Bethnal Green: Wikis


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Coordinates: 51°31′39″N 0°03′58″W / 51.5275°N 0.066°W / 51.5275; -0.066

Bethnal Green
Bethnal Green is located in Greater London
Bethnal Green

 Bethnal Green shown within Greater London
OS grid reference TQ345825
London borough Tower Hamlets
Ceremonial county Greater London
Region London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district E2
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament Bethnal Green and Bow
London Assembly City and East
List of places: UK • England • London

Bethnal Green is an area in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, in the East End of London. Bethnal Green is located 3.3 miles (5.3 km) north east of Charing Cross. Globe Town occupies the eastern portion of the district, and was built after 1800, as an estate for weavers.



Bethnal Green forms a part of Tower Hamlets, centred around the Central Line tube station at the junction of Bethnal Green Road, Roman Road and Cambridge Heath Road. The district was originally a part of the Parish of Stepney, but formed a separate parish in the 19th century, as the population increased. This parish bordered the London Borough of Hackney in the north and west (at Shoreditch), and Mile End in the east. To the southwest is Spitalfields and in the south, Whitechapel.

The district is associated with the E2 postal 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.[1] 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.




The place-name Blithehale or Blythenhale, the earliest form of Bethnal Green, is derived from the Anglo-Saxon healh ('angle, nook, or corner') and blithe ('happy, blithe'), or from a personal name Blitha. Nearby Cambridge Heath (Camprichesheth), is unconnected with Cambridge and may also derive from an Anglo-Saxon personal name. The area was once marshland and forest which, as Bishopswood, lingered in the east until the 16th century. A settlement's dependence upon water suggests that the 'happy corner' was cleared next to the natural spring, St. Winifred's Well, in Conduit Field at the northern end of the Green.[2] Over time, the name became Bethan Hall Green, which, because of local pronunciation as Beth'n 'all Green, had by the 19th century changed to Bethnal Green.

Early history

A Tudor ballad, the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green tells the story of an ostensibly poor man who gave a surprisingly generous dowry for his daughter's wedding. The tale furnishes the parish of Bethnal Green's coat of arms. According to one version of the legend, found in Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, published in 1765, the beggar was said to be Henry, the son of Simon de Montfort, but Percy himself declared that this version was not genuine.[3] The Blind Beggar public house in Whitechapel, is reputed to be the site of his begging.

York Hall is the local leisure centre and boxing venue

Boxing has a long association with Bethnal Green. Daniel Mendoza, who was champion of England from 1792 to 1795, though born in Aldgate, lived in Paradise Row, on the western side of Bethnal Green, for 30 years. Since then numerous boxers have been associated with the area, and the local leisure centre, York Hall, remains notable for presentation of boxing bouts.

In 1841, the Anglo-Catholic Nathaniel Woodard - who was to become a highly influential educationalist in the later part of the 19th century - became the curate of the newly created St. Bartholomew's in Bethnal Green. He was a capable pastoral visitor and established a parochial school. In 1843, he got into trouble for preaching a sermon in St. Bartholomew's in which he argued that the Book of Common Prayer should have additional material to provide for confession and absolution and in which he criticised the 'inefficient and Godless clergy' of the Church of England. After examining the text of the sermon, the Bishop of London condemned it as containing 'erroneous and dangerous notions'. As a result, the bishop sent Woodard to be a curate in Clapton.

The Green and Poor's Land

The Green and Poor's Land is the area of open land now occupied by Bethnal Green Library, The V&A Museum of Childhood and St. John's Church, designed by John Soane. In Stow's Survey of London (1598) the hamlet was called Blethenal Green, now called Bednal Green. It was one of the hamlets included in the Manor of Stepney and Hackney. Hackney later became separated.

In 1678 the owners of houses surrounding the Green purchased the land to save it from being built on and in 1690 the land was conveyed to a trust under which the land was to be kept open and rent from it used for the benefit of poor people living in the vicinity. From that date until now the trust has administered the land and its minute books are kept in the London Metropolitan Archives.

Bethnal House or Kirby's Castle was the principal house on the Green. One of its owners was Sir Hugh Platt (1552–1608), author of books on gardening and practical science. Under its next owner it was visited by Samuel Pepys. It became associated with the ballad of the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green (see Thomas Percy).

In 1727 it was leased to Matthew Wright and for almost two centuries it was a mad house. Its two most distinguished inmates were Alexander Cruden, compiler of the Concordance to the Bible, and the poet Christopher Smart. Cruden recorded his experience in The London Citizen Grievously Injured (1739) and Smart's stay there is recorded by his daughter. Records of the asylum are kept in the annual reports of the Commissioner in Lunacy. Even today, the park where the library stands is known locally as “Barmy Park”.

The original mansion, the White House, was supplemented by other buildings. In 1891 the Trust lost the use of Poor's Land to the London County Council. The asylum reorganised its buildings, demolishing the historic White House and erecting a new block in 1896. This building became the present Bethnal Green Library. A history of Poor's Land and Bethnal House is included in The Green (A.J. Robinson and D.H.B. Chesshyre).

