East London used to be strictly defined as within hearing distance of the bells of Bow Church. But as London expanded mightily since then, so we will expand the geographical area to cover most of the regions east of London and north of the river.
East London doesn’t have a good reputation to most people. From Jack the Ripper in the past to some of the most deprived boroughs in the country nowadays, it doesn’t have much to show off, except perhaps for Canary Wharf, an area which was derelict in the past and had a major uplift in Thatcher’s era. Even its most famous celebrity, Pete Doherty of Hackney, sees his name in the papers alongside drug use rather than music. But it’s not all doom and gloom with East London; here are a few more positive things you probably didn’t know.
Traditional pie and mash
This, after the cockney accent, is what defines East London. But it’s dying out, suffering from competition from McDos, kebab shops and all the other fast food outlets. So make the most of it while there are still a few shops still open. You can even get eels! You’ll find a very popular pie & mash shop on Barking Road, just off the A13.
Stratford as transport hub
The Olympics may well bring London to its knees but it has the advantage of developing the whole area. Stratford, the most important town in East London, is now getting even more important for travellers as it is being turned into a major transport hub in time for the Olympics and beyond. Stratford International train station has opened and serves High Speed 1 train services connecting St Pancras to Ebbsfleet International in Kent where you can take the Eurostar to continental Europe. Stratford tube station is also a major station to change tube lines as well as the DLR and there is also a major bus station next door. Finally, you can take a 40-minute coach ride to Stansted Airport. There are also other national coach services, ideal as a starting point for a coach holiday across Britain and Europe.
Westfield Stratford City
That’s the name of one of UK’s largest indoor shopping centres that opened not too long ago at Stratford, in close proximity to Stratford International and the Olympic Stadium, in time for the Olympic Games of course. Apparently, the world’s largest McDonald’s store is found there. Unless a bigger one opened since then elsewhere. In China perhaps?
The latest positive influence of the development of the Olympic Park in the area is a government initiative to encourage high-tech companies to open their offices in Old Street, akin to Silicon Valley. Google has already committed itself, and its great rival Facebook is expected to open offices there too. That’s great news for job-seekers living in the area. More details on London.gov.uk.
Follow Arnie’s footsteps
If you are a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, you might like to know that he trained at Wag Bennett’s gym in Forest Gate for a few years just before he won his first international competition and moved to America. He also used this time to learn English while living with Wag and his wife, sleeping on the sofa. A biography even claims that he had an affair with the wife. He must have been around 18 at that time. What a way to repay the man who trained him! The gym is still there on Romford road and still opened. It is housed in a converted church and the equipment is old, probably the same ones that Arnie himself sweated on. The hardcore fan will be pleased to find pictures of him adorning the walls of the gym, maybe something to inspire gym-goers to train harder in a bid to become like him.
West Ham United Football Club
Fan of football? Fan of West Ham United? Their home stadium is at Upton Park and when they play at home, it’s easy to tell, whether it’s the familiar football t-shirt worn by most locals or the people converging to the stadium on foot from all over the place. Plans were floated to move the stadium further outside London because of the lack of space but hardcore fans wouldn’t hear of that. So for now, West Ham’s home stadium is staying put.
Bonus: the Greenway
Here is a helpful tip to get around quickly if you find yourself in East London, whether it’s for the Olympics, shopping, watching West Ham playing or even touring Wag’s gym. The greenway is a pedestrian walkway that spans several km with a wide but unkempt patch of grass growing alongside it. It runs from Stratford to Beckton and isa useful occasional shortcut for the locals and a nice place to relax and sit on a bench on a warm Sunday afternoon if there are no parks around your place.