Arnold Circus

London, England

Arnold Circus is a historic bandstand at the centre of one of the worst slums in East London.

Arnold Circus 7
- diamond geezer

Exploring Arnold Circus in London

Built on the site of the notorious Old Nichol slum, Arnold Circus emerged from the shadows of squalor and despair, thanks to one man’s vision for a better future for London's most impoverished communities.

As the first council housing estate of its kind, the Boundary Estate aimed to provide sanctuary for the "deserving poor," yet it faced many challenges and criticism. Criticism included high rents, which displaced many people.

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- diamond geezer

In 2004, The Friends of Arnold Circus, a dedicated community organisation, emerged as champions of the estate's heritage, working to regenerate and preserve its historic bandstand and surrounding gardens.

Today, Arnold Circus and it’s affordable housing schemes, tucked away in Grade-II listed buildings, prevail in a highly sought-after destination. Yet, beneath the surface lies a dark past, marked by poverty, crime, and strife.

Arnold Circus 6
- diamond geezer

The Origins of Arnold Circus

Before the construction of Arnold Circus, the area was dominated by the Friars Mount slum in the Old Nichol neighbourhood. Originally part of the garden of the Nunnery of St John the Baptist, Holywell, the Old Nichol slum grew rapidly in the 18th century due to the growing population of London’s East End.

By the 19th century, there were nearly 6,000 people crammed into the slum’s packed streets and it had gained a reputation as the worst slum in London by the mid-1800s. Described by Friedrich Engels as a place where entire families crammed into single rooms, the slum became infamous for poverty and crime.

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- Matt Brown

Clearing the Old Nichol Slum

The dire conditions of the Old Nichol caught the attention of figures like Reverend Osborne Jay and writer Arthur Morrison. Reverend Jay's efforts led to the clearance of the slum by the newly formed London County Council (LCC) in 1890 and the raising of £25,000 to build new community amenities. Morrison's book, "A Child of the Jago," shed light on the area's struggles, which helped to sway public opinion.

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- diamond geezer

Creating the Boundary Estate

The clearing of the Old Nichol slum paved the way for the construction of one of London's first council estates, the Boundary Estate. Initiated by the LCC, the project led by architect Owen Fleming aimed to provide decent housing for the city's poorest residents.

Completed in 1900, the red brick Boundary Estate covered 20 blocks, each rising five stories high. The estate's layout featured seven streets spiralling from the central mound constructed from the rubble of demolished slum buildings and the Arnold Circus bandstand, named after Sir Arthur Arnold, Chairman of the LLC. The design ensured good light and air circulation improving living standards and promoting a sense of community among its inhabitants.

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- John Morris

Residents of Arnold Circus

At first the estate's tenants consisted of Jewish immigrants escaping persecution but by the 1970s, the immigrants in the area were predominantly Bengali. The evolution of the Brick Lane mosque, from a church for French Huguenots to a synagogue and eventually a mosque, highlights these changing resident patterns.

Charles Booth's surveys and poverty maps categorised Boundary Estate as "Fairly comfortable". However, the Boundary Estate's success was tarnished by the displacement of the former Old Nichol slum residents.

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- Loco Steve

Friends of Arnold Circus

In 2004, a group of concerned citizens noticed the decline of Arnold Circus' gardens and bandstand, prompting them to take action. This led to the formation of the Friends of Arnold Circus (FOAC), a charity dedicated to restoring the park and improving a sense of community.

In order to carry out their restoration plans the FOAC organise a variety of community events and volunteer programmes, such as gardening workshops and music festivals. Funds raised were combined with grants to restore the bandstand and Arnold Circus Gardens in 2010 and both now have a Grade-II listing.

Today the flats, although lacking some modern amenities, remain popular among tenants, and the area has an active community, thanks to the events run by the FOAC.

Arnold Circus
- Payton Chung

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What you need to know

Arnold Circus
Arnold Circus, London, E27JS, UK
51.5257828, -0.0751251
Tips before you visit

The Arnold Circus Bandstand is located at the top of 22 steps.


Nearby places