Shoreditch is a district in located in the East End of London, England. It is divided between the London boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets.

“When I Grow Rich Say the Bells of Shoreditch”

This quote is from a nursery rhyme called “Oranges and Lemons”. The bells of the various churches meant different things to different people fruit marketeers, debtors, prostitutes, sailors, money-lenders, bell-makers and others.

This verse was composed in the seventeenth century and has many variants. A lot of the meaning has been lost to time or changed with circumstances. The best way to think about is by inventing nonsense rhymes that chime with the bells.

Historically, as the name suggests, was a poor filthy area on the shore of the Thames. Until recent times, it was known for its poverty rather than its riches. Like most city areas, it has always been subject to the flux and flow of economic change. Becoming/staying rich there was a serious problem! 

In Shakespearean Times

At this time, the district lay outside of the City walls and beyond the censorship of the Puritan establishment there. Consequently, it briefly became a playhouse and theatre area. Richer patrons attended performances despite the area being noted for it’s alehouses, brothels, rapscallions and cut-purses.

The famous actor/ manager, James Burbage, live there between 1576 and 1592. He leased land and built ‘The Theatre’, which is believed to be the first playhouse in England. Close by was another popular playhouse named ‘The Curtain’. 

Shakespeare is known to have acted here and his early plays may have had their first performances there. Unfortunately, James Burbage’s lease of the land expired in 1599 and the timbers of ‘The Theatre’ were used to build the famous ‘Globe’ south of the Thames in Southwark. It is likely that there was an economic decline because of this move but the plagues might have had more of an effect. 

The 17th Century

In the three years from 1685, up to 80,000 persecuted French Huguenots emigrated to England and brought their silk-weaving skills and crafts with them. Up to 50% of them gravitated to the metropolis.

Cheap property rental in the East End – Spitalfields, Whitechapel and Shoreditch proved attractive to these refugees. Also, because they settled outside the City, they did not have to pay the levies imposed by the Trade Guilds.

The area boomed with traders, silk-weavers and furniture makers. The long-term economic impact of the Huguenots on the City and national economy is incalculable.

By the end of the eighteenth century, cheap imports from India and China saw the decline of the textile industry. Investment moved into new enterprises elsewhere and the area declined once again. 

The 19th and Early 20th Centuries

The economic ‘boom and bust’ cycles continued in the area during this period. Yet again, entertainment venues such as theatres and music halls became prominent. Unfortunately, the German blitz during the Second World War devastated the area and the post-war redevelopments were unsympathetic to the local community. 

Late 20th Century

By the late 1980’s / early 1990’s,the district was a typically neglected inner-city area. A cultural desert with empty warehouses. During the mid-nineties, the influence of the Young British Artists (such as Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst) led to an influx of artists. Although, the original movement was radical / anarchic, money soon followed to spoil their party.

Inevitably, ‘hipsters’ introduced a café culture, bars, clubs, art galleries (such as the Institute of International Arts, Cock ‘n’ Bull, and Kate McGarry) etc.. The impressive murals and street art became a tourist attraction. 
Over time, industrial buildings were converted, gastropubs opened together with artisan coffee shops, trendy food chains and vintage / design shops. Versace is now there, as are luxury hotels. 

With new businesses, the rents increased and artistic hipsters felt a sense of loss and the need to relocate to more destitute areas of. The pressure on property prices increased further by what happened next. 

Dot.com Revolutions and Silicon Roundabouts

Soon, the historical search for getting rich got another shock. This was to become known as the ‘second dot.com revolution’. Following the economic depression of 2008-9, some businesses vacated the area and others moved in to replace them. By 2010, there were eighty-five new tech start-ups in ‘East London Tech City’ (also known as the ‘Silicon Roundabout).’ at Old Street. This change attracted the attention of local and national government. Investment increased forcing an accelerated growth that saw the presence of more than 5,000 tech companies by 2015.

International companies also got involved – Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, Vodafone, Qualcomm and Cisco (amongst others). These helped the burgeoning area by offering a combination of advice, support and infrastructure aided by approximately £15 million in government funding.

In addition, in 2011, Twitter spent £25 million attaining a three-year-old company. Financially, this showed the true value of such tech hubs. By 2012, Google’s ‘London Campus’ was also opened.

Academic partnerships with the metropolitan Universities added further impetus to growth. The local links to Hackney Community College by providing Tech City Apprenticeships is also important. 

The investment figures are particularly impressive. Estimates of new venture capital since 2016 show £4 billion being invested in tech – this is more than some nations can claim alone (or together). Silicone Round-a-bout is now the undisputed tech capital of Europe. 

Shoreditch Issues

The local environment is changing again with modern/contemporary designer apartments being built or existing historical buildings being renovated. By necessity, these are targeted towards the new money provided by the tech companies.

Although, financially, the area has been viewed as a financial gimmick, it’s place in the global market is undeniable. Even Brexit doesn’t appear to bother them.

Similarly, there have been concerns about gentrification and loss of a working-class/artisan ethic. Like most Metropolitan Boroughs, this seems to be a normal process of economic evolution.

People have become rich within the sound of the bells of Shoreditch – but not necessarily in the way that they expected! 

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