Shoreditch – A Trip to London’s Victorian East End

Monday found me at the foot of London’s east-end in Shoreditch.

Shoreditch Church (St Leonard's) built about 1740

Legend has it that the name is derived from Shore’s Ditch, being the last resting place of Jane Shore the mistress of Edward IV who is supposed to have either died or been buried in a ditch in the area. What’s more likely is that the name comes from Sewer Ditch.

My friend Brian’s studio is located in a redeveloped Victorian match factory, the Perseverance Works. This was the sort of place where the exposure to white phosphorous in the matchmaking process caused Phossy Jaw, a nasty disease that caused the teeth and jaw to rot away, before causing death from massive organ failure. The phosphorus made the affected jaw bone to glow in the dark, hence the name. The use of white phosphorus over the more expensive, but far less toxic red phosphorus was only banned in the UK in 1910, after a lot of campaigning from the Salvation Army and other philanthropic groups.

Perseverance Works

Today Perseverance Works is a much nicer place, having been redeveloped into design studios, magazine offices, artisan workshops and the like. Brian’s studio is on the top floor with access to a roof terrace with some stunning views over London. The light wasn’t that good but I got a nice view to the west where you can see,

View to the west

Shoreditch Church, which is the very same one that says ‘When I grow rich’ in the rhyme Oranges and Lemons, and the tower blocks of the City of London beyond. Dedicated to St Leonard it is used as the location for the BBC comedy Rev.

Shoreditch Town Hall

A bit to the north of St Leonard’s is the redundant Shoreditch Town Hall, with its Neo Classical facade, on Old Street which wends its way up towards, what the Prime Minister calls Silicone Roundabout. Not quite Silicone Valley, but I suppose it’s about as good as we are going to get in London. Perseverance Works is often used as a filming location for things like cookery shows and it does have a very attractive courtyard. Such a welcome change from the original purpose of the building.

Courtyard of Perseverance Works

In Tudor times James Burbage built a theatre in the area and some of Shakespeare’s plays were performed there. Later in Victorian times Shoreditch became a centre for music halls and gin palaces, and all the crime, drunkeness and sleaze that went with them.

Late Victorian boozer

Then along came Hitler, who flattened most of the area during World War Two and mid 20th century developers who put up some really quite appalling new properties. However Shoreditch has been undergoing a bit of a renaissance just lately, as lots of creative industries have moved into places like the old match factory. As part of London’s old east-end it has always been the home of immigrants getting a leg up into the city.  Some of the most recent settlers are the Vietnamese who have opened some very good restaurants, so many in fact that Kingsland Road is known as Pho Mile.  We had lunch at the Viet Hoa Cafe, which was very good.

There are a few interesting Victorian buildings in Shoreditch that managed to survive both Hitler and 60s re-developers like this former ironworks. Shame someone cut a window through that decorative tiling.

Wells and Company Commercial Iron Works

If you fancy a look around the area the nearest stations are Shoreditch High Street (London Overground) Liverpool Street and Old Street (Northern Line)

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7 thoughts on “Shoreditch – A Trip to London’s Victorian East End

    • Thank you Jo

      The thing with London is that there is so much history just waiting to be discovered, most of us Londoners never bother to investigate and up until recently I have been as guilty as anyone else,

  1. Ah, Pho. There was some in one of my recent posts, though I forgot to refer to it as such. This post is very interesting and find all of your stories very informative and entertaining. Thanks.

    • Thank you too Bananabatman,

      As I said to Jo there is just so much of this great city that us Londoners take for granted, I have decided to find out as much as I can as I explore it and share it with all of you people out there as I go.

  2. Interesting article. I was up in that area yesterday having a look around. Ancestors in my family lived in that part of London more than 150 years ago. I managed to get inside St Leonard church, which has seen better days but is worth a visit.

      • The famous bell (or perhaps one of the bells) from the rhyme that you mentioned is currently on the ground floor of the church. It is still inside the framework it normally hangs in. Not sure why it isn’t up in the bell tower, perhaps it is being renovated. Just inside the main entrance to the church was a small door and a narrow set of winding stairs presumably going up to the bell tower. If you send me your email address I’ll send you some pictures I took yesterday.

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