3
Station: Docklands Light Railway (Zone 2)


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* The picture of Spratts warehouse at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Robert Eva, 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.