Historic Shoreditch in East London

Historians believe that Shoreditch got its name from water that ran across the area’s marshland. It was originally known as Soersditch, or Sewer’s Ditch. A more romantic, though untrue, meaning connects Shoreditch with royalty. Some people like to believe that the area was named after Jane Shore, who was a mistress of Edward IV.

She was allegedly buried in a ditch in the area. This version of events does not really work as the area’s original name pre-dates Jane Shore and her affair with the king.

Places to Visit in the East End of London – Shoreditch

Although part of the East End, Shoreditch was originally officially part of Middlesex, even though it was considered to be an outer suburb of London. It only officially became part of the County of London in the late 1800s. It is thought that parts of the area’s roads date back to Roman times, and this was a popular part of southern coaching routes for many centuries.

The focal point of Shoreditch for many centuries was its church. This is relatively famous, especially with children, as it appears in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons. The area was also home to an Augustinian Priory that was built in the 12th century. This dominated the area and the local population until the 1500s and Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.

Nothing remains of the priory today, but its site was put to good use in Tudor times. In 1576, James Burbage built a theatre on this spot. This is considered to be the first playhouse in England, quaintly called The Theatre. It is thought that some of Shakespeare’s plays were performed here and his company also made their home in a second theatre just up the road, known as the Curtain Theatre, before moving to The Globe. The Globe was actually built from The Theatre in Shoreditch – Burbage dismantled it from its original site and erected it again in Southwark.

The Curtain Theatre was named after the road on which it stood. This was the place where Shakespeare first performed Romeo and Juliet and Henry V, and it was the original “Wooden O” stage referred to in some of his plays. The theatre was taken apart in the 17th century; however, archaeologists from the Museum of London found its remains during a dig in 2012. The current owners of the site plan to incorporate the remains of the theatre into a new development as a public open space so that people can get some idea how it might have looked at the time.

Entertainment in Shoreditch

Shoreditch’s position just outside of the city of London made it a popular venue for entertainment. The people who regulated the city did not much like having theatre districts, as they tended to be rowdy and bawdy. They attracted people, pubs and bad behaviour. Putting on shows outside of the city walls kept everyone happy, although it did gain Shoreditch a reputation as being a little disorderly! Shoreditch remained an entertainment hub into the early 20th century. It contained some of the largest theatres in all of London, put on shows that rivalled the West End, and even saw early performances from Charlie Chaplin before he emigrated to America.

By the 17th century, Shoreditch saw an influx of new residents as Huguenot weavers who were working in Spitalfields moved into the area. Over the next century or so, the area also became well known for furniture manufacturing and craftsmanship. You can see some examples of local work in the Geffrye Museum on Kingsland Road.

The Geffrye is an interesting museum to visit – it focuses on the history of English homes with an emphasis on interiors and furniture. It displays a range of period rooms that are all furnished to a specific time from the 1600s to the present day. Its building is also historically interesting, as the museum is located in alms houses that were built by the Ironmongers’ Company in the early 1700s. If you are visiting London at Christmas, the museum is particularly worth a visit, as it decorates each room exactly as it would have been decorated in its period. So, you can track how Christmas decorations have changed over the years.

Shoreditch Regeneration

By the 19th century, however, Shoreditch was very typical of much of the East End. It was overcrowded and rife with poverty and crime. Much of the area was bombed in the Second World War, leading to major renovations in the 1950s. Today’s Shoreditch is once again a creative and buzzy place. It has become one of the more popular areas in the East End for creative people to live and work in, although its house prices are no longer bargain basement levels. The Old Street roundabout has even been nicknamed the Silicon Roundabout to reflect the number of technology start-ups who have moved into the area.

One comment on “Historic Shoreditch in East London
  1. Bob Gray says:

    Is anything known on the history of the Eastern Alhambra Music Hall (211 Shoreditch High Street) 1864-70. Prior to this known as the Eastern Temperance Hall?
    I can find no reference online and wondered if it was recorded anywhere.
    I am researching East London photographers and have both these as licensees –

    Charles William Henry Taylor – Licensee 1858 – 1861
    Photographer living at 54 Sturgeon Road, Newington, Southwark in 1881.

    William Winningale – Licensee 1861 – 1870
    Recorded as a photographer at 246 Whitechapel Road, in 1869 (between Vine Court and Fieldgate Street).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Comments

  • A.J.Spencer on London East End Street NamesI am looking for any information on Rosher Row ? It was still there in the 1960's as I remember taking my G/Friend of the time to meet my aunt Ett
  • JM Tubbs on Manchester Hotel | Aldersgate Street | WW2 PhotosMy great great grandfather Henry Thomas Tubbs and his business partner Joseph Lewis built this hotel and owned it for a time after it was opened. The initial cost in 1879 was around £70,000. It originally had 240 bedrooms but was expanded. There was a second main entrance on Long
  • JM Tubbs on Manchester Hotel | Aldersgate Street | WW2 PhotosYou could check the 1911 census. Either a subscription or a local studies library should have one you can use.
  • Charles Sage on History of Canning Town East LondonI was born in 1939 and lived in Beckton rd , I can rememember after the war going to the Queens theatre in poplar to see the variety shows , I think the compare was called Buttons,does anyone else remember the theatre.
  • Margaret Knight ( nee Key ) on The History of Beckton Gas WorksMy father was a stoker at the gas works and we lived in one of the company houses , 46 WinsorTerrace until I married in 1957,
  • Charles Sage on History of Canning Town East LondonPatlrick , We lived very close to Hermit rd after moving from Beckton rd in fact we drove along there this very day , we went to the cemetery to take flowers to put on my parents grave. To put it bluntly Canning Town is like a foreign country now
  • Naz on Alf Garnett East London’s Famous Resident.Barnet is not rhyming slang for Alf Garnett, it is rhyming slang for Barnett Fair, that piece of slang was in use well before Johnny Speight wrote TDUDP
  • Patrick Blake-Kerry on History of Canning Town East LondonMakes me laugh, the talk of hop picking as I ended up living in Hampshire as my mum and brother were bombed out and evacuated in 1940. They ended up in Bentley because it was the only place the driver knew outside London. Conversly having stayed and live in Bentley
  • Charlie sage on History of Canning Town East LondonHi Alfie Brown ! I remember the hop picking very well they were great times down China farm , the old huts lightig the fires going so mum could get dinner going , that long walk to the shop opposite the green hill, Bert doing the toilets , scrumping in
  • Carol Featherstone on Second World War Bombing Raid South Hallsville SchoolMy nan and grandad Pat and Emily Murphy were killed in the school leaving my mum an orphan at six she was brought up by her nan Lou McKay
  • Tim Conlan on History of Poplar East LondonGrindley and Co of 21 to 23 Broomfield Street, Poplar, London, E 1868 Company established. 1914 Tar and rosin distillers. Specialities: insulating and transformer oils, black varnishes, soluble drier preparations, motor and other greases.
  • Jane on History of Canning Town East LondonThank you, Ray, that's such a helpful reply - much appreciated.,
  • A.J.Spencer on London’s East End and The BlitzMy grand parents lived in Canning Town during the Blitz and I cannot find any trace of them on any records. I am looking especially pertaining to John William Spencer who lived at 66 Bidder St, Canning town in 1913
  • Ken Shelton on History of Canning Town East LondonHi there, I went to both of the Stratford Grammar Schools - the first one next to West Ham Park was just around the corner from where we lived, on Shirley Rd. I remember there was a tuck shop on the corner. Lots of memories from there - thanks for
  • Elaine Ford on History of Poplar East LondonDoes anyone know of a company called 'Grindleys' ? or similar, was based in Poplar in the 1940's (I believe) and was eventually pulled down. I'm writing a tribute for a gentleman who worked there, he was 99 years old. The family are not sure of the spelling of the

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 175 other subscribers.