East End of London facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Wall and Tower
London's Wall, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, inner boundaries of the East End. Immediately to the east (left) lies St Katherine's Dock and 6.5 mile of former Docklands.

The East End of London, also known simply as the East End, is an area of Central and East London, England; east of the Roman and medieval walls of the City of London, and north of the River Thames. The East End is the historic core of wider East London but is not defined by any universally accepted boundaries, though the various channels of the River Lea are often considered to be the eastern boundary.

The East End's emergence began in the middle ages with initially slow urban growth outside the eastern walls, which subsequently accelerated, especially in the 19th century, to absorb pre-existing settlements.

The first known written record of the East End as a distinct entity, as opposed its component parts, comes from John Strype's 1720 'Survey of London', where he describes London as consisting of four parts: the City of London, Westminster, Southwark, and "That Part beyond the Tower".

The relevance of Strype's reference to the Tower was more than geographical. The East End was the major part of an area called the Tower Division, which owed military service to the Tower of London. Later, as the East End grew and the Tower Division contracted, the East End became, arguably, conterminous with the Tower Division.

The area was notorious for its deep poverty, overcrowding and associated social problems. This has led to the East End’s history of intense political activism and association with some of the country’s most influential social reformers.

Another major theme of East End history has been that of migration; both inward and outward. The area had a strong pull on the rural poor from other parts of England and attracted waves of migration from further afield: notably Huguenot refugees, who created a new extramural suburb in Spitalfields in the 17th century., Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews and, in the 20th century, Bangladeshis.

The closure of the last of the East End docks in the Port of London in 1980 created further challenges and led to attempts at regeneration and the formation of the London Docklands Development Corporation. The Canary Wharf development, improved infrastructure, and the Olympic Park mean that the East End is undergoing further change, but some parts continue to contain some of the worst poverty in Britain.

Uncertain extent of the East End

The East End lies east of the Roman and medieval walls of the City of London, and north of the River Thames. Aldgate Pump on the edge of the City is the symbolic start of the East End and, on the river, Tower Bridge is also sometimes also described in these terms.

Aldgate Pump - geograph.org.uk - 498941
Aldgate Pump - Symbolic start of the East End

Beyond these references though, the East End has no official or popularly accepted boundaries, so there are a range of views about how much of wider East London is part of this core area.

A common preference is to include the modern borough of Tower Hamlets, together with the former parish and borough of Shoreditch (this includes Hoxton and Haggerston and is now the southern part of the modern London Borough of Hackney). This version makes the East End conterminous with the Tower Division of Middlesex under the borders that area had in the 19th century when the East End completed the process of urbanisation.

An alternative definition is based solely on the modern borough of Tower Hamlets.

Parts of the old parish and borough of Hackney are sometimes included, while others include areas east of the Lea such as West Ham, East Ham, Leyton and Walthamstow.

This uncertainty is not new; when Jack London came to London in 1902 his Hackney carriage driver did not know the way and he observed, "Thomas Cook and Son, path-finders and trail-clearers, living sign-posts to all the World.... knew not the way to the East End".

Development of the East End

Emergence

The East End began with the medieval growth of London beyond the walls, along the Roman Roads leading from Bishopsgate and Aldgate and also alongside the Thames.

Growth was much slower in the east, and the modest extensions on this side were separated from the much larger extensions in the west by the marshy open area of Moorfields adjacent to the wall on the north side which discouraged development in that direction.

Building accelerated in the 16th century, and the area that would later become known East End began to take shape.

In 1720 John Strype gives us our first record of the East End as a distinct entity when he describes London as consisting of four parts: the City of London, Westminster, Southwark, and "That Part beyond the Tower".

The relevance of Strype's reference to the Tower was more than geographical. The East End was the major part of an area called the Tower Division, which had its roots in the Bishop of London's historic Manor of Stepney and owed military service to the Tower of London. Later, as the East End grew and the Tower Division contracted, the East End became, arguably, conterminous with the Tower Division.

For a very long time the East End was physically separated from the London's western growth by the open spaces known as Moorfields. Shoreditch's boundary with the parish of St Luke's (and its predecessor St Giles-without-Cripplegate) ran through the Moorfields countryside becoming, on urbanisation, the boundary of east and north London. That line, with very slight modifications, has also become the boundary of the modern London Boroughs of Hackney and Islington.

Moorfields remained largely open until 1812, and the longstanding presence of that open space separating the emerging East End from the western urban expansion of London must have helped shape the varying economic character of the two parts and perceptions of their distinct identity (see map below).

