London’s Brick Lane has a fascinating history and is one of the most popular places to visit in the East End today, especially on a Sunday when the street’s gets the area buzzing.
The East End’s Brick Lane
Sitting in the heart of the East End, Brick Lane was a poor slum area in the past; it was in the very heart of Jack the Ripper territory. Today, following a bit of regeneration, it offers exciting alternative shopping opportunities, various markets and some of the best curries in the capital!
The history of Brick Lane
Brick Lane runs from Bethnal Green and through Spitalfields down towards Whitechapel. The street was originally called Whitechapel Lane; it is thought that it was renamed because local earth was used by brick and tile manufacturers who set up shop in the street in the 15th century.
By the 17th century, the street had also become a popular location for breweries. The famous brewing family, the Trumans, started their business here and you can still see their Black Eagle Brewery on the street. This century also saw the start of its market.
Its proximity to Spitalfields saw an influx of French Huguenots when they were driven out of France, also in the 17th century. The street and the surrounding area became well known for its weaving and tailoring.
Like much of the East End, this area was a haven for immigrants moving into London to escape persecution abroad or looking for a better life. During the 19th and 20th centuries, it was best known for its Irish and Jewish population.
The community living in and around Brick Lane today is predominantly Bangladeshi. This gave the area a new nickname and a new cuisine!
Brick Lane becomes Banglatown
Brick Lane is often fondly called Banglatown by Londoners. Since the late 20th century, this has been one of the most popular places for immigrants from Bangladesh, particularly Bengalis from the Sylheti region. The street is THE place to go for a curry in London, especially if you want to try traditional and authentic cooking rather than run-of-the-mill high street curries.
The many different cafes and restaurants in the area originally started to service the local population or those passing through London via its docks; it is now the capital’s most concentrated area of curry houses. Some are quite upmarket; others are quite basic.
You do have to try to avoid mainstream restaurants that have started in the area to tap into its popularity, but there are still plenty of gems around. Bear in mind that you may not be able to drink in some Brick Lane curry houses if they are run by Muslims; in others, you may have to bring your own bottle if you do want to drink alcohol.
Brick Lane is quite a trendy area at the moment, and you do have other options for food if you don’t fancy a curry. There are still traditional Jewish bagel shops dotted around and various cafes and stalls selling anything from a traditional full English breakfast through to exotic Japanese takeaways.
Brick Lane Market
Brick Lane has an extremely popular and quite eclectic Sunday market that is popular with locals, Londoners from other areas and visitors to the capital. The market was originally licensed to run on Sundays in the 1800s – this was unusual at the time as markets were not supposed to open on the Sabbath.
At that point in Brick Lane’s history, the local population was predominantly Jewish, so a special dispensation was given for Sunday opening, as the Jewish Sabbath falls on a Saturday.
A Sunday trip to Brick Lane market is generally a lot of fun. You may find some regular stalls in there, selling the kind of stuff you’d expect in a market, but the real charm here are the second-hand stalls.
People sell all kinds of stuff at Brick Lane – you can pick up collectibles, CDs/DVDs, vintage clothes, retro accessories and even large pieces of furniture – and it is still possible to hunt out a real bargain or simply buy something a little bit unusual.
There is also usually some street entertainment going on throughout the market site and you can also pop into various indoor markets, such as Upmarket and Backyard, which operate out of the The Old Truman Brewery building. This complex also contains galleries, exhibition spaces, shops, and bars, restaurants and cafes.
Art in Brick Lane
Brick Lane is also home to a thriving artistic community. Its graffiti is particularly worth looking out for – street art is celebrated here rather than immediately cleaned off! Lucky locals in the past have seen work spring up on their walls from C215, Stik and ROA. There are also plenty of small galleries dotted around Brick Lane and its surrounding streets that are well worth a visit.