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Bethnal Green
Bethnal Green Stairway to Heaven.jpg
Stairway to Heaven, also seen is Bethnal Green tube station, CoE St John Church and Salmon and Ball public house.
Bethnal Green is located in Greater London
Bethnal Green
Bethnal Green
Population 27,849 (Bethnal Green North and Bethnal Green South wards 2011)
OS grid reference TQ345825
• Charing Cross 3.3 mi (5.3 km) SW
London borough
Ceremonial county Greater London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district E1, E2
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament
  • Bethnal Green and Bow
London Assembly
List of places
51°31′37″N 0°03′18″W / 51.527°N 0.055°W / 51.527; -0.055

Bethnal Green is an area in the East End of London 3 miles (4.8 km) northeast of Charing Cross. The area emerged from the small settlement which developed around the Green, much of which survives today as Bethnal Green Gardens, beside Cambridge Heath Road. By the 16th century the term applied to a wider rural area, the Hamlet of Bethnal Green, which subsequently became a Parish, then a Metropolitan Borough before merging with neighbouring areas to become the north-western part of the new London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Economic focus shifted from mainstream farming produce for the City of London – through highly perishable goods production (market gardening), weaving, dock and building work and light industry – to a high proportion of commuters to city businesses, public sector/care sector roles, construction, courier businesses and home-working digital and creative industries. Identifiable slums in the maps of Booth in Life and Labour of the People in London (3 editions, 1889–1903) were in large part cleared before the aerial bombardment of the Second World War which accelerated clearance of many tightly packed terraces of small houses to be replaced with green spaces and higher-rise social housing.

Bethnal Green has stations on the London Underground and London Overground.



The place-name Blithehale or Blythenhale, the earliest form of Bethnal Green, is derived from the Anglo-Saxon healh ("angle, nook, or corner") and blithe ("happy, blithe"), or from a personal name Blitha. Nearby Cambridge Heath (Camprichesheth), is unconnected with Cambridge and may also derive from an Anglo-Saxon personal name. The area was once marshland and forest which, as Bishopswood, lingered in the east until the 16th century. Over time, the name became Bethan Hall Green, which, because of local pronunciation as Beth'n 'all Green, had by the 19th century changed to Bethnal Green.

Early history

Parish of Bethnal Green 1848
Parish of Bethnal Green, 1848

A Tudor ballad, the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green, tells the story of an ostensibly poor man who gave a surprisingly generous dowry for his daughter's wedding. The tale furnishes the parish of Bethnal Green's coat of arms. According to one version of the legend, found in Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry published in 1765, the beggar was said to be Henry, the son of Simon de Montfort, but Percy himself declared that this version was not genuine. The Blind Beggar public house in Whitechapel is reputed to be the site of his begging.

Boxing has a long association with Bethnal Green. Daniel Mendoza, who was champion of England from 1792 to 1795 though born in Aldgate, lived in Paradise Row on the western side of Bethnal Green for 30 years. Since then numerous boxers have been associated with the area, and the local leisure centre, York Hall, remains notable for presentation of boxing bouts.

In 1841, the Anglo-Catholic Nathaniel Woodard, who was to become a highly influential educationalist in the later part of the 19th century, became the curate of the newly created St. Bartholomew's in Bethnal Green. He was a capable pastoral visitor and established a parochial school. In 1843, he got into trouble for preaching a sermon in which he argued that The Book of Common Prayer should have additional material to provide for confession and absolution and in which he criticised the "inefficient and Godless clergy" of the Church of England. After examining the text of the sermon, the Bishop of London condemned it as containing "erroneous and dangerous notions". As a result, the bishop sent Woodard to be a curate in Clapton.

The Green and Poor's Land

The Green and Poor's Land is the area of open land now occupied by Bethnal Green Library, the V&A Museum of Childhood and St John's Church, designed by John Soane. In Stow's Survey of London (1598) the hamlet was called Blethenal Green. It was one of the hamlets included in the Manor of Stepney and Hackney. Hackney later became separated.

