East End of London

Monday, 25 October 2021 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, London
Reading Time:  12 minutes

Shoreditch photoshoot on Boundary Street © Jwslubbock/cc-by-sa-4.0

Shoreditch photoshoot on Boundary Street © Jwslubbock/cc-by-sa-4.0

The East End of London, often referred to within the London area simply as the East End, is the historic core of wider East London, east of the Roman and medieval walls of the City of London and north of the River Thames. It does not have universally accepted boundaries to the north and east, though the River Lea is sometimes seen as the eastern boundary. Parts of it may be regarded as lying within Central London (though that term too has no precise definition). The term “East of Aldgate Pump” is sometimes used as a synonym for the area.

The East End began to emerge in the Middle Ages with initially slow urban growth outside the eastern walls, which later accelerated, especially in the 19th century, to absorb pre-existing settlements. The first known written record of the East End as a distinct entity, as opposed to its component parts, comes from John Strype‘s 1720 Survey of London, which describes London as consisting of four parts: the City of London, Westminster, Southwark, and “That Part beyond the Tower”. The relevance of Strype’s reference to the Tower was more than geographical. The East End was the urbanised part of an administrative area called the Tower Division, which had owed military service to the Tower of London since time immemorial. Later, as London grew further, the fully urbanised Tower Division became a byword for wider East London, before East London grew further still, east of the River Lea and into Essex.

The area was notorious for its deep poverty, overcrowding and associated social problems. This led to the East End’s history of intense political activism and association with some of the country’s most influential social reformers. Another major theme of East End history has been migration, both inward and outward. The area had a strong pull on the rural poor from other parts of England, and attracted waves of migration from further afield, notably Huguenot refugees, Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews and in the 20th century, Bangladeshis. The closure of the last of the Port of London’s East End docks in 1980 created further challenges and led to attempts at regeneration, with Canary Wharf and the Olympic Park among the most successful examples. While some parts of the East End are undergoing rapid change, the area continues to contain some of the worst poverty in Britain.

Poplar Dock Wharf and Horizons Tower © flickr.com - Matt Brown/cc-by-2.0 Brick Lane © flickr.com - ahisgett/cc-by-2.0 Brick Lane © panoramio.com - Tabraiz Feham/cc-by-3.0 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park © flickr.com - Sludge G/cc-by-sa-2.0 Shoreditch photoshoot on Boundary Street © Jwslubbock/cc-by-sa-4.0 Canary Wharf and redevelopment on the Isle of Dogs © QuintusPetillius/cc-by-sa-4.0
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Canary Wharf and redevelopment on the Isle of Dogs © QuintusPetillius/cc-by-sa-4.0
Inn-yard theatres were first established in the Tudor period, with the Boar’s Head Inn (1557) in Whitechapel, the George in Stepney and John Brayne’s short lived but purpose-built Red Lion Theatre (1567), nearby. In 1574 the City authorities banned the building of playhouses in the City of London, so new theatres were built in the suburbs, beyond its jurisdiction. The East End, notably Shoreditch, become a major centre of the Elizabethan Theatre, with existing venues joined by additions. The first permanent theatres with resident companies were constructed in Shoreditch, with James Burbage‘s The Theatre (1576) and Henry Lanman’s Curtain Theatre (1577) in close proximity. These venues played a major part in Shakespeare’s early career, with Romeo and Juliet and Henry V first performed at the Curtain. The play Henry V makes direct reference to the Curtain Theatre. On the night of 28 December 1598 Burbage’s sons dismantled The Theatre, and moved it piece by piece across the Thames to construct the Globe Theatre. The Goodman’s Fields Theatre was established in 1727, and was where David Garrick made his début as Richard III, in 1741. In the 19th century the East End’s theatres rivalled those of the West End in their grandeur and seating capacity. The first of this era was the ill-fated Brunswick Theatre (1828), which collapsed three days after opening, killing 15 people. This was followed by the Pavilion Theatre, Whitechapel (1828), the Garrick (1831) in Leman Street, the Effingham (1834) in Whitechapel, the Standard (1835) in Shoreditch, the City of London (1837) in Norton Folgate, then the Grecian and the Britannia Theatre in Hoxton (1840). Though very popular for a time, these theatres closed from the 1860s onwards, with the buildings subsequently demolished. There were also many Yiddish theatres, particularly around Whitechapel. These developed into professional companies, after the arrival of Jacob Adler in 1884 and the formation of his Russian Jewish Operatic Company that first performed in Beaumont Hall, Stepney, and then found homes both in the Prescott Street Club, Stepney, and in Princelet Street in Spitalfields. The Pavilion became an exclusively Yiddish theatre in 1906, finally closing in 1936 and being demolished in 1960. Other important Jewish theatres were Feinmans, The Jewish National Theatre and the Grand Palais. Performances were in Yiddish, and predominantly melodrama. These declined, as audience and actors left for New York and the more prosperous parts of London. The once popular music halls of the East End have mostly met the same fate as the theatres. Prominent examples included the London Music Hall (1856–1935), 95-99 Shoreditch High Street, and the Royal Cambridge Music Hall (1864–1936), 136 Commercial Street. An example of a “giant pub hall”, Wilton’s Music Hall (1858), remains in Grace’s Alley, off Cable Street and the early “saloon style” Hoxton Hall (1863) survives in Hoxton Street, Hoxton. The Albert Saloon was a theatre based at Britannia Fields. Many popular music hall stars came from the East End, including Marie Lloyd. The music hall tradition of live entertainment lingers on in East End public houses, with music and singing. This is complemented by less respectable amusements such as striptease, which, since the 1950s has become a fixture of certain East End pubs, particularly in the area of Shoreditch, despite being a target of local authority restraints. Novelist and social commentator Walter Besant proposed a “Palace of Delight” with concert halls, reading rooms, picture galleries, an art school and various classes, social rooms and frequent fêtes and dances. This coincided with a project by the philanthropist businessman, Edmund Hay Currie to use the money from the winding up of the Beaumont Trust, together with subscriptions to build a “People’s Palace” in the East End. Five acres of land were secured on the Mile End Road, and the Queen’s Hall was opened by Queen Victoria on 14 May 1887. The complex was completed with a library, swimming pool, gymnasium and winter garden, by 1892, providing an eclectic mix of populist entertainment and education. A peak of 8000 tickets were sold for classes in 1892, and by 1900, a Bachelor of Science degree awarded by the University of London was introduced. In 1931, the building was destroyed by fire, but the Draper’s Company, major donors to the original scheme, invested more to rebuild the technical college and create Queen Mary’s College in December 1934. A new ‘People’s Palace’ was constructed, in 1937, by the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney, in St Helen’s Terrace. This finally closed in 1954. Professional theatre returned briefly to the East End in 1972, with the formation of the Half Moon Theatre in a rented former synagogue in Aldgate. In 1979, they moved to a former Methodist chapel, near Stepney Green and built a new theatre on the site, which opened in 1985, and gave premières to Dario Fo, Edward Bond and Steven Berkoff. The theatre spawned two further arts projects: the Half Moon Photography Workshop, and the Half Moon Young People’s Theatre, which remains active in Tower Hamlets.

