Stratford History, a Guide to East London’s Cultural Hub

Best known as the location for the 2012 London Olympics, Stratford is still proving a popular place for tourists to visit, even though the games are now over. The Olympic Park and new shopping centre may well be worth a visit in their own rights, but there is more to Stratford than this if you have time to look around.

Theatre Royal, Stratford East.
Theatre Royal, Stratford East

Stratford’s early history

The first recorded mention of Stratford came in 1067. At this point in time, the area was called Straetforda – this means the ford on a Roman road. Stratford, at the time, was essentially a small village close to a crossing over the River Lea forming part of the Roman road that links London to Colchester.

Like much of the East End, Stratford was originally a farming area and remained fairly rural for many centuries. In the 1130s, Stratford Langthorne Abbey was built in the area. This was to become one of the largest monastery sites in the country, working most of the land in and around Stratford itself, until it was closed down when Henry VIII proclaimed the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s.

In its farming heyday and until the middle of the 19th century, Stratford provided London with a lot of agricultural goods, becoming best known for potato production. It started to move from farming to industrial manufacturing in the mid-1700s.

Stratford’s industrial past

One of the best known companies working in the area at this time was the Bow porcelain factory. This is considered to one of the first factories in the country to produce porcelain made from a soft-paste. By the 19th century, Stratford was becoming increasingly industrialised with a variety of manufacturers working in the area. By the 1820s, for example, it had its own dock and wharves and was a fairly significant transport hub due to its position between London and the east of the country.

In 1839, Stratford got its own railway station and, over time, a depot and works that built locomotives, coaches and goods wagons. The railway became a significant local employer – it is estimated that 2,500 people worked there in the mid 1800s. This led to a need for more housing and an improved local infrastructure and a new town was built to accommodate railway workers. Although this was originally called Hudson Town, its name eventually became Stratford New Town. By the 1860s, there were over 20,000 people living and working in the area.

The Railway Works at Stratford: A History of Locomotive Building and Repair

Stratford is a well-known area in East London, especially after hosting the 2012 Olympic Games. But did you know that Stratford also has a rich railway history? For over a century, Stratford was the site of one of the most essential locomotive works in the country, producing and maintaining engines and carriages for the Great Eastern Railway and its successors. In this article, we’ll explore the history of the railway works at Stratford, from its origins in the 19th century to its closure in the 20th century.

LNER N7/1 0-6-2T in Stratford Locomotive Yard, 1946.
LNER N7/1 0-6-2T in Stratford Locomotive Yard, 1946

The Origins of the Railway Works at Stratford

The railway works at Stratford can be traced back to 1840, when the Northern and Eastern Railway built a roundhouse called the Polygon to service its locomotives. This was located in the ‘V’ between the main line and the Stratford to Lea Bridge route, near Stratford station. The roundhouse was designed by Robert Stephenson, one of the pioneers of railway engineering.

In 1847, the Eastern Counties Railway expanded the site into full-fledged locomotive works. The ECR had outgrown its previous works at Romford and needed more space and facilities. The ECR also built houses for its workers in the area, which became known as Hudson Town after George Hudson, the “Railway King” who was behind the move.

The first locomotive built at Stratford Works was completed in 1850. It was number 20, a 2-2-2T engine in a class of six locomotives designed by John Viret Gooch, the ECR’s locomotive superintendent. More locomotives followed in the next few years, and other railway equipment, such as fog signals, contained gunpowder and were manufactured in a unique reinforced building.

The Great Eastern Railway Era

In 1862, the ECR merged with other railways to form the Great Eastern Railway. The GER continued to operate and develop the railway works at Stratford, making it one of the country’s largest and most productive locomotive works. The GER also acquired more land north and west of Stratford station and built new locomotive sheds and workshops there. This site was sometimes referred to as High Meads.

Some of the most famous locomotives built at Stratford Works during this period were designed by Robert Sinclair, James Holden, and Stephen Holden, successive locomotive superintendents of the GER. These included the Clauds, B12s, and T19s. The works also produced carriages and wagons for passenger and freight services.

In 1891, Stratford Works set a new world record for locomotive erection. The workforce assembled an 0-6-0 freight engine in just 9½ hours. This feat was witnessed by thousands of spectators and reported by newspapers nationwide.

The LNER and British Railways Period

In 1923, the GER became part of the London and North Eastern Railway as part of the grouping of railways by the government. The LNER decided to cease production of new locomotives at Stratford Works in 1924 and transferred them to other works such as Doncaster and Darlington. However, Stratford Works continued to repair and overhaul existing locomotives for many years.

