I’m glad, we’ve been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.
Regardless of whether you enjoy London’s rich immigrant history or it’s bustling street art culture, Undiscovered London’s East End Walking Tour provides this and more. With an eclectic host and unseasonably nice weather, we were treated to an eye opening tour of London’s most unique quarters.
Undiscovered London is a tour company that specializes in walking tours that focus on the history and diverse cultures that many don’t get to see. The East End walking tour begins at the Liverpool Street Train Station. Your guide will be standing near Frank Meisler’s Kindertransport memorial statue outside the station. Look for the bright orange umbrella.
The morning I attended was a bit damp, as you would expect London in the spring to be. This didn’t hinder my guide, Paris (yes that’s his real name),nor the multinational and multigenerational group that included people who had lived in London for years. By the end of this walking tour the eleven of us would know something of each others life stories.
The tour starts at approximately 11am after everyone pays the 10 pound fee. Paris goes into detail regarding the history of Liverpool Street Station. This station may be familiar to some of you. In 1993, the IRA detonated a truck bomb 200 meters away causing damage to the station and in 2005 another bomb exploded on the Central line killing seven. As a result, you’ll notice some very fancy trashcans outside the station. They are totally bomb proof.
Frank Meisler’s Kindertransport memorial statue stands outside of Liverpool Station. This statue is to honor the thousands of children brought to England after Kristallnacht(Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938 and the Brits that took them in. This was one of the greatest humanitarian missions of the time and is largely unheard of outside of Europe.
After Kindertransport we walked to the site of the first Bethlehem Hospital, founded in 1247. There isn’t much to see here because the actual hospital was moved in 1675. All that remains of the old hospitals mystique is a plaque . Bethlehem was the first hospital for the insane in England and became infamous for its brutal treatment of patients. It is also credited with originating the English word “Bedlam” (1.a scene or state of wild uproar and confusion. 2.Archaic. an insane asylum or madhouse) Although not a particularly interesting site, Paris tells very intriguing stories and knows the history of the hospital very well. This will be a common theme throughout the tour.
We then visited Dirty Dicks Pub (hehe yes, i’m twelve years old) in Bishopsgate. The story goes that Nathaniel Bentley, a middle aged business man, refused to wash himself or his clothes after the death of his fiancé on their wedding day. The current Dirty Dick’s was previously owned by Bentley and changed its name in the early 1800’s to capitalize on the popularity he and his lifestyle had gained by then. DD’s has been at its current location for over 200 years and is still a great place for a pint.
The middle section of the tour really seemed like filler to several of us. It basically consisted of Paris picking on me for wandering off (I tend to do that when I have a camera around my neck), people deciding where to eat after the tour, and a few city installed monuments, the most notable of which is- Bishopsgate (I recommend you look up Bishopgate and the other gates of London. Interesting history). We also visited Old Spitalfields Market, but unfortunately when we went the market had nothing going out outside a few permanent food vendors. Spitalfields is an open air market populated by stalls. Being the middle of the week may have had something to do with them not being very active. Although he was a great guide, Paris had a hard time keeping many of us on track as we started to lose interest. Up to this point we hadn’t seen anything very special. I commend him for his efforts though. Unbeknownst to us the best was yet to come. East End.
OH MY GOODNESS. This place is awesome. We began our tour of East End in the Jewish area. When you’re there, listening to the passion in Paris’s narrative, you can imagine yourself in the late 1800’s, especially since the area is largely preserved and intact. We were then taken to Ten Bells pub where we were told that possibly two of Jack the Rippers victims were last seen. This was largely a poor area full of drunkards and prostitutes, which is why Jack the Ripper was active here.
Next to it is Christ Church, a staple for religious transformation in the 1800’s. A short walk away is Bevis Marks Synagogue, the oldest in Britain and still in operation today.
The most impressive part of this area is how very well preserved it is. The Jewish Free School, currently an office, is a prime example of this preservation. I felt that this portion of the tour was a bit rushed, but provided a view of an area I would love to return to and extensively study.
Jewish East End is fairly solemn given it’s impoverished history but Paris kicked the energy into high gear once we visited the famous Fashion Street in Spitalfields .
Without going into too much detail, this area (Spitalfields )is home to the London College of Fashion, a large Bangladeshi community ( aka Brick Lane. BEST curry I’ve had outside of India), and canvases of the world’s most recognizable street artists, including Banksy, Paul Don Smith, and C215. Paris really shines as a guide when he’s describing the East End Street Art scene and the history of the buildings. The area is colorful and vibrant with a gritty undertone that you may not want to see at night.
Our tour wrapped up after about an hour of observing and learning about street art and the Bangladeshi community. We ended at Whitechapel , where we learned the history of the Kray Twins and their exploits as the major organized crime figures during the 1950’s and 60s. Imagine Al Capone and Lucky Luciano but English.
My appreciation for walking tours is widely known by my readers. I firmly believe that walking tours are the best way to experience a city. It gives you a glimpse of the city’s history, guided by an expert, you can map out where you would like to go back to and explore on your own. They are the perfect planning tool for travelers to help one decide where to eat, where to shop, and where to people watch.
Undiscovered London offers paid and free tours. Although I usually recommend the free tours, where the guide works for tips, this paid tour is more than worth the cost and time (about four hours). I would caution, the groups can be quite large in the high season and you may not get the same experience and personal touch that we received with Paris. If you REALLY want to make sure you get Paris (who dubbed me Black Texas. lol) find him @parisarrowsmith .Undiscovered London’s East London Walking Tour is fun, informative, and inexpensive. I highly recommend it.