Historic Spitalfields in London’s East End

Spitalfields is one of the more curious areas of the East End of London. Close to Liverpool Street, it is the home to many financial industry workers by day, but it retains many of its traditional East End roots.



Places to Visit in the East End of London – Spitalfields

Like much of the East End, it has a fascinating history and plenty of things to see and do.

The history of Spitalfields

One of the first references to Spitalfields occurred in the late 1300s – it was then known as “Spittellond”. Over the years, the name of the area changed a few times, moving from “The Spitel Fyeld” in the 16th century to “Spyttlefeildes” and then “Spittle Fields”. The name is probably derived from a priory and hospital in the area, St Mary Spital.

Like many areas of urban London, Spitalfields was originally relatively rural, although it has been inhabited since Roman times. The area was home to a significant Roman burial ground, which was excavated in the 1990s when Spitalfields market was redeveloped.

This site was used as the location for St Mary Spital, which was built in the 1190s. This was one of the most significant hospitals in the country at the time until it was taken apart on the orders of Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries. At this point, more people started to set up home in the area and, in the 17th century, Huguenot weavers moved into Spitalfields to set up business and escape from persecution in France. It is thought that the first streets in the area were built in the 17th century.

Spitalfields was an ideal location for the Huguenots who needed to work outside the restrictions of the city’s guilds. At this point in time, Spitalfields was outside this jurisdiction. As the Huguenots built Spitalfields into a centre of silk weaving excellence, the area became more developed and more housing was constructed.

The 17th century also saw the first market set up in the area. This dealt in “flesh, fowl and roots” and, like any market of the time, could only be established once the local traders received permission from the King.

Spitalfields could be a turbulent place by the 18th century. Irish weavers had joined the Huguenots, but both groups were finding it hard to compete with cheap French imports. In 1769, unrest boiled over, leading to a period of disorder known as the Spitalfields Riots. By the 19th century, most of the area’s traditional industries, including silk weaving, had moved elsewhere, although the area still produced some textiles.

This decline of local industry just about did for Spitalfields. It became a poverty-stricken, over populated area with little work. The grand houses that the Huguenots had built were turned into slums and the area became downright dangerous. By the late 19th century, many people considered the area to be the most criminal area in all of London.

During this period, the serial killer, Jack the Ripper, imposed a reign of terror over the East End and Spitalfields did not escape. His last victim, Mary Kelly, lived in Spitalfields and is thought to have drunk in a local pub on the night she was murdered.

By the 20th century, Spitalfields became the home of many immigrants from Bangladesh, many of whom ultimately made their homes in and around the nearby Brick Lane. The area is now partly dominated by office blocks, due to its proximity to Liverpool Street. Like many areas of London, it is hard for locals to settle here, as housing prices are so expensive.

Things to do in Spitalfields

Spitalfields Market is still there, although it has been redeveloped. This is worth a visit, especially at weekends when it attracts most stallholders. It no longer specialises in flesh, fowl and roots, although some of the local stalls and shops still sell food!

You can also take a quick walk down to Petticoat Lane, which is also one of London’s oldest and most established markets. Brick Lane is worth a visit just to sample its Indian food, but there is also a market there at weekends.

If you want to see how a Huguenot silk weaver would have lived, then try a visit to the Denis Severs’ House in Folgate Street. Dennis Severs lived in the house from the 1970s to 1990s and, over time, recreated each room to closely resemble how they would have looked when silk weavers lived there. This is also a fine example of Georgian architecture.

Finally, try having a drink in the Ten Bells pub on Commercial Street/Fournier Street. This is the pub that Mary Kelly allegedly drank in on her last night. It was certainly one of her favourite pubs. Who knows, you may treading in the steps of Jack the Ripper himself!


View Larger Map


One comment on “Historic Spitalfields in London’s East End
  1. I am a Spanish writer who has written …AND SHAKESPEARE READ DON QUIXOTE both in English and Spanish. It deals with Shakespeare’s lost play (The history of Cardenio, based on CARDENIO one of Don Quixote’s characters. In my novel I fantasize about a posible meeting between Shakespeare and Cervantes to rewrite together “The hisory of Cardenio” after its partial loss during the fire of the Globe theatre on the 29th.June 1613.

    …AND SHAKESPEARE READ DON QUIXOTE describes different interesting places which still survive like THE GEORGE, THE RED LION INN, and many others and I would appreciate getting as muh information as posible about Shakespeare’s places and locals that are nowadays open.

    Thank you very much. JOSÉ ENRIQUE GIIL-DELGADO

    I

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

  • Kevin Bell on History of Poplar East LondonMy Grandad and family drank in the 'Abbey' the Aberfeldy Tavern for many years - some might say he had shares in it lol.... I remember being taken to the pub and occasionally the chip shop you mention as a child.... although more often we would go to 'Wally reardons
  • MARIE HOLMES on History of Canning Town East LondonMy fatherinlaws harry holmes lived with his parents and three brother s three sisters doris rose maud during the bombing they lived agate street
  • Albert Smith on History of Canning Town East LondonPerhaps I should add that I was born in Chard Street which was located in what we used to call Old Canning Town, an area that was destroyed by incendiary bombing early in the war and,as far as I am aware, has remained an industrial site till this day. But
  • Albert Smith on History of Canning Town East LondonI was born in 1932 Charles, and I went to the Queens many times as a schoolboy. I used to help a local greengrocer with his Saturday morning horse and cart round and my payment was a trip to the Queens in the evening. And I loved it.
  • Brian Miles on History of The East London CockneyThe actual address is 1, Bow Lane which is on Cheapside St Mary-le-Bow Historic Church St Mary-le-Bow St Mary-le-Bow is a historic church rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 by Sir Christopher Wren in the City of London on the main east–west thoroughfare, Cheapside. According to tradition a true
  • Maxine on Brick Lane History, East LondonTrying to find out some information about a fishmongers on 8-10 Brick Lane in the 1880's owned by a Jewish man named George Rush.
  • Cathie on History of Poplar East LondonI just recently became interested of Poplar because of the television show Call the Midwife and an upcoming visit to London. What a small world to hear about Poplar Street in Chicago. I live in Chicago and was excited to hear about the connection to the street and the town
  • Martha Holmes on History of The Prospect of Whitby in WappingHello I believe my great x 4 grandfather arrived on The Prospect sometime between 1761 and 1776 from his birthplace of Bridlington. I have records to show that he was married in London in 1776 and lived for the rest of his life in Clerkenwell. He was born in 1750
  • DAVID NIGHTINGALE on History of Tower Hamlets Cemetery ParkVery interesting, a good friend of mine is researching the history of this cemetery I would welcome any emails regarding the research that you have done so far. Thank You, Dr David Nightingale
  • Michelle Holgarth on History of Poplar East LondonMy great grandad ran a fish and chip shop at 90 Aberfeldy Street, his name was George Tucker.
  • Peter on Second World War Bombing Raid South Hallsville SchoolI have just found this article and shown it to my mother who is nearly 96. She remembers having her first hairdo at Stan's when she was 14 and went many times. She also thought that the Terrells had other businesses involving second hand comics and children's bicycles
  • David Pickles on History of Canning Town East LondonHi Lisa, My name is David Pickles, I was born in Stratford in 1955 (Queen Mary's Hospital), and lived in Plaistow (Falcon St) until 1989. I remember someone called Elaine Bruns who went to either Grange Rd school and/or Ravenscroft and wondered whether she was a relative of yours too,
  • Kathy on History of Canning Town East LondonPeggy leggy steps was on the other side of the road from Mansfield buildings
  • Terry Clark on World War 2 and East LondonJanet I have looked on street name change database and still have no Caley, Cayley or such. Good luck in finding it. https://www.maps.thehunthouse.com/Streets/Old_to_New_London_Street_Name_Changes.htm
  • Terry Clark on World War 2 and East LondonJanet I have searched name change records (sample attached) and can’t find that name anywhere. Good luck with your quest. https://www.maps.thehunthouse.com/Streets/Old_to_New_London_Street_Name_Changes.htm

Subscribe to Blog via Email

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

Join 182 other subscribers.

Top