In 1678 the owners of houses surrounding the Green purchased the land to save it from being built on and in 1690 the land was conveyed to a trust under which it was to be kept open and rent from it used for the benefit of poor people living in the vicinity. From that date, the trust has administered the land and its minute books are kept in the London Metropolitan Archives.

Bethnal House, or Kirby's Castle, was the principal house on the Green. One of its owners was Sir Hugh Platt (1552–1608), author of books on gardening and practical science. Under its next owner it was visited by Samuel Pepys.

In 1727 it was leased to Matthew Wright and for almost two centuries it was an asylum. Its two most distinguished inmates were Alexander Cruden, compiler of the Concordance to the Bible, and the poet Christopher Smart. Cruden recorded his experience in The London Citizen Grievously Injured (1739) and Smart's stay there is recorded by his daughter. Records of the asylum are kept in the annual reports of the Commissioner in Lunacy. Even today, the park where the library stands is known locally as "Barmy Park".

The original mansion, the White House, was supplemented by other buildings. In 1891 the Trust lost the use of Poor's Land to the London County Council. The asylum reorganised its buildings, demolishing the historic White House and erecting a new block in 1896. This building became the present Bethnal Green Library. A history of Poor's Land and Bethnal House is included in The Green, written by A.J. Robinson and D.H.B. Chesshyre.

Other houses on the Green

The north end of the Green is associated with the Natt family. During the 18th century they owned many of its houses. Netteswell House is the residence of the curator of the Bethnal Green Museum. It is almost certainly named after the village of Netteswell, near Harlow, whose rector was the Rev. Anthony Natt. A few of its houses have become University settlements. In Victoria Park Square, on the east side of the Green, No. 18 has a Tudor well in its cellar.

Globe Town

Globe Town arch, Roman Road 02
Brick arch and globe sculpture on Roman Road

To the east of Bethnal Green (and west of Bow and north of Stepney Green) lies Globe Town, established from 1800 to provide for the expanding population of weavers around Bethnal Green attracted by improving prospects in silk weaving. The population of Bethnal Green trebled between 1801 and 1831, operating 20,000 looms in their own homes. By 1824, with restrictions on importation of French silks relaxed, up to half these looms became idle and prices were driven down. With many importing warehouses already established in the district, the abundance of cheap labour was turned to boot, furniture and clothing manufacture. Globe Town continued its expansion into the 1860s, long after the decline of the silk industry.

Globe Town has three globe sculptures situated in three corners of the area. The town centre is known as Globe Town Market Square, and is located to the north on Roman Road next to the Cranbrook Estate. The area is home to a large Bangladeshi community.

This area as with greater Bethnal Green is served by Bethnal Green and Stepney Green underground stations. London Buses routes 309 serves the heart of Globe Town with 8, D6 and night route N8 on the north on Roman Road and 25, 205 and N205 on Mile End Road in Stepney Green to the south.

Modern history

Poverty map old nichol 1889
Part of Charles Booth's poverty map showing the Old Nichol slum, including Bethnal Green Road
Slum children bethnal green
Slum children in bed, Bethnal Green, 1900-1910
Bethnal green slum
Slum street in Bethnal Green, circa 1900

The silk-weaving trade spread eastwards from Spitalfields throughout the 18th century. This attracted many Huguenot and Irish weavers to the district. Large estates of small two story cottages were developed in the west of the area to house them. A downturn in the trade in 1769 led to the Spitalfield Riots, and on 6 December 1769, two weavers accused of 'cutting' were hanged in front of the Salmon and Ball public house.

In the 19th century, Bethnal Green remained characterised by its market gardens and by weaving. Having been an area of large houses and gardens as late as the 18th century, by about 1860 Bethnal Green was mainly full of tumbledown old buildings with many families living in each house. By the end of the century, Bethnal Green was one of the poorest slums in London. Jack the Ripper operated at the western end of Bethnal Green and in neighbouring Whitechapel. In 1900, the Old Nichol Street Rookery was demolished, and the Boundary Estate opened on the site near the boundary with Shoreditch. This was the world's first council housing, and brothers Lew Grade and Bernard Delfont were brought up here. In 1909, the Bethnal Green Estate was built with money left by the philanthropist William Richard Sutton which he left for 'modern dwellings and houses for occupation by the poor of London and other towns and populous places in England'.

