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Tower Hamlets

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Deep in the heart of London’s famous East End, this vibrant, eclectic borough combines traditional markets and a diverse population with shiny skyscrapers and a thriving business hub. So what's it really like to live in Tower Hamlets?

“The whole borough is a melting pot of variety, from the crowds of bargain hunters on Brick Lane to the colourful spread of flowers on Columbia Road, a rich combination of aromas and sights”

Moving to Tower Hamlets

This London borough is a melting pot of variety, from the crowds of bargain hunters on Brick Lane to the colourful spread of flowers on Columbia Road, a rich combination of aromas and sights –  as well as the sound of the 90+ different languages spoken. Tower Hamlets is hugely diverse, with almost half the population from an ethnic minority background and a large, historic Bangladeshi population. Vibrant, loud, busy and colourful, you will be hard-pressed to find a borough as unique as Tower Hamlets.

On the other side of the coin, the area is also home to the shiny, prestigious business hub of Canary Wharf, second only to the City of London in business and financial importance, and the sophisticated riverside offices of St Katherine’s Docks. But as is often the case in London, this is a borough of extreme contrast, with financial prowess and sleek developments existing alongside poverty and deprivation. Almost 50% of children in the borough live in poverty, the highest proportion in all of London, and the area continues to suffer from high unemployment rates, a very high ratio of pay inequality, overcrowding and the lowest male life expectancy in the capital.

Social development and safety continue to be strong concerns for the council, with steps being made to improve the most deprived areas and spread growth more evenly, including a high number of property developments increasing the number of homes in Tower Hamlets by 34% since 2003.  However, much of this amounts to gentrification, and as a result swathes of long-term residents are being rapidly priced out of the borough, in a similar situation to that seen in Hackney.

House Prices in Tower Hamlets

The average property price in Tower Hamlets is around £530,000 as of 2017, similar to the London average. While the occasional terraced property can be found, 80% of housing in the borough takes the form of flats, ranging from converted houses and council properties to contemporary skyscrapers. St Katherine’s Docks and Canary Wharf are among the most expensive areas to live in Tower Hamlets, while more affordable properties can usually be found further east in Mile End, Bow and Globe Town.

“…take a stroll along Brick Lane for a seemingly endless selection of top-quality Indian restaurants sitting along side quirky coffee shops and pop-up shops”

Transport

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is very well connected to the rest of the city, with a variety of Underground lines, the Overground, and the DLR all on offer. The Central, Hammersmith & City and District lines largely serve the northern part of the borough, while the DLR and Circle line do well to serve the south, and the Overground connects both regions. For a more alternative mode of transport, riverboat services are accessible directly from St Katherine’s Docks, transporting commuters to Canary Wharf in a mere 10 minutes.

Lifestyle

Whilst jellied eels are no longer a staple on every corner of the East End, there’s no shortage of brilliant eateries in this borough.  From the traditional curry houses of Whitechapel (Tayabbs is a must-try) to the cool, independent restaurants and bars such as Mother Kelly’s and Sager + Wilde springing up under Bethnal Green’s railway arches on Paradise Row, all cuisines and every budget is catered for here. For high-end establishments, Canary Wharf has it’s fair share including Boisdale and Le Relais de Venise, and the Michelin-starred La Chapelle in Spitalfields is unmissable for fans of haute French cuisine. Alternatively, take a stroll along Brick Lane for a seemingly endless selection of top-quality Indian restaurants sitting along side quirky coffee shops and pop-up shops.

Shopping in the borough is slightly more limited, with many choosing to cross the border into Shoreditch for a better selection of brand and boutiques, but Tower Hamlets does offer the historic Spitalfields Market, where you’ll find antique stalls, young designers and cool vintage pieces nestled amongst busy bars and restaurants. Another highlight is the famous Columbia Road Flower Market, where enormous bunches of London’s prettiest blooms can be purchased.

Groceries

Branches of most major supermarkets can be found in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose, while as a result of the culturally diverse population numerous international grocers can also be found here, including Taj Stores on Brick Lane, Bangladeshi Superstore on Bethnal Green Road and Longdan Express on Hackney Road. Meanwhile, if you can face a very early start, Billingsgate Market is home to the freshest fish and seafood in the capital.

Health & Sport

Tower Hamlets has a very good selection of sporting facilities, with multiple branches of popular national gym chains including Soho Gyms, PureGym and Fitness First. Council-run leisure centres can also be found, including Mulberry Sports & Leisure Centre and Mile End Park Stadium.

Culture

One area in which Tower Hamlets truly excels is cultural life and activities for residents. Residents with an interest in London history are spoilt for choice here, with an array of museums including the Museum of London Docklands, the V&A Museum of Childhood, the Geffrye Museum and the Ragged School Museum, as well as the Tower of London. Art venues, theatres and music venues are also in good supply, with highlights including the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, Hackney Empire Theatre, and Wilton’s Music Hall, while film fans can enjoy blockbusters at Cineworld West India Quay, or art-house films at the independent Genesis Cinema.

Meanwhile, for those with a taste for the macabre, the borough is also home to numerous Jack the Ripper tours, where you can trace the steps of London’s most famous murderer through Whitechapel and Bethnal Green.

“Residents with an interest in London history are spoilt for choice here, with an array of museums including the Museum of London Docklands, the V&A Museum of Childhood, the Geffrye Museum and the Ragged School Museum, as well as the Tower of London”

Schools and Education

Once among the UK’s most poorly-rated schools, Tower Hamlets has seen an education transformation over the last few decades and is now home to a good number of excellent schools. The best primary schools in Tower Hamlets include Blue Gate Fields Junior School, Bonner Primary School and St  Paul’s Whitechapel CofE Primary School, all of which have over 96% of pupils achieving expected levels in English and Maths. For older students, St John Cass Foundation Secondary School, Bethnal Green Technology College and Mulberry School for Girls have some of the best GCSE results in the borough.

Safety

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has one of the highest crime rates in the capital, with an average of 123 crimes per 1000 people as of 2012, nearly double the national average. Levels of Anti-Social Behaviour are particularly high here, as are the crime rates for Theft.

Green Space

One of the most urban inner London boroughs, Tower Hamlets has around 50% less green space than the London average. However, there are small parks to be found throughout the borough, such as Weavers Fields, Stepney Green Park and Bethnal Green Garden, while in the north of the borough you’ll find the historic Victoria Park, an 86 hectare expanse featuring a lake, sporting facilities, and woodlands. It’s also been the site of many open-air music festivals over the years, most recently Field Day and Lovebox festivals. 

History

Directly west of the City of London, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets is the heartland of the capital’s famous East End; where raucous music halls stood alongside Victorian slums, German bombs razed whole neighbourhoods and French Huguenots found safety from persecution in the 1600s. The borough has constantly evolved throughout history, and this range and diversity can still be seen today – for every historic terrace in Whitechapel, the borough also boasts a skyscraper at Canary Wharf or slick city apartment at St Katherine’s Dock.

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