Brick Lane, and the streets leading off it, has developed into an iconic London district that has undergone many changes over the centuries. From humble beginnings as a brick making area in the 16th century it has developed into a thriving hub of art and design where a melting pot of cultures has created a truly unique part of London. Its south end is now largely known as Banglatown, due to the large Bangladeshi community that calls the area home. It also has the reputation of being among the best places in the capital to enjoy a curry at one of the many Bangladeshi restaurants that line the streets.
What makes Brick Lane and its architecture so fascinating is its varied history - something you need to understand to truly appreciate the diversity of the styles of the buildings. Although the street was first recorded in its current form in the 1500s, it wasn't until the 17th century that urban development really took hold in the area. The first large group to settle here were Protestant Huguenots fleeing from France and their silk-making trade helped Brick Lane develop into an important location for garment producing in London at this time.
One of the lasting landmarks from the period the Huguenot refugees lived in the area is their church, which was later converted into a Methodist chapel, then a synagogue and now a mosque. It is currently called the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid and is one of the largest Muslim places of worship in the capital, with space for 4,000 people inside. You can still see a Star of David over the door, to indicate this was once a synagogue, while the basic structure of the building has predominantly remained the same since its construction in 1744. This is a great example of how various cultural groups have integrated themselves into the fabric of Brick Lane and left a lasting impression.
A Jewish community first began to establish itself in the district in the 17th century, but in the 1880s a vast number of Russian Jews arrived and began to set up businesses in the East End. The area had already expanded significantly during the Victorian era, with London County Council establishing its first ever social housing estate - Boundary Estate - on the outskirts of the Brick Lane area in 1889. This was made up of 20 five-storey blocks of flats situated around a central square, which has now been converted into a garden.
This, as well as the rest of Brick Lane and the surrounding district, is now a conservation area to preserve the diversity of the architecture. Another remnant from the Victorian era is the Christ Church School, which is one of the only non-commercial properties still located on Brick Lane itself. Constructed in 1873, it has a classic Victorian Gothic style that makes it stand out.
One of the most recognisable sections of Brick Lane is that occupied by the Old Truman Brewery, which was first established in 1666, although it was not until 1730 that it began to expand in earnest. The complex is spread across both sides of Brick Lane, with an old crossover bridge linking the two sites. Since closing as a brewery in 1988 it has undergone a transformation and is now a hub for small creative and artistic businesses.
This mixed-use development features office, retail and leisure space, with shops, restaurants, galleries, bars and markets all standing alongside one another. Many of the old brewery buildings have been converted, with some featuring new architectural additions. One of the most notable of these is the Director's House, which underwent extensive restoration in the 1970s when a new glazed entrance was added to the property.
Around Brick Lane and the streets leading off it there are countless examples of how old architectural features have been incorporated into new developments. For example, an old red brick archway dating from the Victorian period has been retained in a more modern housing scheme on Wentworth Street. Meanwhile, the Braithwaite Viaduct is one of the features of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard that is due to be kept during a current regeneration project that will convert the former railway site into a mixed-use development of office space, leisure and retail facilities and 2,000 new homes.
- Thursday 05 July 2012