The Story of Trinity Green Almshouses, Whitechapel Road
Along Whitechapel Road, glance up at the right moment and you’re stopped in your tracks. The serene historic sight of Trinity Green Almshouses transports you back into a London from hundreds of years ago.
This is a delightful slice of East London in the 17th century.
TRINITY GREEN ALMSHOUSES
The almshouses belong to the Corporation of Trinity House, an organisation going back over 500 years.
On 9 March 1513 a group of mariners who were fed up with the lack of regulation on the Thames petitioned the King to set up a fraternity to license pilotage along London’s liquid thoroughfare.
However even before they got their official credentials, Trinity House were a benevolent group that looked after mariners in need along with their widows and dependants.
The charity was based at Deptford and built two sets of almshouses there, today neither survive.
However in 1695, 28 almshouses and a chapel were built to accommodate the growing group and Mile End was chosen as a suitable location.
The money for all these new homes came from Captain Henry Mudd of Ratcliffe (1630-1692) who had donated the land to Trinity House in his will. He is mentioned on a lovely little cartouche on the side of the building.
Design and Details
Even without knowing the history, a closer look at these exquisite boats would probably give away the sea-faring connections.
to make the point even clearer, in the 19th Century there was a large mast in the middle of the green! You can see what this looked like from the stock image here.
It’s become part of East End folklore that the design for Trinity Green was by none other than Christopher Wren, Britain’s most famous 17th century architect.
It’s repeated so often that it’s taken as fact, but the issue is there isn’t a shred of proof for the claim!
It’s more likely that the architect was Sir William Ogbourne, master carpenter (1662-1734).
It seems unthinkable that these gorgeous homes could possibly be knocked down, but they’ve come close a few times.
In 1895 they were rescued from destruction by Charles Robert Ashbee, founder of the Guild of Handicrafts in Bow who was a resident at Toynbee Hall by Aldgate East tube station today.
They also narrowly escaped total destruction in the Second World War, in the end just the 8 almhouses behind the chapel were destroyed by bombs.
Protection became official in 1950 was the building received its Grade I listing and later the London County Council restored the remaining almshouses and chapel.
As recently as 2017 it still had a near miss though, with a plan for a 28-storey tower to loom over the historic garden, ruining Trinity Green’s striking visual impact. Thankfully this plan was scrapped.
Luckily we still have Trinity Green Almshouses to admire. Today they’re a mix of private and council homes.
I was a student at Queen Mary back in the 90s and I used to walk past these every time I went to the Sainsburys in Whitechapel. One evening when I was trying to read some of the plaques on the buildings a lovely man spotted me and gave me a mini lecture on the history. It’s such a beautiful place and a real break from the business of the main drag just a few hundred yards away. A real nostalgic post for me. Thanks!
You’re welcome Anwen, I think Mile End locals are particularly proud of this bit of history so it doesn’t surprise me that they were keen to share it!
John Richard Davues
I’m sure you are familiar with the vessel
above Liberty store in Regent Street.
I am! There’s a post about London’s best weathervanes here if you’re interested; https://lookup.london/london-weathervanes/
I have just discovered this gem through the records of Lydia Breaker who lived here in 1833. She was a spinster so I assume that her connection was through her father or brother in law who were both marines. I wonder where their archives are kept to learn more?
Good question Rowena, I would assume they are kept with the Tower Hamlets Local Archive on Bancroft Road but if they’re not I’m sure they could advise where to go to find out more. https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgnl/leisure_and_culture/local_history/local_history__archives/local_history__archives.aspx
My 3x great aunt Susan Gill (1827-1904) and her husband, Captain George Coombe (1823-1907) lived in the Almshouses. Originally from Cornwall, they moved to Trinity Green some time between 1881-1891. Captain Coombe was a Master in the Merchant Navy. They are both buried in the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium E12.
I have just discovered this gem ; through a long interview on YOUTUBE with Dan Cruickshank. Is it possible to see inside the chapel and indeed any other parts of the buildings ? Thanks.
I’ve never seen any public events when it’s available to visit unfortunately, I’d love to see inside myself! You can catch a glimpse in some photos here; https://spitalfieldslife.com/2018/03/20/new-hope-for-trinity-green-almshouses/
Glad you enjoyed the post.
Thanks – it’s new to me – and that’s always something nice.