London’s East End is situated, unsurprisingly enough, in the eastern side of the city. Often ignored by tourists who clamour for the glamour of the West End, this area is actually steeped in history with interesting things to see and do.
The East End of London; An Introduction
It is also relatively quiet in tourist terms so makes a great day out if you want some downtime. Home of the traditional Londoner, the Cockney, today’s East End is a melting pot of different cultures.
So, what can we tell you on a whistle-stop tour? Yes, some of your preconceptions about the area are probably true. You can still buy jellied eels and pie and mash from traditional shops. Locals born within the sound of Bow Bells still qualify as being Cockneys and rhyming slang is not quite brown bread yet. You won’t meet the Eastenders cast as they don’t actually film in the area, but you may meet some similar characters.
A Brief Guide To East London, The Place, The History
But, as any true crime lover will tell you, there is more than this to the area. London’s East End was home to one of the most notorious serial killers of all time, Jack the Ripper.
You can still walk through some of the narrow and constricting alleys that he used. Although they may never be as dark, smoggy and, frankly, scary as they were in his day, they paint a good picture of what life was like in Victorian London.
If you visit the old wharves and streets near the docks in the area, you’ll feel like you are stepping back in time. Used by Charles Dickens in so many of his novels, you’ll get a feel for what life was like for characters like the Artful Dodger and Fagin, who was in fact thought to have been based on a local fence, Ikey Solomon.
East London Villains
Then, we have the Kray twins, the East End’s most famous gangsters, who brought a mix of glamour and fear to the area in the 1960s. The brothers were media darlings and socialised with celebrities and politicians. They also ruled the East End and terrorised people who got in their way. No visit to the area is complete without a trip to the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel which was the site of one of their most outrageous murders when Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell.
Today’s East End is vibrant and buzzy and is probably the best place to experience the many different cultures that make up the population of London. It is THE place to have a curry in the capital! It also has some curious and popular markets, including Petticoat Lane, Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Columbia Road, Whitechapel and Roman Road. If you want to visit some authentic and untouristy pubs then you’ll find plenty dotted around its back streets.
Museums and Art Galleries
The area is also rich in art galleries and museums. Over the last 30 or so years, it has become home to many artists, including Tracey Emin, and galleries like the White Cube, Whitechapel Gallery and Brick Lane Gallery are all worth a visit.
The flagship museum of the East End is the V&A Museum of Childhood but you can also see the Museum of the London Docklands and the Geffrye Museum if you venture out of the city.
The Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields gives a slice of old East End history. This museum recreates the home of Huguenot silk weavers in the 18th century and, for an extra thrill, is described by Time Out as being “proper spooky”! If you want to see for yourself how East Enders used to party, try taking one of the weekly tours of Wilton’s Music Hall in Whitechapel.
East London Sport and Leisure
If you want some down-time, you can find green spaces even in this urban area. Victoria Park, known as Vicky Park to locals, is a relaxing large park that also has plenty of activities for kids in the holidays and that is home to various festivals. You can also do some of the Lea Valley walk along some of the area’s canals.
If you are a sports fan, try getting a ticket to West Ham, the main football team of the East End. If you go to Stratford, you can also take a look at the Olympic Park, the site of the hugely successful 2012 Olympics.
Take a trip to the upper floors in John Lewis for a great overall view of the stadia and site. The Park is being landscaped and converted for leisure use so, if you time your visit right, you may also be able to take a walk or cycle around it.
The East End may be a real cultural mix now but you’ll find that all its residents share a sense of community that you don’t find elsewhere in the capital. Traditionally a poor cousin to more affluent areas of London, East Enders are tight-knit and proud of their heritage.
If you’re really lucky on your visit to London you’ll get an East End cabbie in your black cab – there’s no better way to learn about the area than by chatting to a local!
East London History – East End Facts
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
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