Updated: Apr 11, 2020
We couldn’t do a series on Factory Conversions without revisiting one of our favourites, an old Alex and Matteo stomping ground. This one strays a bit from Southeast London, as it is situated in the heart of Tower Hamlets, but as it is an easy commute we never skip an opportunity to visit our friends in The Bow Quarter.
Dating back to the mid-18th century, The Bow Quarter has a rich lineage, making it the perfect home for history and architecture aficionados. The development’s life as a factory spanned nearly 200 years and was the site of some famous highs and lows in factory production.
The 3-acre site was originally used for the manufacture of candles, petticoats, and rope. Over time these facilities closed down and feel into disrepair until William Bryant and Francis May saw the potential in the area as the perfect space for the Bryant & May Match Factory. The duo acquired the site in 1861, and the company continuously ran it until it finally closed in 1979.
Bryant & May certainly had vision, and redeveloped the site, adding facilities and carefully adjusting the architecture over the years. However, it’s not all praise for the pair. Bryan & May is well known as the origination point of the London matchgirls strike of 1888.
The female-dominated workforce at the facility banned together to fight against the terrible working conditions they suffered, including 14 hour shifts, low pay, and severe health complications caused by working with white phosphorous, a key ingredient in match making at the time. The strike is historically seen as a major success. It resulted in the first trade union for women in Britain.
At peak production around the turn of the century, the factory employed over 2,000 women, making it the largest factory in London.
The factory closed in 1979 and faced a decade of disrepair. But the building still had a lot of heritage to offer, and in 1988 development firm Kentish Homes took on the mammoth task of embarking on one of East London’s first renewal projects. At the time it could also be seen as a key moment in the oncoming gentrification of the area.
The Bow Quarter in its current iteration consists of over 700 flats, the residents of which enjoy amenities such as landscaped grounds, gym, and convenience store.
The majority of the flats are located in former factory buildings, and the architecture remains reminiscent of it’s industrial heritage.
The Arlington building dates to 1874 when it was inaugurated as an office complex, while the Lexington and Manhattan buildings started life in 1911 as manufacturing space.
Other spaces such as the Park buildings were added after the development turned residential, but the architecture has remained largely sensitive to the whole area’s industrial past.
Prices in The Bow Quarter range from roughly £1300 per month for a small one bedroom mezzanine unit to £3000 for one of the biggest units for rentals, and sell from £300k for a studio up to £650k for the biggest units.
Alex & Matteo