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Not cricket as lorry is shunted from The Oval to make way for Bethnal Green’s new public space

PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:40 10 January 2018

Public paving and seating area at The Oval. Picture: Dare & Hier

Public paving and seating area at The Oval. Picture: Dare & Hier

Dare & Hier Media, West Byfleet, KT14 6AW

One of the most run-down pieces of wasteland in east London tucked away next to the Regent’s Canal has been cleared and transformed by Tower Hamlets Council into a bright new pubic open space.

Car-park ripped up... but just one old lorry was left, home to a car-park squatter. Picture: GoogleCar-park ripped up... but just one old lorry was left, home to a car-park squatter. Picture: Google

But not before a squatter in an army-type lorry was shifted from The Oval, off Hackney Road, which had become a magnate for rubbish-dumping and free car-park for workers in nearby factories.

Now it has had a makeover which mayor John Biggs formally unveils tonight with East End Gospel choirs.

It has public seating, trees, a new lighting scheme and even a stage for community performances.

Public paving and seating at The Oval. Picture: Dare & Hier MediaPublic paving and seating at The Oval. Picture: Dare & Hier Media

But it hasn’t been easy to spruce-up the oval-shaped cobbled cul-de-sac tucked away between the Cambridge Heath railway arches and the disused Victorian Bethnal Green gasworks.

The council stopped daily car commuters and van owners who had been using it for free parking for decades.

But one lone heavy lorry no longer roadworthy was being used by a homeless man—and the council couldn’t make him budge, until last year.

Building work in The Oval that stopped in 2007 when town planners realised how close it was to Bethnal Green gasworks. Picture: Joe LordBuilding work in The Oval that stopped in 2007 when town planners realised how close it was to Bethnal Green gasworks. Picture: Joe Lord

The Oval has had a chequered history. An unfinished five-storey concrete structure remains to this day, the victim of town planners putting a halt to its construction 10 years ago when they realised it was dangerously close to the gasworks just yards behind.

This once-forgotten corner of the East End is packed cheek-by-jowl with small factories and workshops around its perimeter.

These include Calverts print cooperative, just celebrating its 40th year, after emerging out of an arts organisation’s in-house print department in 1977 that was made redundant.

Bird's eye view of how The Oval once looked, with now-disused Bethnal Green gasworks and Regent's CanalBird's eye view of how The Oval once looked, with now-disused Bethnal Green gasworks and Regent's Canal

Calverts was named after Giles and Elizabeth Calvert, 17th century printers around the time of the English civil war who produced radical political and religious leaflets from the Levellers, the Diggers, the Ranters and even the Quakers.

The Oval continued as a political magnate. Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron chose the unassuming little turning to launch the Tower Hamlets manifesto for last May’s General Election, with the party faithful from all over the country packing this backwater.

The Oval has also been an odd spot for the arts and alternative festivals, one of the venues for the 40th Spitalfields Music Festival last summer with composer Anna Meredith holding the premiere of Anno, based on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, in a specially-constructed installation next to the old gasworks.

New public stage at The Oval. Picture: Dare & HierNew public stage at The Oval. Picture: Dare & Hier

The Rumble in the Jumble music extravaganza was staged at The Oval Space in 2014 by The Music Circle.

Youths also staged a five-hour Oval Bank Holiday festival “alternative” to the 2008 Notting Hill Carnival to raise cash on the for the ‘Place of Victory’ Church.

Now the council is celebrating its “place of victory”, having got rid of decades of grime to create the East End’s new public space.

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