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Royal London Hospital and Whitechapel Market.jpg
The Blind Beggar Pub - geograph.org.uk - 76285.jpg
Trinity Green and Alms Houses E1 - geograph.org.uk - 1192789.jpg
Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel - geograph.org.uk - 759027.jpg
Redmans Road, East London - geograph.org.uk - 594490.jpg

Top from left: Royal London Hospital and Whitechapel Market; Blind Beggar pub. Middle from left: East London Mosque; Trinity Green and Alms Houses. Bottom from left: Altab Ali Park; Redmans Road;
Greater London UK location map 2.svg
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Location within Greater London
Population14,862 (Whitechapel ward 2011) [1]
OS grid reference TQ335815
London borough
Ceremonial county Greater London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district E1
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
UK Parliament
London Assembly
List of places
51°30′59″N0°04′30″W / 51.5165°N 0.0750°W / 51.5165; -0.0750 Coordinates: 51°30′59″N0°04′30″W / 51.5165°N 0.0750°W / 51.5165; -0.0750

Whitechapel is a district in East London and the future administrative centre of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is a part of the East End of London, 3.4 miles (5.5 km) east of Charing Cross. Part of the historic county of Middlesex, the area formed a civil and ecclesiastical parish after splitting from the ancient parish of Stepney in the 14th century. It became part of the County of London in 1889 and Greater London in 1965. Because the area is close to the London Docklands and east of the City of London, it has been a popular place for immigrants and the working class.


The area was the centre of the London Jewish community in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Whitechapel, along with the neighbouring district of Spitalfields, were the location of the infamous 11 Whitechapel murders (1888–91), some of which were attributed to the mysterious serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. In the latter half of the 20th century, Whitechapel became a significant settlement for the British Bangladeshi community and has the Royal London Hospital and East London Mosque.


Before the 19th century

Whitechapel High Street in 1905 Whitechapel High Street 1905.JPG
Whitechapel High Street in 1905
The daughter-parishes of Stepney that would evolve into the modern London Borough of Tower Hamlets Stepney Civil Parish Map 1870.png
The daughter-parishes of Stepney that would evolve into the modern London Borough of Tower Hamlets
A map showing the Whitechapel wards of Stepney Metropolitan Borough as they appeared in 1916. Stepney Met. B Ward Map 1916.svg
A map showing the Whitechapel wards of Stepney Metropolitan Borough as they appeared in 1916.

Whitechapel's heart is Whitechapel High Street, extending further east as Whitechapel Road, named after a small chapel of ease (St Mary Matfelon) dedicated to St Mary. The etymology of the Matfelon element is unclear and apparently unique. The earliest known rector was Hugh de Fulbourne in 1329.

Around 1338, St Mary Matfelon became the parish church of the new parish of Whitechapel. The church was severely damaged during the Blitz and demolished in 1952. Its traced stone footprint and former graveyard form Altab Ali Park on the south side of the road. [2] [3]

The principal road mentioned is designated the A11 in the national scheme pre-dating most dualled roads, to link the capital to all of East Suffolk and North-East Essex. Long before, it was part of the Roman road between the City of London and Colchester it exits the city at Aldgate, referring to the old gate in London's Wall. [4] For many centuries travellers to and from London on this route were accommodated at the many coaching inns which lined Whitechapel High Street. [2]

Whitechapel, along with areas such as neighbouring Shoreditch, Holborn (west of the city) and Southwark (south of the Thames), was was one of London's earlier extra-mural suburbs. Beyond controls of the City of London Corporation, Whitechapel was used for more polluting and land-intensive industries the city market demanded; such as tanneries, builders' goods yards, laundries, clothes dyers, slaughterhouse-related work such as soaperies and breweries. Whitechapel was strongly notable for foundries, foremost of which was the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which later cast Philadelphia's Liberty Bell, Westminster's Big Ben, Bow Bells and more recently the London Olympic Bell in 2012.

In 1797, the body of the sailor Richard Parker, hanged for his leading role in the Nore mutiny, was given a Christian burial at Whitechapel after his wife exhumed it from the unconsecrated burial ground to which it was originally consigned. Crowds gathered to see the body before it was buried.

