Although you'd be hard pushed
to take a map
and draw a
line around a certain area
and say "this is the East End", most people
who know London would say it roughly comprises the inner city
to the immediate east
and north east
of the City. These would include
, Bethnal Green
with parts of their neighbouring district
The East End has always been synonymous with the poorest, roughest and
most working class regions of London. There are a number of historical
reasons for this:
As the city grew and expanded ever outwards, the East End became a
rabbit warren of slums and tenements. These were the streets in which
Jack the Ripper stalked his victims, as well as the streets in which
the prostitutes he preyed on plied their trade. Many of Charles Dickens'
stories are set in or around the East End, and few middle class
Victorian Londoners would dare venture into the area after dark.
The area has also long been a place in which various waves of
immigrants to Britain have settled: successively Flemish
Huguenots, Irish fleeing the potato famine, Jews seeking refuge
from the Tsarist pogroms and Bangladeshis have all made the
East End their home in Britain.
Things slowly improved at the beginning of the 20th Century, but strangely
it was Hitler who did most to improve the living standards, albeit
indirectly. The East End suffered horrendously during the Blitz, with
whole streets being bombed into rubble and many tens of thousands of
houses and factories vanishing under the onslaught of German
bombs. After the end of the war it was realised that there was a great
opportunity to clear away the remaining slums that were still standing and
to build a whole new East End.
Unfortunately the rebuilding process didn't get fully underway until the
1960s by which time the prevailing architectural view was to buld vast
estates of concrete tower blocks rather than real houses. As a result
people ended up being moved from one kind of slum into another, and the
area retained its miserable reputation. This post-war East End was the one
which allowed the Kray twins to expand their gangster activities until
they virtually ruled all crime in the area.
Today the East End is slowly changing. There are still a number of estates
and areas which are graffiti-covered, dirty and miserable, but as local
authorities slowly get the money and the will to pull down the old
60s tower blocks things are getting better. Certain areas have already
shaken off their old image: Clerkenwell is now known as the centre for
internet startups and new media companies in London, and Wapping has
changed beyond all recognition: from dockers' tenements to luxury
apartments in the space of a generation.
Source: it's all in my head, innit. My family's from the East End
for at least three generations back, although I have to say I don't live there
now and don't miss it either!