East London comprises the whole of six modern London Boroughs – Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Havering – and the greater part of a seventh, Hackney.
The East End of London is a subset of East London, consisting of areas close to the ancient City of London.
The Eastern Postal District is a different subset of East London and there is also an "East" sub-region used in the London Plan for planning and progress-reporting purposes. The most recent iteration includes the seven boroughs north of the Thames with the addition of three boroughs south of the river.
The East End is the old core of East London and there are differing views about how much of East London should be considered part of that core area.
By contrast the extent of East London as a whole can be confidently expressed: lying north of the Thames, stretching from the Roman and Medieval walls of the City to the Metropolitan Green Belt, and covering areas that are traditionally part of Middlesex and Essex.
Aldgate Pump on the edge of the City is a symbolic start of East London – more specifically the East End. Tower Bridge is sometimes also described in these terms.
The boundary with north London runs along Regent's Canal, turns north to follow Kingsland Road and then makes its way to the River Lea, whose channels, marshes and reservoirs form the largest part of the boundary.
This well established, but unofficial, definition takes in six modern London boroughs and most of a seventh, Hackney.
The parts of Hackney within East London are:
The remaining areas of Hackney are usually considered to be part of north London.
The E (Eastern) postcode area was introduced in 1857 to facilitate the distribution of mail. The postcode area is a sub-set of East London, with notable exclusions:
As described, East London comprises 6 whole London Boroughs: Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Havering as well as most of the London Borough of Hackney and a small eastern extramural fringe of the City of London.
London currently has 73 parliamentary constituencies, of which 12 are fully and 4 partially in East London. It is anticipated that after 2018 London’s total will be reduced to 68 and the East will have a reduction to 11 full and four part constituencies.
The 2011 iteration of the London Plan included an altered ‘East’ region, to be used for planning, engagement, resource allocation and progress reporting purposes. As well as seven boroughs north of the river, the ‘East’ sub-region also includes three boroughs to the south of it: Greenwich, Bexley and Lewisham. These boroughs are seldom called 'east London' as they are south from the river and are poorly connected to the north.
East London is located in the lower Thames valley. The major rivers of East London are the Thames that forms the southern boundary; the Lea which forms the boundary of Tower Hamlets/Hackney with Newham/Waltham Forest; the Roding which forms the boundary of Newham with Barking and Dagenham/Redbridge; and the Beam which forms the boundary of Barking and Dagenham with Havering. The marshes along the Thames which once stretched from Wapping to Rainham are almost completely gone.
The East End, the old core of modern East London, began with the medieval growth of London beyond the city walls, along the Roman Roads leading from Bishopsgate and Aldgate, and also along the river.
Growth was much slower in the east, and the modest extensions there were separated from the much larger suburbs in the west by the marshy open area of Moorfields adjacent to the wall on the north side, which discouraged development in that direction. Urbanisation accelerated in the 16th century and the area that would later become known as the East End began to take shape.
The first known written record of the East End as a distinct entity, as opposed its component parts, comes from John Strype's 1720 'Survey of London', where he describes London as consisting of four parts: the City of London, Westminster, Southwark, and That Part beyond the Tower.
The relevance of Strype's reference to the Tower was more than geographical. The East End was the major part of an area called the Tower Division, which owed military service to the Tower of London. Later, as the East End grew and the Tower Division contracted, the East End became, arguably, conterminous with the Tower Division.
The westernmost component of the Tower Division was the Ancient Parish of Shoreditch which would become fully urbanised as part of the East End\East London. Shoreditch’s boundary with the parish of St Luke's (and its predecessor St Giles-without-Cripplegate) ran through the Moorfields countryside becoming, on urbanisation, the boundary of east and north London. That line, with very slight modifications, has also become the boundary of the modern London Boroughs of Hackney and Islington.
Moorfields remained largely open until 1812, and the longstanding presence of that open space separating the emerging East End from the western urban expansion of London must have helped shape the varying economic character of the two parts and perceptions of their distinct identity (see map below).
Until about 1700, London didn't extend far beyond the walled boundaries of the City of London. However, the population in the parishes to the east of the City was rising and this was reflected by the need to break up the large ancient parish of Stepney into smaller units to provide adequate religious and civil administration; and the creation of the Tower division of Middlesex. It was the industries associated with the River Thames that encouraged growth in the east, and by 1650; Shadwell was a developed maritime settlement. The docks in Tower Hamlets started to reach capacity in the early-nineteenth century and in 1855, the Royal Victoria Dock was opened in Newham.
