This photograph of the Shaheed Minar Martyrs’ Monument located inside Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel is an important focal point for the Bangladeshi diaspora in East London. The monument marks the deaths of university students on 21st February 1952 during the Bengali Language Movement demonstrations.
The Church of St Mary Matfelon that stood on the site was bombed heavily during the Blitz of 1940. The name ‘Whitechapel’ comes from the 14th-century white-coloured church that once occupied the site. The park was renamed in 1998 by a consortium of British-Bangladeshi organisations to commemorate the racist murder of a 25-year-old garment worker in 1978 that sparked the mobilisation of the Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets against far-right violence and structural inequalities that blighted their community.
Outside of Bangladesh Tower Hamlets is home to the largest diaspora of Bangladeshis in the Global West.
This photograph forms part of a series called Framing Banglatown, 184 photographs that document the impacts of ‘gentrification through hipsterfication’ that the artist feels threatens Brick Lane’s Banglatown and the unique localised identity found here. For British-Bangladeshis Altab Ali Park is a place to gather and often acts as a backdrop to news stories, local and international demonstrations and annual cultural events.
Dr Sharman Kadish, a leading expert on British Jewish architectural history, has been working with the Survey of London in 2018. She has made a significant contribution to our current work in Whitechapel, reviewing research and draft texts pertaining to sites relating to Jewish history, principally synagogues, but also covering mikvaos (bathhouses) and secular buildings (hostels, clubs and schools). Building on this editorial contribution, she has written an introductory overview of Whitechapel's Jewish architectural history, which we are now delighted to be able to make available through our website. The essay can be downloaded here.
Fieldgate Street Great Synagogue in 2003, view to the Ark on the north wall (photograph by Peter Guillery)
Date and Time: Thursday 25th October, 2018 - Thursday 29th November, 2018
Derek Kendall's photography for the Histories of Whitechapel project has given us many wonderful images. Lately Derek has been chronicling aspects of Whitechapel during the hours of darkness. Here are some views across Whitechapel Road showing some of the vans that are fixtures on the market's roadside.
Date and Time: Thursday 25th October, 2018 - Saturday 27th October, 2018
This is the second post of photographs arising from the Survey of London's Whitechapel History Fest, held at the Idea Store Whitechapel in late October. The event drew more than 200 people to attend a range of talks and discussions, as well as poetry readings and the premiere of a film. We were delighted that Dan Cruickshank came to present the final talk of the occasion, a wide-ranging overview of Whitechapel's history from a personal point of view. He recounted his walks through the wider E1 area in the early 1970s, using his own photographs of that time as illustrations. Dan has now kindly shared these images with us, and we are posting a number of those of Whitechapel sites here. We will make use of a wider selection in the near future for a post in the Survey of London's main blog. All images are copyright Dan Cruickshank.
Alexandra Wing, London Hospital
Alie Street and Leman Street (southeast corner)
Graces Alley, showing Wilton's Music Hall to the rear
Former sugar refinery converted to tea warehouse, Dock Street
Date and Time: Thursday 25th October, 2018 - Saturday 27th October, 2018
In late October 2018 the Survey of London hosted the Whitechapel History Fest at the Idea Store Whitechapel. The event drew more than 200 people to attend a range of talks and discussions, as well as poetry readings and the premiere of a film. The photographer Ron McCormick was among the numerous contributors. We were fortunate that Ron took time to record aspects of the occasion. He has kindly shared his images with us, and we are posting them here. All images are copyright Ron McCormick.
Bernard Kops reading his poem 'Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East', with Rachel Lichtenstein
Sarah Milne speaking about Whitechapel's Deutsche Kolonie
Mapping and Place discussion (Duncan Smith, Seif El Rashidi, Shlomit Flint, Laura Vaughan and Duncan Hay)
Shahed Saleem at the Mapping and Place discussion
Alan Dein speaking about Cockney-Jewish jazz
Kinsi Abdulleh speaking on the themes of sailors and settlement
Derek Morris, Tamsin Bookey and Kinsi Abdulleh discussing sailors and settlement
Malcolm Barr-Hamilton speaking about histories from the archives
Dor Duncan on histories from the archives
Aileen Reid, Celeste, Danny McLaughlin and Gary Hutton discussing the sharing of local history through social media
Dan Cruickshank taking questions after his concluding overview of Whitechapel's history across the last fifty years, with Peter Guillery
We've just taken down an exhibition of our project that was on display at the Idea Store Whitechapel throughout September. If you missed it, here are a few of the highlights.
