Ship Building, Tumultuous Tensions and an Angel in a White Coat
This fascinating pocket of East London has been a significant part of London’s history since the 1700s. Despite a less than salubrious start with prostitution, squalor and notoriety for the wrong reasons, Cable Street was pivotal in feminist movements, the creation of Harrods and championed anti-fascism. Now, 198 Cable Street, the former surgery of the famous Dr Hannah Billig, has been converted into three stunning apartments with original features and outside space. Delve into the archives below and find out more about the rich history of this corner of east London and what it could be like to own a slice of the true east end.
A Humble Start to Harrods and the Fight Against Fascism
The very etymology of Cable Street is enveloped in history. Running from The Tower of London in the west to Ratcliff in the east, Cable Street was the original measurement of the hemp rope that was twisted and used in ship building. Fast forward a few years, and Cable Street was the slightly unusual birthplace of that famous Knightsbridge grocer. In 1834 Charles Henry Harrod, aged 35, set up a wholesale grocery and tea merchant’s store at number 4 Cable Street. It remained a popular store, selling high quality goods up until around 1855 where he began his expansion and relocation to Knightsbridge in 1863. His son, Charles Digby Harrod continued the development of the store into the infamous Harrods that we know and love today.
The history of Cable Street doesn’t end there. It perhaps gained its first taste of notoriety in the Battle of Cable Street during 1936. This battle was the most popular anti-fascist victory to have taken place on British soil. By the 1930s, some 183,000 Jews lived in London’s East End, after fleeing anti-Semitism in countries such as Poland, Russia and the Eastern Bloc. The East End provided cheaper rents than many other areas in London, and swiftly became the main city hub for Jewish activity.
This new wave of immigrants brought a considerable amount of controversy. Fellow east enders associated the poverty of the area with the new increase in easily identifiable Jewish immigrants. The actions of organisations such as The British Brothers League left behind a legacy of antipathy that was picked up and exploited by characters such as Oswald Mosely. The Great Depression further brought these tensions to light, as out of date stereotypes of Jews as money-hungry landlords and business owners reared its ugly head. Members of The British Union of Fascists – led by Mosely- were hired to cause fights on street corners in the area to whip up support for their ‘cause’. Rather sadly, support grew for Moseley and the BUF and he decided to stage a march through the Jewish East End on 4th October 136 to celebrate the 4th birthday of the BUF. Despite a huge amount of lobbying from the East End counsellors on the dangers of such a march, the government decided to allow it to take place. As some groups encouraged people to stay at home, the JPC, trade unions, the Labour Leader of Youth and the Independent Labour party began to mobile.
The Communist Party had already planned a rally that day but swiftly changed to direct members to Stepney Green. Residents of Cable Street prepared the area with barricades. Irish Dockers joined forces with the Jewish community, remembering their support during the 1912 dock strikes. As police arrived to break up the tensions they were met with local fury, as residents rained on them with broken glass and marbles. With no route left for Moseley and his 300,000 marchers, the Commissioner of Police told him to take his march out of the area, with anti-fascists marching to Victoria Park to celebrate their victory.
A truly beautiful mural commemorating the battle can be found on Cable Street:-
198 Cable Street
Take a moment to go back to the not so distant past… via the cobbled streets of Shadwell to the Second World War. London was being hit hard with The Blitz and wounded soldiers were facing years of agonising treatment. Before the wonderful National Health Service that we have today, pioneering medical professional Dr Hannah Billig was working tirelessly to ensure that no soldier, man, woman or child was denied medical treatment. Starting at the Jewish Maternity hospital then opening her own practice at 198 Cable Street in 1935, Dr Billig quickly became a firm favourite with her patients, earning her the nickname “The Angel of Cable Street”. Her dedication and generosity to the medical profession earned her several well-earned awards over her many years of service.
One of these awards, The George Medal (Victoria Cross) was awarded to her for her sheer fortitude during an explosion in Wapping in 1914. The blast broke her ankle but she continued to treat patients for several hours before addressing her own injury. She continued to work at the surgery until 1942, when she signed up for the Indian Army Medical Corps as Captain and relocated to India. The soldiers she treated here had been fighting in the jungle battles of Burma, often presenting with malaria and typhus. Two years later and Dr Billig was caring for the starving soldiers who had fled to Calcutta in search of food. She was rightly awarded an MBE in 1945 for this work but in typical Billig style, was too busy with her vocation to collect it.
She returned a few years later to 198 Cable Street to continue her work at her surgery until her ‘retirement’ to Israel in 1964. Unable to completely give up work, she cared for the sick and infirm in Caesarea in both Jewish and Arab settlements for a further 20 years until her death in 1987 at the age of 87. Her gravestone in Hadera Cemetery reads ‘In loving memory of Hannah, who devoted her life to healing the sick in England and in Israel.
A blue plaque honouring her work was installed at 198 Cable Street in 1997.
Cable Street in 2020
198 Cable Street, or ‘Angel House’ as it is now known, has been recently converted into two 2-bedroom apartments and one 1-bedroom apartment with study. The ground floor and first floor apartments both have their own private garden, a rarity for such a central location.
Each apartment has underfloor heating in the bathroom – perfect for those chilly winter mornings, BOSH appliances and CAT 6 cabling. Some of the original features have been lovingly retained, including feature fireplaces in each apartment. What’s more, each apartment has been stylishly furnished throughout to the highest standard, including mounted TVs in the living room and both bedrooms.
The location couldn’t be any more perfect, offering easy access to the City and Central London. In only five minutes you’ll find yourself at Shadwell DLR / Overground stations, or you can take the scenic route and stroll into the city via The Tower of London.
With prices starting from £525,000 and with each apartment coming with a 999-year lease and share of freehold, these historical gems won’t be around for long. Contact our Wapping office to book your appointment and secure your slice of Cable Street.