Exploring London: Spitalfields

Last week the Diplomat scored a conference in London. So, of course, I tagged along. Aside from the chance to visit my son, who is at university in London, I love the city and never run out of things to do there!

I had three days to wander around on my own. For some reason, I’d never visited St. Paul’s Cathedral before, so that was my first stop. Photos were not allowed inside, but I did convince a nice young man to take a photo of me at the top of the spire. 258 steps, but totally worth it on a clear day!

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Don’t look down!

Afterwards, I took the tube on over to Liverpool Street station. When I was an exchange student at the University of Essex back in the 1980s, this was a dodgy station in a dodgier area. I traveled through it dozens of times on the way to Colchester. Sometimes, we stopped off at a pub called Dirty Dick’s just outside the station entrance. I don’t remember much about the surrounding area except that it was dark, scruffy, and well, dodgy.

The neighborhood, called Spitalfields, has a history in this regard. In the 19th century, it was one of the worst slums in London, and home to most of Jack the Ripper’s victims, who were killed in adjoining Whitechapel. Before that, it was home to a large community of Huguenot (French Protestant) weavers, which included a few of my many East London ancestors. I didn’t know all this back in the day, but I was curious to see how the area had changed, anyway. 

Today, Spitalfields is hipster central and somewhat resembles Old Town Alexandria in Virginia. This is partly because the houses were built at around the same time. It’s really a cute neighborhood: I’d love to live there.

Renovated row houses.
Renovated row houses.
The doors and shutters are all painted different colors.
The doors and shutters are all painted different colors.
The Anglican Christ Church, Spitalfields, was built to remind the Huguenots which religion was the boss.
The Anglican Christ Church, Spitalfields, was built to remind the Huguenots which religion was the boss.
An old textile shop and some new, posh, cars.
An old textile shop and some new, “posh,” cars.
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One of many re-purposed fabric shops.

Old Spitalfields Market is the centerpiece of the neighborhood. There has been a market on this site since 1638, starting with a fruit and vegetable market and morphing into what is today a combination gourmet food market, boutique mall, and tourist attraction housed in two 19th century buildings.

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Inside the market halls, dozens of vendors sell everything from souvenirs to furniture. It is mostly Asian and Middle Eastern stuff, but good quality and so colorful! The prices are pretty reasonable for London, so I actually bought a few things: t-shirts, scarves, and a silver ring from a jewelry maker. I had a great time. On our next visit, I will shoot for the Thursday antiques market and plan on having lunch there as well.

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Pashmina shawls.
Turkish ceramics.
Turkish ceramics.
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Nepali wool shawls. I was very tempted by some similar blankets, but I didn’t know how I would carry them around for the rest of the day. Next time!
West African fabrics.
West African fabrics.
I loved these pretty gloves!
I loved these pretty gloves!
A hatmaker sold these top hats as well as some really nice ladies' hats. None of which looked good on me ):
A hatmaker sold these top hats as well as some really nice ladies’ hats. None of which looked good on me ):
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Even the touristy stuff was pretty cool. I bought two silk-screened tees with similar designs to these pillows. 
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