Fairfield Road in Bow, East London is roughly 500 metres long, running between Bow Road and Tredegar Road. The railway line running east from Liverpool Street and the DLR line from Canary Wharf, both heading in the direction of Stratford, cut over the road at approximately the half way point.
The road has undergone a significant transformation over the decades. At the start of the 20th century, Fairfield Road would have been a mixture of fields, homes, and industrial buildings. Pretty two-storey terraced houses were situated near a large open field where the Bow Fair was held. Trams trundled up the road to a depot just south of the railway line. The Bryant & May match factory dominated the road north of the railway line across from the Bow Infirmary Asylum.
In the intervening years, small box-like apartment blocks replaced war-damaged terraces. The Poplar Town Hall was erected on the former fair field. The tram depot was modernised for motorised buses. The infirmary and neighbouring sites made way for textile factories and light industrial buildings.
The Bryant & May match factory ceased operating in 1979 and this perhaps was the turning point for Fairfield Road. In the late 1980s, the match factory was converted to residential use in one of the first regeneration projects undertaken in East London. It was big and ambitious and was modelled after the loft and warehouse conversions in Soho, New York. By the mid-1990s, the development, now called Bow Quarter, housed 733 flats in the converted factory and administrative buildings as well as newly constructed flats on the former yard. Increasingly, sections of the road which were historically industrial were now starting to be converted to residential use during the housing boom in the new millenium. Poplar Town Hall became the Bow Business Centre. Sixteen flats were developed on the top floor as “penthouses” and adjacent is the Theatre Building flats. In 2004, the redevelopment of a site previously occupied by a French Connection warehouse was completed and the development was named Bow Connection (homage paid to the previous occupants of the site, which I realised only recently). The Bromley Arms pub, opposite the Bow Bus Garage closed and was developed into three flats. The Caledonian Arms, which closed in 2000 has been the subject of a painfully slow redevelopment. Nine years later the disused pub has a new mansard roof, new windows, and the pub sign has been removed, but it is still not ready for occupants. Buildings on three industrial sites situated uncomfortably close to the railway lines have been demolished in the last five years. A small block of flats has been built on one awkward site squeezed behind two terraced houses and next to the railway line. A large development of flats extending from Fairfield Road along the railway line to Wick Lane is currently a work in progress. The third site, perhaps the most challenging, is nestled between the DLR and mainline railway tracks. Various planning applications had been submitted to Tower Hamlet council investigating the feasibility of homes for the site.
This summer there has been some work around Fairfield Road on the sewers underneath the pavement. The infrastructure serving the area was not originally designed for such large-scale residential development. At the time of its closure, the Bryant & May employed 275 people. There are now more than 1,000 people living on the same site and demanding services from the electricity grid, the water, and sewage systems. The growing demand on energy, water, and resources due to rising population is not new news and Fairfield Road is a microcosm of that. How much more development and occupational pressure can the services and systems tolerate?