RepositoryArchives
Ref NoL/BGM
LevelFonds
TitleRecords of the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green
Date1877-1965
DescriptionScope and content:
The cumulative record of the activities and decisions of the Metropolitan Borough may be found in its departmental records and in the minutes and papers of its committees. The departmental records document the work of the Borough's chief officers and their support staff; the records of the various committees document the work and decisions of the elected members of the Borough. There is much overlap as the chief officers reported to the committees.
Extent918 items
AdminHistoryThe Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green was a local authority in the former County of London for the area of Bethnal Green, which comprised the seven districts of:
- The Green: Bethnal Green village
- Dog Row
- The West: Shoreditch side, Spitalfields and the Nichol
- Cambridge Heath
- The North-West: Hackney Road
- The Centre: Bethnal Green Road
- The East: Old Ford Lane, Green Lane and Globe Town

The following statistics were gathered at around the time of the Borough's creation:
- Area: 755 acres
- Population (1896): 129,162
- Rateable value (1899): £457,519
- Number of MPs: 2

Origins and purpose
The Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green was created in 1900 under the terms of the 1899 London Government Act. The Act replaced the old system of governance based mainly on vestries, which had developed from the civil role of ancient parishes, and district boards. Across London, 28 new borough councils were created consisting of a mayor, aldermen and elected councillors, supported by salaried officers and departmental staff headed by the town clerk, treasurer, borough engineer and surveyor - all key local figures in their day.
The new Metropolitan Borough replaced a number of parochial vestries, by far the most important of which was that for the church of St Matthew, Bethnal Green (ref: L/MBG). Other churches known to have conducted vestry meetings that may have included matters relating to the civil business of the parish were:
- St John, Bethnal Green
- St James the Great, Bethnal Green (Bethnal Green Road)
- St Jude, Bethnal Green (Old Bethnal Green Road)
- St Thomas, Bethnal Green (Baroness Road)

The Borough was initially divided into four wards for electoral purposes: East and South (each returning nine councillors), North and West (each returning six councillors). A fifth ward - Central - was created in 1952, each ward then returning six councillors. The first elections to the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green were held on 1 November 1900. The Borough was initially financed from a general rate of businesses and residents; however, loans for part-financing services and facilities were obtainable from a central government department rather than from the London County Council (LCC) which had been established in 1888.
The Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green was abolished in 1965 as part of a major reorganisation of local government in London that followed the passing of the 1963 London Government Act; Bethnal Green joined the Metropolitan Boroughs of Poplar and Stepney and became a district in the newly created London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which officially came into being on 1 April 1965.

Activities
The Metropolitan Borough inherited a number of functions from the previous system of vestry-based local government, which was supposed to have made provision for, among other things, services and facilities relating to:
- regulating the sanitary conditions of houses, including the power to condemn and close insanitary dwellings
- the acquisition and demolition of condemned houses
- rules governing the letting of premises in lodgings and tenements
- the acquisition of land for the provision of public lodgings and tenement houses for the poor
- street paving and lighting
- the provision of public baths and wash-houses
- the provision of public libraries
- cemeteries and other works relating to public health
- the provision and maintenance of open spaces and other public amenities

Over the 65-year history of its existence, the Metropolitan Borough expanded the scope of its functional remit to take in numerous other matters, including, but by no means limited to:
- electricity supply (until handing over responsibilities to the nationalised London Electricity Board in 1948)
- street maintenance and improvement, including scavenging
- the removal and disposal of refuse
- local museums
- maternity and child welfare services
- the registration of births, deaths and marriages
- the inspection of sanitary conditions in factories, dairies, shops selling food, slaughterhouses and seamen's lodgings

By 1902 nine committees had been formed to make decisions and the figure inevitably grew as the Borough's functional responsibilities increased.