Davenant Foundation School

In 1680, the local Rector Ralph Davenant (of the parish of Whitechapel), his wife and sister-in-law, bequeathed a large sum for a schoolmaster to teach literacy, numeracy and the "principles of the Church of England" to forty boys of the parish. In the same deed Henry and Sarah Gullifer undertook to provide for the education of thirty poor girls; namely a schoolmistress was to teach them the" catechism, reading, knitting, plain sewing, and any other useful work". [5] In 1701 an unknown donor gave the foundation £1,000 (equivalent to £160,000in 2021) so the children might be suitably clothed as well as educated. [5] Between 1783 and 1830 the school received a score of gifts totalling over £5,000. [5] Typical income seems to have been the very good sum of about £500 per year, which was much more than most vicar's and rector's livings, net. [5] Supporting modern education, the Davenant Centre continues and the Davenant Foundation School stands in Loughton which is narrowly in Essex and served by the London Underground, since 1966. [5]

Expansion of population and small industries

Population shifts from rural areas to London from the 17th century to the mid-19th century resulted in great numbers of more or less destitute people taking up residence amidst the industries, businesses and services ancillary to the City of London that had attracted them.

19th century

In common with many other parts of the East End of London, Victorian Whitechapel gained a reputation for severe poverty, overcrowding, and the social problems that came with it. [6] [7] Settled residents of Whitechapel Road are colour-coded red in the inset map, showing their reliable, moderate-to-good income as at 1889; the smaller backstreets were colour-coded black to reflect their greater poverty.

Part of Charles Booth's map of Whitechapel, 1889. The red areas are "middle-class"; the black areas are "semi-criminal". Booth map of Whitechapel.jpg
Part of Charles Booth's map of Whitechapel, 1889. The red areas are "middle-class"; the black areas are "semi-criminal".
Colour key for Booth's poverty map. Booth poverty map colour key.jpg
Colour key for Booth's poverty map.

William Booth began his Christian Revival Society, preaching the gospel in a tent, erected in the Friends Burial Ground, Thomas Street, Whitechapel, in 1865. Others joined his Christian Mission, and on 7 August 1878 the Salvation Army was formed at a meeting held at 272 Whitechapel Road. [8] A statue commemorates both his mission and his work in helping the poor. [9]

Plaque commemorating King Edward VII, with the inscription "erected with subscriptions raised by Jewish inhabitants of East London 1911" Edward VII Whitechapel.jpg
Plaque commemorating King Edward VII, with the inscription "erected with subscriptions raised by Jewish inhabitants of East London 1911"
Royal London Hospital's old building from the 18th century "The London" - geograph.org.uk - 36866.jpg
Royal London Hospital's old building from the 18th century

In this Victorian era the basal population of poor English country stock was swelled by immigrants from all over, particularly Irish and Jewish. Writing of the period 1883–1884, Yiddish theatre actor Jacob Adler wrote, "The further we penetrated into this Whitechapel, the more our hearts sank. Was this London? Never in Russia, never later in the worst slums of New York, were we to see such poverty as in the London of the 1880s." [10]

This endemic poverty drove many women to prostitution. In October 1888 the Metropolitan Police estimated that there were 1,200 prostitutes "of very low class" resident in Whitechapel and about 62 brothels. [11] Reference is specifically made to them in Charles Booth's Life and Labour of the People in London , specially to dwellings called Blackwall Buildings belonging to Blackwall Railway. Such prostitutes were numbered amongst the 11 Whitechapel murders (1888–91), some of which were committed by the legendary serial killer known as "Jack the Ripper". These attacks caused widespread terror in the district and throughout the country and drew the attention of social reformers to the squalor and vice of the area, even though these crimes remain unsolved today. [12]

London County Council, founded 1889, helped deliver investment in new housing and slum clearance; objectives which were a popular cause at the time.

The "Elephant Man" Joseph Merrick (1862–1890) became well known in Whitechapel – he was exhibited in a shop on the Whitechapel Road before being helped by Frederick Treves (1853–1923) at the Royal London Hospital, opposite the actual shop. There is a museum in the hospital about his life. [13]

20th century

In 1902, American author Jack London, looking to write a counterpart to Jacob Riis's seminal book How the Other Half Lives , donned ragged clothes and boarded in Whitechapel, detailing his experiences in The People of the Abyss . Riis had recently documented the astoundingly bad conditions in large swathes of the leading city of the United States.

