Exploring London’s East End

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Huguenot refugees. Irish weavers. Jewish immigrants. Bangladeshis. Hipsters. Artists.

All of these groups — disparate as they seem — have at one point or another called the East End of London home.

Today known for the curry houses of Brick Lane and as the birthplace of graffiti artist Banksy, the East End has developed and evolved over the years into a diverse and up-and-coming neighborhood. With the exception of Brick Lane, though, it's not a place many tourists venture to. There's no Big Ben or Buckingham Palace to be found here. In fact, you'll find a lot of old warehouses and factory buildings; even shops built in converted train cars.

Which is exactly why I wanted to spend some time here.

Street art in the East End of London

I booked an “East End Uncovered” tour with Urban Adventures in order to learn the history of this interesting part of London.

East End London
My favorite buildings – Georgian homes on Fournier Street.

There was a time when the East End of London was not actually part of London at all. The area was once a separate village outside the Roman walls of the city; a place where the poor and the immigrants went to live when they could not afford to live within London itself, or when overcrowding forced them out.

What happened, though is a typical tale of expansion and absorption — eventually, as London grew, it encompassed what is known today as the “East End” and beyond.

Hoxton Square London
Hoxton Square

The first group of immigrants to this part of London were Huguenots escaping religious oppression in France. They brought with them looms and weaving, paving the way for Irish weavers and Jewish immigrants in later decades. By the late 1900s, immigrants from Bangladesh were the most numerous. They still make up a large part of the population in the East End, and are partially responsible for curry being England's national dish.

Today, though, yet another group is moving into the neighborhood — hipsters and artists drawn to the area's grittier, creative side.

East End street art

East End street art near Brick Lane

Walking through the streets of Hackney, Hoxton, and beyond, I learned so much about a part of London that, to be honest, I had never given much thought to before.

Here are some things I learned that you probably don't know about the East End:

The Regent's Canal runs through the East End. It was built as an alternative way to transport goods through London, back in the days when horses and carts would get bogged down in the mud and muck that made up city roads.

Regent's Canal East End

The East End was heavily bombed during WWII. In fact, parts of it were almost completely leveled. You'd never know it today, though.

There are Shakespeare ties. Burbage's famous Theater (the first successful theater in London) was located in the East End neighborhood of Shoreditch — as was the first version of Shakespeare's Globe theater. Burbage is buried at St. Leonard's in Shoreditch.

Hitchcock began his filmmaking career here in the East End at Gainsborough Studios.

East End
Ode to Hitchcock

Jamie Oliver also calls this part of London home; his head offices and Fifteen restaurant are in the East End.

Jack the Ripper preyed here. The East End today can still be a bit seedy, but it used to be way worse. The infamous Jack the Ripper murders all took place here in 1888, with some of the victims drinking in local pubs right before they were murdered.

East End alley

Oysters and eels used to be poor man's food here in the East End. Because the area was so close to the docks, the cheapest food for many people living here was actually fresh seafood. Not a bad diet, really.

Speaking of food, fish and chips was “invented” here. The chips were adopted from Belgium and the buttered fish from Portugal, but it was a young Jewish boy who began selling them together here in the East End.

It is evolving. Some of the homes and old warehouses in the area have been beautifully restored and repurposed as fancy apartments and town houses. While the East End used to be home to some of London's worst slums, the price to live here is steadily rising.

East End London

Today, the East End is becoming very artsy and a haven for hipsters. The art movement arguably began around Hoxton Square, and has spread rapidly. Graffiti artist Banksy started his work here, and now anyone who wants to be anyone in the street art universe comes to the East End.

East End Banksy
Possibly the last remaining original Banksy in the East End – it's protected behind glass.
East End
Street art can be anything!

The East End is so interesting. From the street art to the curry houses to Spitalfields Market, the area has an interesting vibe. Still a bit gritty, but also creative and exciting. It will be interesting to see what it evolves into in the next few decades.

Hoxton Street Market East End

If you want to venture beyond the usual tourist trail in London, I highly recommend a tour of the East End like this one.

——

If You Go…

  • What: East End Uncovered tour
  • When: 10 a.m. daily
  • Where: Meeting point it at Old Street tube station; tour ends near Brick Lane or Spitalfields Market
  • Length: About 4 hours, most of it walking
  • Inclusions: Local guide, pie and mash for lunch
  • Price: Roughly $40 USD

——

Have YOU ever been to London's East End?

 

 

*Note: I did receive a complimentary tour of the East End with Urban Adventures. As always, though, my opinions are all my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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21 Comments on “Exploring London’s East End

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  1. Great post and beautiful photos. I started exploring the East End about six years ago – back in the 70’s & 80’s when I first started visiting London it was not a place that tourists went or even thought about going. I am glad that is changing (although probably the residents aren’t that keen!). I will have to check out the Hoxton Street Market this fall when I am there. Every time I go over now I try to see a new area of the East End. Last time I visited the Ragged School Museum in Mile End – really very interesting and well worth a visit. I do love the Brick Lane area with all the markets and street art and have to make a pilgrimage there every time. I am enjoying your posts so much and can’t wait to hear all about your busabout adventures in Europe. Have fun!

      Thanks, Laurie! I enjoyed getting to know the East End a little bit on this trip. I loved all the street art, and learning about the area’s history.

    That sounds like such a cool tour that taught you so much. I loved seeing all of the different sides of it in your pictures. That elephant w/tentacles definitely looks awesome. 🙂

      The elephantopus (that can be a thing, right?) was one of my favorite pieces of street art! Brand new, too, apparently.

      It was a very cool tour, and I’m really glad I ventured into this part of London!

    I’m from east London (not technically the East End, though; a bit further out), and I didn’t know that about fish and chips! Glad you enjoyed exploring my neck of the woods.

      Glad to have shared a new little nugget of info with you! And yes, I definitely enjoyed exploring your neck of the woods.

    Never been to the East End of London…never been to London, but I feel like I’ve been there after reading this blog. Thanks for the inside look!

      Happy to give you a little glimpse! It’s a cool part of the city, and I’m glad I got to explore it a little.

    Great post. I keep telling people to go see the East End, as I found it the most interesting part of London (I even went beyond Shoreditch and Hoxton to West Ham), but it’s well below the tourist radar. And if it were up to me, it would stay that way!

      It is indeed a very interesting part of London. And I have a feeling it will remain under the radar for a little longer yet!

    I’m always sort of inherently drawn to these parts of any city that I visit. I feel like there is something about the art and local hipster scene about a city that lets you into a totally different world. Thanks for a peak into this world.

      Totally agree! Glad I could give you a little glimpse into the East End.

    I’ve only been to Brick Lane, but the rest of London’s East End sounds amazing! I know I would love this mixture of cultures, ethnicities and art — time to visit London again!!

      It’s a very cool and interesting mixture! I also highly recommend this tour!

    […] What do Huguenot refugees, Irish weavers, Bangladeshis, and hipsters have in common? They’ve all called London’s East End home at one point or another. Explore the eccentric street art, bustling markets, and diverse cultural history in this up-and-comi…. @Dangerousbiz […]

    Ive been to london twenty five years ago but never knew about the east end. My parents were from essex and devon. I found out later that my sons father was born there in 1966 and came to australia 1969 age 3. But his ancestors were from there and they are all what youve stated french, londoner, irish and jews! No bangladesh at that time. His parents lived at stepney, traditional cockneys and he was born in commercial st.

      Maybe you’ll get to return sometime so you can check out this side of London too!

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