Other houses on the Green

The north end of the Green is associated with the Natt family. During the 18th century they owned many of its houses. Netteswell House is the residence of the curator of the Bethnal Green Museum. It is almost certainly named after the village of Netteswell, near Harwell, whose rector was the Rev. Anthony Natt. A few of its houses have become University settlements. In Victoria Park Square, on the east side of the Green, No.18 has a Tudor well in its cellar.[4]

Globe Town

To the east of the district lies Globe Town, this was established from 1800 to provide for the expanding population of weavers around Bethnal Green, attracted by improving prospects in silk weaving. The population of Bethnal Green trebled between 1801 and 1831, operating 20,000 looms in their own homes. By 1824, with restrictions on importation of French silks relaxed, up to half these looms became idle, and prices were driven down. With many importing warehouses already established in the district, the abundance of cheap labour was turned to boot, furniture and clothing manufacture. Globe Town continued its expansion into the 1860s, long after the decline of the silk industry.[5]

Modern history

Old Bethnal Green Town Hall. Besides being the headquarters of the pre-1965 metropolitan borough, this was also, for a time, Tower Hamlets Town Hall, until the borough decentralised itself in the 1980s.
V&A Museum of Childhood

The silk-weaving trade spread eastwards from Spitalfields throughout the 18th century; and 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 lead 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 Rookery was 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.[6]

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, a woman slipped on the entrance stairs and 173 people died in the resulting crush. 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.[7] There is now a plaque at the entrance to the tube station, which commemorates it as the worst civilian disaster of World War II. It is estimated that during WWII, 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.[8] Many unexploded bombs remain in the area, and on Monday 14 May 2007, builders discovered a World War II 1 m long, 500 lb (230 kg) bomb.[9]

During the 1960s, the infamous gangsters the Kray twins lived in Bethnal Green, but by the beginning of the 21st century, Bethnal Green, in common with 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. Marcus Garvey was at one time buried here, before his body was returned to Jamaica. The Albion Rooms are located in Bethnal Green where Pete Doherty and Carl Barat 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. It became famous for its sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.[citation needed]

Culture and faith

St. John on Bethnal Green, Church of England

Bethnal Green is a very diverse area, with many people from many backgrounds or cultures. It has a total population of 17,590 as of the 2001 census. The largest single ethnic group is people of Bangladeshi descent, which constitute 41.4% of the area population (high proportion mainly in Bethnal Green South). The second largest are the White British, constitute 37.2% of the area's population. Other ethnic groups include Somalis, Black Africans and Black Caribbeans. The two main faiths of the people are Islam and Christianity, with 50.1% Muslims and 33.8% Christians.[10]

There are many historical churches in Bethnal Green. Notable churches include, St. John on Bethnal Green[11] located near the Bethnal Green tube station, on Bethnal Green Road and Roman Road. The church was built from 1826 to 1828 by the architect John Soane. Other notable churches include St Matthew - built by George Dance the Elder in 1746. St Matthew is the mother church of Bethnal Green; the church's opening coincided with a vast population increase in the former village of Stepney, resulting in the need to separate the area around Bethnal Green from the mother Parish of St Dunstan's, Stepney. All but the bell tower, still standing today, was destroyed by fire and the church again suffered devastating damage during the bombing campaigns of the Second World War, resulting in the installation of a temporary church within the bombed-out building. St. Matthew's remains a major beacon of the local East End community and is frequented on Sundays and other religious occasions by a mixture of established locals and more recent migrants to the area.[12]

Other churches include St. Peter's Church by Lewis Vulliamy (1841), St James the Less by Lewis Vulliamy (1842), St James the Great by Edward Blore (1843), and St Bartholomew by William Railton (1844). The church attendance in Bethnal Green was 1 in 8 people since 1900, and is estimated around 100 people attend church as of today (only 10% attend regularly in the UK). Baptisms, marriages and burials have been deposited nearly at all churches in Bethnal Green.[13][14]

There are four Islamic places of worship or services in Bethnal Green for the Muslim community. These are the Baitul Aman Mosque and Cultural Centre, which accommodates up to 500 people,[15] a madrassah Darul Hadis Latifah,[16] the Senegambian Islamic Cultural Centre and the Baitul Mamur Academy.

The London Buddhist Centre, at 51 Roman Road, is one of the largest urban Buddhist centres in the west, and is the focus of a large Buddhist residential and business community in the area.


