is an area in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets
, in the East End of London
. Bethnal Green is located north east of Charing Cross
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 south is 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. 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
, 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
), 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. Over time, the name became Bethan Hall Green
which because of local pronunciation as Beth'n 'all Green
and by the 19th Century had become Bethnal Green
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. The Blind Beggar
public house in Whitechapel
, is reputed to be the site of his begging.
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 West 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 Greater London Record Office.
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.
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. In the Bancroft Estate, there is currently a Bangladeshi youth gang present, called 'Globe Town Massive', which was formed during the early 90s.
In the nineteenth century, Bethnal Green was characterised by its market gardens and by the silk-weaving trade. Having been an area of large houses and gardens as late as the eighteenth 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 nineteenth 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.
By 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.
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. 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. Many unexploded bombs remain in the area, and on Monday 14 May 2007, builders discovered a World War II 1 m long, bomb.
During the 1960s, the infamous gangsters the Kray twins lived in Bethnal Green, but by the beginning of the twenty-first 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 1960s 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.
Culture and faith
The mother church of Bethnal Green is St. Matthew's built in 1746 having been designed by George Dance. The church's opening coincided with a vast population increase in the former village of Stepney area, resulting in the need to separate the area around Bethnal Green from the mother Parish of St. Dunstan, Stepney. All but the bell tower, still standing today, was destroyed by fire and the church again suffered devastating damage following 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.
Bethnal Green is a very diverse area, with many people from many backgrounds and cultures. It has a total population of 17,590 as of the 2001 census. The area has a large Bangladeshi community
, constituting 41.4% of the area population, and the White British
at 37.2%. The two main faiths of the people are Christianity
, with 50.1% Muslims and 33.8% Christians.
Notable churches include, the St. John's Church located near the Bethnal Green tube station, on Bethnal Green Road and Roman Road. The church was created from 1826 and completed in 1828 in the 19th century, by architect John Soane. Other notable churches include the St. Matthew's Church - by George Dance Sen. in 1746, St. Peter's Church - by Lewis Vulliamy in 1841, St James the Less - by Lewis Vulliamy in 1842, St James the Great - by Edward Blore in 1843, and St Bartholomew - by William Railton in 1844. The church attendance in Bethnal Green was 1 in 8 since 1900, and is estimated only less than 100 people attend church as of today. Marriages, baptisms, burials have been deposited nearly at all churches.
There is a local mosque available in the area. Since 1984, all prayers were accommodated in houses and flats, then an organization acquired a house in Bancroft Estate (1 Cornwall Avenue). Then in 1994, funds were raised to buy a permanent building near the Bethnal Green Library (building now an Islamic school called, Darul Hadis Latifah) and the Baitul Aman Mosque and Cultural Centre was formed. Then in 1998, a land on Braintree Street near the Bangabandhu Primary School was purchased to create a new site for the mosque, where it was formerly an abandoned garage space, and now all prayers are held there in a Porta-Cabin building. It can accommodate up to 500 people, but rises over 600 people during Fridays prayers, Ramadan and Eid. Currently it is raising up to £3 million to build a larger complex of the building and expand it. The current Khatib and Chief Religious Teacher of the mosque is Maulana Abdul Malik.
