|Queen's Building Forecourt, Queen Mary, University of London||Tower Hamlets|
The forecourt of the Queen's Building on the Mile End Campus of Queen Mary, University of London, has a semi-circular area of formal planting with a driveway and a fine clock tower with drinking fountain. The building originated as the Queen's Hall of The People's Palace, which was opened by Queen Victoria in 1887, and was built on the former site of Bancroft's School founded in 1737. Nicknamed 'The Albert Hall of East London' it provided East Enders with educational, cultural and social activities. A popular venue for many years, it eventually closed in 1954 and was sold to Queen Mary College, now forming part of its campus.
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Queen's Building Forecourt, Clock Tower and Drinking Fountain, September 2011. Photo: S Williams
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Previously on the site, Bancroft's School (q.v.) was founded in 1737 as a result of a bequest of 1728 by Francis Bancroft of the City of London for the establishment of an almshouse and charitable school for 100 boys, to be run by the Drapers' Company as Trustees. The original Bancroft's School and Almshouses were here in Mile End Road, but in 1884 as London became increasingly unhealthy, a new site was sought in rural surroundings for the sake of the pupils' health and the school moved to Woodford Green in Essex. The Mile End site was sold to the Beaumont Trust who built the People's Palace, now the site of Queen Mary, University of London.
The establishment of the People's Palace owed its origins to, among other things, Walter Besant's novel and work of social criticism, 'All Sorts and Conditions of Men', in which he put forward the idea of a Palace of Delight where the inhabitants of the East End could be provided with culture and education. This resonated with others at that time and a conjunction of other factors led to the People's Palace being built on Mile End Road. A legacy of £13,000 had been left in trust by local benefactor J T Barber Beaumont in 1841 for the 'intellectual improvement and rational recreation and amusement for people living in the East End'. When the Drapers Company decided to close the Bancroft Almshouses and to move Bancroft's School to Essex, this left the land here free for development. The Beaumont Trustees and the Drapers Company, together with money raised from the public, then came together to build a People’s Palace on the Bancroft site. It was formally opened by Queen Victoria on 16 November 1887 and in a newspaper of the time was referred to as 'The Albert Hall of East London'. Other recreational and educational facilities were added including a swimming bath, library, technical school, winter gardens, gymnasium, art school, lecture rooms and rooms for social actives, these facilities usually paid for by different benefactors. The clock tower with drinking fountain, for example, was erected in 1890 by Herbert Stern in memory of his father.
The People’s Palace was highly popular until 1931 when a fire destroyed the Queen’s Hall, although the fine frontage of the building survived. Eventually, with public support, a new Queen’s Hall was built as part of a New People’s Palace, fronting on Mile End Road but the educational part of the complex then became separated, first as the East London College and later the Queen Mary College, part of London University. The new Art Deco People’s Palace was designed by architects Campbell Jones, Sons and Smithers, and had relief sculpture by Eric Gill. The interior was designed by the cinema architect George Coles. It was opened by the new King George VI and Queen Mary on 13 February 1937, although it was later closed for 9 years during the war. It was funded by Stepney Borough Council, who re-opened it in October 1948 but it was eventually closed in 1954 because of rising debts and was sold to Queen Mary College, forming part of its campus. Now renamed Queen Mary, University of London, the main campus is at Mile End, but Queen Mary has campuses at other historic sites such as Charterhouse Square (q.v.) where there is a hall of residence; the West Smithfield campus includes St Bartholomew's Hospital (q.v.); the Postgraduate Law Centre is at Lincoln's Inn Fields (q.v.) and the School of Medicine and Dentistry is largely located at the Whitechapel campus.
Remnants of the previous history of the site can be found on the campus. These include a former burial ground dating back to the time when Bancrofts Almshouses and School were here, with a few gravestones set into the brick wall, and of particular significance, the Sephardi Nuevo (New) Cemetery (q.v.) of the Spanish Portuguese Jews that was established here in 1733. A recently landscaped area adjacent to the Library has a bronze statue of Clement Attlee (1883-1967), the influential politician and social reformer who was long-time Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister from 1945-51. In 1919 he had become Mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney and in 1922 was elected MP for Limehouse, where the statue was originally erected outside the old Limehouse Library. It was unveiled by Harold Wilson in November 1988 but after the library closed in 2003 the statue became neglected and suffered damage. Attlee had been made an Honorary Fellow of Queen Mary College in 1948, and it was appropriate for the renovated statue to be re-erected here. It was unveiled on 4 April 2011 by Lord Mandelson and Lord Hennessy. In the same garden is a new plaque to Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836), nicknamed 'the father of scientific boxing', who was buried nearby in the Sephardi Nuevo Cemetery. It was erected by the Jewish East End Celebration Society and unveiled by Sir Henry Cooper on 4 September 2008.
G P Moss & M V Saville, ‘From Palace to College, an illustrated account of Queen Mary College’ (published by QMC, 1985). See Postcard of the month no 58, March 2005 on www.eastlondonpostcard.co.uk