Global Business School for Health


Embracing Stratford: A Newcomer’s Guide to Its Rich Culture and History

16 October 2023

Our GBSH Student Ambassador Kareena introduces us to the hidden charms of Stratford, home to UCL East. Rich in culture and history, it mirrors the iconic allure of UCL's main campus, offering a narrative steeped in legacy and grandeur.


UCL’s main campus has a unique charm, its halls lined with legacy, grandeur, and history. It’s hard to ignore that as scholars of 2023, we could walk the same halls as some greats- Mahatma Gandhi, Christopher Nolan, David Attenborough, and so many more. 

If you find yourself on the new East campus, you might miss out on the allure or the iconic main campus. 

This led me to wonder, what do we know about the history and culture of Stratford, the home of UCL east? Trust me, there’s more to Stratford than meets the eye and is just as iconic. 

1)    Discovering Stratford's Rich Past
Stratford's history dates back to 1067 when it was known as "Straetforda," signifying a ford on a Roman road. Back then, this area was a rural haven primarily used for farming and best known for providing potatoes and bread to the rest of London. (Pudding Mill Lane was named that for a reason!)

In the 1700s, as the Industrial Revolution swept through England, Stratford transitioned from an agricultural hub to a bustling industrial centre. The town evolved, boasting its docks and piers.


But the real game-changer arrived in 1839 when Stratford got its railway station, becoming a vital employment hub with over 20,000 working residents. This growth led to the creation of Stratford New Town, designed to accommodate the burgeoning railway workforce.


Stratford Works, the railway engineering facility, played an intricate role in Stratford’s history. In 1891, they made headlines by building a freight engine in just 9½ hours, setting a world record, and drawing crowds and newspaper coverage.

In addition, during World War II, Stratford Works played a crucial role in building aircraft components and artillery parts, even in the face of bombing raids. 

During this time, the town's church, with its unique three-stage tower, served as an air raid shelter, offering refuge for locals during the war. The churchyard also memorialises the Stratford Martyrs, a group of Protestants who bravely stood for their beliefs in the face of persecution.


While much of Stratford's railway infrastructure is no longer standing, traces of its history still linger. You can spot a plaque commemorating Stratford Works at Stratford International Station, and some locomotives built here are on display at the National Railway Museum in York.

The closure of Stratford Works in 1991 brought about challenges, including increased unemployment and social issues. Many residents were forced to leave in search of work or rely on welfare benefits. 

Fun fact: the same ground where Stratford Works once lay now proudly holds up the Westfield Shopping Center, officially opened to the public on September 13, 2011. It was built as part of the more extensive redevelopment of the area in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics held in London. 


This shopping centre has since become a central retail and entertainment hub in Stratford, offering visitors a wide range of stores, restaurants, and entertainment options.

Other aspects of the redevelopment of Stratford for the 2012 Summer Olympics are modern landmarks like the London Stadium and the ArcelorMittal Orbit. 

After the 2012 Olympics were held in Stratford, the West Ham Stadium stands tall and proud as a continuation of this Olympic legacy. Right beside it is the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a striking sculpture and observation tower. It was also constructed for the 2012 Olympics and has become an iconic landmark in Stratford. Visitors can take an exhilarating slide down from the building or enjoy panoramic city views from its observation deck.


Stratford's history symbolizes resilience, transformation, and the ability to adapt to changing times. 

Stratford has constantly evolved from its origins as a rural farming area to its pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution and subsequent growth as a railway hub. It has weathered challenges, including the closure of Stratford Works and the following economic hardships.

The next time you’re taking a walk around the East campus or sitting at the Pool Street Cafe with a great view, remember that the idea you’re looking at means something significant in the history and evolution of Stratford and the generations who strived to make this place what it is today.


2)    Culture of Stratford
Stratford isn't just about history; it has also played a role on the silver screen. Even The Beatles made their mark here, filming the "Penny Lane" promo on Angel Lane (though the location was later demolished during the 1960s when the council built the Stratford shopping centre).


In addition to its cinematic history, Stratford is home to the ABBA Arena, a vibrant venue hosting many concerts and cultural events. Whether you're a music enthusiast or a fan of live performances, the ABBA Arena is a must-visit destination in Stratford.

Moreover, the Sadler Wells Dance Group, a local gem, adds to the cultural richness of Stratford. This talented dance group showcases their artistry in various dance forms, captivating audiences with their mesmerizing performances. Be sure to catch one of their shows to experience the creative spirit of Stratford.

Beyond academia, Stratford boasts a thriving cultural scene. This neighbourhood offers something for everyone, from world-class theatres to quirky art galleries and a bustling food scene. 

In this vibrant corner of London, you'll never run out of ways to unwind and have fun. From delicious street food to the Stratford City market and the Theatre Royal Stratford East, this place is a hub for culture and the arts.

And if you're a nature enthusiast, you're in for a treat. Stratford offers miles of green spaces to explore, from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the Hackney Marshes and the Wanstead Flats, perfect for walking, biking, or boating.

3)    UCL Stratford: Forging a New Path
UCL's presence in Stratford isn't just about expansion; it's about building a unique connection between the university and the community. The East Building isn't merely a place for classes and research; it bridges tradition and innovation.


As a newcomer, you have the opportunity to be a pioneer in this exciting journey. UCL Stratford is a chance to contribute to the growth and development of a vibrant, diverse neighbourhood. Get involved in community initiatives, join clubs and societies that make a difference, and be part of the positive change that UCL brings to Stratford.

4)    Create Your Own Stratford Story
Overall, Stratford's history symbolizes a community that has faced adversity, embraced change, and emerged stronger, creating a unique blend of historical significance and modernity. It's a place where the past and present coexist, offering a vibrant and diverse environment for residents, students, and visitors alike.


As you embark on your UCL journey in Stratford, remember that this experience is about more than just classes and assignments. It's about immersing yourself in a community eager to welcome you, learning from the past, and shaping the future. Make Stratford your own, and let your presence leave an indelible mark on this ever-evolving neighbourhood.