Whitechapel Market, Whitechapel Road

street market, with furnishings including the King Edward VII Memorial Drinking Fountain

The Waste: a history of Whitechapel Road's market
Contributed by Survey of London on Nov. 30, 2017

All day long and all the year round there is a constant Fair going on in Whitechapel Road. It is held upon the broad pavement, which was benevolently intended, no doubt, for this purpose. Here are displayed all kinds of things; bits of second-hand furniture, such as the head of a wooden bed, whose griminess is perhaps exaggerated, in order that a purchaser may expect something extraordinarily cheap. Here are lids of pots and saucepans laid out, to show that in the warehouse, of which these things are specimens, will be found the principal parts of the utensils for sale; here are unexpected things, such as rows of skates, sold cheap in summer, light clothing in winter; workmen’s tools of every kind, including, perhaps, the burglarious jemmy; second-hand books – a miscellaneous collection, establishing the fact that the readers of books in Whitechapel – a feeble and scanty folk – read nothing at all except sermons and meditations among the tombs; second-hand boots and shoes; cutlery; hats and caps; rat-traps and mouse-traps and birdcages; flowers and seeds; skittles; and frames for photographs. Cheap- jacks have their carts beside the pavement; and with strident voice proclaim the goodness of their wares, which include in this district bloaters and dried haddocks, as well as crockery. And one is amazed, seeing how the open-air Fair goes on, why the shops are kept open at all.1

By the 1880s, when this was written, trading on Whitechapel Road’s open spaces was long established, if not exactly by benevolent intent. It was informal and undocumented, simply tolerated by the Manor of Stepney, which owned what was generally known as Mile End Waste (waste or common manorial land). That name applied to around 300 to 400 yards along an exceptionally wide road either side of Mile End Gate, a tollgate just east of Whitechapel’s parish boundary for a turnpike that had been established in 1722. Covenants in seventeenth- century manorial leases of building plots on Mile End Green (which included the eastern part of Whitechapel Road) provided for the paving of footpaths in front of buildings and cleaning of the ditch beyond, along with the planting of elm trees at 10ft intervals between the footpaths and ditches. They did not preclude trade.

In the 1850s there were stalls and costermongers’ barrows along the north side of Whitechapel Road from St Mary (Davenant) Street to Charrington’s Brewery in Mile End Old Town. Some sections of the waste were given over to the setting- out of furniture and, street junctions aside, paved cart roads separated the ground at several points. There was a urinal at Court Street and an omnibus stand in front of the Blind Beggar. The Grave Maurice and the London Hospital public houses had seats and tables out in front. The south side was far less busy, but furniture and ironmongery was displayed on parts of the waste east of the London Hospital.

The status quo was destabilised after 1855 by the newly formed Whitechapel District Board of Works. It laid down gravel and placed iron posts across the waste at intervals and then in 1858 laid claim to control of the waste and its market, attempting to enforce the removal of a temporary structure in front of the site that is now Whitechapel Station. This usurpation of manorial rights was successfully resisted in 1860, 71 property holders, among whom Henry Wainwright was a leader, having petitioned the Lord of the Manor for protection, a strong indication of the extent to which shopkeepers displayed their own wares on the waste.2

Undeterred, the Board pushed ahead with plans to pave the waste. That work was carried out in 1863 through Henry R. Fricker, the Board’s Surveyor. Granite- cube paving was laid on several sections of the interstitial space between the road and the footways. Despite the Board’s regularising intentions, something truly like a fair did arise. Sheds of canvas screens as long as 50ft and 10ft high were erected on framing-rod uprights rammed between the paving cubes, with naphtha lamps on other rods to light stalls with ball pitches, coconut shies, quoits and a shooting gallery. The Manor tolerated this use for many years up to 1898 when there were prosecutions to enforce its cessation.

Trinity Hospital, showing use of the Waste by costermongers in the 1890s (from C. R. Ashbee, 'The Trinity Hospital in Mile End: An Object Lesson in National History', 1896)

In 1904 Stepney Council sought to take control of the market on the waste in both Whitechapel and Mile End to regulate nuisance traders. Terms were agreed with the Manor in 1909 and the Council acquired strips on both north and south sides from Vallance Road east into Mile End where gardens were laid out in 1909–10.