City of London Ogilby and Morgan's Map of 1677
Ogilby & Morgan's 1673 map of London. The East End is developing outside Bishopsgate, Aldgate and along the river - it is separated from the western growth of the city by Moorfields

From the beginning, the East End has always contained some of the poorest areas of London. The main reasons for this include the following:

  • the medieval system of copyhold, which prevailed throughout the East End, into the 19th century. Essentially, there was little point in developing land that was held on short leases.
  • the siting of noxious industries, such as tanning and fulling downwind outside the boundaries of the City, and therefore beyond complaints and official controls. The foul-smelling industries partially preferred the East End because the prevailing winds in London traveled from west to east (i.e. it was downwind from the rest of the city), meaning that most odors from their businesses would not go into the city but outside, and thereby reduced complaints.
  • the low paid employment in the docks and related industries, made worse by the trade practices of outwork, piecework and casual labour.
  • and the concentration of the ruling court and national political epicentre in Westminster, on the opposite western side of the City of London.

Historically, the East End is arguably conterminous with the Manor of Stepney. This manor was held by the Bishop of London, in compensation for his duties in maintaining and garrisoning the Tower of London. Further ecclesiastic holdings came about from the need to enclose the marshes and create flood defences along the Thames. Edward VI passed the land to the Wentworth family, and thence to their descendants, the Earls of Cleveland. The ecclesiastic system of copyhold, whereby land was leased to tenants for terms as short as seven years, prevailed throughout the manor. This severely limited scope for improvement of the land and new building until the estate was broken up in the 19th century.

In medieval times trades were carried out in workshops in and around the owners' premises in the City. By the time of the Great Fire these were becoming industries and some were particularly noisome, such as the processing of urine to perform tanning; or required large amounts of space, such as drying clothes after process and dying in fields known as tentergrounds; and rope making. Some were dangerous, such as the manufacture of gunpowder or the proving of guns. These activities came to be performed outside the City walls in the near suburbs of the East End. Later when lead making and bone processing for soap and china came to be established, they too located in the East End rather than the crowded streets of the City.

The lands to the east of the City had always been used as hunting grounds for bishops and royalty, with King John establishing a palace at Bow. The Cistercian Stratford Langthorne Abbey became the court of Henry III in 1267 for the visitation of the Papal legates, and it was here that he made peace with the barons under the terms of the Dictum of Kenilworth. It became the fifth largest Abbey in the country, visited by monarchs and providing a popular retreat (and final resting place) for the nobility. The Palace of Placentia at Greenwich, to the south of the river, was built by the Regent to Henry V, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Henry VIII established a hunting lodge at Bromley Hall. These Royal connections continued until after the Interregnum when the Court established itself in the Palace of Whitehall and the offices of politics congregated around them. The East End also lay on the main road to Barking Abbey, important as a religious centre since Norman times and where William the Conqueror had first established his English court.

Accelerated 19h century development

During the Middle Ages, settlements had been established predominantly along the lines of the existing roads, and the principal villages were Stepney, Whitechapel and Bow. Settlements along the river began at this time to service the needs of shipping on the Thames, but the City of London retained its right to actually land the goods. The riverside became more active in Tudor times, as the Royal Navy was expanded and international trading developed and downstream, a major fishing port developed at Barking to provide fish to the City. These and other factors meant that industries relating to construction, repair, and victualling of naval and merchant ships flourished in the area.

Whereas royalty such as King John had had a hunting lodge at Bromley-by-Bow, and the Bishop of London had a palace at Bethnal Green, later these estates began to be split up, and estates of fine houses for captains, merchants and owners of manufacturers began to be built. Samuel Pepys moved his family and goods to Bethnal Green during the Great Fire of London, and Captain Cook moved from Shadwell to Stepney Green, a place where a school and assembly rooms had been established (commemorated by Assembly Passage, and a plaque on the site of Cook's house on the Mile End Road). Mile End Old Town also acquired some fine buildings, and the New Town began to be built. As the area became built up and more crowded, the wealthy sold their plots for sub-division and moved further afield. Into the 18th and 19th centuries, there were still attempts to build fine houses, for example Tredegar Square (1830), and the open fields around Mile End New Town were used for the construction of estates of workers' cottages in 1820. This was designed in 1817 in Birmingham by Anthony Hughes and finally constructed in 1820

Globe Town was 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, with 20,000 looms being operated in people's own homes. By 1824, with restrictions on importation of French silks relaxed, up to half these looms had become 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.

1745 Roque Map
The East End in 1741–5, as depicted on John Rocque's Exact Survey of the city's of London Westminster ye Borough of Southwark and the Country near ten miles round. London is expanding, but there are still large areas of fields to the east of the City.
1882 Reynolds Map
1882 Reynolds Map of the East End. Development has now eliminated the open fields pictured on the map.
Poverty map old nichol 1889
Part of Charles Booth's poverty map showing the Old Nichol slum. Published 1889 in Life and Labour of the People in London. The red areas are "middle class, well-to-do", light blue areas are "poor, 18s to 21s a week for a moderate family", dark blue areas are "very poor, casual, chronic want", and black areas are the "lowest class...occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals".
Boundary est Bandstand
Boundary Estate bandstand was built on the rubble from the clearance of the Old Nichol' slum.

