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Last update 03/08/09

Athletes Village

A history of stratford

Stratford is a thriving, diverse area of east London located to the north of the river Thames, around three miles from the City.

It’s always been a welcoming place. In Roman times, travellers used to cross the river Lea here on their way to Colchester; in fact Stratford means ‘the ford where the Roman road crosses the river’.

It’s always been a gateway into London too. But it hasn’t always been part of London. Until 1965 Stratford was part of Essex, something that’s helped make it the place it is today.

Previously made up of farm and pasture lands, change began to take hold in the 14th century, when slaughter houses started relocating to Stratford from the city to escape stricter rules and higher land prices.

This pattern continued for many years, and by the 17th century Stratford was a bustling centre for bread baking, silk weaving, calico printing, distilling, porcelain and gunpowder making.

Over the next two hundred years, restrictions continued to tighten in the city, and Stratford increasingly attracted industries like rendering carcasses for soap and glue, and chemical plants for acid, pharmaceuticals and printing ink.

The 19th century also brought the arrival of the railways. In 1839, Eastern Counties Railway built the first route through Stratford. Soon after, Great Eastern Railways opened a huge locomotive and carriage works in an area known as the Rail Lands, a 78-acre site employing around 6,000 people.

Like many other parts of London, conditions declined sharply in Stratford as its population rapidly increased. By the late 1800s deprivation and disease were widespread here – one reason why Stratford became the birthplace of the trades union and socialist movements in the UK. Keir Hardie became the first Labour MP when he was elected for East and West Ham in 1892.

The 1920 and 30s saw another wave of settlers arrive, mainly from Asia and the Caribbean. But this was soon followed by mass evacuations in 1939 with the onset of World War Two. Like other parts of the east end, Stratford was hit hard, with more than 2,000 civilians killed over six years.

After the war, the reconstruction, and another big change. In 1965 East and West Ham combined to form the London Borough of Newham, and Stratford’s links with Essex were finally broken.

More reconstruction followed in the 1960s, when many familiar sights were swept away, including Angel Lane, and new landmarks emerged, like the London Freight Terminal, which closed in the 1990s after regeneration plans were unveiled for the Rail Lands and the surrounding area.

Which brings us to today. Stratford still provides a welcoming home for people from many different cultures, faiths, countries and backgrounds. Its reputation for friendliness, openness and humour continues – so does the change.

A lot has already happened, including the new station, bus station, library, cinema and theatre. But it’s just the start. With ambitious plans to revitalise the whole area, and the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics just four years away, one of the most exciting chapters in Stratford’s history is just beginning.

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