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Published September 26th 2012
Take a wild walk on the East End
There is a dark side to the history of London - a past of poverty, criminality and despair. While Royal London blooms with tales of luxury and grandeur, the East End was the canvas for gloomy stories of miserable people in the Victorian age. Located in the east of the medieval walled City of London and north of the River of Thames, the name of the area acquired a pejorative association over the 1800s. Overcrowding, immigration and delinquency are the key players that shaped the identity of the East End of London which is today the city's most creative and culturally diverse area.
This crucible of broken dreams and tainted lives painted the portrait for one of the most renowned authors of English literature, Charles Dickens. The streets, the places and the stories of the East End inspired this classic writer's pen in his depiction of the Victorian times and its cruel realities.
The tour started at Liverpool St. Station at 11am. It must have been the first day of autumn and the rain poured down on us accompanying the sad, gruesome, touching and fascinating stories in the Undiscovered London Tour.
Children of the Kindertransport at Liverpool Street Station
We met by the Jewish Children's Statue in the exit of the station. The life-sized bronze sculpture was established in remembrance of the Kindertransport which is the name is given to the rescue mission carried out 9 months before the outbreak of the Second World War. British people took in about 10,000 children from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Danzig.
Children of the Kindertransport statue at Liverpool Street Station
Bethlehem Hospital Past the statue, we walked until we reached the site of the first Bethlehem Hospital, which was founded back in 1247. For over four centuries, the establishment was a psychiatric institution which gave origin to the English word "bedlam". The methods used to cure the patients included to shock them out of their madness. Ironically, patients in the "madhouse" were freer in a way, as they could openly criticize society, which was strictly forbidden in the Victorian times.
Dirty Dicks Pub This is the touching, heart-rending story of Nathaniel Bentley, owner of a hardware shop and warehouse in London, whose fiancée died the night before their wedding. Following this tragic event, he refused to wash ever again. He shut up the dining room and his warehouse became ever filthier with time to the point that any letter addressed to "The Dirty Warehouse, London" would be delivered to Bentley. The place became a touristic attraction when his dirty clothes were hung up on the ceiling and stayed there until the 1980s were the authorities ordered them to be taken down for sanitary reason. Today, the place is a pub called after Nathaniel (Dick) Bentley, with the name "Dirty Dicks".
In the medieval times, the city of London used to be walled and there were seven gates into the city. Bishopsgate is one of them. This was also the place where they would hang up the heads of criminals on pikes.
We walked past modern sculptures on the streets and St. Mary's Channel House.
Dennis Savers' House The tour took us to a house from the16th century which gave shelter to the first immigrants in the area, who came from France, known as the Huguenots. They started the textile industry which was relevant in the East End.
In 1888, the East End of London was poor and there was not much work available for women or social security for those unemployed. Many of them had to become prostitutes in order to survive and many of them found in alcohol an escape to their dreadful lives. This was one of the pubs where they used to drink. One of the victims of Jack the Ripper took her last drink from this pub in the autumn of 1888. The East End is also famous for being the location where Jack the Ripper operated, and the tour showed later on other significant sites related to the Ripper. Close by, in the refuge house, is where they saw his last victim drunk. Then she was found terribly mutilated in her bed, as he killer her in her house, he had more time to do terrible things to her body.
Next to the pub stands the Christ Church which was designed to look imposing for the people on the fringes of society. Given that residents of the area came from different religious backgrounds, this church aimed at showing them the "right way" which was the Church of England.
Then we visited London's oldest Synagogue, and the tour guide explained to us the importance of the Jewish community to the area. Nearby is also the Jewish Free School which was the biggest school of the world at some point. Also, there is a soup kitchen to feed Jewish poor people.
Then we explored a brighter side of the East End, which is street art and fashion. We saw the work of famous artists such as Conan Harrington, Paul Don Smith, and Jimmy C who is an Australian artist who, after spending time with aboriginal people, used their painting technique with dots.
Street artist Jimmy C's painting of an aboriginal person from Australia
In the tour we learned many more interesting facts about street art, its transient nature and the Bangladesh community which moved to the area on the 60s and 70s, escaping the political turmoil in Pakistan.
Without a doubt, it was a very interesting tour.
The tour starts every day at 11 by the statue of the Children of Kindertransport at Liverpool Street Station.