During the 19th century, building on an adhoc basis could never keep up with the needs of the expanding population. Henry Mayhew visited Bethnal Green in 1850 and wrote for the Morning Chronicle, as a part of a series forming the basis for London Labour and the London Poor (1851), that the trades in the area included tailors, costermongers, shoemakers, dustmen, sawyers, carpenters, cabinet makers and silkweavers. He noted that in the area:

roads were unmade, often mere alleys, houses small and without foundations, subdivided and often around unpaved courts. An almost total lack of drainage and sewerage was made worse by the ponds formed by the excavation of brickearth. Pigs and cows in back yards, noxious trades like boiling tripe, melting tallow, or preparing cat's meat, and slaughter houses, dustheaps, and 'lakes of putrefying night soil' added to the filth

—Henry Mayhew London Labour and London Poor (1851)

A movement began to clear the slums – with Burdett-Coutts building Columbia Market in 1869 and with the passing of the "Artisans' and Labourers' Dwelling Act" in 1876 to provide powers to seize slums from landlords and provide access to public funds to build new housing. Housing associations such as the Peabody Trust were formed to provide philanthropic homes for the poor and clearing the slums generally. Expansion work by the railway companies, such as the London and Blackwall Railway and Great Eastern Railway, caused large areas of slum housing to be demolished. The "Working Classes Dwellings Act" in 1890 placed a new responsibility to house the displaced residents and this led to the building of new "philanthropic housing" such as Blackwall Buildings and Great Eastern Buildings.

By 1890 official slum clearance programmes had begun. One was the creation of the world's first council housing, the LCC Boundary Estate, which replaced the neglected and crowded streets of Friars Mount, better known as The Old Nichol Street Rookery. Between 1918 and 1939 the LCC continued replacing East End housing with five or six storey flats, despite residents preferring houses with gardens and opposition from shopkeepers who were forced to relocate to new, more expensive premises. The Second World War brought an end to further slum clearance.

Politics and social reform

William-Booth-c1900
William Booth founded the Salvation Army, in Whitechapel, in 1878

At the end of the 17th century large numbers of Huguenot weavers arrived in the East End, settling to service an industry that grew up around the new estate at Spitalfields, where master weavers were based. They brought with them a tradition of 'reading clubs', where books were read, often in public houses. The authorities were suspicious of immigrants meeting and in some ways they were right to be as these grew into workers' associations and political organisations. Towards the middle of the 18th century the silk industry fell into a decline – partly due to the introduction of printed calico cloth – and riots ensued. These 'Spitalfield Riots' of 1769 were actually centred to the east and were put down with considerable force, culminating in two men being hanged in front of the Salmon and Ball public house at Bethnal Green. One was John Doyle (an Irish weaver), the other John Valline (of Huguenot descent).

In 1844, "An Association for promoting Cleanliness among the Poor" was established, and it built a bath-house and laundry in Glasshouse Yard, East Smithfield. This cost a single penny for bathing or washing and by June 1847 was receiving 4,284 people a year. This led to an Act of Parliament to encourage other municipalities to build their own and the model spread quickly throughout the East End. Timbs noted that "... so strong was the love of cleanliness thus encouraged that women often toiled to wash their own and their children's clothing, who had been compelled to sell their hair to purchase food to satisfy the cravings of hunger".

William Booth began his 'Christian Revival Society' in 1865, preaching the gospel in a tent erected in the 'Friends Burial Ground', Thomas Street, Whitechapel. Others joined his 'Christian Mission', and on 7 August 1878 the Salvation Army was formed at a meeting held at 272 Whitechapel Road. A statue commemorates both his mission and his work in helping the poor. Dubliner Thomas John Barnardo came to the London Hospital, Whitechapel to train for medical missionary work in China. Soon after his arrival in 1866 a cholera epidemic swept the East End killing 3,000 people. Many families were left destitute, with thousands of children orphaned and forced to beg or find work in the factories. In 1867, Barnardo set up a Ragged School to provide a basic education but was shown the many children sleeping rough. His first home for boys was established at 18 Stepney Causeway in 1870. When a boy died after being turned away (the home was full), the policy was instituted that 'No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission'.

In 1884, the Settlement movement was founded, with settlements such as Toynbee Hall and Oxford House, to encourage university students to live and work in the slums, experience the conditions and try to alleviate some of the poverty and misery in the East End. Notable residents of Toynbee Hall included R. H. Tawney, Clement Attlee, Guglielmo Marconi, and William Beveridge. The Hall continues to exert considerable influence, with the Workers Educational Association (1903), Citizens Advice Bureau (1949) and Child Poverty Action Group (1965) all being founded or influenced by it. In 1888, the matchgirls of Bryant and May in Bow went on strike for better working conditions. This, combined with the many dock strikes in the same era, made the East End a key element in the foundation of modern socialist and trade union organisations, as well as the Suffragette movement.

