Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Weary Traveler: A Historical Walking Tour of East London

Most Western cities grow west, leaving the east sides to be a festering pool of crime and poverty. With recent gentrification policies and the influx of “hipsters,” East London is no longer the vampire it has been portrayed in literature and film. Gone are the opium dens of Limehouse and up are the swinging digs of Shoreditch media types. Here is a historical walk through this new and thriving area.

Start at the Liverpool Street Tube stop (A) and make your way north to Spitalfields Market. Once the thriving center of East London, Spitalfields got its name from the grand spired church St. Ambrose. The surrounding area was given the Cockney name Spitalfields and a market went up in 1705 to accommodate farmers from Essex. The church is gone now, but the market has some of the best flower stalls in all of London. From there head northeast, through the historical Brick Lane (C), now famous for curries and bagels, but once the headquarters of London’s most notorious street gang, the “maçons.” These French Huguenots fled to England in 1743 and set up shop as weavers in the buildings overlooking the northern part of Spitalfields. The maçons capitalized on the growing population and ran an early version of racketeering. Head Southeast to Whitechapel (D). On the corner of Hanbury and New Road is St. Justin the Martyr’s church where the remains of Jack the Ripper’s last victim was found. The massacred prostitute brought East London to its knees at the peak of the Ripper’s spree. The murders then stopped and a myriad of stories and suspects have become legend. Most famous is that Jack the Ripper was actually, Walter Hornsbury, a patient at the nearby Royal London Hospital. Gaining expertise by watching surgeons as he waited for surgery. It is believed that Hornsbury died under the knife while doctors tried to repair his bronchial tubes from a bout of Consumption. Lastly head southwest to Aldgate East (E), the last of the great gates of the walled city of London. A portion of London Wall still exists near the Tube stop. This gate was a gathering point for Danes that tried to invade London under the Danelaw in Eastern Great Britain. Londoners took their dead and impaled them on the outside of the wall to warn the Danes of their own brutality. Take the Tube here back to your hotel and grab a pint; you’ll need it after this walk!


  1. My friends have been to St. Justin the Martyr’s, they say it's magnificent.

  2. Isn't "French Huguenot" redundant?