Although you'd be hard pushed to take a map of London 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 areas to the immediate east and north east of the City. These would include Shoreditch, Whitechapel, Wapping, Bethnal Green and Hoxton along with parts of their neighbouring districts.

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!

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