The Architecture & Spirit

By the turn of the 19th century in Shoreditch, the area was already a relatively well established hub for artists and actors to thrive and further explore their craft. Once again turning to Charles Booth’s map to gain an idea of the area and its inhabitants, the map clearly shows an area of mixed classes. While there was a range, it certainly was swayed more towards middle to lower income, but what the Shoreditch lacked in wealth it made up for in originality and artistry.

Over the course of hundreds of years, the Shoreditch area was consistently reimagined, refurbished, and rebuilt. The architectural style could not exactly fall under one name because it was a beautiful mix ranging across the board; consisting of just about everything from Renaissance to Ammonite, and Georgian and Modern, it all blended together and left an impression on the people who lived there. With Shoreditch being dubbed a “Hipster Paradise” today, it’s easy to assume that such a cultural identity was recent, however, this area is simply keeping alive the tradition of repurposing buildings in new and useful ways.

The Shoreditch Workhouse is a fine example of this history, originally being built in 1774 to serve as living quarters for the very poor, it had the bare necessities for the people who called it home. After the Poor Act was put into effect, it slowly turned into an infirmary and then fever hospital in 1886 to help combat the fast spread of disease in the poorer sections of the area. It came to be known as St. Leonard’s Hospital around 1920, but it was still not finished changing; during World War 2 Shoreditch experienced heavy bombing due to the Blitz, and the hospital was severely damaged and had to be rebuilt. Today, it had undergone yet another renovation and now serves as a community center for coordinating services and supporting health centers in the area.

I believe that it is worth looking so closely at this one example because it so perfectly exemplifies the spirit of the area; always changing, but never forgetting what matters to the people who live there, the community. Throughout hundreds of years, this one building has gone through dozens of changes, survived two world wars, and still survives today to serve its purpose, helping the community. Much like Shoreditch itself, although the times may change the spirit of the area is still very much the same, with artists still attracted and flocking to the area for inspiration.

Another example of this repurposing and reimagining can be seen in the Geffrye Museum, which stands to be one of the oldest listed buildings in the area. It was originally built as a house for the very poor, and functioned as such for many years. It was not until 1914 that it was converted into a museum to showcase the history of the interior of English homes. The museum stands as a very appropriate addition to the Shoreditch area, as Shoreditch itself has always stood as a blend of people from different socio-economic classes, and combining that history with art in the form of a museum fits perfectly.

There is certainly more than meets the eye in Shoreditch, going far beyond being a cool artistically bohemian source of inspiration for millennials. It is built upon centuries of rich history, all revolving around the theme of repurposing and reinvigorating. Whether it is through its unique blend of architectural styles or its willingness to always rebuild and breathe new life into an old site, Shoreditch stands out as a bright spot of London’s history and rightly continues to inspire its community to this day.

Information on buildings gathered:,


Crime: Manslaughter and Murder

Shoreditch is an area inhabited by Middle to Lower Class civilians. There would be, no doubt,  some level of crime in the area, such as theft, slavery and more importantly, murder and manslaughter.

In the East End, the most infamous of all criminals of the 19th Century was Jack the Ripper, however, Shoreditch had its own infamous murderers, most notably the London Burkers, a group of criminals who were body snatchers. Body snatching involved digging up freshly buried corpses and selling them on to medical institutes for research and dissection purposes. However, as a result of lack of corpses, thus a high demand for them, John Bishop and Thomas Williams (thought to be the “protagonists”) began to murder innocent civilians, basing their crime on the infamous “Burke and Hare” duo in Edinburgh. Eventually, in November 1831, a worker at King’s College was suspicious of a corpse that was brought to them and so, brought police investigations in, leading to their execution on 5th December 1931. These infamous murderers claimed they had sold up to 1000 corpses, however, never stated the exact amount of people who they had murdered.

It was not uncommon for murder to occur at least once a year in Shoreditch, statistics shows that from the Medical Officer of Health that from the years 1880 until 1915, there were 43 cases of homicide. This means that on average there would be at least 1 death every year. In the 1864 report, the MOH states that “child-murder is a frequent crime”. This was easily backed up in the future statistics whereas the rate of homicide for those under age 5 from 1880 until 1915 was 18 out of the 43. Furthermore, in certain years such as 1880, 1907 and 1913, there were 2 children under the age of 1 who were murdered. These statistics show us how terrifying it was in Shoreditch for its residence, even with the fear of death from disease, there was also a fear of becoming the next victim. An interesting factor in these statistics was next most likely death of homicide, being the age group from 25 to 35 – a total of 14 deaths out of the 43.

Overall, Shoreditch experienced a great deal of murder and manslaughter throughout the 19th Century with no surprise, for it was in the East End of London, well known for the mysterious murders by the serial killer, Jack the Ripper. It would also come to no surprise as much of Shoreditch’s residences were filled with middle to lower class citizens. What came to a surprise however, was the copycat murderers, London Burkers and the age of death as a result of homicide.


King’s Collection:
Medical Officer of Health (all reports from 1848 – 1939):

Mortality and Medicine

Shoreditch, as noted in the 1890 post, was a middle to lower class living area, however, over time, the rate of deaths and main causes of deaths changed as medicine improved.

