Guide to East London

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Brick Lane

Whitechapel, E1. Tube: Aldgate East, Shoreditch, Liverpool Street

The local community has recently renamed this area "Bangla Town." The Bangladeshis came here as seamen in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, bringing their skills in cooking, practiced on the boats and in lodging houses, so to open the first Asian restaurants in Britain.

Brick Lane is an excellent place to find a good cheap curry restaurant where you can take your own beer or wine. At the junction with Hanbury Street, there's a cluster of particularly excellent Bangladeshi restaurants.

Writing about Brick Lane curry restaurants, in Pat Chapman's 1998 "Good Curry Guide," he remarks: "The number of curry houses has grown from a couple in 1971 to twenty-four in 1997. . ."

My favourite Brick Lane curry restaurants are Cafe Bangla (128 Brick Lane. Tel: (0) 171 247 7885) and the Famous Curry Bazzar (77 Brick Lane. Tel: (0) 171 375 1986). They're run by the former manager of the original Clifton Restaurant in Brick Lane. You just might meet a television newscaster, a Member of Parliament or another celebrity when you visit.

Walk down towards Whitechapel High Street and there's more curry restaurants and shops selling foods, sweets, saris and fabrics. Walk up towards Bethnal Green Road and at 159 Brick Lane you'll find the famous Beigel Bakery that is open 24 hours a day. Don't miss the Sunday morning market.

In medieval times bricks and tiles were manufactured in Brick Lane. Although some wealth had been introduced by the arrival of Huguenot silk weavers from for the poverty of its inhabitants since at least the 16th century.

In 1724 Ben Truman established the Black Eagle Brewery at the junction of Hanbury Street. His own house wast 4 Princelet Street. Brewing smells and the constant clatter of horses hooves dominated as teams pulled carts of hops, corn and hay to the brewery and then took away the full barrels of beer. The brewery has closed down, but you can take a free conducted tour from Tuesday to Thursday at 10:30am. (Contact Englefields (London) Ltd, Reflection House, Cheshire Street, E2).

By the middle of the 19th century the area was a slum of narrow alleways and courts, into which about one million people were crowded, the vast majority in single poorly-furnished rooms in decaying houses and tenements, which had neither adequate water supplies nor proper sewage facilities.

Today's Brick Lane is a busy narrow road. Some of the street-names of the roads running off it have a kind of mythology to them. Chicksand Street is reputed to be where Bram Stocker stayed on his return to Transylvania. Flower and Dean Street was the address of most of Jack the Ripper's victims at some stage in their lives, Hanbury Street is where Annie Chapman was murdered by the Ripper. Old Montague Street has hardly changed in the last two hundred years. Halal butchers have replaced kosher ones and the synagogues have become mosques, the Jewish men who shuffled along Brick Lane are now shuffling Bengali men.



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