Towards the end of the 19th century, a new wave of radicalism came to the East End, arriving both with Jewish émigrés fleeing from Eastern European persecution, and Russian and German radicals avoiding arrest. A German émigré anarchist, Rudolf Rocker, began writing in Yiddish for Arbayter Fraynd (Workers' Friend). By 1912, he had organised a mass London garment workers' strike for better conditions and an end to 'sweating'. Amongst the Russians was fellow anarchist Peter Kropotkin who helped found the Freedom Press in Whitechapel. Afanasy Matushenko, one of the leaders of the Potemkin mutiny, fled the failure of the Russian Revolution of 1905 to seek sanctuary in Stepney Green. Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin attended meetings of the newspaper Iskra in 1903. in Whitechapel; and in 1907 Lenin and Joseph Stalin attended the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party held in a Hoxton church. That congress consolidated the leadership of Lenin's Bolshevik faction and debated strategy for the communist revolution in Russia. Trotsky noted, in his memoires, meeting Maxim Gorky and Rosa Luxemburg at the conference.

By the 1880s, the casual system caused Dock workers to unionise under Ben Tillett and John Burns. This led to a demand for '6d per hour' (The Docker's Tanner), and an end to casual labour in the docks. Colonel G. R. Birt, the general manager at Millwall Docks, gave evidence to a Parliamentary committee, on the physical condition of the workers:

The poor fellows are miserably clad, scarcely with a boot on their foot, in a most miserable state.... These are men who come to work in our docks who come on without having a bit of food in their stomachs, perhaps since the previous day; they have worked for an hour and have earned 5d. [2p]; their hunger will not allow them to continue: they take the 5d. in order that they may get food, perhaps the first food they have had for twenty-four hours.

—Col. G. R. Birt, in evidence to the Parliamentary Committee (1889)

These conditions earned dockers much public sympathy, and after a bitter struggle, the London Dock Strike of 1889 was settled with victory for the strikers, and established a national movement for the unionisation of casual workers, as opposed to the craft unions that already existed.

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts
Lady Burdett-Coutts

The philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts was active in the East End, alleviating poverty by founding a sewing school for ex-weavers in Spitalfields and building the ornate Columbia Market in Bethnal Green. She helped to inaugurate the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, was a keen supporter of the 'Ragged School Union', and operated housing schemes similar to those of the Model Dwellings Companies such as the East End Dwellings Company and the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company, where investors received a financial return on their philanthropy. Between the 1890s and 1903, when the work was published, the social campaigner Charles Booth instigated an investigation into the life of London poor (based at Toynbee Hall), much of which was centred on the poverty and conditions in the East End. Further investigations were instigated by the 'Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress 1905-09', the Commission found it difficult to agree, beyond that change was necessary and produced separate minority and majority reports. The minority report was the work of Booth with the founders of the London School of Economics Sidney and Beatrice Webb. They advocated focusing on the causes of poverty and the radical notion of poverty being involuntary, rather than the result of innate indolence. At the time their work was rejected but was gradually adopted as policy by successive governments.

Sylvia Pankhurst 1909
Sylvia Pankhurst 1882–1960

Sylvia Pankhurst became increasingly disillusioned with the suffragette movement's inability to engage with the needs of working class women, so in 1912 she formed her own breakaway movement, the East London Federation of Suffragettes. She based it at a baker's shop at Bow emblazoned with the slogan, "Votes for Women", in large gold letters. The local Member of Parliament, George Lansbury, resigned his seat in the House of Commons to stand for election on a platform of women's enfranchisement. Pankhurst supported him in this, and Bow Road became the campaign office, culminating in a huge rally in nearby Victoria Park. Lansbury was narrowly defeated in the election, however, and support for the project in the East End was withdrawn. Pankhurst refocused her efforts, and with the outbreak of the First World War, she began a nursery, clinic and cost price canteen for the poor at the bakery. A paper, the Women's Dreadnought, was published to bring her campaign to a wider audience. Pankhurst spent twelve years in Bow fighting for women's rights. During this time, she risked constant arrest and spent many months in Holloway Prison, often on hunger strike. She finally achieved her aim of full adult female suffrage in 1928, and along the way she alleviated some of the poverty and misery, and improved social conditions for all in the East End.

The alleviation of widespread unemployment and hunger in Poplar had to be funded from money raised by the borough itself under the Poor Law. The poverty of the borough made this patently unfair and lead to the 1921 conflict between government and the local councillors known as the Poplar Rates Rebellion. Council meetings were for a time held in Brixton prison, and the councillors received wide support. Ultimately, this led to the abolition of the Poor Laws through the Local Government Act 1929.

The General Strike had begun as a dispute between miners and their employers outside London in 1925. On 1 May 1926 the Trades Union Congress called out workers all over the country, including the London dockers. The government had had over a year to prepare and deployed troops to break the dockers' picket lines. Armed food convoys, accompanied by armoured cars drove down the East India Dock Road. By 10 May, a meeting was brokered at Toynbee Hall to end the strike. The TUC were forced into a humiliating climbdown and the general strike ended on 11 May, with the miners holding out until November.