Thus regulated, trading west of Mile End Gate came to be called Whitechapel Market, though it is still regularly referred to as ‘the Waste’. It was noted in the 1970s for clothing, jewellery, flowers, second-hand records and hi-fi equipment. By the 1980s, when there were 124 pitches between Vallance Road and Cambridge Heath Road, the market was being transformed by a transition to Bangladeshi stallholders. They remain predominant, and there is still much clothing, as well as a range of foods hard to come by elsewhere.3

The market’s street furniture was renewed as part of the High Street 2012 project. Alan Baxter & Associates and East Architecture Landscape Urban Design oversaw standardisation of demountable market stalls, and the additions of perforated metal screens to face the road and catenary lighting along the pavement on a row of standards, as well as new bollards and seating.

The grandest and finest piece of furniture on Whitechapel Market stands in front of No. 259. It is the King Edward VII Memorial Drinking Fountain, ‘erected from subscriptions raised by Jewish inhabitants of East London 1911’, as is related on a medallion on the tall monument’s north side. The idea for this fountain originated with the writer Annie Gertrude Landa (née Hannah Gittel Gordon, and also known by the pseudonym Aunt Naomi). Her husband, Myer Jack Landa, a journalist, had learned of the death of King Edward VII in 1910 through a crossed line with Home Secretary Winston Churchill, securing a scoop for the Daily News. It is also doubtless relevant that, concerned about open and aggressive antisemitism, he published The Alien Problem and its Remedy in 1911. The fountain was unveiled in March 1912 by the Hon. Charles Rothschild and presented to Stepney Borough Council. The bronze sculptural elements are by William Silver Frith. The structure comprises a Hopton Wood stone pylon on a plinth surmounted by a figure of the Angel of Peace. Semi- circular bowls face east and west below winged figures of Justice and Liberty flanked by cherubs sporting attributes of the King’s enthusiasms. A portrait medallion of the King on the south side was stolen in the 1980s. The fountain was renovated in the early 1990s with a grant from the Heritage of London Trust. The missing medallion was replaced, but to a different form, with a profile looking west rather than east as its predecessor had. Seraph spouts were reinstated.4

Whitechapel District Board of Works formed a Sanitary Committee in late 1892, one of the first duties of which was to improve the condition and provision of public conveniences, heretofore made of iron standards and plates, with the exception of a single underground facility on Leman Street. Attention turned directly to Whitechapel Road and a site on the corner east of Bakers Row (Vallance Road) was selected for new underground conveniences (in front of 197–199 Whitechapel Road). For males only, these were built with stairs down at either end in 1893, by Walter Gladding under the supervision of the Board’s surveyor; they were reconstructed for Stepney Borough Council in 1935. It was 1900 before equivalent female conveniences were built in front of 241 Whitechapel Road.5

Deemed redundant by 1991, the male toilets were sold in 1993 reconstructed in 1996–8 with a single-storey tile-clad, steel and breeze-block superstructure (199A Whitechapel Road) for a restaurant (Taja) above a beauty parlour. This was done for Harun Quadi and Ruhun Nahar Chowdhury, to designs by Clements & Porter Architects (Ingerid Helsing Almaas, job architect) by the London Construction Company of Ilford. In 2006 the superstructure had to be removed after serious damage by a bus. Chowdhury commissioned plans for a replacement building from MacCormac Jamieson Prichard. These were approved, but not seen through.6

K2 telephone kiosks of 1927, as designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, stand in front of Nos 249 and 331 Whitechapel Road, protected by listed status. There is a listed iron cannon bollard on the east side of Fulbourne Street at its north end near the corner with Durward Street. This bears the date 1818 and has been said to be a parish boundary marker. However, it is not on or near a parish boundary and, marked ‘CHt CH – MIDD’, has evidently been moved from a site in the parish of Christ Church Spitalfields.

  1. Walter Besant, All Sorts and Conditions of Men, 1882 (edn 2012), p. 98 

  2. London Metropolitan Archives, M/93/263,286,427–430: John Rocque, 'Map of London etc', 1746: 8 Geo I c.30 

  3. Ordnance Survey map, 1873: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), L/WBW/1/5, pp. 390–2, 529; Stepney Borough Council Annual Report, 1909–10: Reynold’s Newspaper, 6 March 1898:  East London Advertiser, 24 Nov 1978: Time Out, 13 Dec 1979: Transport for London Group Archvies, LT000682/089 

  4. Historic England, London historians file TH151: eds William D. Rubinstein, Michael Jolles, Hilary L. Rubinstein, The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History, 2011, p. 543: newsreel of unveiling www.youtube.com/wa tch?v=aanvqQlVeBE: The Independent, 10 Aug 1991 

  5. THLHLA, L/WBW/1/19, pp. 61, 104, 130–1, 301; L/WBW/1/22, pp. 503–5; L/WBW/7/1, pp. 12–14, 43: District Surveyors Returns 

  6. see interviews elsewhere on this website: THLHLA, Building Control files 17606–7 

Sylheti settlement on Whitechapel Road
Contributed by Shlomit Flint on Feb. 28, 2017

In fieldwork carried out in 2011-12 twenty-one interviewees explained the need to preserve the identification of Whitechapel Road with the Sylheti community as a reaction to the gentrification process.

