London’s Brick Lane Market

It won’t come as any surprise to learn that Brick Lane was once a centre of brick manufacture in London’s east-end, thanks to the local deposits of brick clay. During the 17th century Huguenot weavers seeking refuge from Catholic persecution in France settled in the area. Then successive waves of Irish, Jewish and later Bengali immigrants followed the Huguenots, attracted by cheap rents and unskilled jobs in the ‘rag trade’. Today the area around Brick Lane is known as Banglatown and famed for its street market and many curry houses.

Brick Lane the heart of London’s Banglatown

With the benefit of hindsight I think we may have planned our visit the wrong way around when we arrived at Aldgate East Tube Station (District and Hammersmith and City Line).

Handsome London Transport roundel – Aldgate East Tube station

Taking a left up the Whitechapel High Street we passed the Whitechapel Art Gallery (handy hint its free to get in with nice clean free to pee loos) and these jolly Vampire carrots,

Vampire carrots – London street art

before making another left into Osborn Street. On 4 April 1888 the prostitute Emma Elizabeth Smith was killed in Osborn Street. Some people believe that she was the first victim of Jack the Ripper, although there is no hard evidence to link her death with the Ripper murders. Osborn Street leads into Brick Lane itself and you are soon surrounded by the tempting smells of fragrant spices and Bengali sweets wafting from the many Asian shops and restaurants. It was all too much, and after stocking up on bargain bags of spices (so much cheaper than our local supermarket), a bag of freshly cooked samosas from Madhubon (42 Brick Lane) were being devoured.

Freshly cooked samosas, too delicious to resist.

Almost every restaurant we passed seemed to be the proud owner of a ‘Best Curry in London’ award. Menus were perused, but it was a bit early in the day and the delightfully spiced and quite substantial samosas had taken the edge off our hunger.

Joseph Truman started brewing ale in Brick Lane in 1663, of course at the time beer was safer to drink than water. Truman’s Black Eagle Brewery was swallowed up by the brewing giant Grand Metropolitan in 1971 and ceased brewing in 1988 as the brewing giant attempted to force beer lovers to drink nasty keg beers like Watney’s (AKA Grotney’s) Red Barel. Recently the old brewery has undergone a bit of a renaissance,  as the buildings have been redeveloped into indoor market spaces to rival those of trendy Camden Lock.

Just some of the food on offer at the Old Brewery

Certainly the selection of food stalls offered an even wider choice than Camden, with Bengali, Chinese, Caribbean, Cuban, Ethiopian, Japanese, Mexican, Moroccan, Spanish, Thai,Tibetan, Turkish fast food joints all doing brisk trade. Thankfully I was still full of samosa so avoided having to make a choice. Aside from the food there were stalls selling new and vintage clothing, jewelry, antiques, prints and other craft items to the shabby-chic students, Guardianistas, tourists and sharp dressed young media darlings that make Brick Lane such a trendy place to hang out today.

Passing on through the bustling street market we came to Brick Lane’s legendary bagel bakeries, Although most of Brick Lane’s Jewish immigrants have moved on, Biegal Bake (59 Brick Lane) is still going strong. Open 24 hours a day, it’s London’s oldest bagel bakery and produces over 7000 bagels every day. Biegal Bake is famed for its hot salt beef bagels, they must be pretty good since people were queuing two deep inside the shop and out on to the pavement. We looked at the queue and decided that no matter how good they may be life was too short for standing in line.

By the time we’d reached the Shoreditch end of the market, we were starting to get hungry, however we were now at the wrong end of Brick Lane for the curry houses and my ankle was starting to hurt. Fortunately we were close to a part of London colonised by some later immigrants, the Vietnamese Boat People and it was a short walk,

Spiny Norman perhaps

passing some more great street art, including this imaginative locksmith’s door,

Locksmiths – Shoreditch

to Kingsland Road (AKA Pho Mile). I’d eaten in the Viet Hoa Cafe (70-72 Kingsland Road) before, so I was keen to share the experience with my fiends. They weren’t disappointed. I tried the chicken with pickled vegetables . The chicken was delightfully spicy while the crunchy pickles had just about the right amount of sourness. I also polished off Mab’s tasty Singapore noodles. With beer, tea and egg fried rice the damage only came to £57 for the three of us. A perfect end to a pleasant day out.

I think the next time we visit Brick Lane we might try navigating from the overground station at Shoreditch High Street and walk down Brick Lane to the tube at Aldgate East. Hopefully if we get there early we can have a salt beef bagel and a curry.

Shoreditch – A Trip to London’s Victorian East End

Monday found me at the foot of London’s east-end in Shoreditch.

Shoreditch Church (St Leonard's) built about 1740

Legend has it that the name is derived from Shore’s Ditch, being the last resting place of Jane Shore the mistress of Edward IV who is supposed to have either died or been buried in a ditch in the area. What’s more likely is that the name comes from Sewer Ditch.

My friend Brian’s studio is located in a redeveloped Victorian match factory, the Perseverance Works. This was the sort of place where the exposure to white phosphorous in the matchmaking process caused Phossy Jaw, a nasty disease that caused the teeth and jaw to rot away, before causing death from massive organ failure. The phosphorus made the affected jaw bone to glow in the dark, hence the name. The use of white phosphorus over the more expensive, but far less toxic red phosphorus was only banned in the UK in 1910, after a lot of campaigning from the Salvation Army and other philanthropic groups.

Perseverance Works

Today Perseverance Works is a much nicer place, having been redeveloped into design studios, magazine offices, artisan workshops and the like. Brian’s studio is on the top floor with access to a roof terrace with some stunning views over London. The light wasn’t that good but I got a nice view to the west where you can see,

View to the west

Shoreditch Church, which is the very same one that says ‘When I grow rich’ in the rhyme Oranges and Lemons, and the tower blocks of the City of London beyond. Dedicated to St Leonard it is used as the location for the BBC comedy Rev.

Shoreditch Town Hall

A bit to the north of St Leonard’s is the redundant Shoreditch Town Hall, with its Neo Classical facade, on Old Street which wends its way up towards, what the Prime Minister calls Silicone Roundabout. Not quite Silicone Valley, but I suppose it’s about as good as we are going to get in London. Perseverance Works is often used as a filming location for things like cookery shows and it does have a very attractive courtyard. Such a welcome change from the original purpose of the building.

Courtyard of Perseverance Works

In Tudor times James Burbage built a theatre in the area and some of Shakespeare’s plays were performed there. Later in Victorian times Shoreditch became a centre for music halls and gin palaces, and all the crime, drunkeness and sleaze that went with them.

Late Victorian boozer

Then along came Hitler, who flattened most of the area during World War Two and mid 20th century developers who put up some really quite appalling new properties. However Shoreditch has been undergoing a bit of a renaissance just lately, as lots of creative industries have moved into places like the old match factory. As part of London’s old east-end it has always been the home of immigrants getting a leg up into the city.  Some of the most recent settlers are the Vietnamese who have opened some very good restaurants, so many in fact that Kingsland Road is known as Pho Mile.  We had lunch at the Viet Hoa Cafe, which was very good.

There are a few interesting Victorian buildings in Shoreditch that managed to survive both Hitler and 60s re-developers like this former ironworks. Shame someone cut a window through that decorative tiling.

Wells and Company Commercial Iron Works

If you fancy a look around the area the nearest stations are Shoreditch High Street (London Overground) Liverpool Street and Old Street (Northern Line)