It's a place known throughout the world; it spawned one of the UK's most popular soap operas. But where exactly is the East End?
You might more easily pin down a jellied eel than a precise definition.
Our first port of call is to reach for our trusty copy of the London Encyclopaedia. How would this most lauded of reference books define the East End? It doesn't. There is no entry. Rubbish.
Oxford Dictionaries website gets us a little bit further. The East End, it tells us, is 'The part of London east of the City as far as the River Lea, including the Docklands'. Yes, but how far north and south does that go? You can't define an area with just one dimension.
A common formula is to equate the East End with the borough of Tower Hamlets. That's the bit of London that looks like this:
Like Oxford Dictionaries says, this area is bounded by the City to the west and the River Lea to the east, but it also fixes the limits north and south. At first pass, this looks like a good match. Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, Bow... all sound proper East End. But Canary Wharf? Maybe once, in the age of the docks, but not in the 21st century. How many people would look at this view and think 'aha, the East End'?
Restricting the boundary to Tower Hamlets also excludes other eastern neighbourhoods that many would place in the East End, such as Hackney and Hoxton.
And what of those regions beyond the Lea? The watercourse has long served as a border, traditionally separating Middlesex and Essex. It kind of makes sense for the East End to cease at its banks. But over the river lies Newham, which looks like this:
This brings in territories such as Canning Town, Plaistow and West Ham, which have some of the character of the East End. Maybe we can speak of an inner and outer East End, corresponding to these two boroughs? It's a subject explored by Neil Fraser in his excellent book Over The Border: The Other East End. Still no Hackney, though.
An even wider definition would say that anything with an East postcode counts as the East End. Here's what that looks like, nabbed from Wikipedia under CC licence:
This definition includes both Tower Hamlets and Newham, as well as embracing much of Hackney. Everyone's happy! Trouble is, using the East postcode also pulls in vast swathes of Redbridge and Waltham Forest, more likely to be mistaken for Essex than the East End. Indeed, the E4 postcode includes the village of Sewardstone, which isn't even in Greater London. Still, at least it would lend more credence to this Guardian article, which reckons that Walthamstow has 'a proper gor-blimey guv'nor East End heart'.
In a final, mischievous twist, we could look to EastEnders for inspiration. The TV show portrays the fictional area of Walford, an archetypal enclave of East London. The filmset is actually in Borehamwood. One might therefore argue — if one were being totally ludicrous — that the heart of the East End is in Hertfordshire.
So, take your pick. There is no official boundary, just a heap of opinions. We should probably end with our own: the East End of London includes the boroughs of Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets, with the exception of the Canary Wharf estate, which should be regarded as an ejaculate from the City of London.