The exhibition in the 4th floor gallery at the Idea Store, Whitechapel.
The interior of the Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs on Prescot Street, built in 1875-6 and designed by Pugin and Pugin, a London-based family firm of church architects (photo: Derek Kendall)
Aldgate Place under construction in 2017 (photo: Derek Kendall)
A warehouse building on the corner of Commercial Road and White Church Lane (27 Commercial Road), built in 1872-3 and demolished in 2016 to make way for a 270 bed, 21 storey hotel (photo: Derek Kendall)
The last plan of the Bell Foundry measured and drawn by Helen Jones for the Survey of London, just before it closed in 2016. (photos; Derek Kendall, Shahed Saleem)
Photographer David Hoffman lived in Whitechapel for fifteen years from 1970. Through this period he saw the area change as he lived in several different places, and he observed and documented the squatting movement at close hand. Some of his photographs and recollections are presented here as a major exhibition of his work opens this month at Gallery 46, 46 Ashfield Street, London E1 2AJ.
"I moved in there [Fieldgate Mansions] in 1973. There were lots of squats, I was quite involved with the squatting movement so we would go around generally opening places up. The council would board them up and move people out, and then we’d move in and take them over and put families in or friends in.
A friend of mine, Terry Fitzpatrick, was quite an important part of that – he started the Bengali Family Housing Association Group, I may have the name slightly wrong but it was something like that. And we were putting Bengali men with their families into squats as we opened them up. I mean there were no Bengali families at all in that area, there were a few along Old Montague Street when I first moved in, in some very shambolic buildings. But then more of them came over, brought their families, and Fieldgate became very Bengali.
[It was] very secular then, there was no mosque of course, and I mean the women would just be out on the street, chatting, no headscarves… and it’s become much more, well very, very dominated by the mosque now. It was much more integrated then. We’d have a cup of tea with them, chat about the problems with the building, kids would play outside, very much freer.
Before I moved in, it was pretty much all white. Not entirely Jewish by any means, probably 30-40 per cent Jewish by then. But there were Irish, there were Maltese. All sorts of people that had a crappy council tenement flat. The whole of that area was council. They were trying to decant everyone, they were trying to knock it down and build I don't know what. Lovely buildings, they were beautifully built, lovely brickwork.
They would come in with a council team, and they would put a sledgehammer through the lavatory or pour cement down it. Put a sledgehammer through the window, rip out the wiring. That’s what the council would do. They would move whoever was there out to some probably better, well it would have to be better place, and they would make sure it was really unoccupiable. And then we’d go in, take out the lavatories and put in new ones, take out the windows and put in new ones, rewire it. It was a lot of work. They wanted to keep it empty, so they could eventually have an empty place that they could demolish, and we just stopped that for about ten years and by then the demolition wasn't possible.
The east side, the block on the furthest east of Romford Street, was I think owned or sold, or given to or let to the hospital, so the whole of the east side was medical; nurses and students or doctors. But the block on the west side of Romford Street and the east side of Myrdle Street, they were Tower Hamlets, later became GLC and then they became [housing association], they were all fully squatted. When I left they were probably 50-60 per cent Bengali and the rest were students from London College of Furniture, there were jewellers, there were artists, there was a guy running a bicycle-repair shop in a basement.
Tower Hamlets, the council, was very discriminatory. It was a liberal council at the time, but they had this father and son policy or friends and family policy or something like that, but if you had no white grandfather, you were stuffed. And then they started moving Bengali families, well if you were a family they had to put you somewhere, but they were really shitty estates. I remember when they moved the first Bengali family into Clark Street, which was quite a reasonable estate, and the night before they were due to move in somebody daubed ‘No Paki’ about forty times in massive letters across the front of the house, nailed a pig's head to the door, I got pictures of that. And they were attacked. Presumably young Bengalis were attacked a lot. Of course then most of them were first-generation Bengalis here, and they were not big and strong so most of them were pretty easy prey for racists.
