years ago, the East End was no more than green fields through which an
old Roman road from Colchester to the City of London passed. The landscape
would have been dominated by the old Roman wall and the Norman St. Paul's
Cathedral, which was some 180 feet taller than the present one.
the beginning of the 1600s the unpleasant, smelly and dirty trades were
being established, epitomised by the building of slaughter houses, fish
farms, breweries and factories. This happened on the east side of London
because the dominant west winds kept the smells away from what was to
become the rich, fashionable and aristocratic West End.
in political conditions abroad have been reflected with the successive
waves of immigrants arriving off boats in London's docks beginning with
the Jews in 1653. The Huguenot silk weavers, French Protestants settled
here from 1685, followed by Jewish immigrants from Poland, Rumania and
Russia who fled to England to escape appalling economic conditions as
well as virulent anti-semitism and pogroms. By the 1930s the Jews had
established themselves in Stepney, Whitechapel and Hackney, many being
tradespeople working in Cabinet making, the fur trade and tailoring.
Jewish East End has gone: it's moved out to the lusher suburbs of North
London. The kosher butchers are now halal butchers. The synagogues have
had minarets added to them and have become mosques. Ugandan Asians, Bangladeshis
and Somalis have taken their place, adding their culture to the area.
London Docks began in the small area between London Bridge and the Tower
of London. With the expansion of trade and empire in the late 1700 and
1800 period the docks grew in size and so did the labour force required
to service this industry. The newly built housing however became overcrowded
and deteriorated into slum conditions and poverty.
lived their squalid lives against a background of immorality, drunkeness,
crime and violence. Robbery and assault were commonplace and the streets
ruled by gangs. The streets were most unpleasant places, the many alleyways
were unlit at night and prostitutes and brothels were common place. In
an attempt to overcome these problems William Booth, founded the Salvation
Army in Whitechapel. His success was at best limited because 50 years
later, Jack London the American author still described the East End as
`outcast London'. In 1889 George Gissing in the `The Nether World' described
it as `the city of the damned'.
tradition of London's Pearly Kings and Queens began in Victorian times
when a young orphan boy, Henry Croft, decided that since he shared his
birthdate with Queen Victoria in
the hope that he might share some of her glory! The Royal amily would
parade in their finery in the London parks on Sundays so that the common
people could appreciate their grandeur. This sentiment was not always
well received and there was a certain amount of "lampooning" of this tradition
in the poor mans favourite entertainment of the day - The Music Hall.
Whitechapel Murders in 1888 and the siege of Sydney Street have created
a vision of darkest London with criminality and the East End becoming
synonymous. This image has been reinforced by pre-war detective novels
by Edgar Wallace and the fictitious character of Sherlock Holmes created
by Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle. Films made about Jack the Ripper invariably
show him luring victims down dark fog-filled narrow alley; the Elephant
Man was filmed in black and white. Limehouse,setting for Arthur Henry
Ward's evil genious, Fu Manchu, who threatened to unleash the `yellow
peril' on the outside world.
was the headquarters of the suffragette movement and in Fairfield Road,
1,500 match girls walked out on strike at Bryant & May's factory.
On 23 June 1888 Annie Besant published an article called `White Slavery
in London' publicising the Company's profits and the appauling working
conditions. The girls won an increase in wages. Laterthat year, workers
based at the Beckton Gas Works successfully struck to achieve an eight
hour day. The Dock Strike came the following year, the committee headquarters
being at the Wade's Arms, Jeremiah Street, Poplar. Strike leaders included
Tom Mann, John Burns, and Ben Tillett. Karl Marx's daughter, Eleanor was
the committee's secretary.
1892, the first Labour Party Member of Parliament, Keir Hardie, was elected
from West Ham (South). Prior to the October Soviet Revolution, Russian
Bolsheviks including Lenin had visited the East End frequently. The 5th
Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, forerunner to
the Bolshevik Party, took place in Fulbourne Street, opposite the London
Hospital in May 1907.
stayed at the Tower House in Fieldgate Street (opposite) close to the
Whitechapel Bell Foundary where the thirteen ton `Big Ben' of the Houses
of Parliament and America's Liberty Bell were cast.
Siege of Sidney Street, E1 on 3 January 1911 was one of the most famous
incidents in East End history. The robbery of Harris's Jewellery Shop
in Houndsditch by a Russian Anarchist group intending to raise funds went
seriously wrong. The gang dispersed to lodgings in the surrounding streets,
one of which was 100 Sidney Street. Two of the gang members, Fritz Svaars
and `Josef' died in the house when it burned down in the much publicised
shoot out with the police and military. A third member Peter Piatkov,
nicknamed `Peter the Painter' miraculously escaped.
the Second World War the East End was an area of great economic hardship
and social deprivation. Housing remained a major problem the whole area
was overcrowded with families living in slum conditions and unemployment
was rife. Sir Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts stirred tensions resulting in
the Battle of Cable Street.
Docks and City areas were severely bombed during the Second World War
destroying much of the old Victorian London. Ship containerisation caused
the docks to close in 1969 causing very high unemployment. The notorious
Kray twins, who controlled the East End underworld rather like feudal
lords, ruling their `manor' are not forgotten by East Enders, when they
turned out in the thousands for each of their funerals. Ronnie Kray died
on 17th March 1995 then Charlie on 4th of April 2000 and finally Reggie
on 1st of October 2000.
area has been revived since the 1980s with the emergence nearby of a new
financial centre headed by the Canary Wharf development. Government plans
to make Stratford an International Rail Terminus are still subject to
finance, but success will increase the speed of change in East London.