East London

London's eastern suburbs developed as neighborhoods closely dependent on docks and shipyards along the Thames or as industrial centers.  Since London Bridge blocked the passage of large vessels, London's port could only expand down river.  From the Elizabethan period a ribbon of development began spreading eastward along the river.  John Stowe commented in 1598 that whereas in his youth the banks of the Thames had been open to the east of the City, there was "now a continual street, or rather a filthy straight passage, with lanes and alleys of small tenements or cottages, filled with sailors and victuallers, along by the river Thames, almost to Radcliffe, a good mile from the Tower."  A ship building industry and associated trades like rope making and sail making took root in this area, while in a few places entrepreneurs created anchorages and dry docks by digging channels into low meadows and marshes that flanked the river.   

By the late seventeenth century East London had also become the main metropolitan center of the brewing industry.  Other unpleasant trades like tanning and the manufacture of alum, a die made by boiling urine, also tended to settle in the East End.  Densely built neighborhoods spread to the northeast and east of London's ancient walls, through Spitalfields, Shadwell and Wapping, inhabited by the labor force of the docks and various industries.  Houses in these areas were generally small, with street frontages of about twelve feet.  In 1650 195 of 701 houses in Shadwell were of a single story, many of them probably consisting of a single room; only 33 had three storeys.  Strype complained, in the early eighteenth century, that a mile to the east of the City's boundaries land once covered with fields and broad avenues lined with elm trees was now "so encroached upon, with the building of filthy cottages ... enclosures and lay stalls [garbage dumps]" that in some places it was difficult for carriages and droves of cattle on their way to London butchers to pass.  But a few pockets of prosperity existed, like the riverside areas of the large parish of Stepney, a district "possessed of everything that may entitle it to the honour (if not of a city, yet) of a great town: populousness, traffic, commerce, havens, shipping manufacture and wealth, the crown of all." Mile End, so-called because it was a mile beyond the City limits, boasted large houses belonging to sea captains, including two who sailed for the East India Company.

The East End also attracted a significant number of immigrants.  Huguenots turned Spitalfields into the center of a silk weaving industry in the late seventeenth century; although relatively poor, Strype regarded them as "patterns of thrift, sobriety, industry and honesty."   Jewish immigrants from Poland and Germany began to settle about the same time in Whitechapel around Petticoat Lane.  A few wealthier Sephardic Jews, many involved in banking and finance, had migrated to London as early as the 1650s, but the new migrants were much less prosperous.  London's total Jewish population may have reached 20,000 in the early eighteenth century.  Huguenot and Jewish residents of the East End preserved their distinctive traditions, founding schools and churches or synagogues, giving certain districts a slightly exotic aura.

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