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Britain oldest council estate saved families from living among ‘disease & death’

When London County Council formed in 1889, a local East London pastor asked the council to help the struggling community who were living in the overcrowded Old Nichol suburb in Tower Hamlets.

One of the newly formed council’s initiatives was to establish suitable housing for the working class.

Reverend Osborne Jay of Holy Trinity wanted the council to improve the appalling living standards where families of eight slept in one room and endured poor sanitary conditions.

Another notable advocate for change in the area was writer Arthur Morrison, who was a friend of Reverend Osborne.

Arthur was shocked by the unlivable conditions people were in and even documented his experience in a book, A Child of the Jago.

Boundary Estate is a popular place to live

Before it became overpopulated and impoverished, some of the Old Nichol was part of a garden in the Nunnery of St John the Baptist, Holywell.

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More and more people had moved to East London at the end of the industrial revolution and by the late 1800s, the area was notoriously known for its crime and disease.

An Illustrated London News report said in 1863: “The limits of a single article would be insufficient to give any detailed description of even a day’s visit. There is nothing picturesque in such misery.

“It is but one painful and monotonous round of vice, filth and poverty, huddled in dark cellars, ruined garrets, bare and blackened rooms, reeking with disease and death.”

As a result, the council reconstructed the Friars Mount rookery of Old Nichol and replaced it with the new flats, which would become the council’s first public housing project.

The entire area was demolished and materials from the old flats were used for the new ones.

Boundary Estate is in the heart of East London
Boundary Estate is in the heart of East London

The council began reconstruction work in 1890 and by 1900, the Prince of Wales opened the Boundary Estate to the public.

The 1,069 flats were made up of mainly two-beds or three-beds and planned to accommodate 5,524 people.

Alongside the project, the council introduced new shops, workshops, a laundry, churches and schools.

Boundary Estate is a popular place to live
Boundary Estate is a popular place to live

The flats circle around the bandstand and greenery of Arnold Circus, which is still there today.

Although the accommodation catered for a substantial number of people, some of the original occupants were forced out further to Dalston and Bethnal Green and the housing was given to the “industrial poor” instead of the “idle poor”.

Today, Boundary Estate is just a stone’s throw away from the popular nightlife attractions of Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green.

As gentrification has seeped through the area in recent years, one-third of the estate is now reportedly privately owned, while two-thirds are still home to council tenants.

Boundary Estate was revolutionary in its council housing accommodation and despite being a grade II listed building, it remains a cherished part of East London for both old and new residents who have witnessed its change over the years.

Do you know about Boundary Estate? Have you walked around it before? Let us know in the comment section here.



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