Ask any local resident or business owner how much Shoreditch has transformed over the last two decades and they will all agree it's changed almost beyond recognition. But by stepping back nearly three hundred years and looking at these maps it's clear to see that the recent changes are relatively small-scale.
Originally a part of the Middlesex Country, Shoreditch (Sewer Ditch) was made up of three districts: Shoreditch, Hoxton (Hogs Den) and Haggerston. It was a suburb of the City of London, surrounded by farmland which is now Islington, Hackney and Bethnal Green.
These maps, which are housed at the Bishopsgate Institute's library, show Shoreditch's fields being built-over as the industrial revolution progressed, eventually resulting in dirt tracks becoming a silicon roundabout! Shoreditch keeps on growing so we'll update this post, thirty years from now.
In the 18th Century Shoreditch was a result of a city overspill comprising of a built up area of small settlements, the surrounding areas were largely dominated by the brickfields that had been quarried in the vicinity since Tudor times. Hackney and Shoreditch were a far cry from the borough it is today, a more picturesque escape from the city walls, it was surrounded by greenery and inhabited by some of the richest London residents. Famous writer and Stoke Newington local, Daniel Defoe, described Hackney in the 1720’s as comprising of "twelve hamlets" and "having so many rich citizens that it contained nearly a hundred coaches".
Shoreditch was not only home to prominent residents such as the Governor of the Bank England, who lived in Hackney House and the founder of the East India Company. The area was also home to poor labourers who worked on the land. Between the twelve hamlets and the grand house estates were agricultural fields, market gardens and meadows. The vast brickfields of Kingsland Road and London fields grew rapidly and covered almost 170 acres of Hackney - a clear result of a booming housing market.
The end of the century saw the beginning of Hackney's fall from favour by the upper classes as the first of the super rich began to move to the new fashionable suburbs that are now the West End. Their large abandoned Shoreditch houses were converted to schools, asylums and hospitals. It was, however, still seen as fashionable amongst the rich to go for carriage drives through Hackney on summer nights and take in the country air.
Regent’s Canal was completed in 1820, this meant that building and industrial materials could be easily transported into the area. Around this time many artisans had opened up their workshops in Shoreditch; tailors, ironworkers and leather workers, printers and furniture makers. Shoreditch became a hub for people working in the finishing trades and with high value artifacts, the craftsmen that escaped the threat of mass production found themselves at home next to Shoreditch’s fashionable markets.
The Victorian period saw the biggest change to Shoreditch’s landscape. What began as a collection of villages became a vast inner London suburb by the 1900’s. As the population grew, overcrowding was rife, as was the dirt and noise. Disease and immorality caused the middle classes to move away from the city and the outer suburbs of London were born. As the suburbs grew access to and from the city was in demand and in1870 the first tramlines were built through Shoreditch. This period also saw the introduction of the railway in Liverpool Street, which although proving triumphant for some, was tragic for many poor residents who were left homeless with their houses demolished and no hope of compensation. Hundreds were left living in decrepit conditions as overcrowding, disease and death surrounded them.
Despite the harsh conditions, Shoreditch remained an important part of the city due to it’s cultural and artistic spirit. The local public houses, theatres and music halls boomed. The area had long been the original theatreland of London, home to Shakespeare’s very first playhouses, and continued this trend throughout the ages as a cultural and entertainment hub, home to many of the city’s most buzzing establishments including the Britannia Theatre in Hoxton Street, which could seat over 3,000.
Shoreditch has unquestionably changed beyond recognition from the 18th Century onwards, it has however kept alive many of its most unique attributes; independent craftsmen, market stalls, nightlife or the emphasis on arts and culture, the history of the Shoreditch landscape can be felt to this very day.