Old Castle Street runs north-south from Wentworth Street
High Street, the southern section of which incorporates the former Castle Alley, murder site of Ripper victim Alice McKenzie.
Spitalfields is near to Liverpool Street station and Brick Lane.
Castle Alley appears (though unnamed) in maps as early as 1676, joining Castle Street via a narrow passage to Whitechapel
High Street. By the mid-18th century, Castle Street had been given the ’Old’ prefix and the future Castle Alley was known as ’Moses and Aaron Alley’ a name it appears to have kept until c.1800. In 1830, it appears as ’Castle Court’. The name Castle Alley was certainly in use by the mid-19th century.
Wash House (built 1846-51 in Goulston Street
) backed onto Castle Alley, which at this time was extremely narrow and entered via a covered archway from Whitechapel
High Street. Castle Alley was lined on its west side by warehouses and the Wash House and on its east side by smaller properties. The confluence of the alley and Old Castle Street took the form of a sharp bend which was to be the site of the Old Castle Street Board School, built 1873. The narrowest part of the alley was also earmarked for widening in 1876 as part of the Cross Act (a slum clearance scheme).
The body of Jack the Ripper victim Alice McKenzie was found on the west side of Castle Alley by PC Walter Andrews at 12.50am om 17 July 1889, lying near some market traders’ carts, just to the south of the Wash House.
Soon after the murder (1890), properties on the east side at the junction with with Whitechapel
High Street were demolished, although there were still concerns as to the narrowness of the entrance in the 1900s. It was properly widened c.1908.
By 1916 it had been renamed as part of Old Castle Street. By the 1930s, the Board School had been replaced by LCC flats (Herbert House) and a walkway had been constructed across the street as part of the Brooke Bond tea warehouses on the west side.
War damage on the eastern side led to the redevelopment of adjacent Newcastle Street and other small thoroughfares, resulting in the construction of the New Holland estate (Bradbury House, Ladbroke House and Denning Point) between 1965 and 1971
The area straddles Commercial Street
and is home to several markets, including the historic Old Spitalfields Market
, and various Brick Lane
Markets on Brick Lane
and Cheshire Street
. Petticoat Lane Market lies on the area's south-western boundaries.
The name Spitalfields appears in the form Spittellond
in 1399; as The spitel Fyeld on the 16th-century Civitas Londinium map associated with Ralph Agas. The land belonged to St Mary Spital, a priory or hospital erected on the east side of the Bishopsgate
thoroughfare in 1197, and the name is thought to derive from this. An alternative, and possibly earlier, name for the area was Lolsworth
After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Spitalfields was inhabited by prosperous French Huguenot silk weavers. In the early 19th century their descendants were reduced to a deplorable condition due to the competition of the Manchester textile factories and the area began to deteriorate into crime-infested slums. The spacious and handsome Huguenot houses were divided up into tiny dwellings which were rented by poor families of labourers, who sought employment in the nearby docks.
The area has recently attracted a IT-literate younger population.