The trendy East End of London is calling
Without the fear of sounding too old and honestly, I’m not, but, “wow hasn’t Spitalfields changed”.
Occasionally I used to head to Spitalfields after work to cheer on my work colleagues, playing on the 5-a-side football pitches. Then grab a quick drink in one of the local rustic pubs nearby.
Elder Street, full of character and charm
Not anymore, I had to seriously rack my brain to convince myself that it was the same location. Genuinely, there used to be football pitches back to back, row after row, under a cold wrought iron open-sided warehouse.
Now after the wand of regeneration has been waved, it was like strolling into a completely unknown area of London.
Entrance to Spitalfields Market rebuilt in 1887
Don’t get me wrong something needed to happen, as it wasn’t a district of London that you used to head to with open arms, well, not me anyway. Although I can understand, the effect that this gentrification may have had on the locals.
Visiting Spitalfields was now like discovering a new part of the city and boy, does it have an intriguing past.
A little bit of history
The name Spitalfields is derived from the hospital and priory of St. Mary’s Spittel that was founded in 1197. This area of London, like so many others, was once very rural. It was from a field nearby the priory that the now-famous market was formed during the thirteenth century.
Charnel House, discovered in 1999
Whilst excavations were being carried out in 1999 a charnel house was discovered. This historic underground building was used to store bones from famine victims dating from the 1250s.
During the late 1600s, this small region of London also became home to fleeing French Huguenot silk weavers. A little more of that later.
Streets with a past
Gary and I strolled around the streets opposite Liverpool St. Station. Along Artillery Lane, where it is believed Henry VIII’s Royal Artillery Company was founded in 1537. Passing by a couple of lovely restored Georgian shop fronts.
Georgian shop fronts along Artillery Lane
Verde & Co. now Montezumas chocolate shop
Then as we headed down the end of Gun Street, (there seems to be a military theme here) there’s a charming old shop named Verde & Co. I had since read that a lady bought the property which dates from 1789, in 1996ish, when it was derelict. She restored it to its former glory, using its original features where possible and opened it as a welcoming deli for the locals.
Although the Verde & Co. shopfront is still there, it has now changed hands and is a chocolate shop.
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A voyage of discovery
One of the reasons we wanted to visit rejuvenated Spitalfields, was to stroll its ancient streets and wander in the footsteps where so many tales could be told.
All along Folgate Street are beautifully restored elegant homes. It’s so reassuring that these stylish dwellings are loved once more.
Restored elegant buildings along Folgate Street
Stylish homes along Elder Street
A fascinating street architecturally was Elder Street. If there weren’t the little characteristics of modern-day life dotted around, you would really believe you’d stepped into a different era.
What is wonderful around this district of London is that it’s not just all about the quaint and graceful. There are some beautiful large imposing buildings too.
Art Deco lines, Spitalfields
Spitalfields own little Flat Iron building
Old Spitalfields Market is stylish, quirky and has such a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, I loved it.
There is a market here seven days a week offering that little something different. Either in retail therapy or if you fancy sampling some food that mirrors the diversity of London, this is where to head.
From globes to mallets
The fruit and veg market that once stood here has moved out further east to Leyton. However, traders have been operating here since 1666, the year of the Great Fire of London.
We stepped into the covered market, and I couldn’t wait to go and explore, so much so that I lost Gary on several occasions.
You can never have too many hats
Finding that unusual gift
Whether it’s because of its location in the East End of London, but it certainly attracted people from all walks of life. From the very young to very old, from bohemians to the older EastEnders. Some of which appeared to be unsure of what to make of it.
Although what’s lovely is that everyone is welcome.
Walking into Spitalfields
It had such an eclectic assortment of stalls, from vintage clothing, antiques, bric-a-brac, old satirical prints, millinery stalls. Also a chance to grab that old LP you’d been hunting down for years.
If secondhand isn’t your thing, then step out to the surrounding trendy boutiques and you are spoilt for choice.
When and where to go
Is that a brewery?
Perhaps a little refreshment is now needed, along the lines of the beer variety.
In and around Brick Lane and Spitalfields is where it all started for Truman’s Brewery.
The brewery was established in 1666 and for a short time in the 1800s was the biggest brewery in the world. You used to see Truman’s pubs throughout London, then in 1989 it, unfortunately, it closed its doors.
But hey, like a phoenix rising from its ashes, in 2010 Truman’s was re-established and Black Eagle Brewery took the reins. They are now brewing again from Hackney Wick.
