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Spitalfields and Banglatown

Map showing Spitalfields locationSpitalfields lies at the heart of the East End of London and is famous for its bustling street markets. At weekends crowds pack the area to buy an interesting mix of fashions and household items, toys and games, fruit and vegetables.

Many people are drawn to Spitalfields for the wide variety of eateries found around the markets. Brick Lane is known for its curry restaurants, and with its predominant Bangladeshi community.

The area is historically famous for providing refuge to those fleeing persecution. In the 18th century, the area was occupied by the silk weavers largely descended from the Huguenot refugees (French Protestants escaping from Catholic persecution in France). A hundred years later, Jews fleeing the pogroms in Eastern Europe, founded a thriving community.

Photograph of a crowded Brick LaneNowhere is the unique history of the area better depicted than in the history of the local mosque. The mosque in Brick Lane has been a place of worship for different faiths for hundreds of years. It was first built as church by the Huguenots but changed use to become a synagogue when a Jewish community replaced the protestant population.

By the middle of the 20th century the Jewish community had mostly moved on and the building was converted again, this time into a mosque to serve the Bangladeshi community. With its culture and cuisine the Bangladeshi influence gives a cosmopolitan feel to Spitalfields. The influence is so striking that the area has been dubbed Bangla Town.

Architecturally, the narrow lanes and alleyways of Spitalfields typify the bustling street life of Charles Dickens' London. Spitalfields covered market was built in 1682 and is a fine example of the hamlet's architecture. It now houses a lively crafts and antique market with an international and organic food hall.

Photograph of Spitalfields churchThe nearby Brick Lane Market developed during the 18th century for farmers selling their livestock and produce outside the city boundary. Today the market offers wide array of fruit and vegetables, clothes and household goods.

Petticoat Lane Market is renowned for its clothing and leather goods. It holds over 1000 stalls on Sunday and is always packed with bargain hunters.

Then there's Columbia Road Market, to the north of Spitalfields, which is famous for its huge selection of house and garden plants, and trees. On Sunday the street is a blaze of colour, with people searching for their favourite blooms or enjoying the many eating options of English breakfasts, Spanish tapas and sea food.

To the south of Spitalfields is Whitechapel Road, which is world famous as the only East End street on the Monopoly board. More locally the road is famous for the East London Mosque, The Royal London Hospital and museum and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Photograph of Whitechapel Art GalleryBuilt in 1720, the bell foundry has a history dating back to 1420. It has produced bells for countries all over the world but is most well known for casting London's Big Ben and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Visits to the foundry can be made by appointment and visitors can witness many of the ancient casting processes still in use.

The area is also the home of one of London's leading contemporary art establishments - the Whitechapel Art Gallery. This is a stylish and spacious gallery showing contemporary and 20th century works.

Secrets of Spitalfields (PDF 569kb)

Virtual tour of Brick Lane