Saba (53) was preoccupied with the possible loss of individual cultural identity and the uprootedness of a society that is more and more like a market in which nothing prevents the stronger from dominating the weaker: "I am worried about an oncoming blending of local culture, as other multinational chains follow Starbucks into the area and attempt to gentrify it with their bland corporate décor and homogenous facades. We must defend our area and culture from taking over".

Puja (34) said: "I see Shoreditch, about a mile from here, that every venue has the same hipster formula applied. There's no place for identity anymore".

Abida (26) claimed: "It feels like the East-End becomes a playground for the rich and Japanese. We are worried that property prices soar pushing us, the original residents, out. We’d better sell inside."

As of 2002, indirect collaborations succeeded in strengthening the Sylheti presence on Whitechapel Road. Collective behaviour thus attracted Sylheti newcomers. The area designated as Sylheti territory was marked by its own market prices, strengthening the community members' sense of place, and improving their ability to cope with local challenges.

This is an extract from a paper titled 'A decision not to decide: A new challenge for planning', published in European Planning Studies.

Redeveloping the public lavatories on Whitechapel Road
Contributed by Survey of London on April 30, 2018

Harun Quadi settled in the East End in the early 1980, having originated in Comilla, Bangladesh. He describes how he acquired and developed the former below-ground public lavatories at 199A Whitechapel Road, and his plans for their redevelopment.

"I came in this country in 1973 [from Chittagong], I was a junior engineer for United Steamship Company, and that company sent me for further education in South Shields and in London.

My home country is Comilla but I studied at Chittagong. I studied at Marine Academy in Chittagong, from there I finished my basic marine training then I was employed by Cunard Steamship Company in London.

I finished my training as marine engineer. Two years training in Marine Academy Chittagong, and after the training then I had the apprenticeship for two years in a workshop, marine workshop. Then I was employed as a junior engineer in Cunard Steamship Company, London. Then Cunard Steamship Company, I worked four years with that company they sent me for a higher education as a marine engineer. I did my Marine engineer class one-two-three-four and chief engineer, in South Shields and in London. 1978 to '84 I completed my education.

I lived in North London first, I was there for two years and after that I bought a house in auction in 23 Casson Street, London, E1 [in 1982]. That was a derelict house, I bought that house because I thought I'm an engineer, I could repair the house and make it for my own living and business.

I bought it for £55,400 and it is a five storied building, it was derelict and about ten rooms was there, only one toilet at that time. It was cold and it was just only birds living there. As an engineer I got confidence and I employed one or two builders and I worked with them as well, I made that whole house habitable. That was my first venture, that was ten rooms and five floors. I lived in one of the floors and rented out all the four flats, four rooms for flats. They're not self-contained flats but it was like flats.

I've owned [Bengal Cuisine] for the last 25 years, and then I bought two [derelict] properties in 1993 [one on Whitechapel Road and one on Commercial Street] which were [both former public] toilets.

Finding a business opportunity 

In 1993, I was looking for some kind of development project and I thought that I could develop better than anybody else because of my engineering experience. Then I saw these two toilets were misused, they are full of rubbish, they are misused and say, it was in the market but nobody thought the idea of what it can be.

Most of the people thought it could be storage, it could be toilet again but I got the information from the council, at the same time I studied it, I thought it could be business premises.

[I didn’t know] what business but I [realised that] these two premises are in a very important location, I could [develop] them into some businesses then definitely the price will be improved, the property will be improved.

199A [Whitechapel Road] at that time, it was only a toilet, there was no address on it. We applied for the address, we got the address which is 199A Whitechapel Road.

I bought it for £15,500. There was many other people thinking of buying it, but the point is that they thought only to make it as a storage and they would not go more than more than the tag price but I thought that if the price went up enough, I would have gone more.

