Guide to East London

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'East Enders' and Beyond

Despite growing in size, modern East London retains a sense of community; close to the Thames River corridor, between the bustling metropolis and a quieter world of neighbouring towns and Essex countryside, a cosmopolitan welcome waits for you. Images and stereotypes of the East End are usually strong. A nostalgic impression is one of the cheeky chirpy, street wise cockney speaking in rhyming slang having a jolly old knees up in the local boozer.

Our national television presents some of the most powerful perceptions such as in the successful BBC soap 'EastEnders'. Colourful local characters never stop arguing with each other, yet there's a sense of neighbourliness and community, where you can leave your door on the latch and everyone is a member of the pub darts league ! Another popular BBC East End series was 'Dixon of Dock Green'. Jack Warner played the part of down to earth Sergeant George Dixon fighting small-time East End crime for 21 years, fairly and pragmatically. A more aggressive and exciting style of East End policing is seen now on ITV's soap/drama 'The Bill'.

BBC's 1970s comedy series 'Till death us do part', based in Wapping with Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnet, generated a proud, though bigoted image of the London dockworker. More recently, a Dickensian East End has been recreated for the BBC's excellent adaptation of 'Our Mutual Friend'.

So what is the East End ? Is it an unsafe place of oppressive claustrophobia, crime and ignorance; knees-up-muvvah-brahn; suspect second-hand cars dealers and dodgy boozers?

No. East London is experiencing gentrification. The 'cafe society' is moving in, creating an East End that appeals as a place to eat; drink; visit an Art Gallery or Museum; buy a new or converted modern apartment to make your home. Restoration of some houses in Hackney makes them look like they could be in Georgian Islington or Hampstead.

Many East End families moved out after the last world war to various parts of Essex, some of which has been taken over by the new London Boroughs. Whole families were moved from Bethnal Green to Woodford; Shadwell, Stepney and Hackney to Debden, an overspill council housing estate on the Central Underground Line, located near the 'secret' Bank of England Printing Works ! This transition was studied in 'Family and Kinship in East London', a work of urban anthropology known to every new student of Sociology. New working class accomodation was built in East London by an American Merchant, George Peabody. Peabody lived mainly in London and never married. He left his fortune in a charitable trust to fund education and slum clearance.

Although the destruction caused during the last World War and modern developments has changed the look of the East End considerably since the days of Charles Dickens, there are still streets to be found in the East End that have hardly changed in the last 300 years. If you don't find these, the East London Boroughs are full of busy roads lined with small shops and friendly pubs affording opportunities to meet the locals. Fashion bargains wait for you in all the High Streets and in the markets, along with large supermarket chains and department stores competing for your business. Large shopping complexes are close by in the Broadway at Ilford; the Vicarage Field at Barking and the Liberty at Romford.

Between the patchwork of East London streets and houses, there's many large green open spaces to discover gardens, tennis courts, bowling greens, maybe a boating lake or even wildlife. Victoria Park in Hackney is exceptional. The other main parks include Goodmayes Park, Mayesbrook Park, Valentines Park and Barking Park. Just four miles north is Hainault Forest you can tread through 600 acres of leafy woodland and there's historic Epping Forest close by.

The River Thames in East London offers a spectacular view of the Millennium Dome. Standing directly over the Blackwall Tunnel, this project has reclaimed a previously contaminated piece of industrial wasteland.

Similarly, the ribbon of old industrial land between the A13 and the Thames running from the Isle of Dogs, through Canning Town and Beckton leading out to and beyond the Ford Motor Works at Dagenham is witnessing huge development. Enormous hypermarkets, industrial and business parks; multiple-screen cinemas and American-style entertainment complexes are emerging virtually on the riverbank.

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