Tower Hamlets

Tower Hamlets lies to the east of the City of London, on the north bank of the River Thames. It includes the Isle of Dogs on the river's distinctive 'u bend'. Tower Hamlets was formed in 1965 from the former metropolitan boroughs of Poplar, Bethnal Green and Stepney. It is known as Tower Hamlets because in the 16th century the original small villages or hamlets were near the Tower of London.

Population change

1966:202,560 people
1998:179,800 people

The district's position near the river has influenced its economic and social development. In the 19th century, the area was better known as the East End, an area notorious for poor housing, ill health and overcrowding, but famous for its 'Cockney' culture, which drew much of its character from its mix of Jewish and Irish inhabitants.

At the beginning of the 20th century, parts of Tower Hamlets had one of London's most distinctive populations. Large numbers of Russian and Polish Jews had recently settled in the area around Aldgate and Whitechapel. By the end of the 20th century, Tower Hamlets' population remained distinctive but for different reasons. By 2000, nearly one third of Tower Hamlets' residents were of Bangladeshi origin.

For most of the 20th century the docks complex was the largest employer in the East End. The closure of the docks from the late 1960s put an enormous strain on the area and led to the dramatic regeneration of the land, renamed 'Docklands'.

In 1980 the riverside areas of Tower Hamlets were given a special planning status under a new body, the London Docklands Development Agency. Wharfs and warehouses were converted into offices and apartments and West India Quay became the massive new Canary Wharf development with its landmark office tower.

Tower Hamlets was also rich in public housing during the 20th century. The Lansbury Estate in Poplar was built as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain to provide an example of good housing for the future. The borough also includes examples of high-rise housing by all the major 20th century architects, among them Erno Goldfinger's Balfron Tower in Poplar and Denys Kasdun's Keeling House in Bethnal Green. Many of these tower blocks are now listed.

Tower Hamlets ended the 20th century as the sixth most deprived borough in London, but it also contained pockets of immense wealth. The regeneration of Docklands brought in a new population, new employment, and industrial opportunities. Despite the removal of the docks, Tower Hamlets still has more warehouses than any other London borough.

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