Second World War

Dornier 17 bombers over West Ham
Dornier Do 17 bombers of the Luftwaffe over West Ham on 7 September 1940. (Air Ministry photograph)

Hardest of all, the Luftwaffe will smash Stepney. I know the East End! Those dirty Jews and Cockneys will run like rabbits into their holes.

Initially, the German commanders were reluctant to bomb London, fearing retaliation against Berlin. On 24 August 1940, a single aircraft, tasked to bomb Tilbury, accidentally bombed Stepney, Bethnal Green and the City. The following night the RAF retaliated by mounting a forty aircraft raid on Berlin, with a second attack three days later. The Luftwaffe changed its strategy from attacking shipping and airfields to attacking cities. The City and West End were designated 'Target Area B'; the East End and docks were 'Target Area A'. The first raid occurred at 4:30 p.m. on 7 September and consisted of 150 Dornier and Heinkel bombers and large numbers of fighters. This was followed by a second wave of 170 bombers. Silvertown and Canning Town bore the brunt of this first attack.

Between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941, a sustained bombing campaign was mounted. It began with the bombing of London for 57 successive nights, an era known as 'the Blitz'. East London was targeted because the area was a centre for imports and storage of raw materials for the war effort, and the German military command felt that support for the war could be damaged among the mainly working class inhabitants. On the first night of the Blitz, 430 civilians were killed and 1,600 seriously wounded. The populace responded by evacuating children and the vulnerable to the country and digging in, constructing Anderson shelters in their gardens and Morrison shelters in their houses, or going to communal shelters built in local public spaces. On 10 September 1940, 73 civilians, including women and children preparing for evacuation, were killed when a bomb hit the South Hallsville School. Although the official death toll is 73, many local people believed it must have been higher. Some estimates say 400 or even 600 may have lost their lives during this raid on Canning Town.

WWII London Blitz East London
Children of an eastern suburb of London, made homeless by the Blitz

The effect of the intensive bombing worried the authorities and 'Mass-Observation' was deployed to gauge attitudes and provide policy suggestions, as before the war they had investigated local attitudes to anti-Semitism. The organisation noted that close family and friendship links within the East End were providing the population with a surprising resilience under fire. Propaganda was issued, reinforcing the image of the 'brave chirpy Cockney'. On the Sunday after the Blitz began, Winston Churchill himself toured the bombed areas of Stepney and Poplar. Anti-aircraft installations were built in public parks, such as Victoria Park and the Mudchute on the Isle of Dogs, and along the line of the Thames, as this was used by the aircraft to guide them to their target.

The authorities were initially wary of opening the London Underground for shelter, fearing the effect on morale elsewhere in London and hampering normal operations. On 12 September, having suffered five days of heavy bombing, the people of the East End took the matter into their own hands and invaded tube stations with pillows and blankets. The government relented and opened the partially completed Central line as a shelter. Many deep tube stations remained in use as shelters until the end of the war. Aerial mines were deployed on 19 September 1940. These exploded at roof top height, causing severe damage to buildings over a wider radius than the impact bombs. By now, the Port of London had sustained heavy damage with a third of its warehouses destroyed, and the West India and St Katherine Docks had been badly hit and put out of action. Bizarre events occurred when the River Lea burned with an eerie blue flame, caused by a hit on a gin factory at Three Mills, and the Thames itself burnt fiercely when Tate & Lyle's Silvertown sugar refinery was hit.

On 3 March 1943 at 8:27 p.m., 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, a woman slipped on the entrance stairs and 173 people died in the resulting crush. The truth was suppressed, and a report appeared that there had been a direct hit by a German bomb. The results of the official investigation were not released until 1946. There is now a plaque at the entrance to the tube station, which commemorates the event as the "worst civilian disaster of World War II". The first V-1 flying bomb struck in Grove Road, Mile End, on 13 June 1944, killing six, injuring 30, and making 200 people homeless. The area remained derelict for many years until it was cleared to extend Mile End Park. Before demolition, local artist Rachel Whiteread made a cast of the inside of 193 Grove Road. Despite attracting controversy, the exhibit won her the Turner Prize for 1993.

Prefabfront
Prefabricated post-war home at Chiltern Open Air Museum: Universal House, steel frame clad with corrugated asbestos cement

It is estimated that by the end of the war, 80 tons of bombs had fallen on the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green alone, affecting 21,700 houses, destroying 2,233 and making a further 893 uninhabitable. In Bethnal Green, 555 people were killed, and 400 were seriously injured. For the whole of Tower Hamlets, a total of 2,221 civilians were killed, and 7,472 were injured, with 46,482 houses destroyed and 47,574 damaged. So badly battered was the East End that when Buckingham Palace was hit during the height of the bombing, Queen Elizabeth observed that "It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face." By the end of the war, the East End was a scene of devastation, with large areas derelict and depopulated. War production was changed quickly to making prefabricated houses, and many were installed in the bombed areas and remained common into the 1970s. Today, 1950s and 1960s architecture dominates the housing estates of the area such as the Lansbury Estate in Poplar, much of which was built as a show-piece of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Outside Perception and Cockney Identity

Society at large viewed the East End with a mixture of suspicion and fascination with the use of the term East End in a pejorative sense began in the late 19th century, as the expansion of the population of London led to extreme overcrowding throughout the area and a concentration of poor people and immigrants. The problems were exacerbated with the construction of St Katharine Docks (1827) and the central London railway termini (1840–1875) that caused the clearance of former slums and rookeries, with many of the displaced people moving into the East End. Over the course of a century, the East End became synonymous with poverty, overcrowding, disease and criminality.

