an introduction to shoreditch, london


I’ve been to London ad nauseum over the years, sticking to more “genteel” areas mostly represented by the wonderful drawing above and quite frankly, I was getting a bit bored.  But it wasn’t until my recent trip with MODENUS BlogTour that I got the chance to venture into Shoreditch, a district in the city’s East End and directly north of the City of London.  Now I want to go back!!!!



The guidebooks all speculate as to how the area got its name.  Some say this is the 15th century site where Jane Shore, mistress of Edward IV, was buried (ditched). Others say the name is in reference to “sewer ditch” or drain in the area.  Regardless, it was not the fancy part of town, even by 15th century standards!


Shakespeare’s company performed in the first playhouse built in Shoreditch before he moved to The Globe Theater on the south bank. The area began changing for the good when the French Hugenots established the textile industry there in the 17th century.  Then in the 18th century, it was a thriving center of ceramic production.  In the early 19th century, Shoreditch was a center for furniture making.  But by the late 19th century it went downhill again reeking with poverty, crime and prostitution – though that didn’t stop it from rivaling the West-End theaters and Music Halls as a center of debauchery and entertainment!



Shoreditch in general reminds me of Manhattan’s Lower East side – though it’s not the same.  It has a je ne sais qois – a tension between grit and polish that creates a wonderful energy.  It’s where the cool people wear socks on their heads (OK, I must admit I didn’t see the equivalent of a NYC sock-head in London, but I just know they’re there!).  Techies and artists have moved in and industrial buildings have been transformed into NY-style lofts.  The area has an Indian-Pakistani population and you can find what Londoners call the best curry houses in town. Friends Lisa Kahn, Laura Bielecki and I ventured to Poppies for lunch, one of the best fish-and-chips restaurants in London according to Time-Out.  The haddock was divine.



The Saturday market at Spitalfields (in the same area) is choc-full of vintage clothing and other interesting things and it’s surrounded by bric-and-mortar shops open all the time, selling cool clothes, hand-made shoes and other accessories.



Then on Sunday morning, the flower market on Columbia Road, is another treat. Mostly attended by London locals, the street teems with freshly cut flowers and plants and nearby, tiny shops and restaurants display their delicious treats.  While I gorged on the most delectable fresh Colchester oysters for breakfast, I won’t say who bought a bonafide vintage YSL bag for the price you pay for a knockoff on the streets of NYC … and all before 10:30 am. I don’t know which was more decadent!



And this was the delightful backdrop to my visit with MODENUS to Tent London, one of the venues of the London Design Festival for which I will devote 2 upcoming posts. One with great design finds at Tent London I could readily plop into a project and another with more fun and creative finds by up-and-coming young designers.

richard rabel
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city

image credits: drawing (Tina Bernstein); all photos Richard Rabel for the modern sybarite.