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).