Things to do in Whitechapel, Greater London
Whitechapel is a historic district of London in the Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is named after the small church of St Mary’s which dated back to 1329 and was eventually destroyed in the Blitz.
This historic area of the East End of London was bustling with trade in the 16th century with breweries, tanneries and iron foundries, one of which cast the Liberty Bell which was shipped to Philadelphia, and the huge bell known as Big Ben.
By the mid-18th century, times had changed and Whitechapel was a typically poor, overpopulated district of Dickensian London. It was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ novels Oliver Twist and Pickwick Papers as an unpleasant neighbourhood.
In 1865 William Booth began preaching in a tent on the Friends Burial Ground in Whitechapel. He founded a mission which in 1878 became the Salvation Army. A local statue commemorates his work among the poor.
The area is infamous for the Whitechapel Murders when the murderous acts of Jack the Ripper terrorized the neighbourhood between 1888 and 1891. Despite many theories, he remains unidentified. The area is said to be haunted by his first victim, Mary Ann Nichols, and many other unidentified ghosts seen in Victorian dress.
Another famous resident was the deformed “Elephant Man”, Joseph Carey Merrick (1862-1890). He was exhibited as a freak attraction in a shop window until Dr Frederick Treves at the Royal London Hospital took pity on him and helped him.
Many of the slums were demolished in the early 20th century and the area was later badly damaged during World War 2, so it no longer resembles the grim Victorian quarter it once was.
Present Day Whitechapel
Whitechapel today is still one of London’s poorer neighbourhoods. It is home to a large Bangladeshi community around Brick Lane, which makes up 52% of Whitechapel’s ethnically diverse population. One of the main landmarks is the East London Mosque, along with the London Muslim Centre.
The Royal London Hospital is in the heart of Whitechapel. Built in 1757, it is currently undergoing massive redevelopment until 2016, to create a modern high-rise hospital building which will continue to serve the community.
Modern-day Whitechapel plays a prominent part in the London arts scene, thanks to the Whitechapel Art Gallery which underwent huge expansion in 2009. The area has a lively nightlife centred on the many bars and nightclubs such as the Whitechapel Factory and Rhythm Factory.
Things to Do in Whitechapel
Whitechapel Market is a wonderful experience. It abounds with stalls selling aromatic Indian spices as well as jewellery and ethnic clothing.
For a step back into Whitechapel’s salubrious past, take a Jack the Ripper walking tour which starts from the Ten Bells Pub on Commercial Street.
The Whitechapel Art Gallery is the local centre of culture and its spacious exhibition space is well worth a browse. The neighbouring districts of Shoreditch and Hoxton are popular enclaves for artists, with many more art galleries and exhibitions to discover.
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