The origins of the name Shoreditch – now a slowly gentrifying area to the north of the City of London within the Borough of Hackney – are lost to time but there are a few interesting theories around.
While the name probably comes to us as a derivation of Soersditch or Sewer Ditch – perhaps in reference to a drain that was once here – a more tragic version has it named after Jane Shore.
A mistress of King Edward IV in the mid to late fifteenth century, she, so the story goes, was buried in a ditch in the area after dying in a state of penury following a dramatic fall from favour during the subsequent reign of King Richard III (the king apparently had Jane arrested and made her perform a public penance for being a harlot).
There was an important priory here – the Augustinian Priory of Holywell – in medieval times and by Elizabethan times, some substantial houses. In 1576, James Burbage built England’s first theatre – known as The Theatre – on its site located near Curtain Road. Some of William Shakespeare’s plays were performed here and at the nearby rival, the Curtain Theatre, before a dispute with the landlord in the late 16th century saw the theatre relocated to Southwark in the dead of night (although the foundations must have remained – these were excavated a few years ago). Both Shakespeare and follow playwright Christopher Marlowe had associations with the area.
The area, which centred on St Leonard’s Church (while the current building dates from around 1740, there is believed to have been a church here – at the intersection of Shoreditch High Street and Hackney Road – since Saxon times), become known for its textiles in the 17th century and later for its furniture industries.
It was still known as one of London’s premier entertainment districts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with well known music halls and theatres but by then was also just as well known for its poverty.
Shoreditch suffered heavily during the Blitz and while the area continues to suffer from urban decay there is now some new life being breathed into it with the arrival of projects as the Boxpark Shoreditch which, made from shipping containers, is billed as “the world’s first pop-up mall”. There’s also an annual festival, the Shoreditch Festival, held in summer along Regent’s Canal.
PICTURE: View down Shoreditch High Street to the City – © David Adams.