Above-ground there was only railings there, [and] two entrances, one in each end.[It] was not being used at the time. Probably, at 1993 it [had been] unused for ten years probably, and it was a congregation place for drunk and addicts there. The whole place was full of rubbish, like cans and garbages, market garbages, and drunk population used to be there.

People were very frightened of going there to do something. Even after I got the planning permission, I started doing cleaning it, cleaning it up and they were getting together the drunk people there, saying that, "You cannot do anything here, this is our place and we are claiming it and we'll stay here and we'll not go anywhere", but I just took things easily and slow and steady. I convince them that they have to move.

Developing the site

I cleared it up and after that I applied for the planning permission. The planning permission to [convert it to] a business premises [not to build] was not easy. [Then], we got into [an] idea that we could make one story building on the ground floor. I applied for TFL permission, then we got a planning permission also. It could be 1997-8. Until that time, it was empty.

[The architects were] Clements & Porter [who were], at that time, very young, enthusiastic architects in this area. They were looking for a job and they said that, "This is wonderful project, I'll take it." I felt good that they're taking the venture with me.

[A] One-story building was a challenge. We [had] to convince the local authorities, the councilors, the people. There was investigation [as to] whether it is feasible because it is middle of the pavement. It is not in easy place, middle of the pavement very unusual planning permission also.

[The planners were] difficult to persuade. First, our next-door neighbour was saying, "That is right in front of my shop then it is going to shade me". Then I got all the information what is the regulation of the shading. We found out that we're 20 feet away, minimum 20 feet away from the other building. We have taken all the light readings also. Those readings, even I may call it tall building, it doesn't shade according to the planning regulation. At the same time to be more sympathetic towards our neighbour we made it glazing so that one side to another side it is transparent also. That problem we overcome by rules.

We [gained] planning permission A3 for restaurant. Basement it was toilet, and that from the toilet we have clear it up, and then basement was part of the restaurant kitchen, and the ventilation part, down with the kitchen is elementary, so fan was there. [In] the basement, this little part my wife made it with a little [beauty] parlour there.

Building was not very difficult. We had an Indian Sikh builder and our architect was Clements & Porter. She was good in supervision the building also reasonably good. It was blocks. Most of them are breeze blocks. I think breeze blocks looks very temporary. We cladded with tiles, black and white tiles. We put black and white tiles which was resembling to the next building to the building. I found out later that black and white tile was not a good idea, because black and white tile still [makes it look like a] toilet [while] we are going to make a restaurant, so people probably might mistake with the toilet.

I think I completed the building work over 1998. Because restaurant business was reasonably good, but again, as a restaurant, we put a service restaurant. Service restaurant was not very good there, that was a market store, all around, so other peoples are there. That was not very suitable for a service and more expensive restaurant. It could've been very cheap and fast food restaurant could've done a lot of better.

[The construction] cost about £200,000. We got a grant of £60,000. That's really boosted, helped to build the building.

The accident

[In] about 2002 or 3 [the restaurant] met an accident. At night some coach banged on it. The building was just partially damaged but council came down they said, "No, it is not safe so we will take take it down". I was not in the country, I was abroad and in the meantime this accident happened.

It was a shock. I saw the pictures that were sent to me. I hurried to flied back to London. What to say? I couldn't do much. The council put barriers all around and after the council slowly cleared all the ground and barriers still remained, but then that barrier remained about four-five years. People started [chuckles] throwing rubbish inside the barrier because of the market. We had a hard time to clear all this rubbish almost every day.

New design ideas

Then my wife went to architect MacCormac. She got the planning permission, old planning permission back. They were reputed architect also. They made a very good restaurant design again there in 2004 or 5. After it was cleared. They got planning permission easily this time just because it was a restaurant before. Very similar type of building, but better design.

Now, I forgot to say I [thought that I] could do something better. I don't want to just keep on running a restaurant. It's a beautiful site, good site. It could be beautiful for any other things. I want to make, basically, a good building. That building, it could be restaurant, it could be any other businesses, if some more enthusiastic or some more energetic company comes, a resourceful company comes, they can use it in a very much better way than me.

I hired an architect, Neil Bell from Sweden. He designed us 14 storied building there. He said that we can make a Japanese board hotel. 50 rooms, Japanese Board Hotel. I was very excited about it. Then I discussed with various planners. I went to the planning office with my architect also. They said they didn't know, 14-storied building it could be very difficult. He was saying that, "Look, it is the gateway to the city", and the Council Office says they thought that, "Gateway? No, it's not the gateway".