From 1855 until 1860, the death rates were decreasing (Medical Officer of Health Report 1860) from 1 in every 39th person to 1 in 43rd person dying. This already shows that from within a 5 year time frame that deaths were becoming less frequent. However, this does not give us enough information of the whole time period. In the same report, there was a trend that children under the age of 5 were more likely to die of pneumonia (whereas 263 had died), convulsions (133), whooping cough (118) and measles (90) than small-pox (23) or even from premature birth (49). This is a valuable piece of information as children under the age of 5 tended to be more vulnerable to death; there was a total of 1431 under the age of 5 whereas those above 60 totalled to 608 deaths. However, the deaths of people who were above 60 was more likely to die by bronchitis (132), a disease that would occur as a result of being exposed to pollution or smoke for long periods of time.

Moving on 30 years later, in 1890, the death of children under 5 had dropped to 1,397. This, though it was not much of a drop compared to 1860 still shows signs of improvements. Compared to the 1860 figure, only 455 had died from over the age of 65, showing a massive difference of over 150 despite the 5 year time gap that was changed in the reports. However, when comparing diseases that resulted in death, it showed that bronchitis had only worsened for those above 55 (or above 60 in the 1860 report); in 1860, 132 people had died of bronchitis above the age of 60 and in 1890, 209 died above the age of 55 of the same disease. It is certain that in this case, bronchitis had no no cure throughout this period.

Finally, in 1915, the results showed a total of 290 deaths under the age of 5, a significant change within the 25 year period. This was due to the increase of medical advancements: aspirin was developed (1899) and vaccines were created for cholera (1879), tetanus and diphtheria (1890), and the bubonic plague (1897). This helped the Shoreditch population increase significantly over the 55 year time frame. The causes of death for children under 5 also had a positive result compared to the 1860 report: No child died of small-pox, 22% of the children had died of measles (64) and 11% died of whooping cough (32). However, there showed no improvements in premature births, showing an increase from 49 (in 1860) to 61. This does not necessarily mean that more children were being prematurely born, rather, medicine was not good enough to sustain life at such an age. Similarly so, pneumonia was an issue for Shoreditch’s infants. Though it had resulted in a decrease of death by 1915, it only showed how dangerous it was by looking at the death by disease in proportion to the total deaths. For 1915, pneumonia was 50% of the cause of death for children under 5, making it the deadliest illnesses for infants.

Overall, all three reports show a definite decrease of deaths, proving that the medical advances that were made during the 19th century was helping the lives of the middle to lower classes. However, in some cases such as bronchitis and pneumonia, diseases that had no cure during the time period only worsened. It must also be noted that things such as premature births were still too difficult to help. Thus, even though there definitely were improvements in the mortality rates, it cannot be forgotten that some diseases or issues would not be solved until much later on in the future.

Horrors of Shoreditch

As discussed in the previous blog the Charles Booth map shows what kind of people were living in Shoreditch during 1860. This area was not seen as the most glamour’s nor was it an upper class location although, it was not seen as a lower class area. Shoreditch is a mixed location allowing for all different kinds of people to live as one. This area of East London, was one of the primarily locations for people to migrate to. In the sixteen century this area was seen as wealthy city but moving forward to the mid to late ninetieth century there was a large amount of German Jews fleeing from their countries looking for work, cheaper housing situations and a better life.  However, Jews were not the only people migrating in, there were also a large amount of poor Irish, Dutch and French people moving into East London. Shoreditch went from a population of 35,000 in 1801 to a population of 130,000 in 1851. In 50 years Shoreditch collected about 95,000 people. With this massive growth in such a short period of time one can only imagine the living conditions.

This not only shows how cheap it must have been to find housing here but also with so many people how can everyone find decent jobs? What can people do to provide for themselves or families? With the numbers growing so quickly could this area really be that safe, clean, or secure for the people to survive?

One of the worst areas in East London was the Old Nichol. The Old Nichol fell between High Street, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green. These were known as the “black street”, because of Charles Booth’s poverty map of 1896. Not only where the living conditions just horrible but so much corruption occurred. Including juvenile delinquency, self employment aka thieves, prostitution, robbery, etc.

In “Life and Labour of the People in London”, Charles Booth describes the Shoreditch area saying it was primarily an area of working class people with a mixture of poor people and malicious people. He continues to mention how there was prostitution, thieves, and high poverty ratings. Which would make sense. When people are put into this kind of living situations they need a way to survive. Not that it was the right way but they found something that worked. Some people did have jobs, however these jobs had very low wages. Not giving people real chances of survival. Landlords knew what they were doing and so did the sweat shop works. Some people even saw it as the peoples own fault for being in such horrible situations. The living conditions in these areas were so terrible that it was not uncommon for sexual abuse. Beatrice Webb, one of the founders of the LSE wrote, “To put it bluntly, sexual promiscuity and even sexual perversion are almost unavoidable among men and women of average character…”.