During the Second World War, Stratford Works contributed to the war effort by building aircraft components and artillery parts. The works suffered damage from bombing raids but kept operating throughout the war.

In 1948, the LNER was nationalised and became part of British Railways, and Stratford Works remained under BR’s Eastern Region until its closure in 1962. By then, diesel and electric traction had replaced steam locomotives, and there was less demand for repair work.

The Legacy of the Railway Works at Stratford

The railway works at Stratford left a lasting legacy on the area and railway history. Over its lifetime, it built 1,702 locomotives; 5,500 passenger vehicles; and 33,000 goods wagons (although some were made at Temple Mills Wagon Works). It employed thousands of workers in nearby communities such as Hudson Town and Stratford New Town. It also influenced the development of railway engineering and technology.

Stratford Container Depot. Martin Addison
Stratford Container Depot.
Photo by Martin Addison

Today, most of the buildings and structures of the railway works at Stratford have been demolished or redeveloped. However, some traces of its history can still be seen. For example, a plaque commemorating Stratford Works can be found at Stratford International Station. Some locomotives built at Stratford Works can also be seen at the National Railway Museum in York and other railway museums and heritage railways around the country.

The railway works at Stratford were a remarkable place that played a vital role in the history of East London and the railway industry. It deserves to be remembered and celebrated for its achievements and contributions.

London Olympics Stadium - East London
London Olympics Stadium

The Church of St John the Evangelist

Stratford’s church has an impressive and unusual three-stage tower. It was built in the 1830s as a chapel of ease to give residents somewhere to worship close to home. This may not be the most impressive church in the East End, but it has some interesting historical points. For example, the naturalist and reformer Antonio Brady is buried in the churchyard.

The church’s crypt was also used as an air raid shelter in the Second World War, providing a safe haven for local people even when the church itself was damaged by bombs. If you go into the churchyard, you can see a memorial to the Stratford Martyrs, a group of Protestants who were burned at the stake by Queen Mary in the 1550s for their religious beliefs.

Things to see in Stratford

If you have a train lover with you when you visit Stratford, make sure to take them along to Meridian Square outside the station to see “Robert” the engine. This steam locomotive stands on display in the square, giving a nod to Stratford’s railway connections of the past and is an impressive example of a 1930s saddle-tank engine.

Plus, if you are a film buff, then you may also enjoy a visit to Joseph Balzalgette’s Abbey Mills Pumping Station. This was built in 1868 as part of his new sewerage system for the capital and is an impressive example of Victorian industrial architecture.  It was used in the Batman Begins film in 2005 as the lunatic asylum.

Places to Visit in the East End of London – Stratford

The area has been used in many film and TV shoots over the years. Even The Beatles made it to Stratford! They filmed the promo for Penny Lane on Angel Lane. Unfortunately, you cannot really walk in John, Paul, George and Ringo’s footsteps as the location itself was demolished later in the 1960s when the council built the Stratford shopping centre.

Modern Stratford

The railway works closed down in the 1990s and, like much of the East End, Stratford suffered from high unemployment rates. The area got an immediate boost when it was announced that the 2012 London Olympics would be held at Stratford. The specially built Olympic Park, new housing and the new Westfield shopping centre did much to regenerate the area. The Westfield Centre is worth a visit if you want to shop in London. It has over 300 shops and is one of Europe’s largest shopping centres.

The closure of Stratford Works had a significant impact on the local community. It affected the economy, society, and environment of the area. Here are some of the effects:

  • The closure of Stratford Works resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs and income for many workers and their families: this increased unemployment, poverty, and social problems in the area. Many people had to leave Stratford to look for work elsewhere or rely on welfare benefits.
  • The closure of Stratford Works also reduced the demand for local businesses and services that depended on the railway workers and their families. This led to further decline and decay of the area, as shops, pubs, and other amenities closed down or moved away.
  • The closure of Stratford Works left behind a large area of derelict land and buildings contaminated by industrial waste and pollution. This posed a health and environmental hazard for the remaining residents and wildlife and lowered the area’s attractiveness and value for potential investors and developers.

Stratford Westfield: A Shopping and Entertainment Paradise in East London

If you’re looking for a place to shop, dine, and have fun in East London, look no further than Stratford Westfield. This is one of Europe’s largest urban shopping centres, with over 300 shops, 70 restaurants, and various leisure and entertainment options. Whether looking for fashion, beauty, technology, or homeware, you’ll find it all at Stratford Westfield. Here are some of the highlights of this fantastic destination.

