Inventory Site Record

Cranbrook Estate (Tower Hamlets)

Brief Description

The Cranbrook Estate was built for Bethnal Green MBC, designed by celebrated Russian architect Berthold Lubetkin. The estate's housing units range from bungalows for the elderly, through 2 and 4-storey terraces, to paired tower blocks, set within a formal, geometrical layout with two diagonal pedestrian avenues. In the north-east corner Lubetkin created a trompe-l'oeil sculpture in the form of a series of diminishing arches to continue the vista towards Victoria Park. The estate's hard and soft landscaping was an integral part of the design and included areas of grass, trees, raised planted areas and a communal garden for elderly residents of the bungalows. In 2009 Cranbrook Community Food Garden was established on a former playground.

Practical Information
Site location:
Roman Road, Old Ford Road, Mace Street
E3 0RB
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Housing/Estate Landscaping
Tower Hamlets
Open to public?
Opening times:
public areas have unrestricted access
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 11 times, most recently in 2023.
Special conditions:
Cranbrook Community Food Garden has opened for OGSW
Public transport:
Tube: Bethnal Green (Central) then bus; Mile End (Central, District) then bus. Bus: 8
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.towerhamletshomes.org.uk; www.cranfordcommunityfoodgarden.com

Full Site Description

The Cranbrook Estate was built between 1961-68 for Bethnal Green Metropolitan Borough Council, and was one of the largest municipal housing developments at that time. Badly damaged by bombing, prior to post-war clearance the area was occupied by C19th terraces. The new estate was designed by architects Skinner, Bailey and Lubetkin, all formerly part of Tecton architects; it was their third housing project for Bethnal Green MBC. Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990) had began working in Russia, moving to Paris in the 1920s and from the 1930s worked in England; he was awarded the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture in 1982. The Cranbrook Estate was his last major project before retirement. The estate was planned to provide 600 housing units in different built forms, from bungalows for old people, 2-storey terraces and 4-storey maisonettes, to its 6 paired tower blocks of 11, 13 and 15 storeys.

The buildings were set within a formal, geometrical layout with two diagonal axes, pedestrian avenues that recalled the earlier street pattern. In intervening years some re-landscaping has taken place and the roadways within the estate now resemble a figure of eight. One of the original avenues led from the estate's entrance off Roman Road in the south-east to meet Bonner Road in the north-west, while the other avenue led from the south-west to the north-east corner where its line was designed to continue towards the corner of Victoria Park (q.v.). It was originally intended that there would be a direct link into the park here but the Council was unable to purchase the intervening land. As a result Lubetkin devised a means of creating the illusion of the vista along this diagonal axis through a trompe-l'oeil sculpture in the form of a series of diminishing arches spanning a tapering path, mounted on blocks that also provided seating, within a circular landscaped area. This sculptural feature has become neglected over time and, no longer having the arches, has lost its purpose and no longer creates the illusion.

The estate's hard and soft landscaping was an integral part of the design and included areas of grass, tree planting such as the avenue of poplar trees on the route from the south-west corner, raised planted areas and a private, communal garden for the elderly residents of the bungalows in the south of the estate. Flanked by the bungalows to the north and Roman Road to the south, the garden has lawn, trees and shrubs and an ornamental pond overlooked by a bronze sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink, 'The Blind Beggar and His Dog'. This was commissioned by Bethnal Green MBC in 1957 and was initially sited in Roman Road in 1959 before moving to Cranbrook in 1963, where it is set on a stepped concrete plinth. The legend of the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green dates back to the C17th.

The estate has a number of multi-use play areas for children and a Community Centre on Mace Street was added in 1993, designed by Pentarch architects. In 2009 a derelict playground adjacent to the Community Centre was converted into Cranbrook Community Food Garden, whose members are largely drawn from residents on the estate but also from neighbouring housing. Funding for the community garden was provided by a grant from Capital Growth and £5,000 from LB Tower Hamlets' 'You Make a Difference Today' fund. The allotment has numerous raised beds, seating, wormeries, a greenhouse and shed, and future plans include building a pergola.

Sources consulted:

John Allen, 'The Cranbrook Estate, an architectural synopsis' (n.d.); Bridget Cherry, Charles O'Brien, Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England, London 5: East', Yale University Press, 2005

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ356830 (535650,183050)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Tower Hamlets
Site management:
Tower Hamlets Homes
Skinner, Bailey and Lubetkin
Listed structures:
LBII: Elisabeth Frink sculpture
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

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:
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:

Cranbrook Estate

Remains of Lubetkin's Trompe-L'oeil sculpture, Cranbrook Estate, August 2010. Photo: S Williams

Cranbrook Community Garden, Cranbrook Estate, June 2011. Photo: S Williams
Cranbrook Community Garden, Cranbrook Estate, June 2011. Photo: S Williams
Entrance from south-west corner at Roman Road, Cranbrook Estate, June 2011. Photo: S Williams
Old People's Housing, garden with Frink sculpture, Cranbrook Estate, August 2010. Photo: S Williams

Click a photo to enlarge.

More photos

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