Then when we saw that we cannot do a 14-storied building, it was only imagination. Looked very, very well. I gathered some sponsors also to build it up. Whatever the money cost, we could have raised it. Then Neil Bell was saying that why not do something smaller than the building next door building. [There are] some five six-storied buildings, we [wanted to go] as high as them.

We are now trying to make around one, one and a half, two-storied building, so that [the] planners like it.”

Harun Quadi was interviewed by Shahed Saleem on the 17th January 2018 at No.12 Brick Lane

Walking along Whitechapel Road to the Waste, c. 1960
Contributed by patricia on July 5, 2017

To walk to Whitechapel Road, we would go down Greatorex Street, passing the bomb sites on the street, the little houses and the factories opposite Great Garden Street, turn left at the corner of Whitechapel Road, and pass by the Gas Shop, a shoe repair shop next door, Adolph Cohen Hair stylist (where Vidal Sassoon got his start), then Dolcis shoes and continued walking, past Davenant School, where my husband went to school, past Vallance Road, and go shopping along the Waste. I got my first record player plus three records at Wally for Wireless next to Whitechapel Station. There was always music playing along the Waste. Barrow boys calling out the price of fruit and veg. In the winter they had fires going to keep warm and to roast chestnuts plus lights everywhere when it got dark early. You could also get to Whitechapel High Street by going through Old Montague Street, but I never liked going that way as the houses were old and dilapidated. It was a bit scary as a child.

Childhood memories of the Taja restaurant
Contributed by Survey of London on May 15, 2018

Tanha Quadi remembers growing up with the Taja restaurant at 199A Whitechapel Road that was owned and managed by her parents in the early 2000s.

"It was somewhere we used to go everyday, we’d find something new to explore and get up to so much mischief. The place had two floors and a small loft space that we endlessly tried to reach into (we knew there were old Christmas crackers up there). It was a place of joy and happiness.

The building was bought when my mother and father were still together and they jointly ran a restaurant called ‘Taja’ that served traditional Indian cuisine. There used to be a lot of anti-social behaviour around the restaurant as there was a lot of homelessness on Whitechapel Road, along with the rough sleepers there were two hostels close to the premises as well. I remember mum feeding them to keep them under control, it did work.

As time went on my parents began going through a divorce and things became a little more tricky, the building was split with my father running the restaurant upstairs and my mother running a salon downstairs. Both ran successfully and I even recall ‘Rachel’ from S Club 7 coming to do her eyebrows at the salon (apparently we did the best eyebrows in town), an exciting day for us indeed.

Things were not always smooth sailing; as you can imagine when emotions and a business are present, nonetheless me and my brother were very much in our own world oblivious to life’s problems. We went to Kobi Nazrul Primary School which was down the road and we’d get picked up by my uncle and dropped at ‘Taja’.

Mum would be busy almost all the time so we had full rein to go wild, as we did. Bothering customers and creating ‘potions’ in the kitchen and salon. I remember customers at the restaurant complaining, saying that they had come to an Indian restaurant not a disco as the four of us would play ‘The Venga boys’ CD (that we were obsessed with) on full volume and dance and sing.

I remember quite randomly loving the chairs of the restaurant. They were thin wooden circular topped with royal blue seats and thin metal arm rails. I used to think they were so cool.

I remember finding out the building got hit in the middle of the night and my mum rushed out of the house. A coach drove straight into the building, no passengers were hurt but I remember the driver being in a coma. I don’t know what happened to him. There was a lot of mainstream news coverage of the crash.

It was a shock and we saw the devastation the next day after school. It was surreal and horrible to see. One minute it was there and the next it was gone. The downstairs was sealed off and the top structure was demolished. I remember a fireman bringing my sister's bike out from the rubble and her screaming to go get it, that’s all I remember of the day.

It was really strange. The downstairs was such a big part of our lives. The staircase was my favourite. It was metal and winded down all the way. We use to light candles all the way down to the salon and I would spend ages playing with the candle wax sitting on the stairs (and occasionally burning my hair from bending over the candles).

It feels weird to walk past and know that it’s still there. As it was. No one knows that when passing by; there’s a beautiful staircase and the ruins of a salon and a kitchen under the road. I would love to see how it looks now.

At the time the salon was also our only source of income, not only for us but for the five or so staff we hired. Lives for many that day changed.

I loved that place. We grew up in the building. Times change, I don’t know how things would be if it was still standing."