Home Secretary Churchill observing the events at Sidney Street, Whitechapel and Stepney Winston Churchill at the Siege of Sidney Street, 3 January 1911.jpeg
Home Secretary Churchill observing the events at Sidney Street, Whitechapel and Stepney

The Siege of Sidney Street in January 1911 was a gunfight between police and military forces, and Latvian revolutionaries. Then Home Secretary Winston Churchill took over the operation, and his presence caused a political row over the level of his involvement during the time. His biographers disagreed and claimed that he gave no operational commands to the police, [14] [15] but a Metropolitan Police account states that the events of Sidney Street were "a very rare case of a Home Secretary taking police operational command decisions". [lower-alpha 1]

The Freedom Press, a socialist publishing house, thought it worthwhile to explore conditions in the leading city of the nation that had invented modern capitalism. He concluded that English poverty was far rougher than the American variety. The juxtaposition of the poverty, homelessness, exploitative work conditions, prostitution, and infant mortality of Whitechapel and other East End locales with some of the greatest personal wealth the world has ever seen made it a focal point for leftist reformers and revolutionaries of all kinds, from George Bernard Shaw, whose Fabian Society met regularly in Whitechapel, to Vladimir Lenin, led rallies in Whitechapel during his exile from Russia. [17] The area is still home to Freedom Press, the anarchist publishing house founded by Charlotte Wilson.

On Sunday 4 October 1936, the British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley, intended to march through the East End, an area with a large Jewish population. The BUF mustered on and around Tower Hill and hundreds of thousands of local people turned out to block the march. There were violent clashes with the BUF around Tower Hill, but most of the violence occurred as police tried to clear a route through the crowds for the BUF to follow.

The police fought protesters at nearby Cable Street – the series of clashes becoming known as the Battle of Cable Street – and Tower Hill, but the largest confrontations took place at Aldgate and Whitechapel, notably at Gardiner's Corner, at the junction of Leman Street, Commercial Street and Whitechapel High Street. [18]

Whitechapel was the centre of British Jewish refugee immigrant life in the late 19th and early 20th century. Whitechapel Marker.jpg
Whitechapel was the centre of British Jewish refugee immigrant life in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Whitechapel remained poor through the first half of the 20th century, though somewhat less desperately so. It suffered great damage in the Blitz, including the destruction of the parish church, St Mary Matfelon on 29 December 1940, and from the subsequent German V-weapon attacks.

Altab Ali was murdered by three teenagers on 4 May 1978 in a racist attack at St Mary's Gardens by St Mary's Churchyard as he walked home after work. The reaction to his murder provoked the mass mobilisation of the Bengali community locally and came to represent the self-organisation of the community. The gardens of the churchyard were later renamed Altab Ali Park in his memory.

The Metropolitan line between Hammersmith and Whitechapel was withdrawn in 1990 and shown separately as a new line called the Hammersmith & City line. [19] [20]

21st century

Bengali signage on Whitechapel station. Whitechapel Station.jpg
Bengali signage on Whitechapel station.

Crossrail calls at Whitechapel station [21] on the Elizabeth line. Eastbound services will be split into two branches after leaving the historic station which underwent a massive redevelopment that started in 2010. [22]

In order to prepare for Crossrail, in January 2016, the old Whitechapel station was closed for refurbishment and modernisation work in order to improve services and increase capacity in the station. [23]

The Royal London Hospital was closed and re-opened behind the original site in 2012 in a brand new building costing £650m. [24] The old site was then repurchased by the local council to open a new town hall, [25] replacing the existing Town Hall at Mulberry Place.

