The cultural trail
As part of our drive to improve peoples’ knowledge of the history of the Brick Lane area and nearby Spitalfields, the inclusion of 8 new information boards will guide both residents and visitor to explore and gain a broad insight into the area’s rich heritage and culture.
There are 20 sites of particular interested indicated on the boards. These are as follows:
- Boundary Estate
- Redchurch Street
- Brick Lane Sunday Market
- Sclater Street
- St Matthew’s Church
- Bishopsgate Goods Yard
- Old Truman Brewery
- Commercial Street
- Princelet Street
- Brick Lane Jamme Masjid
- Puma Court
- Christ Church Spitalfields
- Old Spitalfields Market
- Fournier Street
- Christ Church School
- Fashion Street
- Whitechapel Art Gallery
- Altab Ali Park
- Whitechapel Bell Foundry
- Toynbee Hall
Each information board contains the following information, which is common to all boards and explains the general history of the area.
Brick Lane history
Brick Lane has long been a place of immigration both from within the British Isles and across the world, with a mixing of many communities and voices.
Brick Lane was in existence by the 1500s as a field path in open countryside outside the City of London, east of the boundary of the medieval Augustinian Priory of St Mary Spital, which gave Spitalfields its name. Originally the street took its name from the brick kilns first brought here by early Flemish settlers. Other activities, such as farming and archery practice also took place then.
Large scale urban development did not begin until the second half of the 17th Century, when many of the streets connecting Brick Lane to the City of London were laid out and the area began to take on its current appearance.
From the 1680s onwards a large community of Protestant Huguenot refugees escaping religious persecution arrived from France. They brought silk-weaving skills from Nantes, Lyons and other French cities, making Spitalfields a centre of London silk weaving and later, garment making. Although the community has now gone, their influence exists to this day as their fine houses can still be seen in nearby streets.
As the area developed so did the buildings, with the magnificent Christ Church Spitalfields on Commercial Street, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, completed in 1729. The other significant religious building, the Huguenot church on Brick Lane, now an important mosque, was completed in 1744.
Brick Lane was widened and improved after 1778 and began to take on its present appearance. Brick Lane Market developed during the 18th century for farmers selling livestock and produce outside the City boundary and continues to this day on Sundays selling general goods.
The brewing industry was active in the area from around 1666, and a brewery was purchased by Joseph Truman in 1679. This was extended in the 1700s when the Directors House on Brick Lane was built, and the site continued in use right up to the 1980s when the brewery closed. The site is now a thriving arts and business centre.
From the 17th century the area was settled by the Jewish community. Thousands of Yiddish speaking Russian Jews arrived from the 1880s. By this time the infamous crowded nature of the east end was fully developed, so well documented in Victorian literature. However by the 1930s, with increased prosperity, the Jewish community began to move to other parts of London, the wartime bombing of the Blitz hastening their departure.
The coming of the Second World War also gave the area new impetus and settlers of Bengalis from the Sylhet district of what is now Bangladesh came to London, some after serving in the merchant navy during the war. They established themselves in the Brick Lane area, where they found jobs in Jewish tailoring works which in time they took over, or started new businesses of their own including the famous curry restaurants for which the area is now well known.
Flemish, French, Russian, Bengali, Protestant, Jew and Muslim - Brick Lane has welcomed all these people over time. Now it is also home to a diverse mix of fashion, art, entertainment, retail and start-up businesses. The richness and complexity of the area’s character is due to many influences, but not least the overlapping cultural legacy of the successive groups of immigrants, each of which have made a unique contribution to the area.
The quality of the townscape today is also due to a committed local community which has acted to protect and restore historic buildings at risk and cherish the area.
The Cultural Trail is funded by planning contributions from the Bishop’s Square development
To view the individual text on each of the 6 information boards located on Brick Lane, please see the following links.