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London’s Shoreditch: History in the architecture

How often do you stop to appreciate the history of the towns and cities you walk through?  I recently had the opportunity to join a spontaneous guided tour of Shoreditch, an area in the East End of London, by none other than Findmypast‘s Myko Clelland.

When I walked through Shoreditch from the Underground station that morning, I paid little attention to the architecture around us – but Myko showed me that the area has quite a story to tell.

For example, “The Theatre”, an Elizabethan playhouse built in 1576 by James Burbage, was the first built for the sole purpose of theatrical productions. The theatre’s history includes William Shakespeare, who was employed as an actor and playwright. After a dispute with the landlord, the theatre was dismantled and the timbers used in the construction of the Globe Theatre on Bankside.

I walked through Spitalfields market – the origins of which date back to 1638, when King Charles I gave licence for flesh, fowl and roots to be sold in what was known then as “Spittle Fields”. In the late 17th Century, streets were laid out for Irish and Huguenot silk weavers and Spitalfields’ historic association with the silk industry was established.

We saw the Ten Bells pub, notable for its association with two victims of Jack the 220px-st_leonards_shoreditchRipper in the late 1800s and we went inside St. Leonard’s Church, which occupies the site of a church at least as old as the thirteenth century. It is the resting place of many actors from the Tudor period and is mentioned in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons – “When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch”.

What struck me in particular was the new buildings sandwiched between identical looking older buildings. This, Myko explained, was the result of bombing during World War 2, especially the Blitz. The Blitz (Blitzkrieg), meaning ‘lightening war’, was the name used by the British press to describe the heavy air raids carried out over Britain in 1940 and 1941. Whole houses gone in an instant.

We saw the world’s oldest council estate – the Boundary Estate (pictured at the top of this article) which has stood since 1890. Architecturally unique, the estate trialled a new form of philanthropy – flattening the ‘Old Nichol slum’ and replacing it with beautiful red brick homes.

In less than an hour I gained renewed appreciation for the architecture of London and was motivated to learn more about my own hometown. I’d encourage everyone to do the same.

Do you have any interesting stories about the area you live in?  Add a comment to this article – we’d love to hear from you.

Feature Image from London Metropolitan Archives 

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