Bethnal Green has numerous primary schools serving children aged three to 11. St. Matthias School on Bacon Street,[17] off Brick Lane, is over a century old and uses the Seal of the old Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green as its badge and emblem.[citation needed] The school is over a century old but underwent extensive remodelling in 1994 and added a new sports hall on its Grimsby Street former playground site in 2006.[citation needed] The school is linked with the nearby 18th century St. Matthew's Church on St. Matthew's Row; pupils attend mass and perform seasonal plays and performances at the church and the Parish reverend provides religious instruction at the school.[citation needed] The Bangabandhu Primary School, named after the father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujib, a non-selective state community school,[18] was opened in January 1989, moved to a new building in November 1991, and has over 450 pupils. 70% of the school's pupils speak English as a second language, with a majority speaking Sylheti, a dialect of Bengali, at home, but the Ofsted inspectorate deemed Bangabandhu a "successful and effective school" where pupils "achieve well and make good progress".[19]

Bethnal Green's oldest secondary school is Raine's Foundation School, with sites on Old Bethnal Green and Approach roads, a voluntary aided Anglican school founded in 1719.[20] The school relocated several times, amalgamating with St. Jude's School for Girls[21] to become coeducational in 1977. Other schools in the area include Bethnal Green Technology College, Oaklands School, and Morpeth School.

The Bethnal Park (also known as Barmey Park) and Bethnal Green Library provide leisure facilities and information.

Places of interest

Notable residents


The nearest London Underground stations are Bethnal Green, Whitechapel and Stepney Green.

In addition, there are two local mainline railway stations: Bethnal Green railway station (not to be confused with the Tube station of the same name) and Cambridge Heath railway station.

Several bus routes also serve the area.

Nearest places

See also


  1. ^ Tower Hamlets Borough Council Election Maps 1964-2002 accessed 14 April 2007
  2. ^ Bethnal Green: Settlement and Building to 1836, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11: Stepney, Bethnal Green (1998), pp. 91-95 accessed: 6 December 2007.
  3. ^ Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green (East London History) accessed 3 Dec 2007
  4. ^ The Green, Land assessments records, Gascoyne's survey of 1703.
  5. ^ From 1801 to 1821, the population of Bethnal Green more than doubled, and by 1831, it had trebled. These incomers were principally weavers. For further details, see: Andrew August Poor Women's Lives: Gender, Work, and Poverty in Late-Victorian London pp 35-6 (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999) ISBN 0838638074
  6. ^ 'Bethnal Green: Building and Social Conditions from 1876 to 1914', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11: Stepney, Bethnal Green (1998), pp. 126-32 accessed: 14 November 2006
  7. ^ Bethnal Green - disaster at the tube, Wednesday 24 September 2003, 19.30 BBC Two
  8. ^ Bethnal Green: Building and Social Conditions from 1915 to 1945, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11: Stepney, Bethnal Green (1998), pp. 132-135 accessed: 10 October 2007
  9. ^ "Families kept away by World War II bomb". BBC News. 2007-05-16. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 
  10. ^ ONS
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ St-Matthews
  13. ^ Bethnal Green Churches
  14. ^ EoLFHS Parishes: Bethnal Green
  15. ^ Services of Baitul Aman Mosque
  16. ^ Darul Hadis Latifah
  17. ^ "Ofsted inspection report for Saint Matthias School". Ofsted. Retrieved 2009-02-05. 
  18. ^ A-Z Services - Tower Hamlets
  19. ^ Ofsted - Bangabandhu
  20. ^ Bell, Walter George (1966). "raine's+foundation+school"+history&dq="raine's+foundation+school"+history Unknown London. Spring Books. p. 326."raine's+foundation+school"+history&dq="raine's+foundation+school"+history. 
  21. ^ Johnson, Malcolm (2001). Bustling Intermeddler? The Life and Works of Charles James Blomfield. Gracewing. p. 109. ISBN 0852445466. 

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BETHNAL GREEN, an eastern metropolitan borough of London, England, bounded N. by Hackney, E. by Poplar, S. by Stepney and W. by Shoreditch. Pop. (1901) 129,680. It is a district of poor houses, forming part of the area commonly known as the "East End." The working population is employed in the making of match-boxes, boot-making, cabinet-making and other industries; but was formerly largely devoted to silkweaving, which spread over the district from its centre in Spitalfields (see Stepney). This industry is still maintained. The Bethnal Green museum was opened in 1872. It contains exhibits of food and animal products, formerly at South Kensington, entomological collections, &c.; and various loan exhibitions are held from time to time. The Museum also housed the Wallace collection until the opening of Hertford House, and the pictures now in the National Portrait Gallery. It stands in public gardens; there are several other small open spaces; and some 70 out of the 217 acres of Victoria Park are within the borough. Close by the park there stood, until the 19th century, a house believed to have belonged to the notorious Bishop Bonner, the persecutor of Protestants in the reign of Mary; his name is still attached to a street here. Among institutions are the missionary settlement of the Oxford House, founded in 1884, with its women's branch, St Margaret's House; the NorthEastern hospital for children, the Craft school and the Leather Trade school. The parliamentary borough of Bethnal Green has two divisions, each returning one member. The borough council consists of a mayor, 5 aldermen and 30 councillors. Area, 759.3 acres.

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