[The] invention about 1880 of the term 'East End' was rapidly taken up by the new halfpenny press, and in the pulpit and the music hall ... A shabby man from Paddington, St Marylebone or Battersea might pass muster as one of the respectable poor. But the same man coming from Bethnal Green, Shadwell or Wapping was an 'East Ender', the box of Keating's bug powder must be reached for, and the spoons locked up. In the long run this cruel stigma came to do good. It was a final incentive to the poorest to get out of the 'East End' at all costs, and it became a concentrated reminder to the public conscience that nothing to be found in the 'East End' should be tolerated in a Christian country.

The Nineteenth Century XXIV (1888)

Internally the area generally took pride in a ‘Cockney identity’, although this term has both a geographic and a linguistic connotation and as so often with London is hard to pin down. See also East End of London in Popular Culture.

Geographic

A traditional definition is that to be a Cockney, one had to be born within the sound of Bow Bells, situated in Cheapside. In general, the sound pattern would cover most of the City, and parts of the near East End such as Aldgate and Whitechapel, but it is unlikely that the bells would have been heard in the docklands. In practice, with Royal London the only maternal hospital nearby, few would today be born within earshot.

In practice people from all over the East End, inner East London and occasionally beyond self-identify as Cockneys.

Linguistic

The linguistic use of Cockney is more identifiable, with lexical borrowings from Yiddish, Romani, and costermonger slang, and a distinctive accent that features T-glottalization, a loss of dental fricatives and diphthong alterations, amongst others. The accent is said to be a remnant of early English London speech, modified by the many immigrants to the area. The Cockney accent has suffered a long decline, beginning with the introduction in the 20th century of received pronunciation, and the more recent adoption of Estuary English, which itself contains many features of Cockney English.

Cockney English is spoken widely in the East End, wider East London and more widely in traditionally working-class areas across London.

There is a Cockney derivative called Estuary English, heavily influenced by Cockney and which is named after the Thames Estuary area where the movement of East Londoners to south Essex and to a lesser extent parts on north Kent led it to be widely spoken in those areas. As well as the concentration of speakers around the estuary the form of speech can be heard less commonly in various other places around the Home Counties.

Within London Cockney speech is, to a significant degree, being replaced by Multicultural London English a form of spreech with a significant Cockney influence.

Population

Brick Lane 2005
Brick Lane has been a centre for new immigration through the centuries (Sep 2005)
Further information: Ethnic groups in London
Microcosm of London Plate 009 - Billingsgate Market (tone)
The Billingsgate Fish Market in the early 19th century

Throughout history the area has absorbed waves of immigrants, who have each added a new dimension to the culture and history of the area, most notably the French Protestant Huguenots in the 17th century, the Irish in the 18th century, Ashkenazi Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe towards the end of the 19th century, and the Bangladeshi community settling in the East End from the 1960s.

Immigration

Aerial view of East London Mosque complex - Feb 2014
The East London Mosque was one of the first in Britain to be allowed to use loudspeakers to broadcast the adhan.

Immigrant communities first developed in the riverside settlements. From the Tudor era until the 20th century, ships' crews were employed on a casual basis. New and replacement crew would be found wherever they were available, local sailors being particularly prized for their knowledge of currents and hazards in foreign ports. Crews would be paid off at the end of their voyage. Inevitably, permanent communities became established, including colonies of Lascars and Africans from the Guinea Coast. Large Chinatowns at both Shadwell and Limehouse developed, associated with the crews of merchantmen in the opium and tea trades. It was only after the devastation of the Second World War that this predominantly Han Chinese community relocated to Soho.

In 1786, the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor was formed by citizens concerned at the size of London's indigent Black population, many of whom had been expelled from North America as Black Loyalists — former slaves who had fought on the side of the British in the War of Independence. Others were discharged sailors and some a legacy of British involvement in the slave trade. The committee distributed food, clothing, medical aid and found work for men, from various locations including the White Raven tavern in Mile End. They also helped the men to go abroad, some to Canada. In October 1786, the Committee funded an ill-fated expedition of 280 black men, 40 black women and 70 white women (mainly wives and girlfriends) to settle in Sierra Leone. From the late 19th century, a large African mariner community was established in Canning Town as a result of new shipping links to the Caribbean and West Africa.

