Brick Lane in London
Brick Lane (Bengali: ব্রিক লেন) is a street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, in the East End of London. It runs from Swanfield Street in the northern part of Bethnal Green, crosses Bethnal Green Road, passes through Spitalfields and is linked to Whitechapel High Street to the south by the short stretch of Osborn Street. Today, it is the heart of the city's Bangladeshi-Sylheti community and is known to some as Banglatown. It is famous for its many curry houses.
Winding through fields, the street was formerly called Whitechapel Lane but derives its current name from former brick and tile manufacture, using the local brick earth deposits, that began in the 15th century. By the 17th century, the street was being built up from the south. Successive waves of immigration began with Huguenot refugees spreading from Spitalfields, where the master weavers were based, in the 17th century. They were followed by Irish, Ashkenazi Jews and, in the last century, Bangladeshis. The area became a centre for weaving, tailoring and the clothing industry, due to the abundance of semi- and unskilled immigrant labour.
Brewing came to Brick Lane before 1680, with water drawn from deep wells. One brewer was Joseph Truman, first recorded in 1683. His family, particularly Benjamin Truman, went on to establish the sizable Black Eagle Brewery on Brick Lane.
The Brick Lane Market, developed in the 17th century for fruit and vegetables, sold outside the city. The Sunday market, like the ones on Petticoat Lane and nearby Columbia Road, dates from a dispensation given to the Jewish community. It is centred around the junction with Cheshire Street and Sclater Street and sells bric-a-brac as well as fruit, vegetables and many other items. Nearer to the junction with Hanbury Street are two indoor markets; Upmarket and Backmarket. The Brick Lane Farmers' Market opened every Sunday in nearby Bacon Street on the 6th June 2010.
Emma Elizabeth Smith was viciously assaulted and robbed in Osborn Street, the part of Brick Lane that meets Whitechapel High Street, in the early hours of 3 April 1888. It was one of the first of the eleven Whitechapel Murders, some of which were attributed to the serial killer, Jack the Ripper.
In 1742, La Neuve Eglise, a Huguenot chapel, was built on the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street. By 1809, it had become The Jews’ Chapel, for promoting Christianity to the expanding Jewish population, and became a Methodist Chapel in 1819 (John Wesley having preached his first covenant sermon at the nearby Black Eagle Street Chapel). In 1898, the building was consecrated as the Machzikei HaDath, or Spitalfields Great Synagogue. In 1976, it became the London Jamme Masjid (Great London) The building is Grade II* listed. Many Bangladeshi immigrants to Brick Lane were from the Greater Sylhet region. These settlers helped shape Bangladeshi migration to Britain; families from Jagannathpur and Bishwanath tend to dominate in the Brick Lane area.
In the 20th century the Brick Lane area was important in the second wave of development of Anglo-Indian cuisine, as families from countries such as Bangladesh (mainly the Greater Sylhet region) migrated to London to look for work. Some curry houses of Brick Lane will not sell alcohol as most are run by Muslims. More recently the area has also broadened to being a vibrant art and fashion student area, with considerable exhibition space. Each year most of the fine art and fashion courses exhibit their work near Brick Lane.
Bengalis in the United Kingdom settled in big cities with industrial employment. In London, many Bengali people settled in the East End. For centuries the East End has been the first port of call for many immigrants working in the docks and shipping from Chittagong port in Bengal (British Empire in India was founded and based in Bengal). Their regular stopover paved the way for food/curry outlets to be opened up catering for an all male workforce as family migration and settlement took place some decades later. Humble beginnings such as this gave birth to Brick Lane as the famous curry capital of the UK. Bengalis of Sylheti origin constitute only 10% of all South Asians in Britain; however around 90% of all Indian restaurants in the UK are Sylheti/Bengali owned.
Since the late 1990s, Brick Lane has been the site of several of the city's best known night clubs, notably 93 Feet East and The Vibe Bar, both built on the site of The Old Truman Brewery, once the industrial centre of the area, and now an office and entertainment complex.
Nearby buildings of interest include Christ Church, Spitalfields, The Jamme Masjid or Great London Mosque on the corner of Fournier Street - the building represents a history of successive communities of immigrants in East End, and the head office of Habitat on Princelet Street.
Brick Lane is world famous for its graffiti, which features artists such as Banksy, D*Face and Ben Eine. The lane has been used in many music videos such as "Glory Days" by Just Jack and "All These Things That I've Done" by The Killers.
The nearest tube station is currently Aldgate East. A campaign has been launched to change the name of the station to "Brick Lane" by 2012, but this has no official support.
Contemporary culture wars
The street is the location for Monica Ali's book Brick Lane, published in 2003, and the film of 2007 starring Tannishtha Chatterjee. The novel provoked a controversy with some of the local Asian community because of a perceived negative portrayal of them. Parts of the Bengali community were particularly opposed to plans by Ruby Films to film parts of the novel in the Brick Lane area and formed the "Campaign Against Monica Ali's Film Brick Lane." Consequently the producers of the film used different locations for certain scenes, such as that depicting Brick Lane Market. Despite this, the director of the film, Sarah Gavron, attests on the DVD commentary of the film that genuine footage of Brick Lane does appear in the finished movie.
The campaign was allegedly supported by Germaine Greer, who wrote that: "As British people know little and care less about the Bangladeshi people in their midst, their first appearance as characters in an English novel had the force of a defining caricature ... [S]ome of the Sylhetis of Brick Lane did not recognise themselves. Bengali Muslims smart under an Islamic prejudice that they are irreligious and disorderly, the impure among the pure, and here was a proto-Bengali writer with a Muslim name, portraying them as all of that and more." Greer's involvement has angered some within the British literary community. Salman Rushdie, who set parts of his novel The Satanic Verses on Brick Lane, has called it "philistine, sanctimonious, and disgraceful, but ... not unexpected".<ref name=Lewis/>
Activists told The Guardian they intended to burn copies of Ali's book during a rally to be held on July 30, 2006, but the demonstration passed without incident.
Other notable books on the area are Salaam Brick Lane by Tarquin Hall, On Brick Lane (2007) by Rachel Lichtenstein and An Acre of Barren Ground by Jeremy Gavron.
- British Bangladeshi
- Brick Lane Market
- Old Truman Brewery - The Black Eagle Brewery, on Brick Lane
The nearest London Underground stations are Liverpool Street and Aldgate East. The nearest London Overground station is Shoreditch High Street station.
- Brick Lane entry at the Survey of London (1957)
- Brick Lane through the last two hundred years, including many genealogical pubs.
- Virtual e-Tour Brick Lane Shockwave Player required
- Our Brick Lane - Eastside Community Heritage
- The Brick Lane Gallery