In March 2022, Whitechapel station signs had "হোয়াইটচ্যাপেল" in Bengali installed. [26] The British-Pakistani Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was "delighted" that the signage was installed ahead of Bangladesh Independence Day on 26 March. [26] The installation was attended by not only Bangladeshi diplomats, but also Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal. [27]

Also in 2022 a historical marker was placed in Whitechapel, on the site of the former Adler House at the junction of Adler and Coke Streets by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation U.K. Branch. Adler House was named in honour of the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Herman Adler, 1891–1911. The marker recognises the significance of Whitechapel as the centre of British Jewish refugee life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. [28]


Local council facilities will be grouped within the old Royal London Hospital building as a civic centre. The local library, now called an Idea Store is located on Whitechapel Road.


The distinctive tiled frontage of the Whitechapel Art Gallery Whitechapel art gallery 1.jpg
The distinctive tiled frontage of the Whitechapel Art Gallery
The East London Mosque was one of the first in Britain to be allowed to use loudspeakers to broadcast the adhan. Aerial view of East London Mosque complex - Feb 2014.jpg
The East London Mosque was one of the first in Britain to be allowed to use loudspeakers to broadcast the adhan.

Whitechapel Road was the location of two 19th-century theatres: The Effingham (1834–1897) and The Pavilion Theatre (1828–1935; building demolished in 1962). Charles Dickens Jr. (eldest child of Charles Dickens), in his 1879 book Dickens's Dictionary of London , described the Pavilion this way: "A large East-end theatre capable of holding considerably over 3,000 persons. Melodrama of a rough type, farce, pantomime, &c." [30] In the early 20th century it became the home of Yiddish theatre, catering to the large Jewish population of the area, and gave birth to the Anglo-Jewish 'Whitechapel Boys' avant-garde literary and artistic movement.

Since at least the 1970s, Whitechapel and other nearby parts of East London have figured prominently in London's art scene. Probably the area's most prominent art venue is the Whitechapel Art Gallery, founded in 1901 and long an outpost of high culture in a poor neighbourhood. As the neighbourhood has gentrified, it has gained citywide, and even international, visibility and support. From 2005 the gallery underwent a major expansion, with the support of £3.26 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The expanded facility opened in 2009.

Whitechapel in the early 21st century has figured prominently in London's punk rock and skuzz rock scenes, with the main focal point for this scene being Whitechapel Factory and Rhythm Factory bar, restaurant, and nightclub. This scene includes the likes of The Libertines, Zap!, Nova, The Others, Razorlight, and The Rakes, all of whom have had some commercial success in the music charts.

Whitechapel Street Market at night Whitechapel market.JPG
Whitechapel Street Market at night


Bangladeshis are the most visible migrant group today, who make up 40% of the Whitechapel ward total population. [31] The East London Mosque at the end of Whitechapel Road is a major symbol of the resident Islamic community. The mosque group was established as early as 1910, and the demand for a mosque grew as the Sylheti community grew rapidly over the years.

In 1985 this large, purpose built mosque with a dome and minaret was built in the heart of Whitechapel, attracting thousands of worshippers every week, and it was further expanded with the London Muslim Centre in 2004. [32] The Altab Ali Park near Adler Street was formerly a church site but was destroyed during the Blitz. It was renamed to 'Altab Ali Park' in memory of a Bangladeshi clothing worker who was the victim of a racially motivated murder on 4 May 1978, and of other victims of racist attacks during the 1970s. [33] [34]

A library, the Whitechapel Idea Store, constructed in 2005 at a cost of £12 million by William Verry to a design by David Adjaye, was nominated for the 2006 Stirling Prize. [35] [36]

Whitechapel compared 2011 White British Asian Black
Whitechapel Population 14,86224.4%49.8%4.4%
London Borough of Tower Hamlets 31.2%41.2%7.3%

In literature

The Whitechapel Library with the word "baaNlaa" illuminated in its front. Bangla lights Whitechapel.jpg
The Whitechapel Library with the word "বাংলা" illuminated in its front.

Whitechapel features in Charles Dickens's Pickwick Papers (chapter 22) as the location of the Bull Inn, where the Pickwickians take a coach to Ipswich. En route, driving along Whitechapel Road, Sam Weller opines that it is "not a wery nice neighbourhood" and notes the correlation between poverty and the abundance of oyster stalls here. [37] One of Fagin's dens in Dickens's Oliver Twist was located in Whitechapel and Fagin, himself, was possibly based on a notorious local 'fence' named Ikey Solomon (1785–1850).

