ADVERTISER 150: East End marks passing of 'Victorian Age' with Queen's death in 1901
PUBLISHED: 19:00 27 November 2016
Our nightly look-back at the last 150 years of publishing the East London Advertiser for our November anniversary takes a look at how we reported Queen Victoria's death in 1901. The newspaper reflected on the Victorian Age and how East London had changed...
1901: Our headline ‘East London Under Queen Victoria’ opens the Advertiser’s full broadsheet-page tribute reporting the monarch’s death in January, which sums up the impact of her 64-year rein on the East End.
We told readers: “England to-day mourns the greatest Queen that has ever sat upon the throne of an Empire.
“Nowhere in the Dominions is the loss of Queen Victoria so sincerely lamented than in the Eastern District of London. The inhabitants have played an important part in the growth of the metropolis, whether waterside labourers of Wapping and Blackwall, the factory hands of Stepney and Poplar.
“Railway communication was almost unknown when Victoria ascended the throne in 1837. The Blackwall Railway, with its endless cable and uncertain times of departure and arrival, was constructed to the astonishment of all good citizens.”
But it is the later Eastern Counties Railway that has the biggest impact on East London’s growth, opening on June 20, 1839, from Mile End to Romford in Essex. It is extended in 1861 to Bishopsgate (Shoreditch), as the Great Eastern Railway, and finally to Liverpool Street in the City itself by the 1880s.
The population expansion brings overcrowding and the spread of cheap workers’ housing in Whitechapel and Spitalfields that soon become the slums of an impoverished Victorian East End.
We recall in 1901 the Victorian era: “The streets were of deplorable scenes of open vice, while the places of amusement seemed to do little else save to cater to the depraved mate, a fearfully dark hole where vice and immorality were carried out unblushingly. Whitechapel was a parish in whose back streets were many slums.
“The train has brought Brick-lane within sight of the parlour windows of the City-shunning householder.”
The newspaper observes that Queen Victoria had financed new dwellings for the East End’s poor and laid out gardens and open spaces, the largest still bearing her name—Victoria Park.
Railways, tunnel engineering, shipbuilding, the telegraph and the Penny Post are all achievements that put East London firmly on the Victorian map.
The world’s biggest steamship, the Great Eastern, is built and launched at Millwall Docks by the greatest of all Victorian master engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. His floating marvel is capable of carrying 4,000 passengers across the world to the British Dominions of Australia without having to refuel.
Before that, Brunel had built the world’s first thoroughfare under a river, the Thames Tunnel completed in 1843 at Wapping, although becoming a commercial failure is a pioneering achievement of engineering, surviving to this day. The tunnel linking Wapping on the north bank and Rotherhithe on the south side is converted in 1871 to run the new East London Railway from Shoreditch to New Cross.
The Advertiser in 1901 laments the changes in Mile End Old Town during Victoria’s reign: “With the exception of houses either side of the Mile End Road, green fields abounded. Of course there were no tramways or railways, or even buses. People had to go to the City in Hackney coaches and the fare of 2 shillings (10p) was required from Mile End Gate.
“A row of almshouses stood in Whitechapel Road where St Mary’s railway station is now. More almshouses stood where Mann & Crossman’s brewery is in Mile End Road. Even at the back of the Anchor Brewery there was little else but fields, while rabbits could be seen running in and out of their warrens.”
Political rivalry is hot, with attempts at vote-rigging in Victoria’s day that might put 21st century vote-rigging during Lutfur Rahman’s 2014 election for mayor into a corner.
We reported in 1901: “Candidates were nominated at the hustings. One hustings was at the Beaumont Hall in Stepney Green, where some very stormy scenes were witnessed. The counting took place as the voting proceeded and extraordinary efforts were made to obtain the advantage. Bands would be engaged by the rival parties to drown out speeches.”
But the carve-up of the East End in 1900 into the four Metropolitan boroughs of Shoreditch, Stepney, Bethnal Green and Poplar puts each on its mettle. It is another 65 years before three of those boroughs merge to form Tower Hamlets—adopting an older identity of ‘The Hamlets by The Tower’ which preceded London’s expansion eastward during Victoria’s reign.