Immigrants have not always been readily accepted and in 1517 the Evil May Day riots, where foreign-owned property was attacked, resulted in the deaths of 135 Flemings in Stepney. The Gordon Riots of 1780 began with burnings of the houses of Catholics and their chapels in Poplar and Spitalfields.

BritishBrothersLeaguePoster(1902)
Anti-immigration poster, from 1902

In the 1870 and 80s, so many Jewish émigrés were arriving that over 150 synagogues were built. Today there are only four active synagogues remaining in Tower Hamlets: the Congregation of Jacob Synagogue (1903 – Kehillas Ya'akov), the East London Central Synagogue (1922), the Fieldgate Street Great Synagogue (1899) and Sandys Row Synagogue (1766). Jewish immigration to the East End peaked in the 1890s, leading to anti-foreigner agitation by the British Brothers League, formed in 1902 by Captain William Stanley Shaw and the Conservative MP for Stepney, Major Evans-Gordon, who had overturned a Liberal majority in the 1900 General Election on a platform of limiting immigration. In Parliament in 1902, Evans-Gordon claimed that "not a day passes but English families are ruthlessly turned out to make room for foreign invaders. The rates are burdened with the education of thousands of foreign children." Jewish immigration only slowed with the passing of the Aliens Act 1905, which gave the Home Secretary powers to regulate and control immigration.

At the beginning of the 20th century, London was the capital of the extensive British Empire, which contained tens of millions of Muslims, but had no mosque for Muslim residents or visitors. On 9 November 1910, at a meeting of Muslims and non-Muslims at the Ritz Hotel, the London Mosque Fund was established with the aims of organising weekly Friday prayers and providing a permanent place of worship for Muslims in London. From 1910 to 1940 various rooms had been hired for Jumu'ah prayers on Fridays. Finally, in 1940, three houses were purchased at 446–448 Commercial Road in the East End of London as a permanent place of prayer. On 2 August 1941 the combined houses were inaugurated as the East London Mosque and Islamic Culture Centre at a ceremony attended by the Egyptian Ambassador, Colonel Sir Gordon Neal (representing the Secretary of State for India). The first prayer was led by the Ambassador for Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Hafiz Wahba. From the late 1950s the local Muslim population began to increase due to further immigration from the Indian subcontinent, particularly from Sylhet in East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh in 1971. The migrants settled in areas already established by the Sylheti expatriate community, working in the local docks and Jewish tailoring shops set up in the days of British India. During the 1970s, this immigration increased significantly. In 1975 the local authority bought the properties in Commercial Road under a compulsory purchase order, in return providing a site with temporary buildings on Whitechapel Road. The local community set about raising funds to erect a purpose-built mosque on the site. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia donated £1.1 million of the £2 million fund, and the governments of Kuwait and Britain also donated to the fund. Seven years later, the building of the new mosque commenced, with foundations laid in 1982 and construction completed in 1985. It was one of the first mosques in the European Union to broadcast the adhan from the minaret using loudspeakers. Currently, the mosque has a capacity of 7,000, with prayer areas for men and women, and classroom space for supplementary education. However, by the 1990s the capacity was already insufficient for the growing congregation and for the range of projects based there.

Community tensions were again raised by an anti-semitic Fascist march that took place in 1936 and was blocked by residents and activists at the Battle of Cable Street. From the mid-1970s anti-Asian violence occurred, culminating in the murder on 4 May 1978 of a 25-year-old clothing worker named Altab Ali by three white teenagers in a racially motivated attack. Bangladeshi groups mobilised for self-defence, 7,000 people marched to Hyde Park in protest, and the community became more politically involved. The former churchyard of St Mary's Whitechapel, near where the attack took place, was renamed "Altab Ali Park" in 1998 as a commemoration of his death. Inter-racial tension has continued with occasional outbreaks of violence and in 1993 there was a council seat win for the British National Party (since lost). A 1999 bombing in Brick Lane was part of a series that targeted ethnic minorities, gays and "multiculturalists".

Out migration - The Cockney Diaspora

As London extended east, East Enders often moved to opportunities in the new suburbs. The late 19th century saw a very major movement of people to West Ham and East Ham to service the new docks and industries established there.

There were very significant attempts to address overcrowded housing which began at the beginning of the 20th century under the London County Council. In the inter-war period, migration occurred to new estates built to alleviate conditions in the East End, in particular at Becontree and Harold Hill, or out of London entirely.

The Second World War devastated much of the East End, with its docks, railways and industry forming a continual target for bombing, especially during the Blitz, leading to dispersal of the population to new suburbs and new housing being built in the 1950s. Many East Enders went further than the eastern suburbs, leaving London altogether, notably to the Essex new towns of Basildon and Harlow and a number of expanded towns in south Essex and elsewhere.

Demographics

The population of the East End increased inexorably throughout the 19th century. House building could not keep pace and overcrowding was rife. It was not until the interwar period that there was a decline caused by migration to new London suburbs like the Becontree estate, built by the London County Council between 1921 and 1932, and to areas outside London. This depopulation accelerated after the Second World War and has only recently begun to reverse.