On 3 March 1943 at 8:27PM the unopened Bethnal Green tube station was the site of a wartime disaster. Families had crowded into the underground station due to an air raid siren at 8:17, one of 10 that day. There was a panic at 8:27 coinciding with the sound of an anti-aircraft battery (possibly the recently installed Z battery) being fired at nearby Victoria Park. In the wet, dark conditions the crowd was surging forward towards the shelter when a woman tripped on the stairs, causing many others to fall. Within a few seconds 300 people were crushed into the tiny stairwell, resulting in 173 deaths. Although a report was filed by Eric Linden with the Daily Mail, who witnessed it, it never ran. The story which was reported instead was that there had been a direct hit by a German bomb. The results of the official investigation were not released until 1946. A plaque at the entrance to the tube station commemorates it as the worst civilian disaster of the Second World War and a memorial in nearby Bethnal Park has been partially built; now awaiting funds for completion.

It is estimated that during the Second World War, 80 tons of bombs fell on the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green, affecting 21,700 houses, destroying 2,233 and making a further 893 uninhabitable. There were a total of 555 people killed and 400 seriously injured. Many unexploded bombs remain in the area, and on 14 May 2007, builders discovered a Second World War 1 m long 500 lb (230 kg) bomb.

The book Family and Kinship in East London, based on materials gathered in the 1950s, shows an improvement in working class life. Husbands in the sample population no longer went out to drink but spent time with the family. As a result, both birth rate and infant death rate fell drastically and local prosperity increased. It is true that the infamous gangsters, the Kray twins lived in Bethnal Green in the 1960s. However, by the beginning of the 21st century, Bethnal Green and much of the old East End began to undergo a process of gentrification.

The former Bethnal Green Infirmary, later the London County Council Bethnal Green Hospital, stood opposite Cambridge Heath railway station. The hospital closed as a public hospital in the 1970s and was a geriatric hospital under the NHS until the 1980s. Much of the site was developed for housing in the 1990s but the hospital entrance and administration block remains as a listed building. The Albion Rooms are located in Bethnal Green where Pete Doherty and Carl Barât of the Libertines used to live when the band was together. It became part of music history as the band would hold Guerilla Gigs in the flat that would be packed with people.

The London Chest Hospital, founded in 1848 by Thomas Bevill Peacock, was located in Approach Road and first opened in 1855. It closed on 17 April 2015 and its functions transferred to other sites of the Barts Health NHS Trust.


Stepney Civil Parish Map 1870
A map showing the civil parish boundaries in 1870.
Bethnal Green Met. B Ward Map 1916
A map showing the wards of Bethnal Green Metropolitan Borough as they appeared in 1916.

Bethnal Green forms a part of Tower Hamlets and Hackney, centred around the Central line tube station at the junction of Bethnal Green Road, Roman Road and Cambridge Heath Road.

The district is associated with the E2 postcode district, but this also covers parts of Shoreditch, Haggerston and Cambridge Heath. Between 1986 and 1992, the name Bethnal Green was applied to one of seven neighbourhoods to whom power was devolved from the council. This resulted in replacement of much of the street signage in the area that remains in place. This included parts of both Cambridge Heath and Whitechapel (north of the Whitechapel Road) being more associated with the post code and administrative simplicity than the historic districts.


Area surrounding 244 Cambridge Heath Road, London 10
An eastern European shop on Cambridge Heath Road.

Bethnal Green had a total population of 27,849 at the 2011 UK census. The largest single ethnic group is people of Bangladeshi descent, who constitute 38 percent of the area's population. Every year since 1999 the Baishakhi Mela is held in Weavers' Fields to commemorate the Bengali New Year. The second largest is the White British, constituting 30 percent of the area's population. Other ethnic groups include Black Africans and Black Caribbeans.

According to the UK census of 2011, the population has a lower proportion of young people than the national average and a higher proportion of older people. Bethnal Green also has a significant immigrant population.


