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:,


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.

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.