Bethnal Green

In 1341, the name of this area appeared in a document as ‘Blithenhale’, which probably meant ‘Blida’s Corner’. Blida was a Saxon name.

By 1550, the name had altered to ‘Blethenhale Grene’ and had become Bethnal Green by the 17th Century. The ‘Green’ at the heart of this settlement is now Bethnal Green Gardens.

Boxing has been associated with East London and Bethnal Green since the late 18th Century. Many boys first learnt to fight on the streets against their peers. They then joined amateur training clubs that held fights for the public. A small number of boys were skilled enough to go professional.

Professional boxing helped to supplement the boxer’s income from his day job. The first famous East London boxer was Daniel Mendoza who became English champion when he was still in his mid-twenties. Others included Jack ‘Kid’ Berg and Charlie Magri.

Today, Bethnal Green still hosts boxing matches at York Hall.

During the Second World War, the East End suffered enormously due to German bombing. East London was a key target for bombs because of its industry and extensive docklands. Many people used underground stations as shelters to escape the raids.

When air raid sirens sounded on 3 March 1943, 1,500 people made their way to the shelter at Bethnal Green tube station. However, as they entered, defence rockets that sounded like bombs started firing in nearby Victoria Park and caused panic.

A woman carrying a baby tripped on the stairs and some people fell on top of her. Other people trying to get into the shelter continued pushing from outside. Within a minute and a half, over 170 people had died of suffocation. The incident was the worst civilian disaster of the war.

A memorial to the disaster was unveiled on its 70th anniversary, 3rd March 2013.

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