These population figures reflect the area that now forms the London Borough of Tower Hamlets only:

Borough 1811 1841 1871 1901 1931 1961 1971 1991 2001
Bethnal Green 33,619 74,088 120,104 129,680 108,194 47,078 n/a n/a n/a
Poplar 13,548 31,122 116,376 168,882 155,089 66,604
Stepney 131,606 203,802 275,467 298,600 225,238 92,000
Total 178,773 309,012 511,947 597,102 488,611 205,682 165,791 161,064 196,106

By comparison, in 1801 the population of England and Wales was 9 million; by 1851 it had more than doubled to 18 million, and by the end of the century had reached 40 million. Today, Bangladeshis form the largest minority population in Tower Hamlets, constituting 33.5% of the borough's population at the 2001 census; the Bangladeshi community there is the largest such community in Britain. The 2006 estimates show a decline in this group to 29.8% of the population, reflecting a movement to better economic circumstances and the larger houses available in the eastern suburbs. In this, the latest group of migrants are following a pattern established for over three centuries.

20th and early 21st century

Canary Wharf complex
Redevelopment of Isle of Dogs

Historically, the East End has suffered from under-investment in both housing stock and infrastructure. From the 1950s, the East End represented the structural and social changes affecting the UK economy in a microcosm. The area had one of the highest concentrations of council housing, the legacy both of slum clearance and wartime destruction. The progressive closure of docks, cutbacks in railways and the closure and relocation of industry contributed to a long-term decline, removing many of the traditional sources of low- and semi-skilled jobs. However, beginning with the LDDC, in the 1980s, there have been a number of urban regeneration projects, most notably Canary Wharf, a huge commercial and housing development on the Isle of Dogs. Many of the 1960s tower blocks have been demolished or renovated, replaced by low-rise housing, often in private ownership, or owned by housing associations.

The area around Old Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane called "London's curry capital" has been extensively regenerated and, amongst other things, has been dubbed as Bangla Town. The contribution of Bangladeshi people to British life was recognised in 1998, when Pola Uddin, Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green became the first Bangladeshi-born Briton to enter the House of Lords, and the first Muslim peer to swear her oath of allegiance in the name of her own faith. Her glory was short-lived as she was investigated and suspended from the House of Lords for an expenses scandal where she was found guilty of offences.

The area is also home to a number of commercial and public art galleries; including the newly expanded Whitechapel Gallery. The artists Gilbert and George have long made their home and workshop in Spitalfields, and the neighbourhood around Hoxton Square has become a centre for modern British art, including the White Cube gallery, with many artists from the Young British Artists movement living and working in the area. This has made the area around Hoxton and Shoreditch fashionable, with many former residents now driven out by higher property prices, and a busy nightlife has developed, with over 80 licensed premises around Shoreditch.

By the mid-1980s, both the District line (extended to the East End in 1884 and 1902) and Central line (1946) were running beyond their capacity, and the Docklands Light Railway (1987) and Jubilee line (1999) were constructed to improve rail communications through the riverside district. There was a long-standing plan to provide London with an inner motorway box, the East Cross Route. Apart from a short section, this was never built, but road communications were improved by the completion of the Limehouse Link tunnel under Limehouse Basin in 1993 and the extension of the A12 connecting to the Blackwall Tunnel with an upgraded carriageway in the 1990s. The extension of the East London line to the north, on the border between Islington and Hackney, provided further travel links in 2010. From 2017, Crossrail line 1 is expected to create a fast railway service across London, from east to west, with a major interchange at Whitechapel. New river crossings are planned at Beckton, (the Thames Gateway Bridge) and the proposed Silvertown Link road tunnel, to supplement the existing Blackwall Tunnel.

Olympic Park, London, 16 April 2012
The Olympic Park in April 2012

The 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics were held in an Olympic Park created on former industrial land around the River Lea. It is intended that this should leave a legacy of new sports facilities, housing, and industrial and technical infrastructure that will further help regenerate the area. This is linked to a new Stratford International station in the Newham, and the future Stratford City development. Also in Newham is London City Airport, built in 1986 in the former King George V Dock, a small airport serving short-haul domestic and European destinations. In the same area, the University of East London has developed a new campus which will provide the United States Olympic Team its training base during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Queen Mary campus has expanded into new accommodation both adjacent to its existing site at Mile End, and with specialist medical campuses at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel and at Charterhouse Square in the City. Whitechapel is the base for the London Air Ambulance, and the hospital's clinical facilities are undergoing a £1 billion refurbishment and expansion.

Much of the area remains, however, one of the poorest in Britain. This is in spite of rising property prices and the extensive building of luxury apartments centred largely around the former dock areas and alongside the Thames. With rising costs elsewhere in the capital and the availability of brownfield land, the East End has become a desirable place for business.

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