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WHITECHAPEL DOORS chronicles the social and political history of this iconic area of London through the entrances and portals of its buildings. Once a rural backwater favoured by the wealthy and the retired, it became a dark and sinister presence in the 19th and 20th centuries but in the current era is being transformed into a modern addition to the City that it borders.

Illustrated with over one hundred photographs by Louis Berk and narrated by award-winning London Blue Badge Tourist Guide Rachel Kolsky, the doors range from humble residences to the grandeur of public and commercial buildings, each with their own fascinating story to tell.

* A4 softcover
* 122 pages
* Full colour throughout


Louis Berk's Introduction to Whitechapel Doors

Until 2015, exiting the tube onto Whitechapel Road was, for travellers, their entrance into Whitechapel. At first glance it often seems that everyone had some form of affliction or a limb in plaster before noticing the main entrance to the Royal London Hospital directly opposite. On market days visitors are transported to a faraway land of saris, spices and exotic vegetables. At the time of writing this station entrance has been closed awaiting a new doorway linked to the Elizabeth Line due to open in 2020.

This is how I was first introduced to Whitechapel on a visit in 2004 to an interview for teaching post which I attained and continued in for 13 years, until my retirement in 2017. I used my early morning commute and time after work, sometimes at weekends and in holidays to pursue my passion for photography in Whitechapel, which continues to this day.

It also brought me the reward of seeing my work exhibited, published in numerous magazines and newspapers, and forming the core of three books; Whitechapel in 50 Buildings, Secret Whitechapel and East End Jewish Cemeteries. In addition, I formed a successful creative partnership with Rachel Kolsky, an award-winning London Blue Badge Guide who shares my passion for the highways, byways and hidden stories of Whitechapel, Spitalfields and Stepney Green. Whitechapel Doors is our third collaboration.

The variety of doors in Whitechapel and their wide time span first became evident to me while perusing the 25,000+ photographs I had taken in the area since 2004. Subconsciously I had been drawn to taking portraits of the door on the buildings I encountered. An idea formed in my mind to use these doors as a means of relating the history of the area. As I shared my thoughts with others, including those passers-by who observed me photographing, enthusiasm for publishing this visual recording of Whitechapel’s doors grew, extending to Adam at Mango Books who has transformed the idea into a reality.

Through my photography I am able to challenge popular conceptions of Whitechapel. It is true that for much of the 19th and 20th centuries it was the byword for deprivation, poverty, exploitation and violence and this reputation still resonates today in the minds of many people. However, by the time I began my wanderings it had become much more tranquil and, despite being in the LB of Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived area of the UK, was experiencing a rapid gentrification. Whitechapel, to me, is a ‘fragile hinterland’ as the insatiable demand for office space in the neighbouring City of London at its western end competes for demand for new housing throughout the area.

Whitechapel, with its neighbourhoods of Spitalfields and Stepney Green, contains buildings and a streetscape that are historically significant. Through this book you will discover the wealthy and sometimes opulent origins of the area and how with the waves of immigration and displacement of the rural population to urban centres, the new residents brought with them their religious beliefs, social aspirations and political activism. The variety of residences range from grand homes and humble abodes to the enduring philanthropic and municipal apartment blocks built from the mid-19th century to the present day.

Doorways leading to employment and learning also feature and the book concludes, almost as it begins, with examples of the influx of new wealth as the local authority, businesses and residents regenerate the area.

I am grateful that Rachel Kolsky shared my enthusiasm for this project and it has been a pleasure to work with her again as we showcase, not only the aesthetics of the doorways, but their significance to the rich social history of Whitechapel.

Whitechapel continues to undergo a significant change as the new millennium sweeps away many buildings and places with their origins in the previous one. I hope that this book, in its own small way, will contribute a lasting visual record of the doors of Whitechapel, some of which will remain for future generations to enjoy but also those that, perhaps, will not survive long into the future.


Louis Berk is a photographer whose work in the ‘fragile hinterland’ of Whitechapel and Spitalfields has been used regularly since 2008 in newspapers, magazines, books and websites, both in the UK and internationally. He is the joint author (with Rachel Kolsky) of two highly successful books for Amberley Publishing, Whitechapel in 50 Buildings and Secret Whitechapel, as well as a solo effort based on a 5-year photographic project in two of London’s oldest Jewish cemeteries, East End Jewish Cemeteries, to which he was granted exclusive access.

Engaging, knowledgeable and entertaining, Rachel Kolsky is passionate about exploring London’s heritage. Her popular walks and talks cover a wide range of themes and areas but always focus on the ‘human stories behind the buildings’. In addition to her collaborations with Louis, Rachel has published Jewish London and Women’s London.