"The heart of the old East End." Bethnal Green by planxty

Bethnal Green Travel Guide: 35 reviews and 169 photos

So why is it called that?

Odd sort of a name really, isn't it? The truth of the matter is that no-one knows for sure where the name Bethnal Green derives from, although there are various suggestions. It may come from the Saxon words meaning Bilda's Corner, although I heard another suggestion that it was somehow to do with the old Bethlehem Hospital (the infamous Bedlam), which was situated not far away.

Originally a quiet little village standing a way outside the City of London, by Victorian times it was hugely overcrowded and the poorest area in London, a reputation it still somewhat carries to this day. In 1889, it was estimated 45% of the population was living below subsistence. This poverty had not been helped by the decline in the weaving trade in the mid 1800's, a trade the area was almost wholly reliant on.

After the Second World War, most of the slums were torn down to be replaced by Council housing estates (for non-UK readers, that is housing stock owned by the local authority), the majority of which is now occupied by first or second generation immigrant families, predominantly from Bangladesh and the horn of Africa.

Arguably the most famous residents of the area were the criminal Kray twins who were notorious gangsters in the 1960's committing several murders as well as running protection rackets and various other illegal activities. Strangely, they are still held in extremely high regard by the older residents of Bethnal Green and held up as examples of "local boys made good." This was proved by the huge funerals, starting at Bethnal Green, for both Ronnie and Reggie. By the way, if you are looking for their birthplace in Vallance Road, the house is long since demolished.

I am not suggesting that most visitors will want to spend a lot of time in Bethnal Green, although it is a good place to get a look at East End life as it is now, and perhaps imagine how it was then.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Good selection of restaurtants, some decent pubs.
  • Cons:It's lost a bit of it's old character.
  • In a nutshell:A taste of the real East End.
  • Last visit to Bethnal Green: Dec 2013
  • Intro Updated Dec 19, 2013
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Reviews (9)

Comments (3)

  • etfromnc's Profile Photo
    Dec 19, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    I saw a show on TV a few months back about the Kray twins. That certainly did not encourage one to want to visit Bethnal Green.

  • TheLongTone's Profile Photo
    Oct 10, 2006 at 8:30 AM

    This is a great museum butI'd check it's actually open before schlepping out there: it was closed for renovation the last time I swung by.

  • May 18, 2006 at 12:28 AM

    I think this is one of the nicest museums in London - haven't been for years, maybe I should come over that way again soon. Time for a wander down Roman Road Market too!

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