The old Bow Station was a grand affair. The type of building, which if it was still there, today would have been compared with the likes of St. Pancras and widely acclaimed as a great example of Victorian architecture.
Instead, the space once occupied by this formerly grand building is taken by the car park of an Enterprise car hire firm. The offices of the hire firm being an uninspiring prefab building, itself designed to be temporary in nature.
So what happened to the old Bow Station? Built in 1850 but significantly expanded in 1870 to include a large concert hall. It was to become a key and well known part of the East End at the heart of the Bow Road. In 1881 the hall became the Bow and Bromley Institute. In 1887 it became the East London Technical College. In 1911 it became a Salvation Army Hall. Then in 1930 it became known as the Embassy Billiard Hall.
During the Second World War, like many places in the East End, the building and the rail track suffered a lot of bomb damage. This resulted in the stopping of passenger services with the former station becoming a depot. The hall however gained a new lease of life. This time becoming the Bow Palais, a dance hall famed for its ballroom and Irish dancing.
The ballroom eventually became known as the Emerald Ballroom. However this was destroyed by fire in 1956. It led to the halls demolition the year later and the retention of only the lower half of the building. A clothing factory which had been operating above the hall at the time is believed to have been where the fire started.
The remnants of the building operated as a parcel depot until 1965. However that also closed and the remainder of the building was demolished in 1975. It left only a few small clues that it ever existed at all. One wall forming the northern boundary of the Enterprise car rental yard is the only real clue that something existed here. The wall contains remnants of what might have been some of the grand columns. It is often missed and not really noticeable to the masses of people who would pass it everyday.
The Bow Palais and the Double R club
The formation of the Bow Palais after the war ended up being important in the terms of the culture of the East End. It became a kind of hub especially for young people growing up in the area. There are many reports of people meeting their future spouses there. The Palais, pronounced ‘Palace’ was the place to “meet and to be seen”.
Another building of note also existed for a while at the building next door to the Palais. At 145 Bow Road, this building is now also gone but it was for a time the Double R club, a venture established in 1957 by Reggie and Charlie Kray, Ronnie was in prison at the time. The club had live music, a gym and a boxing ring making is essentially a multi-purpose venue. It was also the second club owned by the Krays in this area of the East End as they already owned a billiard hall on Eric Street, just up the road in Mile End.
Bow Road Today
The area has changed beyond recognition from the days of the old Bow Palais. Some buildings remain but they are hidden now amongst the more modern constructions. The area did suffer a lot of bomb damage during the second world war but council initiatives to remove slum housing was also responsible for the removal of much of the architecture. Bow Station’s demise though can clearly be linked back to the war when bombs which hit the building at the line deprived it of its prime purpose, that of carrying passengers. The buildings fall was then dealt a fatal further blow by the devastating fire which happened in 1956.
There are some buildings which still remain though although much has disappeared. The house, which is now a dentist, on the corner of Kitkat Terrace is still there and the station would have stood on the other side of that small road next door. There is also a house on the corner of Fairfield Road and Bow Road which can often be seen in old pictures of the area and which aids the locating of the buildings in between. That became the Westminster and later the Natwest Bank and would have been familiar to people of the area.
The modern photographs in this post were taken on 25 March 2018. This post forms the second part of our historical series looking at old Bow. The first part looked at the old building and locations used by the East London Federation of the Suffragettes.