Whitechapel & Spitalfields

Whitechapel was named after the Chapel of St. Mary Matfelon, a white building which stood on what is now Whitechapel Road.

Spitalfields got its name from the area around St. Mary Spital, a religious house founded by Walter and Rosina Brune in 1197. It became a hospital (‘spittle’) in 1235.

The Whitechapel and Spitalfields area is well known for its places of worship, eateries and textile industries.

From 17th Century weaving in Fournier Street to 20th Century textile workshops in Commercial Road, Spitalfields has made a name for itself as the centre of London’s textile industries.

The story of the East London clothing industry has three main chapters. It began with the arrival of the French Huguenot Protestants who had great skills in silk-weaving. They made Spitalfields silk, a world-famous product in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

In the 19th and 20th Centuries Jewish tailors dominated the industry, as many Jewish people came from Eastern Europe to look for work.

Today, as the East End has become a home for people from South Asia, the clothing industry has come to be run by South Asian entrepreneurs, and leather garments have become one of its main products.

East End people’s diets and eating habits have changed considerably over the years. Two hundred years ago, people would rarely have eaten outside their homes. Many people were poor and could not even afford proper meals for their families. The situation today is very different. The area is now teeming with restaurants and cafes.

The changing types of restaurants in Whitechapel and Spitalfields reflect the communities that have come and gone from the area. Jewish eateries, such as Bloom’s restaurant, were common in the early to mid 20th Century. Today, Brick Lane is a centre of Asian cuisine.