It’s always fun to read about the history of places you know. My brother got me a copy of Bradshaw’s ‘London’ from 1862 for Christmas and I turned straight to Bethnal Green where I live knowing that it probably wouldn’t get a very good write up. Sure enough:
The houses are generally miserably small and densely inhabited. The line of the Eastern Counties Railway traverses the heart of this squalid region.
Bethnal Green rarely gets good reviews because of the deprivation it has suffered. It reminded me of Michael Young’s first impressions of a Bethnal Green pea-souper in the thesis which went on to become Family and Kinship in East London:
The fog became thicker as I crossed the canal from Bow and by the time I left the housing office I could not see on the ground … I abandoned the old London taxi … and that was when the enquiry began. Waiting until I heard some steps, I put my first question: I asked the way to the nearest Tube station. ‘Search me, mate,’ came back the voice, curiously loud in the fog.
The railway is still here and the houses are densely inhabited but we don’t have pea-soupers and I don’t think I’d call Bethnal Green squalid any more.