Docklands and the Thames,

Victoria Park to Paternoster

Square. Take a nostalgic

trip back to the East End in

the 1950’s or a stroll around

the Square Mile of the City

of London. It’s all here at

Copyright 2002 - 2024 ©Barry Carter. All rights reserved


The Immigration

Huguenot refugees, Irish navies, Jewish tailors, Chinese, Bangladeshi and many other immigrants have always flocked to this area of East London then fade away to make room for another race or religion; until now. It may be the fact that it was fairly close to the docks while also being close to the City of London. It was necessary for them to be close to the City for commercial reasons, but the City was not so welcoming to them as residents. This of course does not apply today, as the city is spreading eastwards to engulf the area. Today’s settlers also have the bonus of a benefits system. In the past it was work or starve. It seems that the Bangladeshi community are here to stay. In fact, the area was officially renamed "Bangla Town" many years ago.

The Black Eagle Brewery

Truman, Hanbury and Buxton. For many years the brewery was a major employer in the area and took a large part of the lane with various buildings. I spent a few years working there in the early 70’s. It was around that time that they built the 24 hour bottling plant on the opposite side of the road to the original Black Eagle Brewery. It was to be used for ‘Tuborg’ lager. The brewing industry in the Lane goes back to around the time of the great fire. Joseph Truman is known to have joined William Bucknall's Brewhouse. He became the manager in 1697, and with the aid of family members expanded the business over the next two centuries. Surely the most famous family member (to my generation anyway) was Sir Benjamin Truman who became the name, if not the face, of Truman’s as the jolly fat man with the peg leg and the motto “There’s more hops in Ben Truman”. Although he joined the firm in 1722 they were still using him on the labels and advertising in the 1970’s. The Black Eagle Brewery was constructed around 1724 and eventually became London’s largest brewery, the second largest in Britain. Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co. became a public company in 1888, but production was now predominately from Burton in Staffs. The Brick Lane brewery remained active through a takeover by the Grand Metropolitan Group in 1971 and a merger with Watney Mann in 1972, but it was closed in 1988. The buildings are still there but now house around 200 venues of all descriptions, eateries, design, fashion and all night bars. It was even host to the controversial ‘Body Works’ exhibition of human corpses. In 2022 a smaller scale Truman brewery is still working. Some enterprising young people started a micro brewery in Hackney Wick ten years ago. Will it reach the scale of Brick Lane? I don't think so. An ornamental arch designed by Meena Thakor was erected in 1997 to mark the entrance to Brick Lane and to ‘Banglatown’

The Sunday Market

The market evolved in the 1700’s when traders set up their stalls outside the city limits to avoid surcharges and taxes that would otherwise been imposed on them. It was primarily a livestock market, but as the years went on and the inhabitants changed it became larger and more varied. You can now buy almost anything there - new or second hand. The main market runs from Cheshire Street where it joins Valance Road across Brick Lane into Sclater Street up to Bethnal Green Road and what used to be known as Club Row animal market. In 1982 the council banned the sale of pets from here due to the bad condition most of the animals seemed to be in, and the diseases they carried. I heard stories that a man sold the same pigeons week after week because the buyers didn’t realise that they were homing pigeons! Whether this is actually true or not is anyone’s guess but I wouldn't put it past them. The railway arches that housed a few traders in this part of the market have all closed up now due to the opening of Shoreditch station, part of London Overground. In 2011 Europe's first pop-up Boxpark opened near the station at the top of Bethnal Green Road. It consists of a shopping mall and eating places and bars made solely from black shipping containers. I didn't think it would last but it's still there today (2022) and is extremely popular. At the other end of the Lane, going towards the old brewery and Spitalfields it is always buzzing as the new artistic types have staked a claim there. If you like crowds and the pushing and shoving of a bustling market then Brick Lane on a Sunday is for you. If you get there early enough you could even combine it with a trip to Columbia Road flower market which is only a few minutes walk away.

Religious Changes

A Huguenot chapel, "La Neuve Eglise" was built on the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street in 1742. As the immigrant population changed, so did the chapel's function. In 1809 the Jewish community was growing very large and missionaries were using the building to teach them Christianity! It was known as the Jews Chapel. In 1819 after John Wesley had preached a sermon at the nearby Black Eagle Street Chapel it was once again reborn, this time as a Methodist Chapel. As the Jewish population became more dominant, it became the Spitalfields Great Synagogue in 1898. Time passed by and The Jews moved out. The Bangladeshi were moving in. in, and in 1976 the Grade II listed building became the London Jamme Masjid, or Great London Mosque.

Curry Houses

Indian cuisine really took off in the area as the immigration continued. Families from Bangladesh and Bengal came to look for work in London and many settled in the East End. Their arrival paved the way for Indian restaurants to be opened and the Aldgate end of the lane to become known as the "Curry Capital". Sorry, but I prefer Chinese!

Brick Lane. The Evolution

Maybe it’s because I once lived very close to it that it’s never been a novelty to me. Or maybe it was just my bad attitude towards it. Apart from a very lively Sunday market, I found nothing remotely attractive about the Brick Lane area. Prostitutes that frequently asked “looking for business?”. It was to me, a dark slum filled shit-hole with too many curry houses thrown in. That was in the past. Now things are different (apart from the curry houses). The reason? As with most of the East end in the 21st. century, "gentrification" for want of a better word. I dare say that if the property prices hadn’t rocketed a couple of decades ago it would have stayed that way or even deteriorated more. Nobody bothered about the dirty old derelict buildings before it became the "in" place to be. The recent influx of the middle class, artistic types and city workers into the area has made everyone eager to brighten the place up and believe me it’s not before time! I for one welcome them. I think they must be raving mad to want to live there, but it is now a lively vibrant place to be with throngs of fashionable people using the trendy shops, bars, and eateries (food everywhere). Years ago it was deserted in the evenings, just a couple of small local pubs. Now the whole area is buzzing most days and nights. The Sunday market still goes on, but the modern transformation has created an extremely lively place for the influx of the young middle class generation.

The Name

Brick Lane takes it’s name from the fact that around 1550 it was indeed a brick lane, a lane used to transport bricks from the nearby brick works. The surrounding land at the North end was excavated for it’s high quality brick earth. Daniel Defoe described this lane as being ‘deeply rutted by carts bringing bricks from the brick works’. The Romans had also noted the quality of the earth centuries before. Bricks from these works were used to rebuild the City after the great fire of 1666 almost totally destroyed it. I would hazard a guess that the bricks used to build the famous Truman chimney came from there too.

The Beigel Shop

Evering Bakery was London’s oldest and first Beigel bakery on Brick Lane was founded in 1855. In 1987, Israeli-born brothers David and Aron took over the business from the previous owners. David had been working in the shop for a few years. The name of the shop was changed in 2002 to "Beigel Shop" and a bright yellow plastic sign replaced the old one. Time Out magazine gave it this review: “For more than 150 years, Brick Lane’s Beigel Shop has been the torch-bearer of baking history in London’s Jewish East End and a cornerstone in the lives of generations.”
Brick Lane Sunday Market Trumans Chimney Selling Peacock Feathers in Brick Lane Sign of the Black Eagle Brewery Sir Benjamin Truman 1950's Ben Truman Beermat The Beigel Shop in Brick Lane A popular place in Brick Lane