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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.

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26 thoughts on “Stratford and East End History”

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. Carole Matthews

    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.

    1. 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. 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

    1. margaret silverton

      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

  4. 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.

  5. Margaret Wilkes

    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.

  6. 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

    1. 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.

    2. 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

      1. 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?

        1. 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.

          1. 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
            Jan

        2. 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.

          1. Hi That’s brilliant my mobile number is 07772055757 if you can send them via a text message.
            Thanks Jan

  7. 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.

  8. George Staden

    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

    1. Douglas George Gray

      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.

  9. 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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