The East End of London

The East End of London, in Jacob and Elizabeth's day, was an area of small, closely-packed overcrowded houses tenanted by large working-class families, who would have usually have been crammed into two rooms. Many of these families were immigrants from war-torn Europe: many of them had arrived via the docks and stayed in the area, like the Chinese immigrant community in Limehouse and the enormous number of refugees from the Irish potato famine. Wages were low and living conditions were appalling for a lot of people. Disease was common, with everyone living so close together and not getting enough to eat. Children were lucky to survive their first birthday; men had a very low life expectancy because working conditions were terrible; death during childbirth was very common.

Having said all this, Elizabeth managed to spend her whole life in the East End and raise nine out of twelve children to adulthood, survive the deaths of two husbands, and live to see her eightieth birthday. So, we come from pretty tough stock.

Here are some general links about life in the East End during Jacob and Elizabeth's married years:

Hunger in the East End - an interesting Victorian account of how poor people lived.

Tower Hamlets History Online - a terrific site full of contemporary Victorian articles on the area, with pictures. My favourite is the one above, which is entitled "Slatternly women loafing at the doors of dark, forbidding-looking houses in Whitechapel." That's my ancestors! and they probably look grim because they're wondering why some snooty gent is staring at them...
Stepney Online - a resource for people with Stepney ancestors, with a lot of good articles and historical information
Limehouse - an interesting history of the area
Jack the Ripper (who was haunting Whitechapel in the late 1800s) - good site by the Met police

St George's in the East - two articles about Germans in St George-in-the-East, including stuff on sugar bakers - mentions German musicians.

The East End was very heavily bombed during the Second World War, and many of its residents lost their homes. Most of the old East End communities were destroyed during the 1950s, when the area was redeveloped and families rehoused, many of them in Essex. 'Slum clearances', and the subsequent regeneration of the Docklands area have completely changed the East End, and many of the streets our ancestors lived on no longer exist.

If you would like to read more about all this, I can recommend the following books:

  • My East End by Gilda O'Neill - contains a lot of interesting history, plus many personal accounts by former East Enders and their children
  • East End Chronicles by Ed Glinert - another fascinating history, with some particularly good parts on the dock workers