This week’s culture gig was geographically a lot closer to home and didn’t require too much walking around, and so I had the pleasure of being accompanied yet again by the ‘er indoors’ (she don’t do walking!!!) :-)
The subject matter in question that I wanted to find out a lot more about was one of East London’s well known streets…..”Brick Lane”.
Now, to most people, Brick Lane is famously known for its plethora of Indian restaurants on both sides of the street, making it the ‘go to’ place for anyone visiting the City who fancies a good ‘ruby’. However, the history of the street is far removed from curry houses, and is quite fascinating.
Why is it called Brick Lane?? Well, back in the 16th century the ground in the area was discovered to be full of clay, useful for creating bricks and tiles. After the Great Fire of London, demand for bricks increased. A kiln was installed at the northern end of the road, and bricks were transported down the length of the street to Whitechapel Road.
During the latter part of the 16th century, brewing came to Brick Lane, with water drawn from its deep wells. One brewer who set up his operation in Brick Lane was Joseph Truman.
His family, particularly Benjamin Truman, went on to establish the sizeable Black Eagle Brewery on Brick Lane.
Founded around 1666, the Black Eagle Brewery was established on a plot of land in Brick Lane, and it continued grow steadily right through to the 18th century when, under the management of Benjamin Truman, it expanded rapidly and became one of the largest brewers in London. Its growth continued into and through the 19th century with the expansion of its brewery and pub estates. In 1873, it purchased Philips Brewery in Burton and became the largest brewery in the world.
As well as Truman’s brewery, there was another brewery operating out of Brick Lane throughout those times, namely Turner & Sons – a small operation which thrived almost literally in the shadow of Truman’s, right up until the end of the 19
th century, with close links to the Romford Brewery in Essex. Its flagship pub was the Romford Arms, which still stands today in Heneage Street (a turning off of Brick Lane), and now goes under the name of The Pride of Spitalfields.
In the 20th century, with the introduction of lager and cheaper imports from abroad – these local brewers struggled to compete, and in 1989 the Truman brewery in Brick Lane was finally closed down.
Throughout history, particularly from the 15th to 19th century, Brick Lane has also been the settling place for successive waves of immigrants – firstly the Huguenots, then the Jews and then Bengali’s.
In the 17th century, persecuted French Huguenots settled in the areas housing. These master weavers were based in Spitalfields, and the area became a centre for weaving, tailoring and the developing clothing industry – and throughout the following centuries the area continued to attract immigrants persecuted in their own countries, from many nationalities such as Irish, Jewish and Bengali, all of whom provided semi- and unskilled labour to the industries in the area.
Nowhere is Brick Lane’s mixed history more evident than in the building at 59 Brick Lane, currently known as Brick Lane Mosque. Since being built in 1743 it has functioned as a Huguenot chapel, a Methodist church, a Jewish Synagogue, and has been a mosque since 1976. Today, the building is Grade II listed.
The nearest tube station to Brick Lane is Aldgate East, on the District Line. In 2006, there was a campaign, to have Aldgate East station renamed as “Brick Lane Station”. The local council wanted the name change to happen before the London 2012 Olympics, claiming businesses in the area were missing out on trade, as visitors had difficulty finding the famous street. The campaign wasn’t successful, and Aldgate East lives on.
Today – competing with the attraction of the many restaurants as the main attraction – is “street art” (graffiti to you and me)
Artists from around the world now come to this area to paint, knowing that visitors to Brick Lane and the surrounding streets will appreciate the efforts of renowned artists such as Banksy, Stik. ROA, D*Face, plus many more – making the area an ever-changing canvas for new and established street artists.
The photos I have taken to accompany this topic, will hopefully bring the history of Brick Lane to life for you – hope you enjoy them