The tour started on Brushfield Street, and we then headed up through Spitalfields where our guide Ben gave us a short history of the area. In the 1600’s thousands of French Protestants fled to the east of London to escape the catholic uprising in France and it was here, just outside the borders of the city that they resided and built up a fantastic community, using their skills in textiles and clothes making to bring more wealth and success to the area. In the 1700’s the French were followed by Eastern European Jews who populated the area very quickly and at one point during this time there were over 40 synagogues in this area, they also brought their local delicacies such as bagels – two famous bagel shops are located at the top of Brick Lane.
The 1800’s saw the area decline in success and was one of the poorest areas of London to live in. It was here that Jack the Ripper wreaked havoc during the Victorian times.
WW2 saw many of the buildings bombed and destroyed however luckily some if the gorgeous town houses constructed by the French still remain. Following the war, the immigration laws were changed and around 10,000 people came over to the east end from Bangladesh, which helped the area become more popular and has lead to over 54 curry houses on Brick Lane!
Once we hit Brick Lane, Ben showed us a range of different art work. One artist Jonesy, places small sculptures on signposts, difficult to spot unless you’re looking. Another, Roa paints huge black and white images of animals on the sides of buildings. Other artists use Stencils, in a similar way to Banksy, however with many more layers and much more details. Often the artwork lasts for around 3-4months before someone else comes and paints over it. Ben noted that this art world is very male dominated however pointed out so great pieces done by women in the area.
Throughout London you can spot graffiti, this is classed as illegal street art, which is done purely by spray paint. People have been painting tags for years as a way of representing themselves, their identity and gaining respect in the art world. Without graffiti, the street art world wouldn’t have taken off in the way it has. The legal artworks on buildings and walls aren’t legalised via the council, it is a mutual agreement between the artists and the landlords. This gives artists such as Roa (and others) the opportunity to share their talent across the streets of London and Europe. On artist, Space Invader has a Star Wars mosaic on the end of a car park building in Shoreditch. It’s there illegally as him and team used fluro jackets, a cherry picker and traffic signs to look official while they put the artwork up!
The tour was a fantastic insight into an area of London which is so unique. Our tour guide Ben was very passionate about ensuring that the area stays unique, he explained that up until last year, the council ensured that chains could not be opened on Brick Lane, which really helped the independent businesses thrive in this area. Since the removal of this rule, a Subway has opened at the top of the street, which threatens the two Bagel shops that have been around since the 19th Century. Ben worries that Brick Lane could look like all the other high streets across London. The topic of gentrification is an interesting one, in particular as the East End and the City border each other, with the difference between the two areas being so apparent. How far will the City creep into the Shoreditch area and can this be avoided?