Looking at Buildings

, printed from the Looking at Buildings website on Thursday 24th September 2020

Social Provision in East London

Map, Whitechapel

The following architectural tour covers an area of London on the fringe of the City whose prosperity in the 17th and 18th centuries went into decline with the onset of industrialisation after 1800. The combination of poor housing and prevalence of disease brought the contrast between East and West London into sharper relief during the 1840s as Health Officers began to publish their findings. The response of the churches, private philanthropists and the State took several forms but an enduring legacy has been left in the numerous buildings erected to provide food, shelter, better housing and education for the working class.

Although the destruction of slum properties began in the 1840s and the first provision of improved health facilities had begun, a series of cholera outbreaks, the collapse of local economies, including shipbuilding and weaving, led to profound social unrest in the East End of London during the 1860s and changed the attitudes of reformers and philanthropists towards a less impersonal form of providing relief to the poor.

The Settlement movement was an attempt to provide cultural, social and educational centres for the poor managed by residential workers, customarily students. The two principal ones, both founded in 1884 are Toynbee Hall and Oxford House.

From the People's Palace at Mile End, also grew the first university in East London and c.1900 a series of libraries funded by J. Passmore Edwards provided the districts of East London with free access to books. The foundation of the Whitechapel Art GalleryGlossary Term [1] in 1899 (opened 1901) also marked one of the 19th century's most enduring legacies.

Last updated: Monday, 26th January 2009