Old Truman Brewery along Brick Lane
If you fancy stepping into a pub with history, head to the Ten Bells on Commercial Street. It is believed that Jack the Rippers final victim Mary Kelly, was drinking here the night before her mutilated body was found in Dorset Street.
If that wasn’t enough the Ten Bells is also said to be haunted.
The Ten Bells, Spitalfields
A helpful guide
If you've yet to discover London and its ancient history, then let's start planning. I find these DK Eyewitness Travel Guides invaluable. They're extremely informative, easy to follow, and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more of those fascinating sites.
You can now grab a recently revised copy of this guidebook, so you won't miss a thing.
Just opposite the Ten Bells is Christ Church, this striking building was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and was consecrated in 1729.
Although Christ Church looks wonderful throughout today, it was almost derelict in 1960 and declared unsafe to enter.
The complete restoration took place, and its doors reopened in 2004. In 2014 the organ was fully restored followed by the crypt in 2015.
Christ Church, Spitalfields
Elegant Georgian Streets
The few streets between Commercial Street and Brick Land are incredibly fascinating. They really give you a feel of being lost in a moment in time.
All along Fournier Street, are stunning examples of Georgian homes, these were built during the early 1700s. Due to their high quality and location, many were purchased or rented by the French Huguenot silk weavers, that had fled France.
14 Fournier Street
The silk that was produced by the Huguenots was of the highest quality, and it was at no. 14 that the silk was woven for Queen Victoria's Coronation gown.
Elegant Georgian homes along Wilkes Street
Take a stroll all along Wilkes Street, this road is full of beautiful homes, old-style streetlamps, Georgian sash windows and heavy wooden shutters keeping out London life beyond.
Although these streets and homes have now been gentrified and the residents have certainly changed. You can just imagine the murky London mist falling upon the dark Georgian streets where Jack the Ripper once frequented.
Fournier Street, a beautiful Georgian street
Modern Saree Centre in Princelet Street
Take a wander through Puma Court where you’ll see old Almshouses and then head down Princelet Street. This is another Georgian road that would have been home to silk weavers and overflowing with style.
I loved it around here.
It’s good to talk!
All around this district of London it is fascinating, from the end of Fournier St. and Princelet St. you’re in the heart of Brick Lane (aka ‘Curry Mile), and the vibe changes again.
Brick Lane and its many curry houses
The hustle and bustle of daily life ensues, and you know you’ve stepped into London’s thriving Bangladeshi community.
Diverse life of Brick Lane
Brick Lane Vintage Market
Not only is Brick Lane known for its curry houses, but you’ll also find an eclectic mix of shops, underground vintage clothing market and some lively bars and coffee shops.
If you continue south down Brick Lane, you will then stumble into Whitechapel. Lacking the regeneration that Spitalfields has seen; however, I bet it won’t too long before Whitechapel moves in the same direction.
This area of London has certainly had its fair share of dubious goings-on.
What with it being the location of Jack the Rippers ‘Whitechapel Murders’ and also home to the Blind Beggar pub where the infamous Kray Twins frequented.
However, on a lighter note, it was at 32 Whitechapel Road that Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and London’s Big Ben were made.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established in 1570, unfortunately, in 2017, it closed its doors for the final time.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry Est. 1570
Whitechapel Bell Foundry yard
Although the bell foundry has shut down the old yard and shop front are still there. I’m not too sure how long for as the site has now been bought by developers.
Strolling back west, and as Whitechapel Road turns into Whitechapel High Street, you’ll see Whitechapel Art Gallery.
The gallery opened in 1901 and has held some very notable exhibitions over the decades.
It has displayed work by David Hockney, Frida Kahlo, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock to name but a few.
Whitechapel Art Gallery
Have you seen?
As always when we’re visiting London, we love to seek out an interesting blue plaque or two. We came across four in around Spitalfields and Brick Lane, although there may have been more.
The Blue Plaques that we stumbled upon were for Mark Gertler, Painter (1891-1939) along Elder Street. One for Bud Flanagan, Comedian and Leader of the ‘Crazy Gang’ (1896-1968) at 12 Hanbury Street. Anna Maria Garthwaite a designer of Spitalfields Silks (1690-1763) in Princelet St and along Brick Lane we spotted one for Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, Anti-Slavery campaigner (1786-1845).
Mark Gertler, Painter along Elder St
Bud Flanagan, Comedian
Anna Maria Garthwaite plaque
Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton plaque
Ohh and who doesn’t love an interesting piece of street art.
Street Art at 33a Fournier St, Spitalfields
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