29 May 2023


Spitalfields, an area in London, takes its name from the hospital and priory, St. Mary's Spittel, which was founded in 1197. It was in a field next to the priory where the now-famous market first started in the thirteenth century. It's name is thought to derive from "spital" being a corruption of the word "hospital", together with field which is what the area was then.

M & I had a lovely trip visiting the Spitalfields area recently. It was a tour arranged by the U3A. We met our guides at Liverpool Street station where the tour started. There are some beautiful bronze statues in the station commemorating the Kindertransport, the organised rescue of children from Nazi controlled territory that took place in 1938–1939. Ten thousand unaccompanied Jewish children were transported to Britain to escape persecution in their hometowns in Germany and Austria. The children arrived at Liverpool Street station to be taken in by British families and foster homes. Only a few were reunited with their families after World War II.

The children's demeanor is one of sadness. Children would have been terrified of leaving their parents, not knowing what lay ahead.

This 2006 commemorative statue is the work of Frank Meisler and Arie Oviada.

In contrast this group are looking around, their heads held high, determined, they are looking to the future, their faces radiate hope. The youngest girl is clutching her teddy bear, and one of the boys has a violin case by his side. The tallest girl’s pubescence has been captured to perfection. Each child has a tag with a number.

Behind the group is a short section of railway line with the names of concentration camps, a chilling reminder of what might have been had they not been brought to Britain.

A medieval find below the streets of Spitalfields

During the construction of a new office building in 1999 a medieval charnel house was discovered 
 the oldest building in Spitalfields – which had lain undiscovered for around 300 years. A charnel house is a vault or building where human skeletal remains are stored. They are often built near churches for depositing bones that are unearthed while digging graves. The purpose of the charnel house was functional – as the churchyard filled up with bodies, the sexton needed to make space for the new burials – as a result, the older remains were disinterred and lodged in the consecrated building attached to the chancel of the church.

Dennis Severs Arrived at Spitalfields in 1979 and bought a derelict house saved by the Spitalfields Trust. He reconfigured it to tell the story of an imaginary Huguenot family who had lived there since it was built in 1724.
The Huguenots were England's first refugees. After the Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day in Paris in 1572, when over 10,000 Huguenot Protestants were murdered, many fled to England. Then later in the 1860's fleeing more persecution by Louis XIV, culminating in the Revocation of the previously tolerant Edict of Nantes. They were now forbidden to leave France, with the introduction of harsh penalties – imprisonment, torture or death – if their religious adherence and reason for flight became known. Despite these threats, around 50,000 came to England. The majority arrived with nothing but their industry, talent and enterprise. Many settled in Spitalfields, the City, Clerkenwell, Soho, Greenwich, Marylebone and Wandsworth, with many more choosing towns further afield. With their financial and textile skills and their willingness to work hard they were warmly welcomed.

Herd of Hope

This little one is called Mukkoka
Situated around Spitalfields are life size bronze elephants. Each of the 20 baby elephants represents a real orphaned elephant in the care of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Every rescued elephant is given 24/7 care. When they are fully grown they are reintegrated into conservation areas.

There are some lovely gentrified houses

Rabbitwoman And Dogman
Two favourite characters of New York-based artists Gillie and Marc Schattner are Rabbitwoman and Dogman. They are supposed to tell the “autobiographical tale of two opposites coming together to become best friends and soul mates”. Apart  from the message they send, they’re fun. It’s difficult to walk past a rabbit and dog sitting on a motorbike and sidecar sharing a latte and not pause a while and smile.

Two of the oldest shop fronts in Spitalfields. Golds has been a number of different establishments but the signage has remained the same since it first opened.

From 1881, more persecution in eastern Europe and Russia led to the arrival of thousands of Jewish immigrants. They made their way to the tenement houses of Spitalfields already occupied by a considerable Jewish working-class community. 
From the 1880s to 1970s Spitalfields was overwhelmingly Jewish and probably one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe with over 40 Synagogues.

Now this is the only one in the neighbourhood. I've never been inside a synagogue so I was disappointed not to be able to visit this one. Our guide wrote to them asking if we could visit but they didn't reply. Apparently they do their own tours, you can't blame them for wanting to earn more.

