11.07.2019 in Exploratory

History of Whitechapel and East London


East London and its district Whitechapel were the sites of many breweries and slaughterhouses; they suffered from poverty and overpopulation. Moreover, they were infamous for serial killers. Named after a small church dedicated to St. Mary, Whitechapel was ruined during World War II. In spite of all hitches and problems, East London and Whitechapel managed to become important areas of London.

The history of East London: Whitechapel

Whitechapel is a district in the East End of London. It is situated in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and lies 3 and a half miles east of Charling Cross. It is located near the London Docklands and eastern part of the city; therefore, it has been very popular place among immigrants and poor people. The area is known for many famous stories connected to it. For example, it was the location of the Jewish community in the 19th century and the place of Jack the Ripper. The history of Whitechapel is very interesting and rich.
The core of Whitechapel is Whitechapel High Street named after a little chapel of St. Mary. The small church was founded by Hugh de Fulbourne in 1329. In 1337, it was the parish church of Whitechapel. In 1680, many families lived in one-room flats without sanitation. Moreover, during that period of time, people lived trying to make ends meet. Most of the children were beggars to help their parents. There were over 150 houses which were shelters for the poor and homeless. Those houses held over 7600 of poor and miserable people per night. The building was totally ruined in World War II. This place is now a public garden together with a cemetery. Whitechapel High Street is now the side of the A11 road. From olden times, it has been the original part of the Roman Road, which is situated between the City of London and Colchester. By the 16th century, the outskirts of Whitechapel and the closest area had been the separated parts of London. Located east of Aldgates, the eastern gateway, and beyond the official regulation, those areas included less flavored functions of the city like breweries, tanneries, and foundries. Whitechapel is famous for its two outstanding people. The first one is Bradon, who was the headman of Charles I. The second one is Parker – the chief of Mutiny at the Nore. Brandon was the rag-picker. In 1649, he was supposed to cut off the head of Charles I. There is a belief that Charles I was beheaded by another person.
Rag Fair, known as Rosemary Lane or Wellclose Square, is a place where old rags, wigs, and frippery were sold. Mary Jenkins was a dealer in old clothes in Rosemary Lane. Rosemary Lane was also called Hog Lane. Currently, it is known as Middlesex Street. An old historian depicted Hog Lane giving a wonderful description of this area: “This Hog Lane stretched north towards St. Mary Spittle,” he says, “without Bishopsgate, and within these forty years it had on both sides fair hedgerows of elm-trees, with bridges, and easy stiles to pass over into the pleasant fields,” very comfortable for citizens to walk around, rest, relax, and refresh their dull spirits in the fresh air. The area had many small cottages and the fields on either side were turned into garden-plots, tenter-yards, bowling-alleys etc. Nowadays, the Old Truman brewery is located in Rag Fair. It includes more than 160 small interesting businesses and restaurants. Furthermore, the place has 20 buildings connected by courtyards. The area of Rag Fair is also popular among fashion designers, artists, and different creative, unusual personalities. For example, the controversial and unusual Body World exhibition shows the Rag Fair of those times.
Petticoat Lane was among the main districts of Whitechapel and had the rows of old clothes, boots, and rags. There were approximately three or four rows. The garments were very beautiful and colorful. The effect was very striking due to different groups of merchants and traders. Mr. Hollingshead in Ragged London wrote that Petticoat Lane was not the worst of many districts in that quarter. It was undoubtedly bad enough. Along the wide road from Aldgate Church to Old Church, there were more than twenty narrow avenues, leading to poor houses full of dirt, misery, and poverty. Tewkesbury Buildings was the center of the Dutch Jews. The biggest half of the residents was chiefs, beggars, and small tradesmen.
The London Hospital was very important building in Whitechapel. It was founded in 1740. The establishment provided charitable services to poor sick people. It had 439 beds. Another important building in Whitechapel was The British and Foreign Sailor’s Church, which had been previously named the Danish Church. It was built by sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber in 1696. The Royalty Theatre was opened in 1787. It was bought in 1820 and then later burned down in 1826. In two years, the new theater was built in the same place.

History of East London

The earliest history of East London was found in 1976. Fossilized footprints on a large stone were discovered on the Nahoon Beach. The East London Museum presents the interesting history of the area. The East End was the darkest part of London, which was riddled with mystery and interesting things.
Despite all the difficulties in the past, dwellers of the eastern part of London are very proud of their history and heritage. The Medieval City of London was surrounded by the River Thames. The River Lea was another boundary. From1600, the East India Company, which included small businesses, was governed by London traders. The eastern part of London was situated outside of Roman boundaries of London. In the past, this area was full of green trees and populous streets. Before 1600, London had had many hunting areas and small port villages. From 1600 as East London became more industrial, it was full of factories and plants. Consequently, the stinking and dangerous air pervaded the area. Wool was the main export item of East London. A great amount of sheep and rabbit skins were exported outside East London. The eastern part of London lay outside of the city. The area was very important for the rich part of the city dwellers as they did not want their places to be affected by poisonous elements. The richest people lived in the center of the city, so their homes were protected. The main industries were rope making, slaughterhouses, fish industry, breweries etc. All factories and plants were removed to the outskirts. The population of East London had reached 80 000 dwellers by 1600. However, due to the outburst of plague in London in 1664, the number of dwellers decreased. At that time, the church possessed almost ¼ of the land in London. Henry VIII dissolved monasteries; a great amount of land was freed for new establishments. The suburb outside London continued to expand. By 1600, East London had been connected to Westminster by many houses. Among them were Banqueting House built in 1622 and The Queens House built in 1637.
In 1720, John Strype recorded the East End for the first time. He described London as a city consisting of four parts: The City of London, Westminster, Southwark, and «That Part Beyond the Tower». Moorfields was not well-developed until 1778-1814. The eastern part of London was also very attractive to refugees and immigrants. In the 15-16th centuries, it was the ideal home for Huguenot refugees who had escaped persecution in France. They were weavers and worked in Spitalfields, the place of all London masters in this sphere. In a few years, the skills and abilities of Huguenots were not needed anymore, their work was replaced by machines, and the cozy houses of Huguenots became slums. People were in depression, seeking work to earn their living. There were many beggars and workless people, who did not know where to apply their energy and potential. The Victorian era did not improve the situation and the area remained full of slums, rags, and misery. Violence and crime were commonplace in the eastern part of London. Most of the residents were extremely poor, tried to survive, and struggled for their lives. The growth in industry promoted the migration of workers, but the increase in housing was insufficient. The shortage of places for living and working made people seek shelters, whole families found themselves on the street.  People lived in bad and poor conditions. In addition, the dwellers were afraid of Jack the Ripper, who terrorized the East and was the most infamous murder of his times.
Looking at more recent times, London was inhabited by the Xhoisan tribe, later followed by the Xhosa tribe. In 1835, on the initiative of the Governor, sir D’Urban, the British Colonial officers came to the Buffalo River. The Xhosa people met white settlers and protected their land in an unfair battle. In November 1835, the vessel Knysna, named after the place where it was built, operated by merchant John Rex, came in the Buffalo River mouth where it remained for six weeks, its size was too big for the lagoon. It is recorded that Captain Bailie was the first landowner of the Buffalo River. More than ten years later, in 1849, Sir Smith called the port “London.” Later, when it was connected to the Cape Colony, it was named “East London.” Nowadays, there is a memorial on Signal Hill, which reminds Bailie’s establishment of East London. The arrival of German people from 1854 till 1857 brought prosperity to this land. East London was reminiscent of Germany. There were names such as Hamburg and Berlin. Men worked as farmers and women were engaged in the dairy industry. They established the German Market in the East London. Those people opened their schools that kept alive their native language. A memorial to the German people is on the Esplanade.
In the middle of the 19th century, London faced the wave of immigration. People came from Ireland and the East End of London. From 1883, the Jews from Russia sought asylum in East London. The East End and Whitechapel became overpopulated with poor people, who needed help. Working and living conditions were getting worse. The economic underclass was growing. Violence, assault, poverty, misery, and robbery were ordinary things for Londoners of the19th century. Unsanitary conditions were commonplace, and misery and poverty were part and parcel of the society of those times. All those consequences and hopelessness drove many women to whoredom in Whitechapel. London Metropolitan Police counted more than 60 public houses and over 1100 women working as prostitutes. Social problems were accompanied by economic tension. Racism together with violence, arson, and rape made East London and Whitechapel the place of immorality. Jack the Ripper was the most infamous criminal of the 19th century. He was active in the East End and Whitechapel. The serial killer assaulted female prostitutes, who worked in the purlieus of the East End, and cut their throats. Criminalists thought that Jack the Ripper was either a doctor or butcher because the removal of internal organs of his victims revealed that the murder had some anatomical knowledge. Jack the Ripper was found guilty of murdering five women. The victims were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. These women were called the “canonical five”. However, there are assumptions that the “canonical five” is a myth. Criminals were sure that Nichols, Chapman, and Eddowes were connected to Jack the Ripper, but they were unsure as for Kelly and Stride. The serial killer was not found and punished. Jack the Ripper was not the only murderer of East London. Seven other murderers were active in that part of London from 3 April 1889 to 13 February 1892. They were named “Whitechapel murders” by the police.
By the 19th century, the territory of East London had corresponded to the division of Middlesex. Currently, it corresponds to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
East London became a separate countryside of London. Still, it was the poorest area of London. The main reason of misery was the old system of copyhold, which was extremely popular in East London in the 19th century. Another reason was the presence of harmful industry, such as chaffing, the low-paid jobs in the docks and other industries. Casual labor flourished. By the end of the 19th century, the territory of East London had been occupied by the Eastern European Jews. Richer people, that were able to move somewhere, left the poorest people behind. In the core of that area, the headquarters of the Suffragette movement were established at that time. After World War II, in East London, the slums were totally deracinated. The majority of the land was destroyed by German soldiers. The concentration of main industrial objects made East London the primary target of World War II. East London was especially badly hit. At the very beginning of the war, the government prohibited the use of underground rail stations. They considered them to be a potential security hazard. As a result, the population of East London took control of the situation and opened entrances to the underground railway stations. The government estimated that 89 percent of people would use shelters and places under stairs. The eastern part of London was especially badly destroyed. Only four percent of the dwellers would use the underground stations. Every night those stations were shelters for thousands of families. Block restrictions did not save East London from the German occupation. Germans simply followed the main river – Thames. The government used different forms of the media to show the peaceful situation in the city, but night attacks proved another reality. Air Raid Precautions, social services, and organizations played a very important part in the emergency service during and after the raid. Moreover, the Royal Observer Corps played a crucial role in the defense of the city as many units were located on the coast and could inform people about sudden attacks. East London overcame difficulties, survived hard times, and preserved its unusual charm. Currently, East London and Whitechapel are well-preserved waiting for brave hearts to discover them.


The history of East London and Whitechapel is fascinating and full of interesting, sometimes scary things. East London and Whitechapel are beautiful and mysterious places for adventure seekers. These areas survived hard times facing poverty, misery, plague, and wars. East London and Whitechapel did not surrender. Nowadays, the areas flourish and please natives and visitors. Today Whitechapel resembles the melting pot, which is a place where people of different nationalities live. Everything in East London reminds of the unstable but rich past.

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