Impressions of Whitechapel
Contributed by Survey of London on April 4, 2018

On the 16th March 2018 the Survey of London collaborated with design consultants make:good and the Whitechapel Gallery in holding a workshop with GCSE students from Swanlea School, on Brady Street. One of the outcomes was the first responses from the students when thinking about Whitechapel. Their comments are posted below, and a fuller description of the workshop is on our blog (tab at top of page).

"Whitechapel reminds me of things that I do everyday in school and hanging out with my friends after school around the Sainsburys". (Rukshana Akhtar)

"I think of Whitechapel as a very busy place. There are too many people during the day and in the afternoon it is very busy". (Mohammed Abu Sufian)

"I have crystal clear memories of the crowded place, Whitechapel. Every time I walk by, the concentrated smell of various things hits my face just like a brutal punch. The noises of sirens, people and market stall people is aching". (Tamim Mazum Der)

"My memories of Whitechapel lie within helping my mother doing grocery shopping. While she talks about her day with her friends, I just think about going home and wanting to play playstation 3". (Mohammed Mustakin)

"Whitechapel reminds me of how much it has changed. There used to be a McDonalds and a Pizza Hut". (Kamran Miah)

"What I remember most about Whitechapel is how they moved the station to another place, and how after they regenerated the area around it. For example, they made the overall image of the surrounding area nicer, built a new pathway and stairs and new shops like costa". (Aksar Islam)

"I have lived in Whitechapel since birth, I have a wonderful memory of and childhood of Whitechapel". (Zahra Sarfraz)

"Whitechapel reminds me of the effort I need to put in to go to school, especially when living far away". (Nuna Irdina)

"When I think about Whitechapel, I think about the old Royal London Hospital and why they stop using it". (Md Saidur Rahman)

"Whitechapel reminds me of my first day of school. It was raining and my whole uniform was soaked. But I loved how the clouds were looking and dripping of the rain". (Eusra Mahadi)

"Whitechapel reminds me of something that I go past every day which is the Booth Memorial statue. It is interesting how it is still in the same condition as it was once buit. It also shows how other people pay tribute to others". (Adnan Alam)

"The colour combination of the market reminds me of a rainbow, before it becomes 'overpopulated'. But I think that it is still great". (Hassan Ahmed)

"Whitechapel used to be about tradition and cultures that felt close to the people living around but now is having a business meaning to it as it becomes more posh and rich getting rid of the culture." (Sofin Islam)

Working in Whitechapel's restaurants
Contributed by Survey of London on April 17, 2018

Rehana Islam Shumi came to the UK in 1998, and for the past 20 years she has been working as a chef in restaurants in East London. One of these restaurants was ‘Taja’, located at 199A Whitechapel Road until it closed. In her interview she describes her time at the restaurant and the surrounding area.

“I was born in Bangladesh, that is where I was brought up, that is where I did my schooling, and then I came to London in 1998. I came from Bangladesh for political reasons. There were political problems happening at the time and for that reason I came to London. I came on my own [and] when I first arrived I stayed in North London, I came to stay with a friend; I didn’t really have anyone here so I lived with my friend.

She [was also from Bangladesh and] had come to London a long time ago, I knew her mother in Bangladesh, so her mother gave me her number, so when I arrived I contacted her and with her help I got around and got to know other people.

Because of the politics [in Bangladesh], this was the way that people had to leave from Bangladesh, so wherever I had ended up I thought I would be better and safe.

The day I arrived to London, the following day I went to the Home Office to seek asylum. After seeking asylum, after that in North London Haringey council gave me food vouchers and a house too, a room they gave, that’s how slowly slowly I got on my own feet.

..[In North London] I was working at a solicitors' firm, I would clean the office, keep it tidy and do some administration also, this is the kind of stuff I did…

I didn’t know there was such a big Bengali community in London at the time, so after one year of living here I found out about the Bengalis in East London. It was a huge community, so I came over and started talking to people. Then a restaurant owner on Brick Lane helped me out a lot.

It was Salik’s Restaurant, Salik’s Café, I used to help them out there, used to do a few odd jobs for them, that is when the council also stopped my food vouchers and I also lost my house, so I would go there, do some jobs for them and eat with them, so slowly slowly that is how I was living at the time. [That restaurant] is no longer there.

Someone in South London gave me a place to stay, I still live there to this day. I worked seven days a week [in Whitechapel], I stayed the whole day, from 8am to 10pm, basically lived here, just basically went to sleep a little in South London.

