Ding-dong! 11 Underwood Street? The bells in my head started ringing. Where had I seen this address?
I recently received the Marriage Certificate of my grandfather's cousin Abram Icek Rajn and Bloomah Freedman, who married in the East End of London in 1907. This was the address they gave. I was sure I'd seen it somewhere before. But maybe it was a different number? Maybe it was Underhill, or Underwater, or Under-something-else?
So I checked in my MacFamilyTree software, which knows everything. Well, everything I've ever told it, and since forgotten. This is what I got when I did a search for 'Underwood':
That's 13 people, all associated with Underwood something. So the bells had good reason to ring! Setting aside the two Asofs and the Faigin, who lived at number 10 and who are on my paternal side (more on that later), there are 10 people here, all on my mother's Frankenstein side, and all at number 11. Not all at the same time, though they might just about have fitted in. NB: the dates shown are their dates of birth, not when they lived in the house.
Some of my cousins from the Hyman, Rajn and Frankenstein families will recognise one or two names here. Many will not recognise any. I had never heard of any of them until I started researching my family history. And yet here they are, all at 11 Underwood Street in the Mile End New Town area of the East End over a period of 10 or 12 years at the beginning of the 20th Century.
I'm going to try to follow them in and out of the house, and maybe speculate a bit on what brought them there.
But first I wanted to find the house.
Easier said than done.
There's no such street. It's had its name changed, and it's been Underwood Road for 80, maybe even 100 years. I think it was probably changed because there's another 'Underwood Street' about a mile away, so they changed one of them to 'Road' to avoid confusion.
I was so pleased to find the street that I wasn't thinking straight when I was trying to decide where I thought the house would have been. The whole street has been demolished and rebuilt, and while the even numbers (to the right of this photo) are probably more or less where they stood 100 years ago, the odd-numbered side has been altered completely. I'm standing at the bottom end of the street, on the corner, and I fancied #11 would have been more or less where that first tree is, so that's the photo I took.
I should have turned round.
There's a short continuation of Underwood Street (I still can't get used to calling it "Road") behind me. I had noticed it, but because the even-numbered houses started at #2 parallel to me, I presumed that that was the beginning of the street, and that the little street over the way was something different. I didn't even check.
I only found this out later, when I got to the local Archives. This is from a Land Registry map from 1914:
Some time in the 1930s, this map had been annotated by the kind people at the Land Registry, and they seem to have randomly pencilled in some of the house numbers. They must have known I was coming. In the short section of Underwood Street, to the left, they've marked #1 and #13, the houses at either end of the block. You might need a magnifying glass to make them out, but the numbers are there.
So #11 must be one house before the end of the block, next door to #13. Opposite the house are the buildings of St Anne's Catholic Church, and no houses, so the even-side numbering did indeed start opposite where I had been standing for the photo, with the block known as the Metropolitan Buildings, dating from the 1860s. Counting along, I reckon #10 must be at the right-hand end of the part shown here, where it says "-olitan". These were tiny apartments, model homes for their day I suppose. The building was 4 or 5 stories high, and very solidly built; I think it was taken down some 40 or 50 years ago..
As well as the church, you can see a couple of other essential ingredients for early 20th Century living in the vicinity - they had a Pub (PH - Public House) just round the corner in Albert Street, with a strategically placed Urinal just outside.
And then I found a photo, on the British History Online site:
Underwood Street, #1-#13
The row of tiny cottages dates from the early 1850s, and it looks like they had two rooms upstairs, probably bedrooms, and two down, one of which opened directly onto the street. Looking at the Land Registry plan again, you can see that each house extended out the back on the right-hand side, creating an irregularly-shaped yard. This would have given room for a kitchen at the back of the building, and possibly a toilet at the end. If the upper storey was also extended, there may even have been a bathroom.
And at the far end of the row you can see the shop at #13, with #11 just before it.
And now? This is the current Google Street View:
The whole block is now part of a school playground, a lovely open space for children in the heart of the East End. And counting two of these fence panels as more or less the width of each cottage, I reckon #11 would be situated between the larger tree and the yellow street sign.
Ding-dong! In my mind's eye, I rang at the door. Well I knocked actually, they didn't have bells in those days. Someone opened the door, and I explained who I was .....
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That's enough for the moment. We'll look in more detail at the people who lived here in another post.