Interestingly enough there are very few reports of people who found living here not so terrible. Living in these areas was not made for many but it is good to look back at what use to be. With all that went on in these slums the second half of the nineteenth century attracted journalists and researchers to find out what was really going on. And this lead to immediate action to improve these areas. Helping to bring out the real reasons for such hard times.

Living Standards in 1890

Shoreditch in 1890 was not an upper class area, however, it should not be labelled as the lowest class area either. It leaned more towards a mix of middle class to lower working class group, who comfortable living conditions despite being in the East End of London.

To understand the characteristics of Shoreditch, the first thing that was looked at was Charles Booth’s map. This map was created not only to show what London looked like but to also visualise exactly what living conditions were like in certain areas and how it had spread. It showed Shoreditch to have a range of people living, mainly from “Middle Class” to “Very Poor, Casual. Chronic want.” and some of the “Lowest Class. Vicious. Semi-thugs”. There was a pattern showing those of similar classes being clumped together along the same roads, and those categorised as the lowest class would be tucked away between slightly higher classes.

By looking at the Medical Health Report, it helps visualise Shoreditch in 1890. The statistics show the death by diseases main cause was bronchitis. Bronchitis is a disease that is common among those who smoked or were exposed to high pollution, and the results showed the majority were above the age of 55 (209 of the 489 deaths).

The report also helps show how each area was affected in proportion to deaths and the living conditions of each area. Such could be seen in the areas labelled as “Shoreditch South” and “Haggerston” in both the map and report. In Shoreditch South, the map labels parts of the area housed by lowest class groups of people. On the report, it shows an average of 19.4 deaths for every 1000 people living in the area. However, in Haggerston, an area that doubled the population of Shoreditch South, was mainly inhabited by “Fairly Comfortable” to “Very Poor” people, but not a single “Lowest Class” group. In this area, if one were to disregard the deaths at the infirmary and hospital, the average death per 1000 would be 18.29. The different of classes in each area shows a clear change of living standards by the amount of deaths in the area.

Overall, the map and the report shows that Shoreditch in 1890 was indeed an area of London which had experienced a fair amount of death but that was due to the amount lower class civilians living in the area. In Shoreditch, the worse the living conditions were for the people, the more likely they were going to die.

Entertainment – 19th & 20th Century

During the 19th and 20th century, Shoreditch had become the centre of entertainment due to many theatres and music halls in the area. Shoreditch entertainment was considered to be a rival to the West End.

There was not a big variety of the types of entertainment available at the time, however, theatres and operas proved to be popular among the society, as there were always performances in at least one of the theatres or halls in Shoreditch.

Some of the main theatres and halls are as follows; The Royal Cambridge Music Hall (1864 – 1936), The National Standard Theatre, The Olympia Theatre, The Shoreditch Empire/ The London Music Hall (1856-1935), The Grecian Saloon – Grecian Theatre (1841-1882), The Town Hall, The Curtain Theatre. It is evident, just from listing all the venues that theatre was the main type of entertainment for people in the area or anyone interested in such events.

To get some idea as to the types of performances from the time, it was necessary to research into some posters produced at the time for advertisement and informative purpose.

One of the posters which was interesting was in fact produced in 1887, it was for a benefit for T.C. King – an actor and a theatre manager. Of course, there was not much advanced technology, so the poster is plain and simple. However, the titles of the plays is big and bold, but the most striking part was that the plays being put on were tragedies rather than something cheerful. The usual understanding of entertainment tends to be something happy rather than the complete opposite. Despite all that such poster is still interesting to see how much easier it was to sell people entertainment than it is now a days.

Interestingly enough, there is not much online in archives or just in general about the sort of entertainment that was available for people during the 19th and 20th century. It is extremely minimal, therefore making it difficult to understand the term ‘entertainment’ in that time period. The websites available were very vague and just listed very basic things, however, from all the different archives and websites, it is clear that the main type of entertainment for the society in Shoreditch, was attending theatres, which clearly was proved to be popular as there were many performances throughout the years.

Why Shoreditch?

As a group we started off debating whether to choose a topic or an area as the focus of our blog; a difficult decision as both had pros along with cons. We decided not to go for a topic as it was clear that we would not be able to write a vast amount of information and eventually become repetitive, thus, negatively impacting our blog.

Therefore, we decided to pick an area. We could focus on the history in more depth by selecting sub-topics to research and write about. It took us a fair bit of time to decide on the potential areas, but in the end we concluded that Shoreditch was the best area to pick.

Shoreditch has a lot to offer, from street food to nightlife, thus being very popular among the locals and tourists. The main attraction for Shoreditch for us was its artistic and historic background. The businesses are all independent in Shoreditch rather than large corporate companies that can be seen in every other area of London. As an urbanised area, Shoreditch appeals to everyone as there is much to explore in this unique place.

We also decided to go for Shoreditch not only because of its popularity in London, but we were curious because we believed it must have an interesting history behind it. Therefore, we decided to focus on Shoreditch throughout the 19th and 20th century, more specifically we shall be exploring the living standards, crime, mortality, entertainment and architectures – whether it was good or bad change.