The early development of London eastward was caused by the expansion of industries associated with the River Thames, such as shipbuilding and the docks. Because these industries declined in the later part of the twentieth century, East London is now an area of regeneration. In the London Docklands, this has reached advanced stages, but in the sections of East London that are within the Thames Gateway it is continuing, such as the redevelopment in Stratford associated with the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Areas further east developed in the Victorian and Edwardian eras following the expansion of the railways in the nineteenth century. Development of suburban houses for private sale was later matched by the provision of large scale social housing at Becontree in the 1920s and Harold Hill after the Second World War. However, the urban footprint was constrained in 1878 by the protection of Epping Forest and later the implementation of the Metropolitan Green Belt. The density of development increased during the interwar period and new industries developed such as Ford at Dagenham. In Tower Hamlets, the population peaked in 1891 and growth was restricted to the outer boroughs. By 1971, the population had peaked in every borough and the entire area was experiencing population decline. By the time of the 2011 UK Census, this had reversed and every borough had experienced some growth in population.
The etymology of London is uncertain, but is known to be an ancient name. The concept of East London as a distinct area is a relatively recent innovation. John Strype's map of 1720 describes London as consisting of four parts: The City of London, Westminster, Southwark and "That Part Beyond the Tower". From the late 19th century the term East End of London was used to describe areas immediately adjacent to the City in the Tower division of Middlesex. Charles Booth in 1889 defined East London as the County of London between the City and the River Lea. In 1902 he now considered this area to be the 'true East End' and his attention had been drawn eastward over the Lea into the Borough of West Ham—then outside London in Essex but under the authority of neither—and termed London-over-the-Border by Charles Dickens in 1857. Walter Besant described East London as an area north of the Thames and east of the City that stretched as far as Chingford and Epping Forest, which was similar to the definition used by Robert Sinclair in 1950 that stretched east to include Barking and Dagenham. This broadly matched the Metropolitan Police District east of the city and north of the Thames at that time, and now corresponds to the boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest in Greater London.
The area adjacent to the City of London is known as the East End of London. It does not have clearly defined boundaries, but is usually taken to be north of the River Thames, east of the City and west of the River Lea.
The majority of the rail network in East London was built within fifty years from 1839. The first through the area was the Eastern Counties Railway from Mile End to Romford, extended to Shoreditch in 1840. The London and Blackwall Railway built a line from Minories to Blackwall the same year and the Northern and Eastern Railway connected Lea Bridge and Tottenham with the Eastern Counties at Stratford. The Eastern Counties and Thames Junction Railway started passenger service on their line from Stratford to Canning Town, Custom House and North Woolwich in 1847. This made Stratford a significant railway junction and location of railway works. The East & West India Docks & Birmingham Junction Railway connected Kingsland with Bow and Poplar in 1850 and was renamed North London Railway in 1853.
In 1854 the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway connected Forest Gate on the Eastern Counties with Barking and Rainham. The East London Railway was opened in 1869. The Great Eastern Railway connected Lea Bridge with Walthamstow in 1870, and in 1872 built a connection from the Eastern Counties line at Bethnal Green to Hackney Downs. This was connected to the Walthamstow line in 1873 and extended to Chingford. The London and Blackwall built an extension to Millwall and North Greenwich on the Isle of Dogs in 1872 and the Eastern Counties and Thames Junction Railway was extended to Beckton in 1873, and Gallions in 1880. The London, Tilbury and Southend Railway connected Barking with Dagenham, Hornchurch and Upminster in 1885, and Romford with Upminster in 1893. The final piece of original railway works was the construction of the Great Eastern loop line to connect Woodford with Ilford via Fairlop in 1903.
London Docklands was defined in the 1980s as the area of redevelopment under the control of the London Docklands Development Corporation. The Thames Gateway extends into East London with two areas of activity: the Lower Lea Valley around the Olympic site and London Riverside adjacent to the Thames.
2013 saw the formation of a new "not for profit" radio station – East London Radio, which for the first time gave the whole area its own radio station for the whole community, broadcasting online at www.eastlondonradio.org.uk and run by East London Radio C.I.C. An important part of their activity is training people of all ages, from all backgrounds, in making radio programmes. In the first 12 months they trained around 60 people from the area in making talk radio programmes, and produced over 300 recorded programmes. They plan to grow from an initial community base in Hackney to have local studios in each of the East London boroughs, making volunteering and training very accessible and local for the whole community. A key aim is to give East London a voice in the post-Olympics world.