Inventory Site Record

Boundary Gardens * (Tower Hamlets)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

The central garden at Arnold Circus was created as the focus of the LCC's new Boundary Street Estate, the first major initiative undertaken to improve its housing and an early instance of slum clearance. The raised garden was created using earth dug for the foundations of the accommodation blocks and it was laid out as a series of terraces with a bandstand at the top level, with four sets of steps leading from entrances at the 4 compass points. Its primary purpose was to unify the new community. Throughout the estate are tree-lined streets and open areas between housing blocks, some with landscaping or play facilities.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Arnold Circus; Boundary Estate
Site location:
Arnold Circus
E2 7JF
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Tower Hamlets
Open to public?
Opening times:
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 7 times, most recently in 2018.
Special conditions:
Summer events organised by The Friends of Arnold Circus (check website for details)
Public transport:
London Overground: Shoreditch High Street. Tube: Old Street (Northern); Bethnal Green (Central) then bus Bus: 26, 48, 55, 149, 242, 243.
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. http://foac.org.uk; www.towerhamlets.gov.uk

Full Site Description

Arnold Circus: Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England was established in 1984 and was commonly called English Heritage. In April 2015 it split into 2 separate entities, Historic England (HE), which continues to champion and protect the historic environment, and the English Heritage Trust, whose role is to look after the 400+ historic sites and monuments owned by the state. HE manages the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) that includes over 400,000 items ranging from prehistoric monuments to office blocks, battlefields and parks, which benefit from legal protection.

In 1890, following the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890, the LCC proposed a comprehensive scheme for clearance of the Old Nichol slum area, which had been notorious as The Jago, immortalised in Arthur Morrison's novel, 'Child of the Jago'. What became known as the Bethnal Green Improvement Scheme covered an area of over 6 ha. and displaced 5,719 people. Originally planned as a series of rectangular plots, in 1893 a revised plan that would house a greater number of people was approved. This had a centralised arrangement with tree-lined streets radiating from a central circus and consisted of 23 accommodation blocks, mostly of 5 stories, housing 5,000 people with laundry, shops, workshops and sheds designed for 'local craftsmen and costermongers'. Two schools, Rochelle School, which was largely built in 1879, and Virginia School, built in 1887, predated the estate.

The LCC's Housing of the Working Classes Branch undertook the work, most of whom had trained at the Architectural Association, with Owen Fleming as architect in charge. The scheme was unusual for providing open space and being based on a road pattern with buildings designed for the site, relating architecturally to each other and to the design as a whole. Open spaces, some with landscaping, were created between the housing blocks so that 'every living room received sunlight at some point of the day'. The original road from Shoreditch High Street, Calvert Street, was widened, planted with trees and renamed Calvert Avenue as the main entrance to the estate, with shop units to the road and workshops behind.

Arnold Circus was conceived as a central raised garden within a circular roadway at the centre of the seven radial streets of the estate. The garden was created using the earth dug for the foundations of the accommodation blocks, which had the additional advantage of saving carting costs. Its primary purpose was to unify the new community. An article in 'The British Architect' in 1897 described the Circus: 'The plan is that of a great circus, in the middle of which, on an elevated plateau, there is to be a bandstand. Round about this bandstand come wonderful 'hanging gardens' of Virginia creepers and we believe that the 'keep the grass' committee are very pleased with themselves about this piece of artistry.' Four sets of steps at the four compass points lead beneath iron overthrows in the perimeter railings up the two tiers of terracing to the top level platform where the bandstand stands, built in 1899.

The Boundary Street Estate was completed and opened in 1900 by the Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII. It was the largest and most important early LCC estate and at the time attracted world-wide interest, influencing housing schemes in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and Vienna. However the Estate had proved costly and only re-housed 4,600 people, not as many as it displaced, and few of the former slum-dwellers could afford the rents. By 1898 the LCC's housing policy had changed to providing cottage development in the suburbs, linked to subsidised transport.

By the latter part of the C20th the garden showed signs of neglect and vandalism but has been substantially restored in 2009/10 when the historic bandstand and railings were refurbished, a new planting scheme undertaken and new seating installed. This took place following active lobbying by The Friends of Arnold Circus, which was set up in spring 2004 by a small group of local people keen to rescue this unique part of the East End’s heritage, and re-establish it as a resource for all. By spring 2006, membership had risen to 450 and events were attracting over 300 people to each. The restoration work was led by LDA Design and took care to balance restoration, sustainability, improvements and new design. The new planting has brought colour and seasonal interest as well as improving biodiversity. The bandstand restoration included use of handmade roofing tiles matching the original. A rainwater harvesting system was installed, with underground storage reducing mains usage, providing recycled water on tap for planting and improving sustainability, with the added bonus of reducing maintenance costs. In 2011 the Friends of Arnold Circus entered into a partnership agreement with Tower Hamlets Council to maintain part of the garden.

Sources consulted:

Elain Harwood and Andrew Saint, 'Exploring England's Heritage: London (HMSO) 1991; EH Register entry: John Nelson Tarn, 'Five per cent philanthropy', 1973; Susan Beattie, 'A Revolution in London Housing', 1980; LB Tower Hamlets 'Boundary Estate Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Guidelines', 2007

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ336825 (533650,182550)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Tower Hamlets
Site management:
Leisure Services, Parks and Open Spaces; The Friends of Arnold Circus Gardening Committee
LCC, Housing of the Working Classes Branch architects under Owen Fleming
Listed structures:
LBII: Bandstand and iron perimeter railings and overthrows; 20 purpose-built accommodation blocks
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

NHLE grade:
Grade II
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Boundary Estate
Tree Preservation Order:
Yes - 50 TPOs on the estate
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:

Boundary Gardens *

Boundary Gardens, Arnold Circus, September 2006. Photo: S Williams

Bandstand in Boundary Gardens, Arnold Circus, September 2006. Photo: S Williams
Boundary Gardens, Arnold Circus, September 2006. Photo: S Williams
Boundary Gardens, Arnold Circus, September 2006. Photo: S Williams

Click a photo to enlarge.

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