Christmas in London

Christmas in London has always been a special time, especially in the East End.
The area is well known for that tightknit community feel and no season shows this more than Christmas.
Famous for it’s Dickensian cobbled streets the area takes on a character of its own at this time of year.
Here we take a look at what Christmas was like in Victorian times here in the East End.

In the 19th century, London embraced the Christmas season with a blend of nostalgia, elaborate decorations, and heartwarming traditions that have left an indelible mark on the way we celebrate Christmas today.

Carol Singing

In Victorian London, the air on Christmas Eve was filled with the harmonious voices of carol singers. Groups would traverse cobblestone streets, spreading holiday cheer with timeless carols like “Silent Night” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” The tradition of caroling was not only a form of entertainment but also a way to foster a sense of community and unity during the festive season.

Christmas decorations by gaslight

Though Christmas trees had been introduced to England by Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert, it was during the Victorian era that they became a popular feature in London households. Streets were adorned with festive greenery, and shop windows were meticulously decorated to create a magical atmosphere. The soft glow of gas lamps added an ethereal quality to the city, casting a warm light on the snowy streets and contributing to the enchanting ambiance.

Christmas food and drink

Christmas feasting in Victorian London was a lavish affair. Families would gather around tables laden with roast meats, mince pies, and plum puddings. The aroma of spices, roasted chestnuts, and mulled wine wafted through the air, creating a sensory delight. Wassailing, a traditional practice of toasting to the health and prosperity of the household, was a common occurrence, bringing together friends and family in shared celebration.

Christmas Gifting

The Victorian era witnessed the popularization of gift-giving as a central Christmas tradition. Exchanging handmade gifts and small tokens of affection became customary. However, the spirit of Christmas extended beyond personal exchanges, as Victorians embraced charitable acts during the festive season. Inspired by the charitable themes in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” many Londoners took this time to support local causes and extend a helping hand to those less fortunate.


Theaters in Victorian London flourished during the Christmas season, offering a variety of festive performances. One of the most enduring traditions was the Christmas pantomime – a lively and often humorous stage show that blended fairy tales, music, and audience participation. The pantomime became a cherished part of the holiday experience, providing entertainment for families and adding a touch of whimsy to the Christmas celebrations. If you have never been to one we would higjly recommend you do, they’re great fun. This year at the Palladium Jennifer Saunders and Julian Clary star in Peter Pan. You can get your tickets here.

Victorian London set the stage for many of the beloved Christmas traditions we hold dear today. From the timeless melodies of carol singers to the festive decorations adorning the streets, the Victorian era shaped the way we celebrate the holiday season. As we bask in the warmth of our own Christmas traditions, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the nostalgia and charm of a Dickensian Christmas, where the spirit of generosity, community, and festive joy took center stage in the heart of Victorian London.
Come and explore Christmas in the East end of London on our Eat the East End food tour.

You can even gift a loved one a food tour voucher this Christmas. Click here to buy a gift voucher.

Christas decorations in London

London Street Art: The Chewing Gum Man

London is awash with some of the best street art in the world. Here’s the story of one of our most famous street artists, the chewing gum man.

From Discarded Chewing Gum to Art

If you walk around London, you can’t help to notice that we have a litter problem, and chewing gum is one of the most significant parts of this issue.

With careless people just spitting gum wherever they please, discarded gum has become a permanent part of the pavements around our city. And the time and effort required to remove gum are beyond most councils’ means.

In 2004 an inspired artist called Ben Wilson decided to take these tiny spots of selfish waste and turn them into something beautiful. Ben painstakingly makes patches of old chewing gum on the ground on his canvasses for tiny pieces of art – a uniquely modern take on the old British tradition of painting in miniature.

Each piece by Ben is usually inspired by someone he’s met, though sometimes it can even be a passerby.

How does the Chewing Gum Man do it?

Ben first softens the old chewing gum with a blow torch to create his unique street art. He then sprays it with enamel and lets it dry before beginning to create his art. 

Using tiny brushes that would be otherwise used to paint model trains and cars, Ben carefully creates paintings and stories to commemorate the people of London and, indeed, the world. 

It can take hours to finish each one, which is then covered in a protective lacquer. Many of his pieces of street art have lasted for years.

Lying on the Street Making Art

Sometimes, people who see Ben making his artworks think he’s drunk or on drugs. To paint, he has to lie on the street, often for hours at a time, without making much movement.

In fact, the police have been called, and on one occasion, he was forcefully dragged by his feet into a police van and arrested. He later won his appeal case and now carries a letter around with him that alerts any other policemen of his artistic endeavour.

Where Can You See Ben’s Work?

Ben lives in the Crouch End area of London, and you can see a lot of his work around here. Also, keep your eyes peeled around Shoreditch, especially on the Millennium bridge where Ben has made a special trail.

There’s a good chance you might bump into him while he’s touching up one of the pieces or creating a new piece.

Like many cities worldwide, London has so many stories to tell that are easy just to walk past. 

If you’d like to see some of Ben’s art and hear some of London’s hidden stories, why not book a place on one of our Foodie Walking Tours of London?

