A Brief History of East Ham in London

East Ham is a district of east London with a rich and diverse history. It was once a rural village in Essex but became part of Greater London in 1965 when it was incorporated as a municipal borough. East Ham increased in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, attracting many immigrants from different parts of the British Empire and beyond. Today, East Ham is home to people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, making it one of the most multicultural areas in London.

East Ham is a district that has a long and fascinating history. It has transformed from a rural village to an urban suburb over time. It has witnessed wars, migration, industrialisation, urbanisation and regeneration.
East Ham Station
By Doyle of London – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Wikipedia Licence

Origins and Development

East Ham derives from the Old English word “Hamm”, meaning a low-lying meadow or marshland. The area was first recorded in 958 AD as “Esthamme” and was part of the ancient parish of West Ham. East Ham remained a rural village until the 19th century when it became an industrial suburb due to its proximity to the docks and railways.

The population of East Ham increased dramatically from about 1,500 in 1801 to over 96,000 in 1901. This was mainly due to immigration from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, India, China, Eastern Europe and other parts of England. Many immigrants worked in the docks, factories or service industries developed in East Ham.

East Ham also became a political and social activism centre during this period. In 1892, Keir Hardie was elected as one of the first Labour MPs for West Ham South (which included East Ham). He campaigned for better working conditions and social reforms for people experiencing poverty. In 1903, Sylvia Pankhurst founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS) in Bow Road (now part of Tower Hamlets), which later moved its headquarters to Canning Town (now part of Newham). The ELFS fought for women’s suffrage and supported workers’ strikes and protests.

In 1914-18 and 1939-45, East Ham suffered heavy bombing during both world wars, and German air raids destroyed or damaged many buildings. However, East Ham also showed resilience and solidarity during these difficult times. For example, in 1940-41, residents formed mutual aid groups to help each other with food distribution, shelter provision and fire-fighting.

Post-War Changes

After World War II ended in 1945, East Ham underwent significant changes as part of London’s reconstruction and modernisation plan. In 1965, East Ham merged with West Ham to form the new borough of Newham, which became part of Greater London. Many old buildings were demolished or renovated, and new housing estates, schools, shops and public facilities were built.

East Ham also continued to attract immigrants from various countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Poland, Romania and Somalia. These newcomers brought their cultures, languages, religions and cuisines to enrich East Ham’s diversity.

Today, East Ham is a vibrant and lively district that offers many attractions and amenities for its residents and visitors.

Some examples are The Town Hall: A Grade II listed building from 1903. It serves as Newham’s civic centre and hosts various events such as weddings, concerts and exhibitions.

Central Park: An ample green space with a playground, a pond, a cafe and a library. It is also home to several festivals and fairs throughout the year. The High Street North: A busy shopping street that offers a range of shops, restaurants, cafes and services.

It also has several landmarks, such as The Clock Tower: A Victorian structure erected in 1901. The Bobby Moore Statue: A bronze sculpture commemorates The World Cup-winning captain born in Barking Road.

The Old Spotted Dog Pub: A historic pub that dates back to The Tudor times. The Green Street: A vibrant street that showcases East Ham’s multiculturalism. Many shops sell ethnic goods such as clothes, jewellery, food and spices. It also has many restaurants serving cuisines worldwide, such as Indian, Turkish, Chinese and Caribbean.

Conclusion

East Ham is a district that has a long and fascinating history. It has transformed from a rural village to an urban suburb over time and witnessed wars, migration, industrialisation, urbanisation and regeneration.

3 thoughts on “A Brief History of East Ham in London”

  1. Hello!

    Thank you for sharing the history behind East Ham, one of the towns I grew up in. There is one slight error in your article. Though the County of London was created in 1889, East Ham remained in Essex until 1965, when Greater London and the borough of Newham was created.

    Best wishes.

    Reply
    • That is very interesting. As the address was E6 I thought it was part of London for longer. Most people who lived there like myself (1945 to 1963) would consider themselves Londoners.

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