The area is home to a number of primary schools, most notably Saint Matthias
in Bacon Street, just off of Brick Lane. The school is over a century old and carries the Seal of the Old Metropolitan borough of Bethnal Green as its school badge and emblem. An integral part of the local community, the school and its Church of England ethos welcomes children from a variety of backgrounds and faiths and provides a homely, caring and academically stimulating environment for children aged three to eleven. It has undergone a number of rennovations in its time, notably in 1994 when the current front entrance, car park and front playground were built alongside an atrium, library and four new classrooms; and, more recently, a new sports hall was unveiled in the original playground on Grimsby Street in 2006. Up until 1995 the school consisted of an unorthodox class structure, with pupils beginning their school lives in Class Five and moving, in a descending order, up to Class One, with the age ranges in each class slightly skewed. It has since adapted to the conventional modern system and a nursery has been built. St. Matthias is linked with St. Matthew's Church
, the mother church of Bethnal Green opened in 1746, located just around the corner in St. Matthew's Row, where pupils often attend mass and perform seasonal plays and performances. The school itself is often visited by the Parish reverend who offers pupils a religious grounding. The There is a primary school available called, the Bangabandhu Primary School
(named after the father of Bangladesh
, Sheikh Mujib
), A non-selective state community
school for girls and boys aged from 3 to 11. It was opened since January 1989 and moved to a new building in November 1991, with over 450 enrolled. Cathy Phillips, has been headteacher
of the school since the opening. Based on statistics as of 2000 from Ofsted
, over 80% come from ethnic minority
backgrounds (with over 65% Bangladeshi
), and only 20% white British
, with over 70% with English
as a second language, where majority of the pupils speak Sylheti
(dialect of Bengali
). According to Ofsted it is a successful and effective school.
Even though large numbers have English as second language, the pupils achieve well and make good progress.
Bangabandhu Primary school were one of 62 schools that took part in the healthy eating
day promotional lunch, with a more healthier ranges of foods, and also promoting activities for the children.
The oldest and most renowned secondary school in Bethnal Green is Raine's Foundation School, which has sites on Old Bethnal Green and Approach Roads. It has been around since 1719 and has overseen a number of relocations since then. It has a strong Christian ethos and its motto is "Come in and learn your duty to God and man". It also amalgamated with St. Jude's School for Girls in 1977 and has since been coeducational and comprehensively run. There are many other secondary schools available such as the Bethnal Green Technology College, Oaklands School and Morpeth School - which is believed to be one of the best achieving schools in the Tower Hamlets, currently headed by Sir Alaisdar MacDonald, who has made significant changes to the school with an improvement in GCSE results by pupils since 2001, most noted from 2006 with a 76% pass rate.
The Bethnal Park (also known as Barmey Park) and Bethnal Green Library, provide the community with leisure facilities and information.
Places of interest
Saint John on Bethnal Green
- The area is host to occurrences in the book Journey Through a Small Planet by Emanuel Litvinoff, who details his working class Jewish upbringing in the 1920s and 30s.
- Musicians Pete Doherty and Carl Barât, formerly of The Libertines, shared a flat in Teesdale Street. The flat was christened the Albion Rooms by Doherty, whose fascination with romantic Britain is well documented. The video for The Libertines song "Up the Bracket" was filmed in Hare Row, Bethnal Green, and is now affectionately known by Libertines fans as "Up the Bracket Alley".
- Most of the sketches of Andy & Lou in Little Britain are filmed in Bethnal Green. The shop where they buy the snake is actually Magri's pets, a shop at 205 Roman Road owned by former boxing champion and East End boy Charlie Magri.
- Bethnal Green is notable for the staple cheap London meal, pie and mash with jellied eels. Kelly's is one such place, with two outlets in Bethnal Green.
- A notable and popular local market is the Columbia Road Flower Market.
- Bucks Fizz-star and TV Presenter Cheryl Baker was born in Bethnal Green and lived there till the age of 30
- The seventh model for Lara Croft - Karima Adebibe comes from and lives in Bethnal Green with her family.
- In the fictitious videogame The Getaway, Bethnal Green is presented as the hub of cockney gangster activity.
- The 1947 Ealing Studios film It Always Rains on Sunday was set in Bethnal Green, with extensive filming in the local area. It provides an excellent insight on post war East London, showing bomb sites and slums before most were swept away during the redevelopment in the 1960s and later.
- The area is mentioned in one of the Harry Potter books.
- The Bethnal Green disaster was the basis for the song "Rosemary's Sister" by Connie Dover
- Bethnal Green is the location of the BBC house for the contestants in the programmes Any Dream Will Do (TV series) and How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
- Actress, singer, comedienne and improviser Josie Lawrence lives in the area.
- The area "Bethnal Green" is mentioned in the Bloc Party song "One Month Off" off their 3rd album "Intimacy".
Nearest railway stations