City Walks – East London


Positively visually delicious

On an overcast day in January I followed an online self-guided walk through East London, written by Richard Jones.  The area covered a part of London known for its poverty, various immigrant settlements, the “murderous hunting ground” of Jack the Ripper, and the slums often written of by Charles Dickens.  It was fascinating! Every turn had historical intrigue and also London charm.  Here are a few gems.  

The interior of a church, the present structure built 1740, cited in Tale of Two Cities as the “easterly parish church of Houndsditch” where the character Cruncher was christened as “Jerry.”


A little juxtaposition of the modern with the classical.


Bevis Marks Synagogue – 1701 – the oldest synagogue in London.


“Street art”


“56 Artillery Lane. This building dates from 1756 and is widely regarded as the finest Georgian shopfront in London.”


Artillery Passage, named for the fields nearby where Henry VIII permitted the Honorable Artillery Company to practice. (Suffice it to say there are no longer any fields nearby.)


Formerly the Providence Row Night Refuge and Convent, this pretty building was built in 1868, was run by nuns, and provided lodging to the “destitute from all parts, without distinction of creed, colour and country.”


A Jewish soup kitchen that opened in 1902, was most busy during the Great Depression, when it served 5,000 people each week.


These flats looked straight out of “Call the Midwife.” (Which takes place in the poverty-stricken East London of the 1950s.)


Christ Church of Spitalfields – 1720.


Old Spitalfields Market


Because you’ve always wanted to see a food truck covered in astro-turf, right?

These streets were the highlight of the day for me.  The colored shutters, the classic London chimneys, the varied brick facades, were such eye candy.  You would never guess that they were the homes of London’s poorest citizens in the 19th century. 

From the words of Mr. Jones- 

“The buildings that you have passed and those that now stretch before you, have a genuine timelessness about them. Built in the 18th Century for the Huguenot silk merchants and master weavers, they had by the mid 19th Century become common lodging houses, offering miserable living conditions to the poverty-stricken and partly criminal populace.

Number 4, on the right, which has a distinctly down-at-heel look about it, does in fact preserve much of its 18th- and 19th-century paintwork and fixtures and fittings. Indeed, so unchanged is its character that recent television adaptations of Great Expectations; Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist, as well as several biographical films on Dickens’s life, have been filmed here.”

Apparently I didn’t get a picture of the next building that captured my attention.  But once more, here is the description from Richard Jones. 

“Built in 1743 as a Huguenot School and chapel, the building was acquired in 1809 by the London Society – a group of evangelical Christians dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity.  In 1819 the building became a Methodist Chapel, remaining so until 1897, when it became the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. In 1975, it was converted into a Mosque.”

In other words, Christians, Jews and Muslims have all worshiped in that building.  

The oldest remaining bell foundry in London, the home of Big Ben.  

Tower House was built in 1902 as an affordable hostel for the poor in the area, when there was a severe lack of affordable housing. Sadly, the lack of affordable housing still exists (especially in this part of London) and the building has been converted to chic and expensive flats.


The London Hospital, built in 1740, is now abandoned and will likely be gentrified as part of the up-and-coming Tower Hamlets renewal. Something about its broken windows and worn-out appearance seemed a great symbol of the history of East London.

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