Westfield Shopping Centre, Stratford
Westfield Shopping Centre, Stratford
  • Shop Till You Drop: Stratford Westfield has something for everyone regarding shopping. And if you need a break from shopping, you can relax at one of the many cafes or bars in the centre.
  • Dine in style: Stratford Westfield has a variety of restaurants to suit your taste buds. You can enjoy cuisines worldwide, such as Italian, Indian, Thai, and Mexican.
  • Have fun and entertainment: Stratford Westfield is not just a shopping centre; it’s also a place to have fun and entertainment. You can catch the latest movies, and if you’re feeling adventurous, try the Biodiversity Playground or the Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports.

Explore the surroundings

Stratford Westfield is located in the heart of East London’s cultural hub. You can easily access other attractions in the area, such as the Olympic Park, the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and the East London Mosque. You can also use the excellent transport links to other parts of London and beyond.

Stratford Westfield is more than just a shopping centre, it’s a shopping and entertainment paradise in East London. Whether looking for a day out with your family, friends, or partner, you’ll find something to enjoy at Stratford Westfield.

East London Mosque: A History and Guide

The East London Mosque is more than just a place of worship; it is a vibrant community hub offering a range of services and activities for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Located in the heart of Tower Hamlets, between Whitechapel and Aldgate East, the mosque complex consists of three buildings: the original mosque, the London Muslim Centre, and the Maryam Centre. Together, they can accommodate over 7,000 worshippers for congregational prayers, making it one of the largest mosques in Europe.

East London Mosque: A History and Guide. It is a vibrant community hub that offers a range of services and activities for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
East London Mosque: A History and Guide

But how did this mosque come to be? What are its origins and achievements? And what can you expect when you visit it? In this blog post, we will answer these questions and more, giving you a brief overview of the history and guide of the East London Mosque.

The Origins of the East London Mosque

The idea of building a mosque in London dates back to the early 20th century when London was the capital of the British Empire that ruled over millions of Muslims worldwide. However, the city had no mosque for Muslim residents or visitors. In 1910, prominent Muslims established the London Mosque Fund to raise money. They received donations from various sources, including the British government, the Aga Khan III, and Mahatma Gandhi.

However, it took several decades for the fund to accumulate enough money to buy a suitable site for the mosque. In 1940, they acquired three houses on Commercial Road in East London and converted them into a small mosque named the East London Mosque. The mosque was officially opened in 1941 by Sir Abdullah Archibald Hamilton, the fund’s president. The mosque served as a place of worship and a community centre for Muslims in East London, especially those from South Asia after World War II.

The Expansion of the East London Mosque

By the 1970s, the East London Mosque had become too small to cater to the growing Muslim population in the area. The mosque committee sought a more prominent site to build a new mosque. In 1982, they purchased a plot of land on Whitechapel Road that had been left empty after the bombing during World War II. The construction of the new mosque began in 1983 and was completed in 1985. The architect was John Gill Associates.

The new mosque had a distinctive brick pattern in two colours: a golden dome and three minarets. It had two large halls, a gallery, classrooms, offices, and a retail unit. It could accommodate up to 2,000 worshippers. The old mosque on Commercial Road was sold and later demolished.

In 2001-2004, the mosque underwent a significant refurbishment project that cost £17 million—the project aimed to preserve its original features while adding modern facilities and equipment. The mosque reopened in 2004 with a gala performance featuring stars such as Brian May, Lenny Henry, and Meera Syal.

The Development of the East London Mosque Complex

In addition to refurbishing the existing mosque building, the mosque committee also embarked on an ambitious plan to develop a multi-purpose complex adjacent to and connected with the mosque. The complex would provide various services and facilities for Muslims and non-Muslims, such as education, healthcare, social welfare, culture, and recreation.

The first phase of this plan was called the London Muslim Centre (LMC), built on an adjacent site that used to be a synagogue. The construction began in 2002 and was completed in 2004. The LMC is a six-storey building with a prominent entrance featuring a sweeping mosaic pattern. It has two multipurpose halls, a seminar suite, a nursery, classrooms, a fitness centre, a small Islamic library, a radio station, retail units, and offices. Markland Klaschka Limited designed it.

The second phase of this plan was called the Maryam Centre (MC), which was built on another adjacent site that used to be used by the mosque’s funeral services. The construction began in 2009 and was completed in 2013. The MC is a nine-storey building with a striking glass facade. It has a new main prayer hall, improved funeral services, a visitor centre, and over five floors of facilities for women including prayer spaces, education facilities, a fitness centre, and support services. It was designed by Studio Klaschka Ltd.

