Shoreditch is pretty much synonymous with hipster cool nowadays, but it wasn’t always that way. Now a buzzing hub for technology, style and nightlife, you’ll find plenty of exciting clubs and conference venues in Shoreditch but it’s evolved a lot over the years.
Read on to find out how the area transformed from a bustling space for London’s working-class immigrant communities to the slick and stylish neighbourhood that the M by Montcalm in Shoreditch London now calls home.
A brief overview of Shoreditch’s long and tangled history
When it comes to getting a bit of insight into Shoreditch’s less glamorous roots, one clue is in the name. Historians think that the area was so-called because of a stretch of marshland that originally ran across it, giving it the monicker, “Sewer’s Ditch”, or Soersditch.
But the area has a long history that goes far beyond its boggy origins, predominantly as London’s original hub for theatre and nightlife. As Elizabethan Londoners began to demand more entertainment, the area saw the first two major permanent theatres in the city: the Theatre and the Curtain Theatre, with the latter being the venue for some of Shakespeare’s early premieres. And while nightlife in the area has evolved a lot since then, with fantastic restaurant bars in Shoreditch, you can still get a little taste of the area’s history with a plaque dedicated to Shakespeare’s old haunts on Curtain Road.
Slumming it through the Victorian Shoreditch
Shoreditch hasn’t always been one of the most popular areas of the city, and back in the Victorian era, the area saw impoverished inhabitants packed into damp and crowded houses, with rambling mazes of dirty streets.
As well as plenty of dirt in the area, Victorian-era Shoreditch was also teeming with crime – with infamous body snatchers robbing graves, or murdering unfortunate victims to meet the growing underground demand for human bodies, as scientific interest in anatomy started to increase. The most well-known team of body snatchers in London hailed from Shoreditch’s streets – called Burke and Hare, they were usually nicknamed “the London Burkers.”
How the YBA’s turned Shoreditch into a hub for hipsters
While the body snatchers eventually left, Shoreditch still remained a far less polished part of London through much of the twentieth century, attracting immigrant communities and underground subcultures, and retaining a grittier feel. You’d have been hard-pressed to find a luxurious swimming pool in Shoreditch, let alone the throngs of sophisticated eateries and boutiques that you’ll now find across the area.
But the fortunes of Shoreditch began to shift through the 1980s and onwards, as young artists and photographers sought out affordable places to live and work in London, and moved into the neighbourhood, exhibiting in cheaper, non-art establishment venues including run-down warehouses and office blocks.
The collective of artists moving into the area included now-iconic names including Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, as well as emerging fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen and the Chapman brothers. And the creative energy they brought into the space soon made Shoreditch and the surrounding area the new hub for cool in the city. While the new wave of contemporary artists have found their home elsewhere in the city, you can still enjoy a taste of that spirit, in the form of numerous forms of street art found around every hotel near Brick Lane London.
The growth of the Silicon Roundabout
Hot on the heels of the YBAs, Shoreditch soon saw a new kind of creative spirit moving in, as technology startups and entrepreneurs were drawn to the new vibrant and exciting life around the neighbourhood. Government investment was poured into new initiatives supporting tech development in East London, and Shoreditch soon became Europe’s answer to Silicon Valley – dubbed the Silicon Roundabout, after the distinctive Old Street fixture.
With thousands of new businesses setting up in the neighbourhood, even attracting multi-national giants including Google and Microsoft, it was inevitable that Shoreditch would go through a new change of character. And with bigger businesses capitalising on the area’s new-found prominence as an important tech centre, the crafty, artisanal quality of the neighbourhood soon became taken over by a more polished and pricey version. Though Shoreditch continues to evolve, it’s still an important entrepreneurial centre, and you’ll find many an Old Street hotel packed with as many corporate visitors, as you would find tourists.
The backlash against gentrification
With more expensive tech businesses setting up shop in the area, the cost of life in Shoreditch rocketed over recent years, forcing out many of the youthful, creative energies that gave the area its allure in the first place.
Now, in place of the scruffier artists who could be found setting up make-shift exhibitions and studios in this part of the city, you’re often far more likely to find a troop of polished urban professionals. And the dramatic shift in character has seen the area accused of gentrification, with countless satirical send-ups of the overly style-obsessed cliques that began to dominate the area.
But Shoreditch has always been a key site of innovation, and never one to let trends beat it down. Although it’s seen countless style evolutions over the decades, it’s always continued to find a fresh and new approach, and there’s no sign of that ever stopping or changing any time soon.
Now, you’ll find Shoreditch to be a vast melting pot of all the diverse influences that have shaped this part of the city over the years. Innovative digital agencies, co-working spaces and conference venues will rub shoulders with workshops, cat cafés, and bohemian art spaces.
Exciting events companies take advantage of the many unique nightlife spots in the area to launch one of a kind events, while a more open business model allows younger startups to gain inspiration and connect with more established businesses in the area. And fantastic street art can be found around every corner, proving that Shoreditch has once again brought in a new wave of creative talent.
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