Photograph of the week: Brick Lane, London, UK


Brick Lane in London’s East End is many things to many people. A shopping mecca for hipsters with money to burn and an insatiable thirst for one-offs. A hotbed of cultural diversity and artistic freedom. The “curry capital” of the United Kingdom. You might even know it as ‘Banglatown’.

The street itself runs from Bethnal Green to Whitechapel, passing through the Shoreditch and Spitalfield areas, but nowadays when people speak of Brick Lane they are more often than not referring to the greater area around the street. An area teeming with street art – as pictured here; a street market where you can find anything, and we do mean anything; trendy boutiques boasting one-of-a-kind designs; vintage record stores; buskers playing music good enough for Royal Albert Hall (well, some of them anyway); and curry houses. All of the curry houses.

It’s no secret that the UK’s favourite dish is “a curry”. Indian food continues to play a huge role in both British culture and the culinary scene, with over 10,000 Indian restaurants scattered across the city at last count. But did you know that over 80% of those South Asian and Indian restaurants are owned by Bengalis? Given that Brick Lane is known as Banglatown – nicknamed in reference to it being the very heart London’s Bangladeshi community – it follows that many of those 80% can be found right here, on the winding cobbled streets that make up one of London’s most called upon areas.

Brick Lane is so much more, though, than a happy hunting ground for the curry-obsessed foodie. For over 450 years, it has been a bustling centre of commerce and ethnic diversity. Once called Whitechapel Lane, it got its current official name from the brick and tile manufacturing which was its bread and butter as far back as the 1550s. Back then, the area was mostly rural (hard to believe now), but some enterprising businessman (they’ve always been around) discovered that the ground in the area was awash with the clay needed to form bricks and tiles. Fast forward to 1666, the Great Fire of London laid claim to most of London’s wooden buildings and so the demand for bricks increase. Brick Lane became the go-to place for said bricks, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, it is a history which has seen much, much more than just bricks trundling along these lanes. Brewing came to Brick Lane around 1680; Jack the Ripper lurked on dark corners in the 1880s; Monica Ali’s book Brick Lane, published in 2003, was set here; and the street has apparently been used as a filming location for popular BBC television show Luther. For many, though, the most striking thing about Brick Lane is not these popular culture references. It’s not even the curries. (So many wonderful curries.) Instead it’s the street art which draws them in, and keeps them enthralled. Street artists both local and international continue to make their way to Brick Lane to leave their mark. Quite literally. Well-known artists like Banksy, Stik, D*Face, ROA, Ben Eine and Omar Hassan have all added to the striking scenes that make up Brick Lane.

Go see it all for yourself. The closest London Underground stations are Aldgate East (8 minutes) and Liverpool Street (10 mins), while Shoreditch High Street is the nearest London Overground station (5 minutes).

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Comments (6)

  1. Steve says:

    I have always been a big fan of street art. I know that some people dismiss it as graffiti but I feel that brings character and life to many an urban setting.

  2. Alison Williams says:

    Pleasing to see that the work of these street artists is being recorded. I just hope that images of their work are being saved for future generations. They say a lot about Britain today.

  3. Alex says:

    As some one who was banned from doing Art for GCSE I’m just in awe of artists who have got the skill and patience to produce something like this.

  4. Julie says:

    I live in the UK but I had never heard of London’s East End being called ‘Bangletown’ before. Learn something new every day! It’s interesting to get a snapshot of how the area has changed over the years and the events that have added the area’s notoriety. I didn’t have a clue about the bricks following the Great Fire either, but now the name of Brick Lane makes sense. While some people seem to consider diversity intimidating, I think it adds such flavour and a wealth of new opportunities. I haven’t had a good curry in a while so I’ll have to make sure to check out some of the offerings in the area, which I haven’t actually been to myself before, the next time I venture to London!

  5. James says:

    This is what makes London such a great city. Some people claim that it’s the world’s capital which I’m never going to dispute. There’s many a place in the world where such a piece of art would be outlawed and a criminal offence. Also it would quickly be removed.

  6. Peter Ryan says:

    Probably the most striking thing about this street art is that it does so much with just black and white. Though perhaps it is sad that for the guy walking by with his bike it soon just becomes part of his daily routine, not even worth a glance. How quickly the exceptional becomes commonplace.

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