The third phase of this plan is called the Abbas Centre (AC), which is currently under development. It will be built on another adjacent site that used to be a car park. The AC will provide more space for education, training, counselling, and youth activities. It will also have a rooftop garden and a café. It is expected to be completed by 2025.

The Services of the East London Mosque Complex

The East London Mosque complex offers a wide range of services and activities for its community and beyond. Some of these include:

  • Prayer services: The mosque holds five daily prayers, Friday prayers, Eid prayers, Taraweeh prayers, and other special prayers throughout the year. It also has facilities for ablution and toilets.
  • Funeral services: The mosque provides funeral services for Muslims who pass away in London and nearby areas. It has a mortuary, a washing area, a cold room, and a hearse. It also arranges burial plots and grave digging at various cemeteries.
  • Education services: The mosque provides Islamic education for children and adults through its schools, madrasahs, courses, seminars, lectures, and workshops. It also offers academic education through its nursery, primary school, secondary school, sixth form college, and adult learning centre.
  • Health services: The mosque provides health services for its community through its clinics, fitness centres, health awareness programmes, and counselling sessions. It also partners with various health organisations and professionals to deliver quality care and support.
  • Social welfare services: The mosque provides social welfare services for its community through its food bank, debt advice, homelessness support, domestic violence support, elderly care, and prison outreach. It also organises charity collections and distributions for local and international causes.
  • Culture and recreation services: The mosque provides culture and recreation services for its community through its radio station, library, art gallery, exhibitions, festivals, tours, and trips. It also hosts various events and activities for different groups such as women, youth, families, and interfaith.

The Guide to the East London Mosque Complex

If you are interested in visiting the East London Mosque complex, here are some things you need to know:

  • Contact details: You can contact the mosque by phone on 020 7650 3000 or by email at You can also visit their website at or follow them on social media.


The East London Mosque is not only a place of worship but also a place of service. It has a long history of serving its community and beyond with various services and activities that cater to their spiritual, educational, social, health, cultural, and recreational needs. It is also a place of learning where visitors can discover more about Islam and Muslims in Britain.

If you are looking for a mosque that has something for everyone, look no further than the East London Mosque.


On this webpage, you’ll find a guide to the area of Stratford in East London. You’ll learn about the history of Stratford, from its Roman origins to its Olympic transformation. You’ll also discover some of the best things to do and see in Stratford, such as the Theatre Royal, the Museum of London Docklands, and the Westfield shopping centre. Whether looking for history, culture, or entertainment, Stratford has something for everyone.

Now that you’ve read this guide, we’d love to hear from you. Have you visited Stratford before? What did you enjoy the most? Do you have any questions or suggestions for other travellers? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.

34 thoughts on “Stratford History, a Guide to East London’s Cultural Hub”

  1. I lived in Preston Road Stratford in the 50’s till 1962. There was a bombed house on the corner. I went to Carpenters Road School. An old red brick building from memory.
    Does anyone have memories of these places.

  2. hi i’m just looking for same old photo’s of oxford rd if any one can help my grandparents lived there in the 1934 then moved on to union street

  3. I was cycling on that February Sunday morning and came across the Beatles in Angel lane,Stratford E15,with them was the current Dulux Paint sheepdog,I did see in the pub they stayed in,Beatles gravity on the wallpaper in one bar,I think it stayed there till the pub was demolished years later.Terry Burke aged 16 in 1967.

    • Was that pub the Black Bull? I remember Angel Lane well, my grandparents had a cafe there – May and Bert Scagnelli. I remember the best fish and chip shop was Cohen’s, also in Angel Lane. Very good memories as a kid growing up around that area.

  4. Can someone help trace the film made sometime in the 60s filmed in Water Lane, by the old Deanery High School. Cannot remember what the film was called but had a young teenage couple in it. I went to Deanery from 61-66 and am trying to trace school friends etc too.

    • Hi I know this film it’s Bronco Bullfrog l used to go to Deanery back in the 60’sand remember it in fact I got a dvd online for about £10.00 some of it was filmed in the cafe at Stratford high end of carenpunters Rd brilliant film I knew alot of the fellas in it

    • Was it called Bronco Bullfrog? If so, it starred Del Walker.
      I lived in William Street, which ran from Angel Lane to Stratford Station.