The two main faiths of the people are Islam and Christianity, with 50 percent Muslim and 34 percent Christians.

St John on Bethnal Green - - 1295683
Church of St John on Bethnal Green from Roman Road.

There are many historical churches in Bethnal Green. Notable churches include St John on Bethnal Green, located near the Bethnal Green tube station, on Bethnal Green Road and Roman Road. The church was built from 1826 to 1828 by the architect John Soane. Other notable churches include St Matthew - built by George Dance the Elder in 1746. St Matthew is the mother church of Bethnal Green; the church's opening coincided with a vast population increase in the former village of Stepney, resulting in the need to separate the area around Bethnal Green from the mother Parish of St Dunstan's, Stepney. All but the bell tower, still standing today, was destroyed by fire and the church again suffered devastating damage during the bombing campaigns of the Second World War, resulting in the installation of a temporary church within the bombed-out building. St. Matthew's remains a major beacon of the local East End community and is frequented on Sundays and other religious occasions by a mixture of established locals and more recent migrants to the area.

Other churches include St Peter's (1841) and St James-the-Less (1842), both by Lewis Vulliamy, St James the Great by Edward Blore (1843) and St Bartholomew by William Railton (1844). The church attendance in Bethnal Green was 1 in 8 people since 1900, and is estimated around 100 people attend church today (only 10% attend regularly in the UK). Baptisms, marriages and burials have been deposited nearly at all churches in Bethnal Green.

There are two Roman Catholic churches, St Casimir's and the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, in Bethnal Green. St Casimir serves London's Lithuanian community and masses are held in both Lithuanian and English. The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption hosts the London Chinese Catholic Centre and Chinese mass is held weekly.

Other Christian churches include The Good Shepherd Mission, The Bethnal Green Medical Mission, The Bethnal Green Methodist Church.

The Quakers hold regular meetings in Old Ford Road.

There are at least eight Islamic mosques or places of worship in Bethnal Green for the Muslim community. These include the Baitul Aman Mosque and Cultural Centre, Darul Hadis Latifiah, the Senegambian Islamic Cultural Centre and the Globe Town Mosque and Cultural Centre.

The London Buddhist Centre, at 51 Roman Road, is one of the largest urban Buddhist centres in the West, and is the focus of a large Buddhist residential and business community in the area.


Bethnal Green tube station is on the London Underground Central line, which connects Bethnal Green directly to the Stratford in the east and London's West End and the City.

The area is also linked to the British railway system at two stations on the London Overground network, Bethnal Green and Cambridge Heath railway stations.

Bethnal Green is served by London Buses, including route 8, 26, 55, 254 and 388 to Central London, and also routes 309, 388, D3, D6 and night routes N8, N26, N55 and N243.


Men's Association Football

Non-League football clubs are:

  • Tower Hamlets FC
  • Sporting Bengal United FC

Both play at Mile End Stadium.


Bethnal Green Montessori School - - 1716721
Bethnal Green Montessori School.

Bethnal Green has numerous primary schools (educating children aged four to 11). St. Matthias School on Bacon Street, off Brick Lane, is over a century old and uses the Seal of the old Metropolitan Borough as its badge and emblem. The school was opened with funds from 18th-century St. Matthew's Church on St. Matthew's Row. The Bangabandhu Primary School, named after the father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujib, a non-selective state community school, was opened in January 1989, moved to a new building in November 1991, and has over 450 pupils. In the first decade around 70% of pupils's parents spoke English as a second language; instead speaking Sylheti, a dialect of Bengali, at home, and Standard Bengali is a subject choice in the school.

Bethnal Green Academy is one of the top schools and sixth form colleges in London. Other schools in the area include Oaklands School.

The oldest secondary school was Raine's Foundation School on Old Bethnal Green, a voluntary aided, Anglican-tradition, state school founded in 1719. The school relocated, amalgamating with St. Jude's School to become coeducational in 1977. The school closed in 2020.

Bethnal Green Gardens and Bethnal Green Library provide leisure facilities and information.

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See also

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