It led to one of the biggest mistakes of all I think, which was to put the Bengali families into ghettoes, to keep them together, because they felt safer together and they had less harassment. But it meant that there was not integration. I think the Bengali families themselves wanted to be near other Bengali families – language, food, culture, protection, all those reasons, very understandable. But it led to prevention of integration. Clark Street Estate became pretty much purely Bengali.
Fieldgate was very mixed and very open, until the mosque really came to its strength. I was there while they built it. The synagogue was still working, and there was a little temporary mosque in a Portakabin type thing, and this big open area, bombsite area, and they were raising money for the mosque and there were signs up saying we need this money that money. And then they started the building project, and we were pretty amazed at the size of it.
Over 1970–84 [Whitechapel] really changed, it was the period that it really changed its nature. It was the march of the City is how I saw it, because there were none of those big flash buildings. When I was first there we still had, I don’t think it was trading anymore, Gardiner’s Corner… I remember going down to look at the fire when it was blazing. I was standing the other side of the street by Aldgate East Station, and it was just too hot, we had to move away. And the sign outside the tube saying Aldgate East was melting, the plastic was buckling. I’m sure it was arson, the whole thing just went up. There was a lot of arson around then, around Butler’s Wharf, where the land was clearly more valuable without buildings on it, but they were all listed.
There were loads of empty sites. It had been pretty worthless, nobody wanted to live around here, there was no trade around here, no income, it was pretty much a wasteland. It was fairly busy but very, very derelict, very impoverished."
On Saturday 16th June at 12.30pm, a play written by Celeste from the Off the Wall Players was performed. The play was one of a number of events which took place during the Aldgate Festival (15th-17th June), marking the opening of a new public square located adjacent to St. Botolph’s Aldgate.
Celeste grew up in Wapping and has lived and worked in the East End for decades. She has been involved with many oral history projects documenting untold stories of East London people. The Survey of London caught up with her as she prepared for the performance to reflect on the connection between her work in the applied arts and local heritage.
Celeste overlooking Aldgate Square under construction (6 June 2018).
I'm really interested in women, space, visibility and community in the Aldgate/Whitechapel area and these concerns are central to the project. I want to triangulate history, the applied arts and culture. The driving force behind all my projects is firstly to make visible the invisible narratives, and secondly, I really believe in the strength of community and that, when applied art is done in the right way, it can really bridge a gap, helping with social cohesion. Thirdly, the projects are about supporting education...I'm a teacher by training but didactic teaching is not the only way to teach.
In a way, the distinction between Aldgate and Whitechapel seems to be more important now than it was in the past. Obviously back then you had your little local areas, but when I was growing up you mostly just had the East End. The boundary between Aldgate and Whitechapel was a bit more fluid. Because of where we are located, in an economic loop with the City, local identity straddles the East End. It's not so easy to make those internal lines of division because it’s defined so much by being the ‘other’. You cannot live in any of the East London areas and not be touched by the City. It's hard to talk about one without the other. The city is like a feeder. Even Whitechapel is a feeder. At some point most people in the East End have had a job in Whitechapel or Aldgate. I’ve had lots of different jobs around here. In the past, even though a lot of women worked from home elsewhere in the East End, they might do ‘piece work’ for a factory in Whitechapel, and travel back and forth once a week to deliver their work.
Looking north, Aldgate Square under construction (6 June 2018).
People talk about the decimation of communities after the collapse of the mining industry, but they don’t talk about the effects the closure of the Docks and the slowing of the rag trade had on the East End. It was different after that. I remember when things were closing down in the 1980s and 1990s. Two or three decades previous to that, work was more easily available in the East End, especially casual work. People would tell me that they’d go down to the Docks and get in line to be chosen for work that day and the supervisors would pick men out. They might have only arrived fairly recently, but they found some kind of work quickly. Nowadays it is really difficult. Although lots of people will have worked in the City at some point, or in Whitechapel or Aldgate, that ease of finding work is not there. It’s really changed the East End and who lives here.
