Shadwell, Tower Hamlets

Now the north-eastern part of Wapping, but once a separate Tower hamlet

Hidden London: Free Trade Wharf, Shadwell

Shadwell’s Old Eng­lish name means ‘shal­low well’. Archae­o­log­i­cal exca­va­tions have revealed evi­dence of a Roman quar­ry here, sub­se­quent­ly used as a ceme­tery, with a mau­soleum tow­er. By the third cen­tu­ry the area had been divid­ed into plots, where domes­tic res­i­dences were built. A leather biki­ni has been dis­cov­ered in a tim­ber-lined tank dat­ing from the fourth cen­tu­ry. After this peri­od the site was aban­doned to agri­cul­tur­al use.

A suc­ces­sion of Nor­man landown­ers amassed an estate here that Bish­op de Fau­con­berg bequeathed to the dean and chap­ter of St Paul’s Cathe­dral on his death in 1228. Fur­ther aug­men­ta­tion brought the prop­er­ty to near­ly a hun­dred acres by the end of that cen­tu­ry.

Shown in the pho­to below, the pic­turesque Prospect of Whit­by (as the pub is now called), may date from around 1520, although it has since been rebuilt and ‘re-antiqued’. Mar­itime indus­tries brought growth to Shad­well from the 1630s and a chapel was built in 1656.

Hidden London: The Prospect of Whitby, Shadwell, by Barry Marsh

Shad­well became a parish in 1669, when its 8,000 res­i­dents includ­ed many sea­far­ers. St Paul’s church – which recalls the iden­ti­ty of the for­mer landown­ers – was built in 1820, by which time con­di­tions in the parish had become insan­i­tary. Phil­an­thropists con­vert­ed a build­ing in Glasshouse Fields to one of London’s ear­li­est pub­lic wash hous­es in the 1840s.

In Lon­don: A Pil­grim­age (1872), Blan­chard Jer­rold wrote of “the dense­ly-packed haunts of pover­ty and crime – in the hideous ten­e­ments stacked far and wide, round such insti­tu­tions as the Blue­gate Fields ragged schools in Shad­well.” Some of the slums dis­ap­peared in the con­struc­tion of the docks in the 1850s and more were cleared in the 1860s but the char­ac­ter of the dis­trict did not fun­da­men­tal­ly alter until after the Sec­ond World War, when coun­cil blocks sprout­ed in all cor­ners.

The archi­tec­ture has changed and pock­ets of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion have evolved, but many of Shadwell’s res­i­dents still live in dis­ad­van­taged cir­cum­stances. At the 2011 cen­sus, 44 per cent of res­i­dents were of Bangladeshi birth or descent and 23 per cent were white British. Islam is the prin­ci­pal reli­gion, fol­lowed by Chris­tian­i­ty. No oth­er faith has a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of adher­ents here.

Postal district: E1
Population: 15,110 (2011 census)
Station: East London Line; Docklands Light Railway, all branches (zone 2)
Further reading: David Lakin et al, The Roman Tower at Shadwell, Museum of London Archaeology Service, 2002
The picture of the Prospect of Whitby on this page was cropped from a photograph by Barry Marsh, posted at Flickr, and generously released into the public domain.