The Brick Lane area, to me it doesn’t seem like it had developed that much, the lane still has some of its old features. I’ve been working on Brick Lane from 1999 onwards. I have been associated with them, worked for them, ate and stayed. I didn’t get paid much at all, but staying and eating did not have a cost. All that I needed at the time, I received from them. That’s how it was.

Many things have changed since before, a lot of development, Brick Lane is a lot more beautiful than it was before. When I first came the Lane was not that beautiful, as it is now. And also there were people back then, but not as much as there are now, now there are many, many people.

I mean, I never really thought anything of [being a woman in a predominantly male workplace]. I worked just as anyone else.

Well, what [was] I supposed to do? I didn’t have any other way… and for that reason I learnt how to be a chef, went to many different restaurants, shadowed many different chefs, and now through experience I am a very good chef, but I would not say I am successful yet... But still I am so proud of Brick Lane, I have been here for so many years, my livelihood has been here, I love it, East London, Whitechapel, Mile End, Stepney Green, these areas are well known to me. And the spaces are a lot nicer than what they used to be, I like it a lot.

[I like the area] now more, and before there weren’t that many Bengali ladies around. Now from Bangladesh you get a lot of students, there [are] loads of Bengalis now, tons, we have a lot of cultural parties, we get involved in politics. I have become acquainted with loads of ladies, we have the ‘mela’ [festival] too, lots of things happen.

Our Bengali new year is celebrated here in London, the council has facilitated this for us, here thousands of people get together and loads of ladies too, that enjoyment that we would have during this time in Bangladesh, this is mirrored over here, we have the same kind of enjoyment, in East London, this is where the fun is at, nowhere else. That’s why we as Bengalis are very proud of the area. Bengalis have really made the area. Even if it is an English country, this area feels like a Bengali area. The Bengalis have increased, yeah they haven’t reduced. There’s so many in this area.

Working at Taja

There was a restaurant in Whitechapel, right in the middle of Whitechapel, between New Road and Vallance Road; on the side there was a restaurant called Taja. There, there was a woman who was the owner, this woman took me over to the restaurant.

I got in contact with her as she came into a restaurant that I was working at on Brick Lane as a chef one day, she came to get some food and we started talking, then she told me she is opening a restaurant, will I come over, then she used to take a lot of care of me, she was lovely, she treated me just like a sister, Even when she couldn’t give me work, I would still forcefully stay with her, Yes I would do that, then she was really good, I really liked the restaurant, the food was good Bengali food, because I was good at making this kind of food I would go and help her out.

The building upstairs was really decorated, it was really nice, there were seats, maybe seating around fifty, people would sit and eat, and downstairs was the kitchen, the owner also had a beauty parlour downstairs. It was really nice, I really liked it. It was quite surprising, it would really catch your eyes, the building the restaurant, it was striking. Then there was a horrible disaster and the building was destroyed, through an accident. It was a night time, I was working there at the time too, I went home around 11pm, and the incident took place around 2.30am. After that the place was ruined, I felt really bad at that time.

Whitechapel Road has had a lot of changes since then, the road was very narrow, in the last two years or so have they made it wider and the road looks so much better.

Now I am still working in restaurants, I pass my time working on Brick Lane, as I am the only one I think as a woman that works as a chef on Brick Lane. All those around me are men, I don’t see anyone like myself who takes on this responsibility... I have been here for about 20 years… If they give it to me, I want to try and open my own restaurant, all with women

Right now I am very politically involved, with the main party for the UK BNP [Bangladesh National Party]. I am the general secretary for the women’s division and British women’s senior vice president. I am also part of the citizens' movement, so I do a lot of social work and I know many within Bengali media. I am well acquainted with them all. That’s all, really.”

Rehana Islam Shumi was in conversation with Tanha Quadi on the 27th February 2018. This interview was conducted in Bengali, and this transcript has been translated and lightly edited for print.

My grandparents' stall
Contributed by Maureen on July 31, 2017

My grandparents used to be stallholders at Whitechapel Market in the 1920s. They made and sold children's clothes. They had to sleep out all night and in the morning run for a pitch and tip the inspector sixpence. There were no licences in those days.

The Whitechapel 'fatberg'
Contributed by Survey of London on Feb. 21, 2018

The Whitechapel ‘fatberg’, a congealed mass of solid sewage, among the largest ever found at about 250m long and 130 tonnes was removed from the sewer under this side of this section of Whitechapel Road by Thames Water in late 2017. A section is on display at the Museum of London in early 2018.

