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Altab Ali Park Tower Hamlets
   

Altab Ali Park

Altab Ali Park, June 2010. Photo: S Williams

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St Mary's Gardens was the site of St Mary's Church, whose burial ground was referred to as White Chapel Church Yard in the C18th. The last church was built in 1875 but later destroyed in air raids in 1940, and demolished in 1945, although part of the C19th boundary walls and gate piers at the former entrance remain. Adjacent to the latter is a gothic drinking fountain dated 1860, erected here in 1879, with the inscription 'erected by one unknown and yet well known'. In 1966 the church site was laid out as a public garden, with the footprint of the church outlined in concrete blocks flush with the grass. A number of monuments remain from the churchyard within the grass and stacked in the west corner. The gardens were re-named Altab Ali Park in 1989 in memory of a young Bengali man who had been murdered in a racist attack here in 1978; a Memorial Gateway was commissioned and inscribed plaques were set into the pathway. Re-landscaping is being carried out in 2011.
   
Previous / Other name: White Chapel Church Yard; St Mary's Gardens; St Mary Matfelon
Site location: Whitechapel Road/Whitechurch Lane
Postcode: E1
Type of site: Public Gardens 
Date(s): C18th; 1966
Designer(s):
Listed structures:
Borough: Tower Hamlets
Site ownership: LB Tower Hamlets
Site management: Leisure Services, Parks and Open Spaces
Open to public? Yes
Opening times: unrestricted
Special conditions:
Facilities:
Events: Outdoor stage used for events
Public transport: Tube: Aldgate East (District; Hammersmith & City). Bus: 25, 15, 253.
Drinking fountain, old churchyard entrance and commemorative gates to Altab Ali, July 2009. Photo: S Williams
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Old gravestones by west boundary, Altab Ali Park, June 2010. Photo: S Williams
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The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/06/2010
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.towerhamlets.gov.uk

Fuller information:

St Mary's Gardens was formerly the burial ground of Whitechapel parish church and referred to in the C18th as White Chapel Church Yard. The church here was the second oldest in Stepney and there are records of a church from 1329, built as a chapel-of-ease and called St Mary Matfelon. It may have been known as White Chapel because it was painted with whitewash. It became the parish church for the western part of Stepney in 1338. The third church on the site was built in 1877 but this suffered a fire in 1880, only its tower, vestry and church rooms remaining. It was, however, rebuilt by December 1882 and it could accommodate some 1600 people, with an outside pulpit used for sermons in the summer. The church was destroyed in air raids in December 1940.

In 1966 the site was laid out as a public garden when the footprint of the former church was outlined in concrete blocks flush with the lawn. There are a number of monuments remaining, particularly near the entrance on Whitechurch Lane / Whitechapel Road junction as well as a number of chest tombs, including one tomb to the ?Mattock family. An old drinking fountain is on the corner of Whitechurch Lane and Whitechapel High Street, with the inscription ‘erected by one unknown and yet well known’ stating that it was erected from another location. There are remains of old railings on the gardens side of the structure.

St Mary's Gardens were re-named in 1989 after Altab Ali, a young Bengali man who was murdered in St Mary’s Gardens on his way home from work on 4 May 1978 in a racist attack. Stepney Neighbourhood of LB Tower Hamlets commissioned a commemorative gateway from Welsh artist-blacksmith David Petersen to mark Altab Ali’s death as a ‘turning point in the struggle against racism that his death marked’ (press release). The opening ceremony took place on 1 October 1989, re-naming the park Altab Ali Park. In the park a raised concrete stage/platform was erected, a copy of a structure in Dhaka. The park (2011) is currently being re-landscaped.

Sources consulted:

LBTH press releases/papers; East London Advertiser 18/11/1966. Harold Clunn, the Face of London (c1950); Postcard of the month no 28, September 2002 on www.eastlondonpostcard.co.uk
Grid ref: TQ341814
Size in hectares: 0.505
   
On EH National Register : No
EH grade :
Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:
Registered common or village green
on Commons Registration Act 1965:
No
Protected under London Squares
Preservation Act 1931:
No
 
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: No
Conservation Area name:
Tree Preservation Order: No
Nature Conservation Area: No
Green Belt: No
Metropolitan Open Land: No
Special Policy Area: No
Other LA designation: Upgrading of Local Open Space
   

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