The East End a pilgrimage
“Although its warehouses support professional pursuits, everywhere you turn you’re reminded that Bethnal Green is a place that people call home”.
The East End is a pilgrimage exploring the areas of London where my Grandparents spent their childhoods. Concentrating on the areas of Bethnal Green and Bow I was free to explore objectively, I had never visited them before. Through tracing the steps of my grandparents I could relate the stories that they had told me throughout my childhood to the place. I was given a wonderful insight into the lives that they had whilst growing up by seeing the area for the first time. The Canal Cottages where my Grandfather was born along with his 3 siblings are now Grade II listed buildings meaning that I was able to visit them and see them as they were on my trip down memory lane, along with the huge back garden, otherwise known as Victoria Park – the People’s Park. I walked from the birth house of my grandfather to the birth house of my grandmother (which is sadly no longer standing after the bombings of WWII took its toll), to think that these two very special people in my life were born within such a short distance of each other, moved away from the East
End during the end of the war and then reunited at Enfield Technical College, becoming sweethearts 17 years later is quite unreal. I knew the background of these places through my parents and grandparents but I wanted to explore what was on the surface. Within my first hour I had a conversation with a man who owns a workshop beside the canal – he mentioned that he has lived in Bethnal Green his whole life, everywhere he has lived has been within a stones throw of each other. This conversation had influenced my approach and led me to look at the people of the area as supporting evidence that Bethnal Green as it is, is somewhat unchanged – it is a community, vibrant and protective, and the people who live there call it home. The housing is reminiscent of the 1950s/60s, dated and parts have never changed however, as with any area, development is on going and high-rise buildings are ‘popping up’ to accommodate the population increase. Before the Second World War, Bethnal Green was the heart of the
traditional working-class East End and social conditions matched, and not long after concrete blocks were being erected in ideas to help with housing issues. It was these buildings that I was drawn to with a hint of the presence of people, appearing through a personal interpretation of shape and form with a strong sense of order and rules. The canals are the heritage of the area; they have provided work since the late 1800’s through to the 20th century. The roles of the Regent’s Canal and Hertford Union Canal’s have changed, it has become a space of amenity and leisure – a chance to move away from the hustle of the city and to have moments of quiet. Walking the route through the parks and along the canal I witnessed the modern uses of these once heavily used places – runners, cyclists, families walking, barges coming and going and even locals fishing. The pace of life for the people of Bethnal Green is relatively slow but no different from others, children go to school, there are markets within the week, and people hang out at Victoria Park.