Whitechapel Market, 1975
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 19, 2016

A view of the market from a digitised colour slide in the Tower Hamlets Archives collection:


Whitechapel Road and the market, 1975
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 19, 2016

A digitised colour slide form the collection of the Tower Hamlets Archives:


What I think of the market
Contributed by Gulam_Mostofa_Chowdhury on Sept. 11, 2017

Gulam Mostofa Chowdhury, interviewed by his neighbour Jil Cove, August 2017

I use Whitechapel market to buy fruit and vegetables and I know that my daughters buy their scarves there. But I do think they should make the stalls look better than they do now, they look very temporary and untidy even if they’re there everyday.

Whitechapel Road and the market in 1975
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 16, 2016

A digitised colour slide of the market in 1975 from the Tower Hamlets Archives collection:


Whitechapel Market
Contributed by Judit Ferencz

Whitechapel Market, view to the Royal London Hospital
Contributed by Judit Ferencz

Whitechapel Market in July 2015
Contributed by Peter Guillery

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, from south-west
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, cherub two
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, cherub three
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, W. S. Frith, cherub four
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market, view to the east in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, figure of Justice
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, from west
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Market vans in late 2018
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market, pavement from the west in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, cherub one
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market, view along pavement from the west in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market, view across backs of stalls in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market in December 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market in December 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Taja restaurant
Contributed by Shahed Saleem

Market van in late 2018
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Drinking Fountain, 1911, W. S. Frith, plaque
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Whitechapel Market, 2011
Contributed by ddavid212

Whitechapel Market in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Market van in late 2018
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Taja restaurant
Contributed by Shahed Saleem

Taja restaurant
Contributed by Shahed Saleem

View to west along Whitechapel Road in April 2019
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Market vans in late 2018
Contributed by Derek Kendall

The north side of Whitechapel Road in 2006

by Sophia Fernandez via YouTube. This brief amateur footage from July 2006 pans back and forth across the north side of Whitechapel Road, the section often occupied by Whitechapel Market. It shows the houses before they were renovated as part of the London 2012 Olympics project. It also features a "bendy bus", single-deck articulated buses introduced by the then-Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone from October 2001, and withdrawn by his successor Boris Johnson when their unsuitability for London's often narrow and winding streets had become apparent, between 2009 and 2011.

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 12, 2016

Two American students' view of Whitechapel market in 2010

from YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMvSb8bVRQQ

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 12, 2016

A walk west to east through Whitechapel Market, December 2015

by Jahangir Alam via YouTube

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 12, 2016

1911 unveiling of the Edward VII memorial in Whitechapel Road

Short silent newsreel film of the unveiling of the drinking fountain, paid for by donations from the Jewish community, in memory of Edward VII who had died the previous year. It is embellished with bronze sculpture by W.S. Frith.

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 21, 2016

Whitechapel Market in the mid 1990s

This footage from around 20 years ago, with a lot of fixed-camera shots, shows the Grave Maurice when it was still a pub, and the frontages of the houses on the north side of Whitechapel Road in the market area before the renovations effected for the Olympics of 2012, as well as the Royal London before the new hospital was built.

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 20, 2016

From the Blind Beggar to East London Mosque

Martin Fuller takes a walk through Whitechapel Market, 2017

Contributed by Survey of London on March 10, 2018

Postcards from East London dance/film project: Whitechapel Market, 2012

uploaded by Jo Parkes, from vimeo: "Postcards from... is an international dance/film project in which teams of artists work with community groups to create short “moving postcards” of the area in which they live. The project was conceived and is artistically directed by Jo Parkes (MobileDance). Each project produces several short dance films, each under one-minute long, which present the location through the eyes of the participants. In each location, MobileDance works with an arts development agency to recruit local artists to create the films with several different groups in the area. Each community group works with a different team of artists. Each team is made up of choreographer, filmmaker, composer and assistant dance artist. In 2012, MobileDance and East London Dance came together to deliver Postcards from East London, with teams of artists based in east London and four different community groups from the area. Each community group worked with a different schedule - some meeting once a week for two months, others working intensively over three or four days. The teams each had only three hours to shoot the film. The result is nine contrasting short films revealing different viewpoints on this vibrant, diverse and rapidly changing part of east London. The project was funded by High Street 2012, a programme to enhance and celebrate the ribbon of London life that connects the City at Aldgate to the Olympic Park at Stratford in the year of the London Olympics. Postcards from East London was part of Big Dance 2012 in the London 2012 festival, the culmination of the cultural Olympiad."

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 12, 2016