Stratford and East End History

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.



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 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 local 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. The naturalist and reformer, Antonio Brady is buried in the churchyard, for example. 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.

East London History - East End Facts

Malcolm Oakley - East London History - A Guide to London's East End.

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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15 comments on “Stratford and East End History
  1. Sarah says:

    Hello. I’m looking for people who worked in Yardleys or any of the other factories along Carpenters Road. It is for a novel set in Yardley’s during WWII. Please email me on katethompson.research@gmail.com if you have any info. Thanks!

  2. Carole Matthews says:

    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.

    • janet wells says:

      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

  3. Steve Cooper says:

    Any readers employed at Besway Mfd New Mount St.1972.

  4. Colin Hamilton says:

    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

  5. Doug Gray says:

    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.

  6. Margaret Wilkes says:

    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.

  7. Janet wells says:

    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

  8. lennie watts says:

    I was there when I saw the news slide getting built I went down it

  9. Terry Stone says:

    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. George Staden says:

    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

  11. brenda says:

    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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