East London History. Discover East End Facts

A blog exploring the facts about the East End of London. Discover the places, the people, the stories. Professionally researched articles telling the real history of East London. We have many perceptions of the East End in Britain.

This has, historically, been one of the poorest areas of London but it is also the hub of much of the city’s profits and industry. Over the coming months we will be exploring online all there is to see heading East from the City of London. Please add East London History to your internet favourites.

The History of London’s East End

Despite a difficult past, East Enders are rightfully proud of their heritage and history, much of which still survives despite major changes over the years.

Traditionally the home of the true Londoner, the Cockney, this is an area of close communities that now reflects the melting-pot of nationalities and cultures that makes up our capital city.

The East End sits outside of the traditional Roman boundaries of the City of London.  Initially composed of small villages and hamlets around a Roman road leading from London to Colchester in Essex, this was an area of green and open space compared to the crowded streets of the city.

It was rich in royal hunting grounds, palaces and small port settlements at one point but, as London started to grow and become more industrialised, the East End became a hub of small manufacturers, the home of various trades and the docklands centre of the region.

East London Industry
East London Industry

Its early industries were, to be honest, a mix of the unpleasant, the smelly and the downright dangerous. In basic terms the area was used for products that were noxious and/or needed a lot of space to manufacture.

Its position outside of the city meant that fumes wouldn’t affect the richer people who lived in the centre and any issues with dangerous trades wouldn’t affect the city. So, early industry included tanning, rope making, lead making, slaughter houses, fish farms, breweries, bone processing, tallow works and gunpowder production.

These were all pivotal trades to the success of London but removing them to the outskirts meant that the great and the good didn’t have to smell the urine used in tanning or risk being blown up by a dodgy batch of gunpowder!

The East End has always attracted refugees and immigrants;

Brick Lane East End of London

Many of whom set foot in Britain for the first time in the local docks. In the 17th century it became the home of many Huguenot refugees who fled from persecution in France. Weavers by trade, they worked in Spitalfields, the home of London’s master weavers.

Over time, as their skills died out and were replaced by industrial processes, the elegant homes of the Huguenots became slum housing for the ever-growing local East End population.

Victorian industrialisation didn’t do much to improve the area which developed a reputation for extreme poverty, gang rule, violence and crime. There were pockets of richer housing but most residents were struggling to get by.

The growth in manufacture and trade during this period increased the number of job opportunities in the area but the large influx of workers was not matched by an increase in housing.

Conditions were cramped, unhygienic and often dangerous. Its reputation was not much helped by the murdering spree of Jack the Ripper, who terrorised the East End and who became probably the most notorious serial killer the country has ever known.  Not that we knew who he was — his identity has never been proved despite centuries of speculation. By the end of the 19th century, the area took on an influx of Eastern European Jews and radicals.

People who could move out of the area did so, leaving only the poorest behind. Visitors of note included Stalin, Trotsky and Lenin and the East End became the hub of many philanthropists looking to improve living and working conditions.

Bow, in the heart of the area, became the headquarters of the Suffragette movement and the Labour party can trace many of its early roots back to this part of London.  The area was also home to the first Barnardo Ragged Schools and Homes for Boys.

Post War East London;

DLR and Canary Wharf, East London

It took until the end of the Second World War to completely eradicate the slum housing and improve living conditions.  Much of the area was destroyed by German bombing raids.

The East End’s concentration of key manufacturing industries and its docks made this one of London’s biggest targets in the war. Post-war conditions may have been better but the area gained new notoriety in crime terms during the rule of the Kray twins.

These gangsters ruled the East End in the 1960s with a mixture of brutality and glamour that saw them feted as celebrities in the media and feared by many locals. Many of the traditional industries of the East End died out over time but the area re-invented itself once again as a hub of London life in the 1980s.

Although the area still retains its roots, it is now also the financial centre of London.

Canary Wharf is home to Britain’s banking and finance industry and now contains some of the largest and most impressive buildings in the capital.

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East London Facts – History of The East End

Malcolm Oakley - East London History
Malcolm Oakley – East London History

I grew up on the fringes of London’s true East End and have been fascinated by the ever-changing history and landscape of the area.

Visitors and tourists to London may only ever explore the City centre but for those that care to travel further east, a rich and rewarding travel adventure awaits.

So much of London’s history owes a debt to the East End. Colourful characters, famous architecture, hidden treasures of changing life over the years. Author by Malcolm Oakley


Recent Comments

  • Wendy Linge on The History of Beckton Gas WorksMy grandparents lived in 74 Winsor Terrace. They lived there from 1915 when they got married. My father was born there in 1916. My father went to Winsor school, then got an apprenticeship at the Gas Works. He became a fitter and turner and worked on the locomotives all through
  • Charles Sage on History of Canning Town East LondonJoe , sorry to hear about mum hope she’s gets well soon , the Bell pub is good for me , see you soon , Charlie.
  • Joe Clarke on History of Canning Town East LondonMy apologies Charlie i found my mother collapsed at home (Bernard's sister) so nursing her back to health. Give me a while and we can arrange something maybe at The Bell In Danbury? Joe
  • Ingrid on History of Poplar East LondonUnfortunately I don't have any info regarding comments. Interesting site. My great aunt's family ran a baker shop from Upper North Street, Poplar. The 1901 the census shows that they had 2 servants and the male children helped with deliveries. The family name is Mager. I believe he was interned
  • chris savory on The East End in the 1950shi jean i was born in st andrews hosp - devons rd in 1950. i did exactly what yoy described what memories eh? COYI.
  • chris savory on V1 and V2 Rocket Attacks in East Londonhi there does anyone have knowledge of a v1 /v2 that hit knapp rd bromley-by-bow?
  • chris savory on East London Foodhi there does anyone remember the p& m shop in bow rd?
  • chris savory on East London, a History of Bowfor john hills. there were pre-fabs in campbell road, just south of bow rd.
  • Charles Sage on History of Canning Town East LondonJoe , where do you live now and we can arrange to meet in a pub near you , looking forward to meeting you. Charlie.
  • Joe Clarke on History of Canning Town East LondonCharlie - yes that sounds like a good idea. Let me know how to conatct you privately. Joe
  • Charles Sage on History of Canning Town East LondonJoe , George died about five years ago with cancer the same as Doreen, he did marry again but perhaps if we could meet up I will fill you in with the whole story. We must only be a short distance from where we both live , my son only
  • Joe Clarke on History of Canning Town East LondonCharlie - thanks for replying so quickly. Well that is sad he was younger than my mother as well. Any idea when and from what he died? Only Jeanette and my Mother left although they also remain estranged since about 1987 I think. I live near Chelmsford as my parents
  • Charles Sage on History of Canning Town East LondonHi joe , Small world , you are right and sadly George died a few years ago , George and Doreen along with there three sons Steve, Paul and Chris all lived in Witham near Chelmsford as I do now . I think your mum had a sister who I
  • Andy Wollington on Brick Lane History, East LondonJust seen these posts and brings back memories. My parents ran the Crown and Shuttle, in Shoreditch High Street, in the early 1960's. Remember Brick Lane very well. Used to go to the Trumans Brewery with Dad, pub was a Trumans House. Also remember going to Kelly's Pie and Mash
  • Joe Clarke on History of Canning Town East LondonSorry Charles not sure if my last post worked. I believe your late sister Doreen is my Auntie. She was married to Bernard French my mother's brother. We know him as George [a family thing although my youngest is named George after her brother]. My mother is Margaret Clarke nee

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