One street, many faces: people of Brick Lane
Banglatown, a vintage hotspot, a graffiti-painted street, a creative hub for artists and the face of the tough East End: this is Brick Lane, defined by the people who live and work there
Sader: the shy pancake seller
This Sunday, it is crowded under the roof of the Old Truman Brewery, which was once the world’s largest of its kind. Since the facility closed down in 1989, it has been home to various clubs, restaurants and cafés and is also used for events, such as fashion shows and exhibitions. It also, however, houses the famous market in the Boiler House Food Hall on weekends, offering a choice of delicious meals from all over the world.
Here, Sader, originally from a small town in Malaysia, sells pancakes from his home country at one of the many food stalls. He has been there every weekend since 2010, when the business started. “I like Brick Lane’s buzz on Sundays. Work is more exciting with so many people around,” he says, holding a tray with pancake pieces to try.
Tom and Liam Harriman: the creative street musicians
Street musicians are an essential part of a celebratory Sunday on Brick Lane, filling the street with rock vibes and reggae rhythms.
Tom and Liam Harriman can be found sitting under the London Overground Bridge, playing their acoustic guitars. The two brothers come from Nottingham, but moved to the capital to do what they love: making music. Tom turns out to be the creative head of the duo. “My brother likes to take old songs and change them according to his personal style, so they feel like his own,” Liam says, while his brother keeps playing the guitar absentmindedly. “This one is from the 1920s. It’s called 16 tons.” Despite the lyrics it’s quite different to the jazzy, easy-going version of Tennessee Ernie Ford.
They have only recently discovered Brick Lane as a place to perform, but now they come here nearly every day.
“We love the area’s flair, with all the street art and the many creative people around. It is so colourful … Especially now that it is getting warmer and the street is packed on weekends, it is exciting to make music here. We’re looking forward to a great summer.”
Marcia Cooper: the smart business owner
A short distance away from the two musicians, at 4 Cheshire Street just off Brick Lane, there is a small shop by the name of House of Vintage that looks plain from the outside, but is full of second-hand treasures from America. Amidst all the vintage is a young Canadian, Marcia Cooper, who opened the shop with her business partner Dennis three years ago.
“After I moved to the UK I noticed a gap in the market for high quality American vintage,” she says. And of course, Brick Lane seemed to be the best place to sell vintage in the capital. However, as Marcia notices, it becomes harder and harder for owners of small, independent shops to survive on the trendy street.
“Brick Lane as an area has changed dramatically since we’ve been here,” she says. “Sadly, we continually see new businesses open and then shut each year. As the area becomes more popular it seems that shop rents are spiralling beyond what can be achieved.”
At the heart of London’s vintage scene, smaller shops like House of Vintage find themselves competing against vintage giants such as Beyond Retro and Rokit – a battle many fear to fight. However, Marcia hopes Brick Lane’s shop owners will stand their ground.
“It’s tough to be an independent shop on Brick Lane these days. But we hope that other small businesses will be able to flourish in our community as well, so that we can keep the independent spirit alive in the area.”
Candy de Sanderson: the antiques lover
For seven years, Candy and Sandy de Sanderson have sold antiques in This Shop Rocks on 131 Brick Lane.
“I like anything that’s strange and old. I just find it fascinating,” says Candy, who travelled around the world in a caravan with her husband when they were young, but finally started selling antiques in the sixties. She had a shop in Essex, in Camden, and in many other places, but Brick Lane is where she wants to stay. Nonetheless, Candy wishes the street had not become so trendy.
“I liked the area more when I came here, when the shops were still old and more run-down,” she says, sitting between piles of old books, china plates and furniture.
“Brick Lane has definitely not changed for the better in recent years, but I expect it to keep changing.”
Candy’s prediction may well come true. For as Brick Lane becomes more and more trendy and rents keep rising, it could dislodge independent shop owners as well as residents from the street.
And with new people on Brick Lane, the street’s character will change too.
Follow our way through Brick Lane
Find out more about Brick Lane
- The Old Truman Brewery
- The Brick Lane Gallery
- Boiler House Food Hall
- Sunday (Up)Market
- Backyard Market
- Visit Brick Lane
- Brick Lane Tea Rooms
- The Vintage Market
- House of Vintage
- This Shop Rocks
- Brick Lane: The Movie Trailer
Also read From the Bronx to Brick Lane: The rise of street art tourism in Shoreditch and take our tour of Islington.