Even when I was growing up, people talked like the rag trade was just the Huguenots, but in my lifetime the markets like Petticoat Lane and Whitechapel Market were vibrant, diverse places. Up until 1990s factories here would make clothes for the big fashion houses. I got a sample dress from Missoni at Whitechapel Market for £10 once. If you were an East Ender, you had the opportunity to better yourself and look good. That is much harder now.
19 Wentworth Street in 2016, copyright Tamara Stoll.
My [maternal or paternal] grandmother had a stall at Whitechapel Market. It was for much less specific group of people then. There used to be a leather market on Petticoat Lane and my grandfather was a skilled shoemaker and leather seller there. My dad had a [clothing] factory in Brick Lane, and a shop in Watney market.
My maternal grandmother moved here from Jamaica in the late 1950s. I think she lived in Old Montagu Street before she went back to the Caribbean to pick up her children and then came back to London again. She came by plane as she was from quite an affluent family. That's quite an unusual story. She didn’t come by ship. Her uncle came earlier in the late 1940s or early 1950s, also by plane, as did my mum who came in the 1960s. Because she was a young child, my grandmother had to pay for a Nanny to look after her on the journey from Jamaica to here.
I grew up in Wapping and when I was five, six, seven, I would go to visit people with my grandmother after church. These could be people in their eighties, and I remember them talking about how they were forcibly taken to work on ships at as young an age as eleven, arriving in the UK around that age too. This is the story of stowaways that is not really unknown. There are so many layers to migration. It’s amazing I remember these stories as I was so young at the time, but there were many people who would say the same thing.
I've been doing arts projects since I was a teenager...but as an adult I wrote a play called Saturday Soup. It was put on at the Brady Arts Centre and was written through a series of workshops with the local Caribbean community and based on the theme of relationships. We talked to people between the ages of 18-70. I like to work in an interactive way. When you're doing oral history, it's fully interactive. When I'm doing a straight play, I still like to have an interactive element, so, after a performance in January 2014, we had a Q&A and Caribbean food after. People participating said, “Oh I didn't know there were Caribbean people in the East End.” When I'd go to other areas of London and said I was from the East End, other black people would say, “Really?”, and say I didn't sound really East End or like a cockney. This interest in documenting untold stories eventually led to an oral history project called ‘Backyard – Reflections of Home and Belonging’ which collected stories of London’s Afro-Caribbean community in Tower Hamlets. The project was produced in collaboration with Nomad and Cultivaters.
Sample of Backyard's website.
I think the Survey of London’s Whitechapel project is important because public space and buildings are used by people, so you're immediately talking about issues such as community, social inclusion, social exclusion. In a way, by mapping human space you are mapping human nature. By focussing on space and buildings, you get to map everything about a place. If you start with one person, or even a group of people, you miss things. I suppose I think in quite a non-linear way, I like to see connections. For me, you can't map a space and a building without mapping the people.”
This year marked 40 years since the racist murder of Altab Ali, killed near the corner of Adler Street and Whitechapel Road in 1978. The murder is seen as the moment that mobilised the local Bengali community into political action. On Friday May 4th 2018 a commoration ceremony was held at the Shaheed Minaar in Altab Ali Park with speeches, poetry and the laying of a wreath.
Along with other speakers, Salam Jones, a local poet, photographer and carpenter wrote and performed this poem in memory of Altab Ali.
Who changed history
When he died in the community
When he died for the likes of you and me.
We all cried in protest about the bigotry
And marched 7000 all the way round to Downing St
He died not in vain, after all we Bangladeshis did gain
But knowing that she would never see her son again
Knowing that his blood streamed like the monsoon rain
His mothers tears couldn’t wash away her pain.
Altab was killed by three measly boys,
Out on the prowl with their steely toys
Oblivious to how much they would destroy
Robbing him of his joys without a single noise
With one swift move they used that knife.
With one fatal blow, they took his life.
At a time when racial hatred was very much rife.
And the East End was filled with trouble and strife.
As he fell to the floor, gasping for air like never before
He swore that he would see his mother’s face once more
Someone called the ambulance from the local store
But too little too late, Altab Ali was no more.
