Whitechapel lies in the shadows of the financial district. From Whitechapel road you can see the towering wealth of the skyscrapers to the north. The suburb is easily described as a gray, concrete wasteland with little to fuel your imagination. The largest community here are currently the Bengali community. Their predominance is immediately apparent " this is one area of London which boasts more kebab shops and Eastern cuisine than coffee shops or pubs. In fact the major buildings which you'll see in the area are likely to be the mosques, Islamic schools, Islamic religious bookshops and banks. Nevertheless, as everywhere else in London this is a mixed community where all nationalities eventually come together at the local pubs of which there are plenty.
Whitechapel has long been associated with the working class. From the 1500s, it was here that workers such as tanners, butchers, brewers and fishmongers were employed. For the following 200 years, the impoverished and generally destitute sought both work and refuge in the area. By the 1840's, 'the worst of times' had indeed arrived and the area was classified as the second worst slum in the world. By this time, the area was a breeding ground for disease, poverty and crime. So much so, that the initial killings of a couple of prostitutes drew little attention. Nevertheless, the recent advent of journalism and the newspaper soon drew the bloody crimes of Jack the Ripper into worldwide attention. Sensationalism was hardly necessary. The Ripper not only slashed his victims' throats and mutilated the cadavers but in some cases also removed the heart, kidneys or even the uterus. Conservative estimates of the serial killer's career total at five 'canonical murders'. Other 'Ripperologists' believe the Ripper may have been responsible for some 18 violent deaths. Over 160 years later, the speculation and myth continue while the identity of the serial killer remains a mystery. In 1902, Whitechapel was infiltrated by another master of disguise, Jack London. An American socialist, he adopted shabby clothes and found boarding accommodation in the suburb. The result was his book, 'The People of the Abyss' which concluded that living conditions in the country that created capitalism were worse than those in America and probably the worst in the world. WW II took its toll on the area, effectively clearing the slums. The bombs also demolished the small chapel St. Mary (probably established in the early 1300s). It was the white walls of the little chapel that gave the suburb the name it's known by today.
Out and About in Whitechapel
The most notorious of sights in Whitechapel is the Blind Beggar, a local pub which lies at the end of Whitechapel Road and the beginning of Mile End Road. It was the Blind Beggar which came to realize the end of the Kray Twins saga. On March 8, 1966, Ronnie Kray walked into the popular pub and brazenly shot George Cornell for the great insult of calling him a "fat poof". Following the incident, Ronnie and Reggie, the infamous Kray Twins were locked away with life sentences. However, their larger than life presences have created an urban legend similar to that of Robin Hood and their generosity to local charities is sometimes given more importance than the crimes they committed. The Blind Beggar itself is a welcoming pub today where you can enjoy your pint in front of an open fire in the winter.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry " Guinness Record Holder The history of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is surprisingly long and interesting. The Foundry has been established as having the longest, company history of ongoing manufacture in the world. Originally established in 1570, the Foundry acquired its current premises on Whitechapel Road a mere 4 years after the Great Fire of 1666. Over the years, the Bell Foundry has provided the world with bells ranging from the hand held bells to England's largest Bell which weighs in at 13 1/2 tonnes. Indeed, the Foundry produced what is probably the most famous bell in the world, the Big Ben (1858). Other famous bells include the Liberty Bell (1752), the Great Bell of Montreal as well as St Clement Danes (the nursery rhyme 'Oranges and Lemons' should strike a chord here). The Whitechapel Bell Foundry continues in its record-breaking tradition. In 1991, the Church of St. Martin in the Bull Ring in Birmingham saw the installation of the 16 change ringing bells, the first of its kind in the world. For more info., check out http://www.whitechapelbellfoundry.co.uk/foundry.htm
Whitechapel Art Gallery
Overseas and local art lovers alike are drawn to the Whitechapel Art Gallery on High Street. The gallery is housed in a lovely building designed by Charles Harrison Townsend in 1899. The gallery is locally known for its daring, visiting exhibitions of contemporary art. Every 2 years, local arts are given the opportunity to promote their works in the Whitechapel Open. For more info., check out www.whitechapel.org Address: 80-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX, Aldgate East, Tel: +44 (0)20 7522 7888