Soup kitchen for the Jewish Poor 1902

There was something significant about this building but I can't remember what!

Tracey Emin wanted to use this building as an academy for young artists but the neighbours started a petition against it so it never happened.

By the mid-20th century, most of the Jewish community had left the area and since the 1970s, a Bangladeshi community has been flourishing. New cultures, trades and business now fill the area including the renowned Brick Lane restaurant district.

A play on words in the Whitechapel area!

Christ Church is an Anglican church built between 1714 and 1729. It was one of the first (and arguably one of the finest) of the so-called "Commissioners' Churches" built for the 'Commission for Building Fifty New Churches'. The commission was an organisation set up by an Act of Parliament in 1711 with the purpose of building fifty new churches for the rapidly growing conurbation of London. It didn't achieve its target though.

Norton Folgate Almshouses

We were getting hungry by now but didn't know where to eat, there was so much choice. Then the guide told us about Poppies Fish n Chips. It lived up to its reputation of being the best chippie in the area, but it was expensive - £24.00 including a cup of tea, although I guess anywhere else would have been the same for a hot lunch in London.
It has a good 50's theme

After lunch we meandered around New Spitalfields market, now smart and gentrified.

Traders began operating in the original Spitalfields market around 1666, after the Great Fire of London. In 1682 Charles II officially granted John Balch a Royal Charter allowing him to hold a market every Thursday and Saturday in Spital Square. Over time, the market became one of the main fruit and vegetable markets for London. 

Due to traffic congestion, lack of space for parking lorries, as well as out of date buildings and poor refrigeration facilities the old market was relocated out of the City in the early 1990s 

New Spitalfields Market is open every day of the week. It hosts retail brands, street-food stalls, bars and restaurants, and independent traders showcasing handcrafted goods, artwork, fashion, and jewellery. It also hosts public art and events programmes.

We ended our day where it had started, back at Liverpool Street station, or rather at Eaterly, next door to the station. Recommended by one of the ladies we travelled on the train with, it has restaurants and bars and a fantastic market. 

We had had coffee and croissant when we arrived, and were finishing with ice cream before going home 😀

With a wealth of history and good eating places Spitalfields area is well worth visiting.

∼ Be safe and well ∼
Polly x


  1. Fantastic tour. When I was at Uni in London in the 1970s we had a lecturer who would occasionally organise walking tours like that for us students. I'm sure we toured that area as well as many others in the East End. It was a bit less tidy in those days.

    1. Yes it did get very dilapidated and fell into decline. It's much smarter now but I don't like some of the modern high rise buildings.

  2. Polly, thanks for sharing this information on your visit. Like yourself, I always enjoy learning more about places we visit on road trips. Usually, it is when we return home and I post about them.

    1. Hello Beatrice, although I was concentrating on what our guide was telling us I couldn't remember all of it, so like you I learnt more for writing this post.

  3. Thanks for taking us along with you on the tour! What a fascinating history this area has! And of course "Jack the Clipper" made me GROAN.

    1. I suspect it makes a lot of people groan :-)

  4. What a great tour.All organized must be wonderful.
    Those poor children..everything I have read or watched.Horrendous and shameful.

  5. Strangely enough, I never made a serious tour of Spitalfields when I lived in London, so your post is most interesting and informative. I knew a lot of Huguenots fled to Britain, including Northern Ireland, but I didn't know the extent of their persecution - over 10,000 murdered and forbidden to leave France on pain of brutal penalties. Horrifying.

    1. I didn't know either Nick. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. This is fascinating, Polly -- and if I DO get to London this fall, I hope I'll be able to see it. I've always wanted to visit Denis Severs -- Did you go inside? It looks very interesting and your photos are terrific.

    1. Thank you Jeanie. We didn't go in, it was a combination of expensive, not enough time but also I think there were too many of us, it's quite small. I hope you get to visit, then I will read your post about it :-)

  7. Everything is new to me about Spitalfields. I’ve learnt a lot, specially about Jewish children. Thanks for your visit via John.

    1. Hello Yoko, thank you for visiting :-)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...