Whitechapel is also the setting of several novels by Jewish authors such as Children of the Ghetto and The King of Schnorrers by Israel Zangwill and Jew Boy by Simon Blumenfeld. Several chapters of Sholem Aleichem's classic Yiddish novel Adventures of Mottel the Cantor's Son take place in early 20th-century Whitechapel, depicted from the point of view of an impoverished East European Jewish family fleeing the pogroms. The novel Journey Through a Small Planet by Emanuel Litvinoff vividly describes Whitechapel and its Jewish inhabitants in the 1920s and 1930s.

The prostitute and daughter of a Luddite leader Sybil Gerard, main character of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's novel The Difference Engine comes from Whitechapel. The novel's plot begins there.

One of the episodes in Michael Moorcock's novel Breakfast in the Ruins takes place in 1905 Whitechapel, described from the point of view of an eleven year old Jewish refugee from Poland, working with his parents at a sweatshop, who is caught up in the deadly confrontation between Russian revolutionaries and agents of the Czar's Secret Police.

Brick Lane, the 2003 novel by Monica Ali is based in Whitechapel and documents the life of a young Bangladeshi woman's experience of living in Tower Hamlets in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Whitechapel is used as a location in most Jack the Ripper fiction. One such example is the bizarre White Chappel Scarlet Tracings (1987) by Iain Sinclair. [38] It also features as the setting for the science fiction Webcomic FreakAngels , written by popular comics writer Warren Ellis.

Whitechapel is one of the worldwide locations referenced in Edith Piaf's song C'est a Hambourg , describing the harsh life of prostitutes.

In 2002, Whitechapel was used as the setting for a Sherlock Holmes film, The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire , based on the Arthur Conan Doyle story The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire .

Whitechapel serves as the setting for the television series Ripper Street , which aired 2013–2016.




The East London line extension northwards to Highbury & Islington and southwards to West Croydon was completed in 2010. A further extension opened in 2012 to provide a complete rail ring route around south London to Clapham Junction. Whitechapel is also scheduled to be a stop on the Crossrail project, for which preparatory works began in September 2010 [39] at a large site excavating 'Cambridge Heath Shaft' (located at the eastern end of the Crossrail platform tunnels and adjacent to the junction of Whitechapel Road and Cambridge Heath Road, with Sainsbury's superstore and car park to the north-west of the site and The Blind Beggar public house immediately to the west). [40] [41]


Whitechapel is the main station in the district which is on the London Underground Hammersmith & City and District lines east–west and also the East London Line and connecting South London Line services north–south (re-opened as London Overground in June 2010) [42]

The Docklands Light Railway (Bank/Tower Gateway branch) and London, Tilbury and Southend line passes through Whitechapel to the south but there are presently no stations.

London Buses 15, 25, 106, 115, 135, 205, 254, D3, N15, N205, N253, N550 and N551 all operate within the area.

Whitechapel is connected to the National Road Network by both the A11 on Whitechapel Road in the centre and to the south the A13 and The Highway A1203 running east–west.

Cycle Superhighway CS2 runs from Aldgate to Stratford on the A11.

Nearest places

Aldgate East tube station emerges from the former Whitechapel public library (now a part of the Whitechapel Gallery) Whitechapel public library 1.jpg
Aldgate East tube station emerges from the former Whitechapel public library (now a part of the Whitechapel Gallery)

Notable natives or residents

In addition to the prominent figures detailed in the article:

Born in Whitechapel

Resident in or otherwise associated with Whitechapel

Future developments

Whitechapel Market and the A11 corridor is currently the subject of a £20 million investment to improve the public spaces along the route. The London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets & Newham are working with English Heritage and Transport for London to refurbish the historic buildings at this location and improve the market.

See also


  1. Subsequent stories that a bullet passed through Churchill's top hat are apocryphal, and no reference to such an occurrence appears in either the official records, or Churchill's accounts of the siege. [16]

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  1. Census Information Scheme (2012). "2011 Census Ward Population Estimates". Greater London Authority. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  2. 1 2 Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert (eds) (1983) "Whitechapel" in The London Encyclopaedia: 955-6
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