Bethnal Green is a district in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Located 3.3 miles (5.3 km) northeast of Charing Cross, it was historically a hamlet in the ancient parish of Stepney, Middlesex.
Following population increases caused by the expansion of London during the 18th century, it was split off from Stepney as the parish of Bethnal Green in 1743, becoming part of the Metropolis in 1855 and the County of London in 1889. The parish became the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green in 1900 and the population peaked in 1901, entering a period of steady decline which lasted until 1981.
The economic history of Bethnal Green is characterised by a shift away from agricultural provision for the City of Londonto market gardening, weaving and light industry, which has now all but disappeared. The quality of the built environment had deteriorated by the turn of the 20th century and was radically altered by the aerial bombardment during the Second World War and the subsequent social housing developments. Some 173 people were killed at a single incident at Bethnal Green tube station in 1943. Bethnal Green has formed part of Greater London since 1965.
Modern history[edit | edit source]
The silk-weaving trade spread eastwards from Spitalfields throughout the 18th century. This attracted many Huguenot and Irish weavers to the district. Large estates of small two story cottages were developed in the west of the area to house them. A downturn in the trade in 1769 led to the Spitalfield Riots, and on 6 December 1769, two weavers accused of 'cutting' were hanged in front of the Salmon and Ball public house.
In the 19th century, Bethnal Green remained characterised by its market gardens and by weaving. Having been an area of large houses and gardens as late as the 18th century, by about 1860 Bethnal Green was mainly full of tumbledown old buildings with many families living in each house. By the end of the century, Bethnal Green was one of the poorest slums in London. Jack the Ripper operated at the western end of Bethnal Green and in neighbouring Whitechapel. In 1900, the Old Nichol Street Rookerywas demolished, and the Boundary Estate opened on the site near the boundary with Shoreditch. This was the world's first council housing, and brothers Lew Grade and Bernard Delfont were brought up here. In 1909, the Bethnal Green Estate was built with money left by the philanthropist William Richard Sutton which he left for 'modern dwellings and houses for occupation by the poor of London and other towns and populous places in England'.
On 3 March 1943 at 8:27PM the unopened Bethnal Green tube station was the site of a wartime disaster. Families had crowded into the underground station due to an air raid siren at 8:17, one of 10 that day. There was a panic at 8:27 coinciding with the sound of an anti-aircraft battery (possibly the recently installed Z battery) being fired at nearby Victoria Park. In the wet, dark conditions the crowd was surging forward towards the shelter when a woman tripped on the stairs, causing many others to fall. Within a few seconds 300 people were crushed into the tiny stairwell, resulting in 173 deaths. Although a report was filed by Eric Linden with the Daily Mail, who witnessed it, it never ran. The story which was reported instead was that there had been a direct hit by a German bomb. The results of the official investigation were not released until 1946. A plaque at the entrance to the tube station commemorates it as the worst civilian disaster of the Second World War and a memorial in nearby Bethnal Park has been partially built; now awaiting funds for completion.
It is estimated that during the Second World War, 80 tons of bombs fell on the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green, affecting 21,700 houses, destroying 2,233 and making a further 893 uninhabitable. There were a total of 555 people killed and 400 seriously injured. Many unexploded bombs remain in the area, and on 14 May 2007, builders discovered a Second World War1 m long 500 lb (230 kg) bomb.
The book Family and Kinship in East London, based on materials gathered in the 1950s, shows an improvement in working class life. Husbands in the sample population no longer went out to drink but spent time with the family. As a result, both birth rate and infant death rate fell drastically and local prosperity increased. It is true that the infamous gangsters, the Kray twins lived in Bethnal Green in the 1960s. However, by the beginning of the 21st century, Bethnal Green and much of the old East End began to undergo a process of gentrification.
The former Bethnal Green Infirmary, later the London County Council Bethnal Green Hospital, stood opposite Cambridge Heath railway station. The hospital closed as a public hospital in the 1970s and was a geriatric hospital under the NHS until the 1980s. Much of the site was developed for housing in the 1990s but the hospital entrance and administration block remains as a listed building. The Albion Rooms are located in Bethnal Green where Pete Doherty and Carl Barât of the Libertines used to live when the band was together. It became part of music history as the band would hold Guerilla Gigs in the flat that would be packed with people.
The London Chest Hospital, founded in 1848 by Thomas Bevill Peacock, was located in Approach Road and first opened in 1855. It closed on 17 April 2015 and its functions transferred to other sites of the Barts Health NHS Trust. Ronnie and Reggie Kray were well known Bethnal Green residents.
Geography[edit | edit source]
Bethnal Green forms a part of Tower Hamlets and Hackney, centred around the Central line tube station at the junction of Bethnal Green Road, Roman Road and Cambridge Heath Road.
The district is associated with the E2 postcode district, but this also covers parts of Shoreditch, Haggerston and Cambridge Heath. Between 1986 and 1992, the name Bethnal Green was applied to one of seven neighbourhoods to whom power was devolved from the council. This resulted in replacement of much of the street signage in the area that remains in place. This included parts of both Cambridge Heath and Whitechapel (north of the Whitechapel Road) being more associated with the post code and administrative simplicity than the historic districts.
Demographics[edit | edit source]
Bethnal Green had a total population of 27,849 at the 2011 census, based on the north and south wards of Bethnal Green. The largest single ethnic group is people of Bangladeshi descent, which constitute 38 percent of the area's population. Every year since 1999 the Baishakhi Mela is celebrated in Weaver's Field, Bethnal Green which celebrates the Bengali New Year. The second largest are the White British, constituting 30 percent of the area's population. Other ethnic groups include Black Africans and Black Caribbeans.