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Brick Lane and it’s Sunday market

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From Brick Lane to Bangla Town

Maybe it’s because I live so close to it and that it’s not a novelty to me. Or maybe it’s just my bad attitude towards it but apart from a lively Sunday market I used to find nothing at all attractive about the Brick Lane area.It was, to me, nothing more than a shit-hole with too many curry houses thrown in. I dare say that if the property prices hadn’t rocketed in the last decade or so it would have stayed that way or even deteriorated more. Nobody bothered about the dirty, old and derelict slums in the area before it became the "in" place to be. The recent influx of the middle class, artistic types and city workers into the area has made everyone eager to brighten the place up and believe me it’s not before time!
I for one welcome them. I think they must be raving mad to want to live there, but it is now a lively vibrant place to be with throngs of fashionable people using the trendy shops, bars, and eateries. Years ago it was deserted in the evenings, now it’s buzzing every night.
The Sunday market still goes on, but even that has declined in standards. There are still a few of the "old school" traders left but there is also a great deal of junk.It’s hard to do a piece about Bethnal Green without giving this once great and loved market a mention so I’ll forget my personal opinions for a while and give you some information about the place, along with some snapshots.

The name Brick Lane

Immigration and Brick Lane

Brick Lane got it’s name from the fact that around 1550 it was in fact, a lane which was used to transport bricks from the nearby brick works. The surrounding land at the North end was excavated for it’s high quality brick earth. Daniel Defoe described this lane as being ‘deeply rutted by carts, bringing bricks from brick works’. The Romans had also noted the quality of the earth centuries before. Bricks from these works were also used after the great fire of 1666 to start rebuilding the city.
I wonder if the bricks used to build the famous Truman chimney came from there!

Huguenot refugees, Irish, Jews, Bangladeshi’s and other immigrants have always flocked to this area of East London then fade away to make room for another race or religion; until now. It may be the fact that it was fairly close to the docks while also being close to the City of London. It was necessary for them to be close to the City for commercial reasons, but the City was not so welcoming to them as residents. This of course does not apply today, as the city is spreading eastwards to engulf the area. Today’s settlers also have the bonus of a benefits system.

The Black Eagle Brewery - Truman, Hanbury and Buxton

For many years the brewery was a major employer in the area. I spent a few years More hops in Ben Trumanthere at the Coverly Fields depot in the early 70’s. It was around that time that they built the 24 hour bottling plant on the opposite side of the road to the original Black Eagle Brewery. It was to be used for ‘Tuborg’ lager.
The brewing industry in the Lane goes back to around the time of the great fire. Joseph Truman is known to have joined William Bucknall's Brewhouse. He became the manager in 1697, and with the aid of family members expanded the business over the next two centuries. Surely the most famous family member (to my generation anyway) was Sir Benjamin Truman who became the name, if not the face, of Truman’s as the jolly fat man with the peg leg and the motto “There’s more hops in Ben Truman”. Although he joined the firm in 1722 they were still using him on the labels and advertising in the 1970’s.
The Black Eagle Brewery was constructed around 1724 and eventually became London’s largest brewery, the second largest in Britain. Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co. became a public company in 1888, but production was now predominately from Burton in Staffs. The Brick Lane brewery remained active through a takeover by the Grand Metropolitan Group in 1971 and a merger with Watney Mann in 1972, but it was closed in 1988. The buildings are still there but now house around 200 venues of all descriptions, eateries, design, fashion and all night bars. It was even host to the controversial ‘Body Works’ exhibition of human corpses.
As I update this page in 2018 the brewery is working again. Some enterprising young people started a micro brewery there a couple of years ago. I don't suppose it will reach the scale it was before but you never know!

The Sunday Market

The market evolved in the 1700’s, when traders set up their stalls outside the city limits to avoid surcharges and taxes that would otherwise been imposed on them. It was primarily a livestock market, but as the years went on and the inhabitants changed it became larger and more varied. You can now buy almost anything there - new or second hand. The main market runs from Cheshire Street where it joins Valance Road across Brick Lane into Sclater Street up to Bethnal Green Road and what used to be known as Club Row animal market. In 1982 the council banned the sale of pets from here due to the bad condition most of the animals seemed to be in, and the diseases they carried. I heard stories that a man sold the same pigeons week after week because the buyers didn’t realise that they were homing pigeons! Whether this is actually true or not is anyone’s guess. The railway arches that housed a few traders in this part of the market have all closed up now due to the opening of Shoreditch station, part of London Overground. In 2011 Europe's first pop-up Boxpark opened near the station at the top of Bethnal Green Road. It consists of a shopping mall and eating places made solely from black shipping containers. I didn't think it would last but it's still there today (2018)
At the other end of the Lane, going towards the old brewery and Spitalfields it is always buzzing as the new artistic types have staked a claim there. If you like crowds and the pushing and shoving of a bustling market then Brick Lane on a Sunday is for you. If you get there early enough you could even combine it with a trip to Columbia Road flower market which is only a few minutes walk away.

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