Tower Hamlets

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is a London borough to the east of the City of London, England and north of the River Thames in East London, taking in much of the East End.

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is a London borough to the east of the City of London, England and north of the River Thames in East London, taking in much of the East End. It includes much of the redeveloped Docklands region of London, including West India Docks and Canary Wharf. Many of the tallest buildings in London are located on the Isle of Dogs in the south of the borough. Tower Hamlets is one of five London boroughs which have been designated host boroughs for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Geography and History

Civic history

The name "Tower Hamlets" was historically applied to the Tower division of the county of Middlesex, covering not only the present borough, but also part of the present-day London Borough of Hackney. The Constable of the Tower of London had special jurisdiction over the area from the 16th century until 1889. Inhabitants of Tower Hamlets were originally required to provide yeomen for the Tower of London. Later the Constable became Lord Lieutenant of the area, raising and organising the local militia. Under the Reform Act 1832 the area became a parliamentary borough. The name continued to be used for constituencies until 1918.

The borough was formed in 1965, and took this historic name, through amalgamation of the former metropolitan boroughs of Bethnal Green, Poplar and Stepney. These boroughs were the heart of the East End of London.

Physical geography

Tower Hamlets is located to east of the City of London and north of the River Thames in East London. The London Borough of Hackney lies to the north of the borough while the River Lee forms the boundary with the London Borough of Newham in the east. The River Lee also forms the boundary between those parts of London historically in Middlesex, with those formerly in Essex.

The Isle of Dogs is formed from the lock entrances to the former West India Docks and the largest current meander of the River Thames and the southern part of the borough forms a part of the historic flood plain of the River Thames; and but for the Thames Barrier and other flood prevention works would be vulnerable to flooding.

The Regent's Canal enters the borough from Hackney to meet the River Thames at Limehouse Basin. A stretch of the Hertford Union Canal leads from the Regent's canal, at a basin in the north of Mile End to join the River Lee at Old Ford. A further canal, Limehouse Cut, London's oldest, leads from locks at Bromley-by-Bow to Limehouse Basin. Most of the canal tow-paths are open to both pedestrians and cyclists.

Victoria Park was formed by Act of Parliament, and administered by the LCC and its successor authority the GLC. Since the latter authority's abolition, the park has been administered by Tower Hamlets.

Areas included in the borough:

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The London Borough of Tower Hamlets forms the core of the East End, it lies east of the medieval walled City of London and north of the River Thames, use of the term "East End", in a pejorative sense began in the late 19th century, as the expansion of the population of London led to extreme overcrowding throughout the area and a concentration of poor people and immigrants in the districts that make it up. These problems were exacerbated with the construction of St Katharine Docks (1827) and the central London railway termini (1840–1875) that caused the clearance of former slums and rookeries, with many of the displaced people moving into the area. Over the course of a century, the East End became synonymous with poverty, overcrowding, disease and criminality.

The East End developed rapidly during the 19th century. Originally it was an area characterised by villages clustered around the City walls or along the main roads, surrounded by farmland, with marshes and small communities by the River, serving the needs of shipping and the Royal Navy. Until the arrival of formal docks, shipping was required to land its goods in the Pool of London, but industries related to construction, repair, and victualling of ships flourished in the area from Tudor times. The area attracted large numbers of rural people looking for employment. Successive waves of foreign immigration began with Huguenot refugees creating a new extramural suburb in Spitalfields in the 17th century. They were followed by Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews and, in the 20th century, Bangladeshis. Many of these immigrants worked in the clothing industry. The abundance of semi- and unskilled labour led to low wages and poor conditions throughout the East End. This brought the attentions of social reformers during the mid-18th century and led to the formation of unions and workers associations at the end of the century. The radicalism of the East End contributed to the formation of the Labour Party and demands for the enfranchisement of women.

Official attempts to address the overcrowded housing began at the beginning of the 20th century under the London County Council. World War II devastated much of the East End, with its docks, railways and industry forming a continual target, leading to dispersal of the population to new suburbs, and new housing being built in the 1950s.. During the war, in the Boroughs making up Tower Hamlets a total of 2,221 civilians were killed, and 7,472 were injured, with 46,482 houses destroyed and 47,574 damaged. The closure of the last of the East End docks in the Port of London in 1980 created further challenges and led to attempts at regeneration and the formation of the London Docklands Development Corporation. The Canary Wharf development, improved infrastructure, and the Olympic Park mean that the East End is undergoing further change, but some of its districts continue to contain some of the worst poverty in Britain.

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Local landmarks

Historical landmarks

  • Brick Lane
  • Cable Street - site of the Battle of Cable Street
  • Hawksmoor's Christ Church, Spitalfields
  • site of two historic Royal Mints
  • Tower of London
  • Victoria Park

Modern landmarks

  • The Canary Wharf complex, within Docklands, on the Isle of Dogs forms a group of some of the tallest buildings in Europe. One Canada Square was the first to be constructed, and remains the tallest. Nearby are the HSBC Tower, Citigroup Centres and One Churchill Place, headquarters of Barclays Bank. Within the same complex are the Heron Quays offices.
  • The unusual Green Bridge, constructed in 2000, links sections of Mile End Park, that are divided by the Mile End Road. The bridge contains gardens, water features and trees around the path.


According to the 2001 census, the population of the borough is approximately 196,106.

Tower Hamlets has one of the smallest indigenous populations of the boroughs of Britain. The main ethnic groups are the White British (42.9%) and Bangladeshis which constitute 33% of the population. Black African/Caribbean's constitute 7%, with a mainly large Somalian community.

The main religions followed or practiced in Tower Hamlets are Christianity and Islam. There are 75,783 people who identified themselves as Christians (38.6%), and 71,389 people who are Muslims (36.4%). The Muslim community are mainly of Bangladeshis and Somalians. The Muslim population in the borough is the largest out of all authorities in England & Wales.

The population of the Bangladeshi community counted on the census was 65,553. Bangladeshis are more likely to have large families living together. The number of Bangladeshis aged under 18 is almost double the proportion for all Londoners. Most Bangladeshi children in London were born in the UK, while most adults were born in Bangladesh, 70% of the Bangladeshi community are below the age of 30, where 40% of these are aged 0-15 and 9% are aged 16-19.

The main language of the borough is English. Other languages include, Bengali or Sylheti, and Somali, also Chinese and Vietnamese. There are also many other languages used by the people from many other different cultures.

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Further Education Colleges

  • College of Technology London
  • Tower Hamlets College


  • Queen Mary, a constituent college of the University of London which includes Barts and The London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Sports and Leisure

Mile End Stadium, within Mile End Park hosts an athletics stadium, and facilities for football and basketball. Two football clubs, Beaumont Athletic F.C. and Sporting Bengal United F.C. are based there.

A leisure centre including a swimming pool at Mile End Stadium was completed in 2006. Other pools are located at St Georges, Limehouse and York Hall, in Bethnal Green. York Hall is also a regular venue for boxing tournaments, and in May 2007 a public spa - Spa London was opened in the building's renovated Turkish Baths. Official London Spa website

The Olympics

Tower Hamlets is one of five host boroughs for the 2012 Summer Olympics, with the Olympic Park to be constructed in the Lea Valley.


  • Island History Trust
  • Museum in Docklands
  • Ragged School Museum
  • V&A Museum of Childhood

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