Please contact us if you have any questions about our tours and services.

Ben Wilson Chewing Gum Artist

Brick Lane: A History

Brick Lane lies at the heart of London’s rich culinary culture and is the main destination of our own London East End Food Tour. The area is renowned for its vibrancy, offering travellers of all types plenty to do. 

Possessing a fascinating history, the area is today famous for being home to the Brick Lane food market, top-class Bangladeshi and Indian restaurants (and plenty more international cuisine), vintage shops, and colourful street art. 

Whether you’re heading out for something to eat and a few drinks or simply want to spend an afternoon getting a feel of authentic London life, Brick Lane is an excellent part of London to explore.

Why is it Called Brick Lane?

In the 15th century, Brick Lane was known as Whitechapel Lane. It wound its way through fields on the eastern edge of what was then the City of London. 

The name Brick Lane came about following the Great Fire of London in 1666 as the area is situated on ground rich with clay, making it the ideal spot for the manufacture of bricks. 

Following the devastating destruction of the Great Fire, there was a huge amount of construction to be undertaken and so a brickmaking industry grew up here.

Brewing Comes to Brick Lane

Another early Brick Lane industry was brewing. 

Just after the Great Fire of London in 1666, a huge brewery opened up on Brick Lane. The site was first established by the local Bucknall family and in 1666 they hired the services of brewer Joseph Truman, who would take over the operation completely from 1679. 

The early brewery was known as the Black Eagle Brewery due to its premises being on the corner of Black Eagle Street and it came to establish itself as one of the world’s largest breweries (by 1748 the Black Eagle Brewery was producing 40,000 barrels of beer annually). 

By the mid-18th century, the presence of Huguenot immigrants from France greatly increased local demand for heavily hopped beer (much production before then would have been in unhopped ales). 

It was also around this time that the porter style of beer was developed, taking its name from the fact that the heavy-tasting beer was popular with local street and river porters. 

The Truman family initially imported all their hops from Belgium but before long Kent farmers were producing their own hops to meet the rising demand. By 1898, Brick Lane’s brewery covered an incredible six acres of land. 

Sadly, the long history of the brewery came to a halt in 1989 when production was stopped. As with many of London’s traditional industries, large multinationals had a monopoly on beer production.  

However, the story doesn’t end there. The Truman brewery is still on Brick Lane today, though many of the historic buildings are being used as an arts and events centre. 

Recently a group of local beer lovers purchased the Truman name and have had success in reviving the Truman brewery.

Early Immigration and Brick Lane

As touched upon above, in the 17th century French Huguenots escaped religious persecution in France and came to London. Brick Lane was where they settled. 

The Huguenots were skilled weavers and many of the weavers’ houses can still be seen on the roads around Brick Lane. You can see the top floors have large windows to allow as much sunlight in to help the weavers see their work. 

In the 19th century, many Jewish people arrived in London, escaping from pogroms within the Russian Empire. Again Brick Lane (being close to the docks) was a popular place to set up home. 

Today Brick Lane boasts two of the most famous Jewish bakeries in London and people come at all hours of the day to try their famous Beigels. 

You too can try them on our Eat the East End food tour.


The most recent wave of immigration into the area has come from Bangladeshis. 

Since World War II, many families from Bangladesh have escaped the troubles back home and moved to London. 

This wave of immigration has brought with it an exciting food culture and gifted Brick Lane with one of its greatest attributes: lots of fabulous curry houses!

Yes, the vibrant, bustling streets around Brick Lane are the perfect place to sample amazing curries in London. Of course, being a tourist centre, the quality can vary dramatically, so we recommend doing some research before choosing where to eat. 

We previously wrote a blog that could be of help: What Is The Best Indian Restaurant On Brick Lane, London?

Happy multiracial friends walking on brick lane

The Art and Culture of Brick Lane

Brick Lane is a hive of street art. From the world-famous Banksy to lesser-known local artists, art is just about everywhere you look in Brick Lane.

There’s always someone creating something when we’re out on our food tour – this celebration of arts, colour, and all things creative is a central part of the Brick Lane magic. 

Indeed, some companies offer walking tours focused exclusively on street art, such as the number of things to see. And the best bit? There’s always something new popping up!

In addition to looking at art, Brick Lane is an excellent place to shop for local crafts, with the streets being home to an array of indie businesses.

How to Get to Brick Lane?

Getting to Brick Lane is super easy, whether you want to cycle, take the Underground, catch an overground train, or jump on a bus. 

If you’re already in areas such as Shoreditch, Spitalfields, or Whitechapel, you’ll be able to walk to Brick Lane in ten to fifteen minutes.

If taking the Underground, you’ll want to get out at Aldgate East. If on the Overground, your nearest station to Brick Lane will be Shoreditch High Street. 

For buses, consult local timetables with Transport for London – several bus routes serve the area. 

If you’d like to learn more about Brick lane and try some of the amazing food in the area, why not join us on our Eat the East End food tour.

If you have any questions about Brick Lane or any of London Bites’ services, please get in touch

Brick Lane street sign