Acme Studios: Devons Road

Acme Studios: Devons Road

David Panton and Jonathan Harvey outside 117 Devons Road, E3 one of the first two Acme houses and first office. Photo: Claire Smith (1974)


The first properties to be managed by Acme Studios were 105 and 117 Devons Road in Bow, E3, in the heart of London’s East End. These redundant and semi-derelict Victorian shops, licensed to Acme in 1973 by the Greater London Council (for 21 months), marked the beginnings of an organisation which would become the largest provider of working and living space for artists in the United Kingdom. As part of the licence artists were required to carry out extensive repairs in exchange for very low rents (£3 per week) and agreement to hand properties back when required for demolition.

from: 'Artists in East London'
online available at:
(accessed September 2013)

'Groundbreaking times: the first ten years of Acme' - Jonathan Harvey

Setting up Acme Studios in 1972 was driven by necessity. As a group of recent graduates coming out of Reading University Fine Art Department, it was about thinking: ‘We have to get to London, London is where it’s happening. How on earth does one afford to have a space to live and work there?’

At that time, there were a lot of boarded-up, unused premises in east London – one or two of our contemporaries had made approaches to the Greater London Council (GLC) and had successfully negotiated an odd shop here or an old house there. This alerted us to the possibility and we went direct to the GLC and said: ‘Look, there’s all this empty property that’s just sitting there unused.’ Much of it was destined for major housing redevelopment which was delayed because of the economic down-turn. The GLC responded: ‘Well, you’ve got two alternatives, one is to squat, but we’ll get you out, and the other is to go away and form a housing association.'

It took seven people and ten pounds each to register as a charitable housing association. The GLC transferred two properties in Bow on Devons Road – I had one and my co-founder David Panton had the other. Each had a 21-month life, no utilities, and were in appalling condition, but when you’ve got no money and there’s a lot of space – even though it was short term – we made very good use of them.

I think the GLC was impressed by how quickly we were able to put the properties back into use, so it started to transfer more. We needed five houses for the seven founder members, but when we were offered more and more property, we said: ‘We know so many artists that could benefit from this.’

There was no intention to start an organisation – we sort of stumbled into it – but within a year we were managing about 90 houses and realised this was becoming more than a full-time job. There is still a huge challenge to be able to live in London and practice as an artist. Affording somewhere to live is challenging enough, but then to have somewhere to work – that challenge, or demand, has never gone away. (...)

from: 'Groundbreaking times: the first ten years of Acme'
online available at:
(accessed September 2013)

how is/was it run/structured ?: 

what is/was it's legal status ?: 

  • charity

how is/was it funded ?: 

history of the site: 

Devons Road:
Earlier called Bromley Lane, the road may have gained its present name from former landowner Thomas Devon. Like most of Bromley-​​by-​​Bow, this area began to fill with warehouses and working-​​class housing from the 1820s and became progressively poorer and more overcrowded as the 19th century wore on. Using funds generated by the sale of the City church of All Hallows Staining, the Grocers’ Company paid for the construction of All Hallows Bow in 1873–4. The church was wrecked by a bomb during the Blitz and was afterwards rebuilt in a style inspired by Early Christian archi­tecture, utilising surviving parts of the original core. The interior has since been subdivided to introduce a multi-​​functional hall. Municipal slum clearance and flat-​​building trans­formed the vicinity of Devons Road over the course of the 20th century – without signi­ficantly improving its aesthetics – but a handful of Victorian structures have survived. Spratt’s Warehouse, beside the railway track in Violet Road, is regarded as one of Britain’s finest industrial buildings. Built in 1899 to make and store pet food and biscuits, it has now been converted into flats and offices.

from: 'Devons Road, Tower Hamlets'
online available at:
(accessed September 2013)


105 + 117 Devons Road
E3 3QX London 51° 31' 15.5964" N, 0° 1' 9.1524" W


previous usage of the site: 

number of studios: 

types of studios: 

  • private





last known status of the project: 

last known status of the site: