Cable Street runs between the edge of The City and Limehouse: parallel-to and south of the Docklands Light Railway and Commercial Road, and north of The Highway.
The area is close to Wapping and Shadwell Basin (to the south), Tower Hill (to the west), and Whitechapel and Stepney (to the north). As many Londoners now define their locality by the nearest tube stations, this area is often referred to as Shadwell.
Cable Street is in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, in postal district E1. It lies within the parliamentary constituencies of Bethnal Green and Bow and Poplar and Canning Town, currently represented by George Galloway and Jim Fitzpatrick.
Cable Street started as a straight path along which hemp ropes were twisted into ships cables (ie ropes). These supplied the many ships that would anchor in the nearby Pool of London, between London Bridge and Wapping & Rotherhithe. Many other “rope walks” can be seen on later maps, showing how demand for ropes grew as shipping increased.
Until Victorian times, the current Cable Street had different names for each of its sections. From west to east these ran: “Cable Street”, “Knock Fergus”, “New Road”, “Back Lane”, “Blue Gate Fields”, “Sun Tavern Fields”, “Brook Street”.
Knock Fergus is probably a reference to the large numbers of Irish residents there then. Also, in the 19th century, the area at the western end was identified as “near Wellclose Square”, as this was a well-known landmark, where nautical items were sold. The whole of the central area of the current street was named after St George in the East church and its parish.
From Victorian times through to the 1950’s, Cable Street had a reputation for cheap lodgings, brothels, drinking inns and opium dens.
In 1936, a violent confrontation between the police and local communities, was later named the Battle of Cable Street. Communist, Labour and Jewish groups joined with locals to resist a planned march through the East End by the British Union of Fascists. A large mural on St George’s Town Hall next to Library Place, depicts scenes from the day. A red plaque in Dock Street commemorates the incident.