Key activities and events
Between 1900 and 1965 the Borough saw many key developments and events which are of local, regional and national importance. Among some of the key personalities connected to the Borough, and important developments and events to have occurred were:
- 1895-1906: Sir Mancherjee Bhownaggree sits as Conservative MP for the constituency of Bethnal Green North-East, the second British MP of Indian heritage
- 1909: the Sutton Dwellings Trust housing estate opens, financed by the estate of the philanthropist William Richard Sutton
- 25 June 1914: electrician Joe Vaughan, London's first Labour Party councillor, elected to Bethnal Green South Ward (Vaughan later became three-times mayor of Bethnal Green and also
helped to found the British Communist Party)
- 1920: Bethnal Green Men's Institute opened in Wolverley Street
- 1922: Bethnal Green Library, the Borough's first permanent public library opened in the vacant Bethnal House asylum (the red-brick neo-classical extension was designed by
the borough surveyor A. E. Darby)
- 1924: the Cambridge and Bethnal Green Jewish Boys' Club founded by a group of Cambridge graduates
- Opening of York Hall in 1929, designed by the borough surveyor A. E. Darby - still world famous today as a boxing venue
- 1937: the Bethnal Green branch of the British Union of Fascists puts up candidates for election to the LCC
- 1940: the silk weaving industry in Bethnal Green comes to an end after a presence of more than 200 years
- 3 March 1943: Bethnal Green tube disaster, in which 173 people lost their lives
- 1957: completion of Keeling House (now a Grade II listed building), designed by the British architect Denys Lasdun
- 1962-64: construction of the Cranbrook estate, an ambitious and internationally famous housing project designed by the modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin

Addresses
The Bethnal Green Town Hall at Patriot Square - facing Cambridge Heath Road - was opened in November 1910 (later designated Grade II listed building status). For the first ten years of its existence the Metropolitan Borough (apart from the Public Health Department, which was located at 2 Paradise Row) was based in the old parish vestry in Church Row - a Tudor Revival building that had been designed by a Mr Simmonds and was opened in 1851. This must have long been inadequate for the needs of municipal government as new premises were designed as early as 1887; this initiative was defeated in 1889, however, and it was not until 1907 that the Borough voted to acquire land at 2-16 Patriot Square to serve as the site for a new town hall. Open competition resulted in the Leeds-based architect Percy Robinson and his assistant William Alban Jones securing the commission. The building is fine example of Edwardian civic architecture (it was described as 'flamboyant Edwardian Baroque' by the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner). A major extension to the town hall was made in 1937-39, to the designs of the architect E. C. P. Monson and with the assistance of the borough engineer A. E. Darby.
The Town Hall remained the headquarters of the Borough Council until April 1965, when it was merged with the Metropolitan Boroughs of Poplar and Stepney to form the new London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Sources
-T. F. T. Baker (ed.), Victoria County History (VCH): Vol. XI Early Stepney with Bethnal Green (London: Oxford University Press for the Institute of Historical Research, 1998)
- Roger Bowdler, 'Bethnal Green Town Hall, English Heritage Historical Analysis and Research Team', Reports and Papers First Series (14), (1996)
- F. G. Brewer, A Century of London Government: The Creation of the Boroughs (London: Ernest Benn Ltd, 1934)
- Albert Bassett Hopkins, The Boroughs of the Metropolis (London: Bemrose and Sons, 1900)
- William A. Robson, The Government and Misgovernment of London (London: Allen and Unwin, 1939)
Related MaterialSee records of The Borough of Bethnal Green Distress Fund (I/BBG) and records of the Trustees of the (Bethnal Green) Tube Shelter Accident Fund (I/TSA). Also held are records of the successor London Borough of Tower Hamlets (L/THL) and also predecessors.

See also:
Photograph album commemorating the mayoral year of Frederick Sanders as Mayor of Bethnal Green (P/MIS/367);
Diaries of Lydia Dorothea Benoly (1887-1969) kept while Mayor of Bethnal Green (P/MIS/377);
Photograph album of the Mayoral Year of Councillor Albert Gilbert of Bethnal Green (P/MIS/446).

Most printed material such as the Metropolitan Borough's annual reports, brochures and handbooks, together with maps and plans are in the Local History Library. For maps and plans of the Metropolitan Borough boundaries in the Local History Library search reference code 'LCM' [add * - i.e. LCM* - to search across these formats].
Access StatusOpen
RequestNO - This does not represent a physical document. Please click on the reference number and view list of records to find material available to order at file or item level.
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