|| East London is slowly
beginning to shake off the ‘poor cousin’
mantle it has worn for the past 50 years or so, but
how did it get from being a pride of the capital to
being a depressed urban area.
Like other areas in the capital, the east had humble beginnings
as rolling fields that surrounded the hub of Roman
London. But the area soon saw development due
to its proximity to the Thames.
In 1061, England was ruled by a Danish leader, King
Cnut. With a Dane at the helm many of his fellow countrymen
decided to settle in the area, but most lived beyond the
walls of London close to the Thames on Hakon’s
Island (the origins of the name Hackney) in the east.
These were the beginnings of East London as we know it
While east London grew steadily outwards, the late 17th
century saw a significant boost to the area. Bethnal
Green expanded rapidly when permission was granted
to build houses there for mariners and manufacturers,
while successful merchants were building slightly larger
homes for themselves in Hackney. But by the 1600s East
London had not expanded much beyond these areas.
As the British Empire grew the docks became its heart,
welcoming explorers and their finds from around the known
world. Immigrants also used the ports to gain access to
England, the first wave of these being Jews in 1653 and the French Protestant Huguenot silk
weavers in 1685. The docks saw more Jewish people
between 1870 and 1914, this time fleeing from anti-semitism
and economic hardship.
This, together with the fact that London itself was expanding,
meant East London grew beyond Bethnal Green towards Mile
End and Canning Town in the
In Victorian England, the boroughs of east London were
some of the poorest in the capital. Shoreditch, Hackney
and Bethnal Green all became London slums known for their
brothels and their squalor. This was the time when Jack
the Ripper, the world’s first serial killer,
began his butchery of London prostitutes in Whitechapel.
The 1900s brought war to England and after World War
I East London began to rebuild and prosper again.
But then World War II hit England and hit East
London particularly hard. Twenty five thousand bombs fell
on the area over 57 consecutive nights which halted the
area’s growth and left it spiralling into decline.
Many families were moved to parts of Essex, while others
left the area of their own accord to seek greener pastures.
The mass departure and the damage to the main docks and
factories meant East London was struggling to survive.
It was not until the 1980s that East London saw a revival,
with the creation of Canary Wharf and
the affordable property prices helping to attract people
back to the area. East London is still riding this wave
of this revival, as the area grows more and more popular
with people across the social spectrum.