The whole of the East End was silent that night.
Stunned by the barbaric levels of violence that night
Stunned how easily Altab died without an equal fight
His death encouraged by politicians from the far right.
But that was the straw that gave the donkey a broken back
Wanting to remember him with more than a mere token plaque.
Bengalis were no longer willing to be victims of racist attacks
We started organising, demonstrating, and facing those packs
That was the death that became the catalyst for change
With his last breath, Altab freed us of our chains
We ventured out, and stood our ground, not backing down.
That’s when we Bangladeshis even dared to dream of a Banglatown.
The freedom we have today, we all should be thankful and pray
For the life and death of a man who died to pave the way
We should be grateful that despite his short life.
That was taken so sadly on this very spot with a knife
We as a borough have come together,
We as a community have vowed to never
Forget, and stand up and reject
The very hatred that took away our Bengali brother.
Anser Ullah writes, on this website, about the reaction of the Bengali community to the murder,
"For the Brick Lane Bengali community, who had been under constant attack from racists since early 1970s, the murder of Altab Ali, a leather factory worker, in 1978 was a turning point, especially for the Bengali youth. The murder led to their mobilisation and politicisation on an unprecedented scale. On 14 May 1978, 10,000 locals marched from the then St Mary’s Gardens (now Altab Ali Park) to a rally in Hyde Park, walking behind the coffin of Altab Ali in a show of unity and strength against racial violence. The group then walked to 10 Downing Street to hand over a petition to the Prime Minister calling for action to be taken against racist attacks."
Read the full account here https://surveyoflondon.org/map/feature/296/detail/
make:good have been commissioned by Tower Hamlets Council to design a series of wayfinding and public realm elements along Whitechapel Road. Over the last few months we have been running design workshops with local schools, the IDEA Store Whitechapel and also popping up along the market to speak to local people about what Whitechapel means to them. An important part of this project is to gather an understanding of the local history but also present day stories around people's individual experiences of the Whitechapel area.
Our approach has involved looking at the patterns and textures behind local landmarks, memories, stories and experiences that they have and we have invited people to combine and pull together these memories to develop a new visual language and a unique 'Patchwork Whitechapel'. This participatory process aligned very well not only with the Survey of London, mapping people's individual stories of places along Whitechapel, but also with Swanlea School GCSE class's theme of fragments.
On a sunny Friday afternoon in the bright top floor of the Whitechapel Gallery, 13 GCSE students delved into their memories and personal experiences of Whitechapel to create a collective patchwork Whitechapel made up of individual fragments, both of written stories and memories and also patterns and textures that represented the local area to them.
Looking at different photographic fragments of the local area and how they work together to make whole geometric shapes and patchworks, the workshop focused on each student dividing a hexagon into five unique fragments, inspired by the traditional Chinese puzzle of a tangram.
We began by filling these fragments with hand written stories and memories of the local area, asking the group "what makes your Whitechapel?" and "what do you think of when you imagine Whitechapel"? Students responded with a rich variety of memories and personal experiences ranging from sights, smells, sounds through to childhood memories and present-day rituals. We brought all the fragments together to make one whole hexagon of all the stories and then divided them again to locate them on the survey of London map. You can read these individual stories on the main map under Whitechapel Road.
Moving on to a more visual patchwork, students selected five different patterns and textures from a wide array of samples from the area; colourful scarves, slimy fish scales, rooftops of buildings, reflective windows,familiar brickwork, the list continued with over 50 different local patterns spread across the table.
"It was amazing to see how carefully selected and matched these fragment compositions were. The students gave a lot of thought to the colours, patterns and textures from the local area that meant something to them." Nataly, make:good
The result was a beautiful and vibrant patchwork, a unique collection of fragments, each representing a personal experience, memory or story, coming together to make one whole Patchwork Whitechapel which will be used in different elements along Whitechapel Road to help people find their way and introduce a new visual language to the area.
With each fragment, students described their choice with one line, explaining what it means to them. These came together to compose a collective poem which captures the essence of what Whitechapel means to this group of Swanlea students.
A few of the fragments that the students wrote are posted below, all of the comments can be seen on the Whitechapel Road purple strip on our main map.