Brick Lane

25 Sep

hot salt beef beigels

One of the things I love most about London is its diversity, in a single day you can travel the globe without leaving the city.  And nowhere typifies this more than Brick Lane.  Exit Liverpool Street station, in the heart of the bustling City of London, one of the greatest financial centres in the world, heading Eastwards.  Cross a couple of main roads and a few smaller ones and minutes later, you enter a different world. 

Brick Lane, and the surrounding areas of Spitalfields and Bethnal Green, have been one of London’s biggest centres for immigration since the late 17th Century when Catholic King Louis XIV of France outlawed the Huguenot housespractise of Protestantism.  Around 200,000 French Protestants risked their lives to come to London, many of them Huguenot weavers who set up home and business in the area around Brick Lane, building lovely brick houses with glass-roofed workshops.   After prospering for many years, the silk weaving industry gradually declined and the area became poor and run-down.

In the late 19th century, the streets around Brick Lane were transformed by an influx of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. New synagogues, kosher butchers and restaurants opened, and a rich Yiddish culture emerged, with its own newspapers and theatres.  This strong community gradually diminished during the 20th Century as its members became more prosperous and moved to leafier parts of the city, like St John’s Wood.

Street art and Bangladeshi signDuring the 20th Century the next influx of immigrants to the area came from Bangladesh.  Walk down Brick Lane today and you feel like you are in a suburb of Dhaka, albeit a chilly one, with countless Bangladeshi restaurants, sweet shops, grocers and clothes shops and Bangla music blaring out as the smell of spices fills the air.  Modern day Bethnal Green is the heart of London’s Bangladeshi community and culture, with melas, food and music festivals throughout the year.

But look a little closer, and you will also see evidence of Brick Lane’s previous incarnations, such as the terracotta sign for the Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor, which is now a block of flats, and the Mosque which used to be a Synagogue before which it was a Huguenot Church.  As well as curry, Brick Lane is also famous for its beigels, which are baked around the clock in two bakeries on the street, and sold by the dozen or served with antique shopsmoked salmon or salt beef.  The street names, Silk Street and Fournier Street, give clues to the people who built the handsome houses, now changing hands for substantial sums of money and the mural on the wall of nearby Cable Street, commemorates the coming together of the Jewish and Cockney communities when they rioted in protest of Oswald Moseley’s fascist Blackshirts in 1936.

Today Brick Lane and the area around it is one of London’s most vibrant districts with a famous Sunday market, Bangladeshi cultural centres, small independent design shops, junk shops, art galleries, curry houses, quirky homewares shops, bars and clubs, wholesale fabric shops, music shops and old-fashioned grocers. 

London is not just a series of monuments or museum exhibits, it is also the sum of its many people who have come from all corners of the earth, which makes it a brilliantly exciting place to live.  Now, should I have a salt beef beigel or curry for lunch?

A. Gold Grocers

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. For more lovely travel pictures, click here


15 Responses to “Brick Lane”

  1. Laura Driver 25/09/2009 at 11:26 am #

    I am VERY hungry now!

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 25/09/2009 at 11:37 am #

      What can I get you?

      • Laura Driver 25/09/2009 at 11:47 am #

        I’ll start with a salt beef beigel and finish with a curry please.

        • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 25/09/2009 at 11:54 am #

          Coming right up! Shall I also get a beer from the offy?

  2. Kerry Dexter 09/10/2009 at 11:05 am #

    always good to catch glimpses of a place’s past through its architecture — and food.

  3. Amy @ The Q Family 09/10/2009 at 2:37 pm #

    I love this. Thanks for taking us on the tour with some background history. How charming to be able to experience different food within the same block. 🙂

  4. Jen@TwoKidsandamap 09/10/2009 at 2:44 pm #

    That first picture makes me want lunch and it is only 8:45am here! 🙂

  5. Cate 09/10/2009 at 7:04 pm #

    I enjoyed this history tour thks. I’d have a curry since I haven’t had a decent one in ages.

  6. Michelle (Wandermom) 09/10/2009 at 9:41 pm #

    Sigh. I love London.
    Thanks for such a great write-up.

  7. Lora 09/10/2009 at 9:48 pm #

    What great insight into London. I loved the trip you painted. Makes me want to stay there.

  8. Dominique 10/10/2009 at 6:13 pm #

    It’s always fascinating to see how different waves of immigration can transform a place. I’m writing a series of entries about immigration for a reference book about Michigan history. Folks from many places ended up in this state for some of the same reasons they ended up in your Brick Lane…and it’s interesting to see how they migrated to other areas after living in their first Michigan destination for a while, much like some of the immigrants who lived in Brick Lane and moved elsewhere after they became more prosperous.

  9. loekedw 15/12/2009 at 3:42 pm #

    Brick Lane is an amazing place to hang out, eat, shop, walk around, anything you want! LOVE IT!


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