In the centre of the district is Whitechapel High Street, which turns to Whitechapel Road as it runs East. There was a chapel of ease in the area, constructed around 1328, that was dedicated to St. Mary and gave the district its name. It is surrounded by Aldgate, Bethnal Green, Limehouse, Shadwell, Stepney, Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Wapping. Collectively, along with a number of other boroughs, this region is known as the East End.
Throughout the 1500s the region had less control exercised over it from London
proper, and many breweries, foundries, tanneries and slaughterhouses began to spring up. During the influx of immigration into London between the 17th and 19th centuries many of the less fortunate gravitated to Whitechapel. By the mid-19th century the region had become extremely poverty stricken and was riddled with crime. The district was also very overcrowded; during the Victorian era the poor population was swelled even further by the immigration of mostly Irish
and Jewish immigrants who were forced to settle in the Whitechapel area. Ethnic tensions in the district swelled along with the impoverished population. Prostitution among women in the region was extensive, with an estimated 1,200 Whitechapel women engaged in it. Between 1888 and 1891 the Whitechapel Murders took place, with a total of eleven prostitutes were killed, five of them by infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper
. These murders terrorized London and drew attention to the extreme poverty there. The district became a hotbed of social activism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with many communist
revolutionaries leading rallies there, including Vladimir Lenin
. The region remained poor throughout the early 20th century, though less so than it had been. It was heavily damaged during the Blitz in World War II, and the shelling destroyed the chapel from which the district got its name. The region has continued to improve, and is much better than it was in the past, but remains a predominantly working class district.
Due to the region's association with Jack the Ripper, Whitechapel features prominently in Ripper fiction, such as Alan Moore's From Hell. It is the setting of Warren Ellis' science fiction webcomic FreakAngels. It is also the setting of the aptly-named television series Whitechapel, which featured the Ripper case in the first series, and other prominent Whitechapel-based cases in subsequent series.
Whitechapel appeared in Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers, and was the location of one of Fagins' dens in Oliver Twist. It was also used as the setting for the film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire.