The area was formerly known as Stratford, and "Bow" is an abbreviation of the medieval name Stratford-atte-Bow, in which "Bow" refers to a bridge built in the early 12th century. Bow is adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and a section of the district is part of the park.

Old Ford, and with it Fish Island, are usually taken to be part of Bow, but Bromley-by-Bow (historically and officially just ’Bromley’) immediately to the south, is a separate locality. These distinctions have their roots in historic parish boundaries.

Stratforde was first recorded as a settlement in 1177. The ford originally lay on a pre-Roman trackway at Old Ford about 600 metres to ...

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