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Bethnal Green & Spitalfields

London’s East End edges the City at buzzing Brick Lane and in the back streets of nearby Spitalfields, where you can see the city’s immigration story for real. The area pulsates with life and history, and has always been one of the most fast-changing districts of the capital. Famous for its graceful French Huguenot mansions, once facing dereliction but now lovingly restored, Spitalfields’ synagogues, street markets and beigel joints bear witness to the arrival of Jews from Eastern Europe in the 19th century, while Brick Lane’s umpteen bustling curry houses were established by a later wave of Bangladeshi immigration. But the area is defined by the present, not the past, with an edgy youth culture and some great music venues and clubs layered on top of it all to produce one of the most eclectic and interesting areas in the capital.

Both Bethnal Green and Spitalfields boomed as a result of the silk-weaving trade in the 18th century, drawing French Huguenot and Irish weavers who constructed mansions and humbler cottages. Bethnal Green was also famous for its market gardens, but a decline in the silk trade threw the area into decline, and it became one of London’s most notorious slums. There were attempts to address poverty in the area: it was the location for the world’s first council house development, constructed in 1900; but the area was hard hit by the Blitz, with more than 500 deaths and the destruction of many streets and houses. We have included Brick Lane in this section: the street was the site of brick production as early as the 15th century, and brewing began in the area in 1680 – you can still see the teetering tower of the Truman Brewery on the street. Brick Lane is also associated with the silk trade, and later with the production of cheaper garments created by large numbers of immigrant workers. From French Huguenot refugees to Irish weavers, and from Ashkenazi Jews escaping pogroms to Bangladeshi economic migrants, the street’s residents have a particularly rich and vivid history.

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