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The nearest train station to Whitechapel is Aldgate East
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Photo: LeHaye / Wikipedia Whitechapel Art Gallery

Whitechapel is in the heart of the East End of London, which runs from Aldgate through Whitechapel, taking in Stepney, Bow and Bethnal Green. It took its name from the white walls of St. Mary Matfelon, and grew rapidly in the late 17th-century when Docklands was built.

The area was rapidly filled with dockers and trades people working off the boats, and gave the area its working class charm. It also brought a rough and seedy side to the capital, of which the rich businessmen in The City steered well clear.

The most notorious crime involved a certain Jack the Ripper, who killed nine prostitutes in 1888. Kray Twins fans might also like to check out the Blind Beggar pub at 337 Whitechapel Road. This was where they slaughtered George Cornell.

Cockney’s, and the East End of London

Cockney is the language supposedly spoken by the natives, but differs to English in pronunciation only. The word derives from the olde English word cokeney, which meant a malformed egg – the meaning being that a cokeney person was some kind of fool. It changed its focus down the years, and now refers to anyone living in the East End.

Tradition has that anyone born within earshot of the Bow Bells can correctly call himself a Cockney, but the Bow Bells of St. Mary-le-Bow are actually in Cheapside – nowhere near the East End.

Cockney rhyming slang

Cockney’s typically drop their ’aitches, so half becomes arf. They also frequently drop their t’s as well, so wouldn’t sounds like wouldn. Double t’s can sometimes sound like double d’s, so butter sounds like budder.

The most well-known facet of the language is Cockney rhyming slang, which replaces everyday words with rhyming equivalents. The chief idea is that the rhyming equivalent should try and describe the thing that it is replacing – so feet becomes plates of meat, and sun becomes current bun. Another funny example is trouble and strife for wife.

To confuse the uninitiated even more, the second half of the rhyme – the part that actually rhymes – is frequently dropped altogether. So a cup of tea becomes a cup of rosey – which is short for a cup of rosey lee. Geddit?

If you want to hear the locals speak it, then head down to Chapel Market in Islington – where the stallholders use it to charm the gathering tourists out of their money.

Brick Lane, and Petticoat Lane market

Whitechapel once had a large Jewish community in the 17th-century, but this has slowly been replaced with immigrants from the sub-continent.

Brick Lane is where the Bangladeshi community live, and is filled with curry house sounds and smells. Some of the best Indian restaurants in the capital can be found here. There is also a Sunday market which sells cakes, fish and oriental spices.

Petticoat Lane is the name given to the market which stretches between Middlesex Street and Wentworth Street. But don’t bother looking for the actual street itself, because it doesn’t exist – it was renamed Middlesex Street in 1830 due to the sinful evocation of lady’s underwear.

Whitechapel Art Gallery

Whitechapel Art Gallery was opened by Samuel Barnett in 1901 in an attempt to bring the West End to the East End. It features temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. The media ranges from video and paint to photography and sculpture.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry

The famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry has existed since at least the 16th-century, and moved to 32–34 Whitechapel Road in 1738. It has cast some of the most famous bells in history – including Big Ben and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

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