    • I lived in Oxford rd in the 60s and I’m sure Sam Shepard starred in bronco bullfrog who I think lived opposite st Francis church

    • My father Percy Arthur worked at Besways as a wood machinest both before and after WW2. He served an apprenticeship there when a Mr Louis was the boss. Then a Mr Craig took over. Dad would take me out in the van during the school holidays and we used to deliver to all the swanky west end stores like Harrods and Maples. Happy Times.

  5. What was at the back of Stratford rex abbey Rd there is a station there now we live on skiers street and I’m sure the house is haunted our mom lives in I’ve been told it used to be a grave yard but I want to no for sure

    • i lived at no.54 skiers street from the age of 4 until i was 37 in 1973, the houses were build in the victorian era but i never heaard of any graveyard before that time

  6. Stratford Magistrates Court was located in Great Eastern Street and took its business from the Leyton and Forest Gate area. Not a particularly secure courthouse the occasional customer didnt wait for his just deserts and legged it out into Great Eastern Street to hide away till recognised as wanted. In 1987 it was independant of West Ham Lane Magistrates Court and both were presided over by Benches of Lay-Magistrates (People taken from the local communities) from titled Ladies to Street Market Stall Operators and London Bus Drivers. They were not easily fooled and would impose custodial sentences immediately if warranted. The two courthouses eventually merged prior to moving to High Street in 1994. Both were petrol bombed circa 1988 fortunately without injury.

  7. My grandfather Frederick Parsons worked at Boak Roberts on Carpenters Road. With his wife he lived in one of the two houses on the edge of the site on Carpenters Road. The railway marshalling yards were just across the road. This area was thoroughly bombed during WW2, and during one raid their house was heavily damaged.
    Can anyone else give me the dates of raids on the railway yards? When did Boak Roberts close?

    Any help gratefully received as I live in Canada.

  8. Hi
    I was also there when the Beales came to Angel lane and it was a Sunday afternoon between 3 and 4pm and if memory serves me right it was about the 17th Feb 1967 a few years ago I found a pic of the 4 of them on the horses with broadmans shop sign in the back ground. A day i will never forget

    • Here you go, the video was shot a couple of weeks before 17th Feb (17th Feb being the release date of the record). You can see Boardmans in the background here, but is this the back entrance? I am wandering this because the front entrance was on Stratford Broadway and this doesnt look like the Broadway to me.

    • Hi janet just reading anout you seeing the bestles on horseback in stratford. I was there with older brother and sister. I was 7 and recently found a number of polaroid pictures my brother took. I wonder if your in them brings back memories

    • Hi just seen your message about Beatles can your pics be copied and put on this site as I would love to see them if
      if I am not in them
      Where abouts in Stratford did you come from?

    • Om not sure how to copy pictures to this site.i live in west ham lane, behind the old police station, opposite the low rise and 7 storey flats. Growing up i used to drink in the British lion pub which i know is not there anymore. There used to be a cockle stall outside.

    • I know where that is,I lived at the other end of Stratford just off of carpenters rd I had cousins that lived in Leyton rd which was at the bottom of Angel lane that’s where I was going when I saw the Beatles.I was a bit older then you at the time as I was 15 ànd had my little cousin with me who although she was only about 5 can still remember it

    • I have the photos on my phone im happy to send them to you if i had an address. I cannot see where you can upload anything.

  9. Does anyone have any information regarding a firm Long’s of Martin Street Stratford in about the 1920s. They had apparently, road haulage vehicles and also coaches.

  10. Does anyone have details of the history of Stratford Magistrates Court in West Ham Lane. As far as I can find it closed in 1994 when the Court moved to the new address of 389-397 High St, London E15 4SB. Most of the records and registers were not moved to the new court. I am trying to track down the Courts history and where the files went
    G H Staden

    • The Stratford Magistrates Court records would have been tranferred to West Ham Magistrates Court for cases that were still live at time of courthouse closure.
      Any history of the buildings would be in the charge of London Borough of Newham who owned and maintained Stratford and West Ham Lane buildings. Public Records office may now hold details of demolished buildings.

    • My mum used to take me to Angel Lane to do her shopping when I was a toddler. I also remember Sweets opposite Maryland Station where my dad worked as a ticket collector. Sweets was a store that had customers’ payment money shooting back and forth overhead on rails. I was always fascinated by this. My dad used to attend the railway club on a regular basis. I think this was also in Angel Lane. We often went as a family.

  11. I was there when the beatles were filming on a sunday morning I was just a kid in angel lane good times,pie and mash on a Saturday winkles on sunday teatime smashing.


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