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.
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