As the most famous landmark for Bangladeshis living overseas, when it comes to matters of diaspora, Brick Lane represents a kind of capital. While it gained notoriety for the Jack the Ripper crimes, for centuries it has been the first stop for migrants fleeing to London from either persecution or lack of opportunity, from French Huguenots fleeing Catholic attacks to Jewish groups after the World War.
It is now undergoing a new kind of regeneration, as hipsters and upwardly mobile professionals begin to reshape its character, but its gritty heart as the curry capital of Britain and the home of the largest community of Bangladeshis in the Western world remains.
Our UK correspondent Tania Ahmed undertook a brief tour and chronicled some of the notable sites.
We started the walking tour at Altab Ali Park (below), a place where the local community gathers for cultural events. The park was previously a church yard, and later named in memory of Altab Ali in 1998. He was a 25 year old Bengali clothing worker who was stabbed to death on a street close by in a racist murder in 1978. Throughout the 1970s racial violence towards Bengali’s in the area weren’t uncommon. But his death marked a turning point for the Bengali community – 7,000 people marched from the place he died to Hyde Park.
As we left the park and entered Brick Lane I was surprised to learn that Bengali people have lived in London for nearly 400 years. Many came to London as seaman (lascars) through trade links in East India Company and later left to work in the clothing or catering industry. There are still signs of their legacy – restaurant named ‘Clipper’ and other sea themed restaurant names.
This is the Old Mayfair Cinema of the 1930’s. Bengali men used to watch 3-for-1 deal films here – Bengali film, Hindi film and a Kung Fu film. And apparently Dilip Kumar paid a visit here back in the day. It’s going to be teared down to build a hipster hotel.
Taj Supermarket on Brick Lane opened in 1934 by Bengali seaman with his Irish wife Cathleen.
Jamme Masjid on Brick Lane – It was a Church (1743) , then Jewish Synagogue (1898) and then mosque in 1976.