Construction of the Central line's eastern extension was started in the 1930s, and the tunnels were largely complete at the outbreak of the Second World War although rails were not laid. The station was opened as part of the long planned Central line eastern extension on 4 December 1946; before that it was used as an air-raid shelter. On 3 March 1943, 173 people were killed in a crush while attempting to enter the shelter. The place-name Blithehale or Blythenhale, the earliest form of Bethnal Green, is derived from the Anglo-Saxon healh ('angle, nook, or corner') and blithe ('happy, blithe'), or from a personal name Blitha. Nearby Cambridge Heath (Camprichesheth), is unconnected with Cambridge and may also derive from an Anglo-Saxon personal name. The area was once marshland and forest which, as Bishopswood, lingered in the east until the 16th century. A settlement's dependence upon water suggests that the 'happy corner' was cleared next to the natural spring, St. Winifred's Well, in Conduit Field at the northern end of the Green. Over time, the name became Bethan Hall Green, which, because of local pronunciation as Beth'n 'all Green, had by the 19th century changed to Bethnal Green.
A Tudor ballad, the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green, tells the story of an ostensibly poor man who gave a surprisingly generous dowry for his daughter's wedding. The tale furnishes the parish of Bethnal Green's coat of arms. According to one version of the legend, found in Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry published in 1765, the beggar was said to be Henry, the son of Simon de Montfort. The Blind Beggar public house in Whitechapel is reputed to be the site of his begging.The station is an example of the "New Works Programme 1935 - 1940" style adopted by London Transport for its new tube stations. Extensive use is made of pale yellow tiling, originally manufactured by Poole Pottery. This has been replicated during the 2007 modernisation although several panels of original tiling were retained on the platforms. The station entrances, all in the form of subway access staircases to the subterranean ticket hall, all show the design influences of Charles Holden, the consulting architect for London Transport at this time. The station has wi-fi and escalators.
Connections: London Buses routes 8; 106; 254; 309; 388; D3; D6 and night routes N8; N253; and National Express Coaches route A9 serve the station.