Mural of girl's face with birds for hair
London,  Photographing Public Art,  Street art,  Travel galleries

Gallery: a street art walk in Shoreditch

If you want to find street art in London (and I mean LOTS of street art) you could do far worse than to head to Shoreditch. This trendy (albeit some say ex-trendy) district is a mecca for enthusiasts, both those who create and those, like me, who go to admire.

The area’s early history involves a different art form, theatre. When the building of playhouses in the City of London area was banned in 1574, James Burbage built the first playhouse in England here, known simply as The Theatre. William Shakespeare lived nearby; his early plays were performed in Shoreditch, firstly at The Theatre and later at the Curtain Theatre. Later Shakespeare used the timbers of The Theatre to build his new theatre in Southwark, The Globe.

In the 17th and 18th centuries Shoreditch became home to many of the French Huguenot silk-weavers who emigrated to London and set up business here. And in the 19th century it was a popular area for a night out, with several music halls and (again) theatres; none of these survives to this day.

By the 20th century a further wave of immigration led to the area around Brick Lane, to the south and east of Shoreditch, becoming a focus for South Asian communities. And for any Londoner wanting a good curry! But the area was in decline until the latter part of the century, when a number of dot.com enterprises moved in. A degree of regeneration inevitably followed; the area became synonymous with so-called ‘hipsterfication’, to the dismay of some long-term residents and the delight of those who saw cheaply bought homes rocket in value!

Today the different communities seem to me, as an outsider, to have shaken down together pretty well; with Brick Lane something of a microcosm of the blend. Here you find the established curry restaurants rubbing shoulders with trendy coffee houses and vintage clothes shops, while the street art trend is firmly established. The streets leading off it are a prime hunting ground too, as is the network of streets further north.

A street art walk

It was on Brick Lane, a few years ago, that I set out on a street art photography wander with my friend from Virtual Tourist days, Malcolm. Here, for this week’s Photographing Public Art Challenge, are some of my favourite shots from that day. Most were taken on the streets immediately to the east of Shoreditch High Street station.

The most fashionable set may have moved on from Shoreditch to nearby Dalston and Hoxton. But the vibe here is still quite edgy and cool and still draws the artists. As street art is ephemeral you won’t necessarily see the same pieces if you visit. But rest assured, you will see plenty!

As always, please click on any image in the gallery to open a full screen slide show.

As a Londoner I visit Shoreditch fairly regularly; these photos were all taken in the summer of 2019

38 Comments

  • Alison

    I love these Sarah, I missed these last week! I was born in Shoreditch. Maybe when I get back next year we can meet up.
    My notifications and reader seem to bring up the same bloggers over and over again and I have to search for my favourites 😀

  • Marsha

    Sarah, I had to go back and recheck the little boy’s pictures. I actually thought they were putting their artwork up over other artwork. LOL Going back, I saw the lines on the bricks like one is looking at them through a screen door. Unlike Manja, I wasn’t as crazy about the cat on the head, but I loved the beautiful black woman in the first photo. A fabulous collection. Thanks so much for sharing the collection and the history. It was fun to take a timeline walk through the different eras. When did London realize they were missing out by not having theatres? When we visited years ago, we went to see shows every night and sometimes caught as many as 2-3 plays in a day.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Marsha 😊 I’m glad you took a second look at the paintings with the little boys as I think they’re among the best – so clever! I’m with you on the top one as a favourite (that’s why I featured it lol). According to Wikipedia, banning theatres was ‘a measure against the plague, not wanting to attract crowds of strangers’, so akin to our lockdowns against Covid. But generally London has always been home to many theatres, it’s just that during that period they had to be built outside the then city limits 🙂

      • Marsha

        That makes a lot of sense. The plague was so deadly. And now the city goes on forever, even though there are neighborhoods and districts and small towns that all mush together along the Underground line.

  • rkrontheroad

    I haven’t heard of this area before. Some of the artwork is absolutely fabulous! Especially the opening one with the birds and the first portrait photo after that.

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Hi Sarah, yes I love this area too. Back in the 80s I regularly visited a client whose factory was deep in the old Jewish settlement in Dalston…de Beauvoir Road if I remember correctly. Some of the old rag trade sweat shops were still operating then. In those pre-internet days, every visit was a real eye opener to a green provincial lad like me! Like you I then watched the area (Shoreditch first) get gentrified and become trendy…then my daughter moved there and we became frequent visitors once again. Like all “London villages” it has a character all of its own – and an evolving character at that.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Glad to have brought back some good memories, it seems. Yes, all the villages evolve, and seem to take their turn at being trendy, cool, run-down, ‘up and coming’ and so on!

  • Easymalc

    I’m glad that one of us has got around to posting something about our walk Sarah, and I’m glad it was you because you know far more about the area than me. You’ve managed to capture the street art and character of the area perfectly – just as I would have expected. Thanks for the memory – and thanks for the mention

  • maristravels

    Shoreditch has always been one of my favourite places in London, probably because I have always been a theatre fan since my earliest days in London and even now. My husband and I used to go to London at least twice a month to catch up on theatre visits but now I’m more likely to do a matinee than stay overnight as so many of my friends have moved out of London – or died! I love Shoreditch’s connection with Shakespeare but I remember it when it was less a trendy place and more a place with a dangerous vibe, back in the sixties.

  • Manja Maksimovič

    This is a mighty fine gallery, Sarah. The featured photo is just divine. Both deceptive ones are really that, and I love all where a person is passing. My very favourite is probably the cat on the head. 🙂

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