Despite a negative image among outsiders, the people of the area take pride in the East End and in their Cockney identity. The term Cockney has loose geographic and linguistic definitions with blurring between the two. In practice people from all over the East End, the wider East London area and sometimes beyond, identify as Cockneys; some of these use the Cockney dialect to some degree and others not. A traditional definition is that to be a Cockney, one had to be born within the sound of Bow Bells, situated on Cheapside. The eastern topography is mostly low lying, a factor which combines with the strength and regularity of the prevailing wind, blowing from west-south-west for three quarters of the year, to carry the sound further to the east, and more often. In the 19th century the sound would have been heard as far away as Stamford Hill, Leyton and Stratford, but modern noise pollution means that the bells can only be heard as far as Shoreditch. The Cockney dialect has lexical borrowings from Yiddish, Romani, and costermonger slang, and a distinctive accent that includes T-glottalization, a loss of dental fricatives, diphthong alterations, the use of rhyming slang and other features. The accent is said to be a remnant of early English London speech, strongly influenced by the traditional Essex dialect, and modified by the many immigrants to the area. Cockney English is spoken widely in the East End, other areas of East London and in many traditionally working-class areas across London. The position of the Cockney dialect in London has been weakened by the promotion of Received Pronunciation (RP) in the 20th century, and by the scale of migration to London. This has included both gentrifying domestic migration (RP speakers) and the scale of international migration. Conversely, out-migration from East London has spread the Cockney dialect beyond the capital. The Cockney dialect taken beyond London is sometimes referred to as Estuary English, heavily influenced by Cockney and named after the Thames Estuary area where the movement of East Londoners to south Essex and to a lesser extent parts on north Kent led it to be most widely spoken. Within London Cockney speech is, to a significant degree, being replaced by Multicultural London English, a form of speech with a significant Cockney influence.

Read more on aladyinlondon.com – Lady’s Hip Guide to Shoreditch, Telegraph, 14 October 2019: 48 hours in . . . East London, an insider guide to land of the hip and happening, Wikivoyage East End and Wikipedia East End (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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