Shoreditch, or Shoreditch St. Leonard, was one of the ancient parishes of Middlesex, England. In 1889 it was transferred to the newly-created County of London and in 1900 became Shoreditch Metropolitan Borough. The Borough was abolished in 1965, becoming part of the London Borough of Hackney.
The Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch was a metropolitan borough of the County of London between 1899 and 1965, when it was merged with the Metropolitan Borough of Stoke Newington and the Metropolitan Borough of Hackney to form the London Borough of Hackney.
Shoreditch is an Inner London area in the historic East End of London and modern Central London, lying immediately to the north of the City of London. The borough was made up of three main neighbourhoods: Shoreditch, Hoxton and Haggerston.
It also could be said to comprise the area of the ancient parish of Shoreditch (St Leonard's) plus part of the ancient liberty of Norton Folgate to the south. The parish vestry had charge of local administration from the 17th century onwards.
The etymology of "Shoreditch" is debated. One legend holds that the place was originally named "Shore's Ditch", after Jane Shore, the mistress of Edward IV, who is supposed to have died or been buried in a ditch in the area. This legend is commemorated today by a large painting, at Haggerston Branch Library, of Jane Shore being retrieved from the ditch, and by a design on glazed tiles in a shop in Shoreditch High Street showing her meeting Edward IV.
However, the area was known as "Soersditch" long before Jane Shore's life. A more plausible origin for the name is "Sewer Ditch", in reference to a drain or watercourse in what was once a boggy area. It may have referred to the headwaters of the river Walbrook, which rose in the Curtain Road area.
The medieval parish of Shoreditch (St Leonard's) was once part of the county of Middlesex but became part of the new County of London in 1889. The parish remained the local administrative unit until the creation of the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch in 1899. The Borough was made up of three districts – Shoreditch, Hoxton and Haggerston – and administered from Shoreditch Town Hall, which can still be seen on Old Street. It has been restored and is now run by the Shoreditch Town Hall Trust. Shoreditch was incorporated into the much larger London Borough of Hackney in 1965.
Though now part of Inner London, Shoreditch was previously an extramural suburb of the City of London, centred on Shoreditch Church at the crossroads where Shoreditch High Street and Kingsland Road are crossed by Old Street and Hackney Road.
Shoreditch High Street and Kingsland road are a small sector of the Roman Ermine Street and modern A10. Known also as the Old North Road, it was a major coaching route to the north, exiting the City at Bishopsgate. The east–west course of Old Street–Hackney Road was also probably originally a Roman Road, connecting Silchester with Colchester, bypassing the City of London to the south.
Shoreditch church (dedicated to St Leonard) is of ancient origin and features in the famous line "when I grow rich say the bells of Shoreditch", from the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons.
Shoreditch was the site of a house of canonesses, the Augustinian Holywell Priory (named after a Holy Well on the site), from the 12th century until its dissolution in 1539. This priory was located between Shoreditch High Street and Curtain Road to east and west and Batemans Row and Holywell Lane to north and south. Nothing remains of it today.
In 1576 James Burbage built the first playhouse in England, known as "The Theatre", on the site of the Priory (commemorated today by a plaque on Curtain Road, and excavated in 2008, by MoLAS). Some of Shakespeare's plays were performed here and at the nearby Curtain Theatre, built the following year and to the south (marked by a commemorative plaque in Hewett Street off Curtain Road). It was here that Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet gained "Curtain plaudits" and where Henry V was performed within "this wooden O". In 1599 Shakespeare's Company literally upped sticks and moved the timbers of "The Theatre" to Southwark at expiration of the lease to construct The Globe. The Curtain continued performing plays in Shoreditch until at least 1627.
During the 17th century, wealthy traders and Huguenot silk weavers moved to the area, establishing a textile industry centred to the south around Spitalfields. By the 19th century Shoreditch was also the locus of the furniture industry, now commemorated in the Geffrye Museum on Kingsland Road. However the area declined along with both textile and furniture industries and by the end of the 19th century Shoreditch was a byword for crime, prostitution and poverty. This situation was not improved by extensive devastation of the housing stock in the Blitz during World War II and insensitive redevelopment in the post-war period.
None of these places of entertainment survive today. For a brief time music hall was revived in Curtain Road by the temporary home of the Brick Lane Music Hall. This too has now moved on.
These brief notes may help in establishing references to churches in registration documents. St Leonard's parish, Shoreditch, was within the Diocese of London. As the population increased the parish was divided:
Later decreases in population led to a number of these parishes being combined in the 20th century. For instance, in 1915 Saint Agatha's parish was absorbed by St James, and in 1972 a merged parish of "Shoreditch, St Leonard with St Michael" was formed.
The names of some of the ecclesiastical parishes were used to give names to wards of the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch.