Tower Hamlets has always been synonymous with over-crowding, poverty and immigration. The area’s population peaked at the end of the 19th century when almost 600,000 people lived in the borough but it consistently fell during the 20th century as housing standards improved.
The last 40 years has seen this trend turn again though, particularly since 2000. Between 2001 and 2011, the latest census recorded a population growth of 30%, the fastest rise in England.
As the population has grown, it has also become increasingly diverse with over two-thirds of the population belonging to minority ethnic groups. Tower Hamlets has one of the smallest indigenous populations in the UK with White Britons only constituting 31% of the population (far below the national average of 80%). Bangladeshis, who form 32% of the population, form the largest minority community and the vast majority of Bangladeshi residents have origins in the Sylhet region of Bangladesh. Bangladeshi residents in Tower Hamlets make up 19% of the entire population of England’s Bangladeshi community.
Somalis represent the second largest minority ethnic group at around 15,000 inhabitants but there are also a number of Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani, Turkish, Afghani, North African and Black African/Caribbean residents. Around 7% of the borough’s inhabitants are black and they represent a wealth of countries around the globe. There are also a number of growing Eastern European communities.
The largest religious groups in Tower Hamlets is Muslims at 35%; this makes Tower Hamlets the only borough in the UK with a majority Muslim population as opposed to Christian. Conversely, the Christian population in the borough is approximately 27%, the lowest in Britian. It was noted in the 2011 census that the rise in residents that consider themselves to have no religion, or who chose not to disclose their religion has grown at a comparable level to that across the rest of the UK.
There are 21 active Church of England churches in Tower Hamlets, which include Christ Church of Spitalfields, St Paul’s Church of Shadwell and St Dunstan’s of Stepney and also churches of many other Christian denominations. There are a total of 40 confirmed mosques, including Islamic centres, the largest are the East London Mosque, the Brick Lane Mosque and the Markazi Mosque.