6 to 14 Wentworth Street and 61 to 72 Wentworth Dwellings

1950s stock brick flats with shops to ground floor

Bilal Haq talks about the changes on Petticoat Lane since the 1980s
Contributed by Survey of London on Jan. 15, 2018

Bilal Haq has worked in the clothing trade on Wentworth Street since the 1980s. Here he talks about how he has experienced how the street has changed over that time.

"I was working here since 1983..It was okay until 1994, then gradually [it] has gone down. This whole area was populated by Jewish people, they know the business and I [was]..partnered with them [for] 10-15 years. I learned my way with them. I’ve seen the way their market was changing. Since Tower Hamlets introduced new market inspectors.. the [market] tradition [has been] dying out slowly, slowly. Now you can see the market. You can shoot a gun, no one's going to get killed. Because if you go back 15 years, you weren't able to have break time until three o'clock, four o'clock. Now you can have a break whole day long.

I'm actually into [the] business [of] selling suits. Men suits, shirts, trousers, all this kind of product... If you're selling a suit, [in the past] somebody couldn't open in front of your shop. This was a part of the license act. Since they changed that, that market has gone down.

…Second issue is when they introduced their self-congestion charge. These streets was never controlled by the City of London, but they put their streets under the city of London and they put [the congestion charge] up to ..Commercial Street. People cannot go through the streets. Before, we used to have some trade. Four o'clock to six o'clock, people were going past with their cars, and that trade has stopped for the last 10-15 years since the congestion charge has been introduced.

That really killed the whole area. Now I think Tower Hamlets will lose another [part of its] heritage, in particular, [the] market. It's known to everybody. Even if you went somewhere in a jungle of Africa, you will hear Petticoat Lane, and they know where it is, but that is dying out.

Same on the weekend because number one, there is no facility for parking. There was a NCP car park in ..Commercial Street that's now turning to a shopping mall. Then they had another thing, they had a toilet. People, if they come for shopping, they had a toilet to go to until now there. We asked many many times, they're not bothered... Tower Hamlets has sold it to private people. I don't know what they're doing to it now. I’ve seen one of them turn into a bar. There's no facilities here.

This suit shop was opened in 1972. Jewish-owned, yes. They still own the building. It's a corner building. I mean I'm just paying the rent, basically. There are no other facilities. In the morning time when you come in, because there's no toilet, there is wee everywhere, vomiting everywhere, and we just have to clean it up to get access to the property. That's what we're facing basically, but it never used to be like that.

[There are two floors over the shop that] we use ..for storage.

We get products from Italy, Turkey, nothing from third-world country. Not because I don't like them, it's just because..you have to buy a big amount. We are just like a boutique so we do a small amount of product. We get it from Italy, small quantities, and Turkey, small quantities. At least, we know and we can go back because when you bring from third-world countries if something goes wrong, it's very hard to return it back. The trend is changing. Nowadays, you can click anywhere, you can get your product. I don't know how we're going to cope with that.

We've got a lot of city people who would actually wear this sort of product every day. We got few tourists from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, those type of product.

[The African shops on the street have] come in here just not less than 10 years. Before, you used to have a whole different kind of shop for their clothing. Mainly clothing. You used to get like suit fabric. If I'm selling suits ready-made, somebody was selling a fabric. This is how it was the trend. That trend is gone.

I mean don't forget, [the] areas' [business] rates are very high. I believe if Tower Hamlets don't look after this area, they’ll [destroy its] heritage. A very good lane will die out.<span style="font-size: 19px;">.. of the rates we pay, we are not getting the service ..we require. There’s a few things they need to do. If they want to keep the market, they need to give facility for the public to park the cars… We did speak to the previous mayor some time back. He said we're looking into it but nothing even happened.</span>

It’s a totally different market [now]. The market organisations, we try and bring the people in. I say come on, have some different stall here and do some activities in a different way. If somebody is selling something, give somebody opportunity. Get a button, sell button. At least if they buy a suit, they can find a button if they want to change it. Bring something like that. They bring in food, one person is selling food for £2. Another one is selling £1.99. It's just killing each other. I just see it. I don’t know how long that will last.

…They want to hit the small people badly. One of my friend who wanted to turn one of those shops into a food, they rejected. They would not allow him. If you go to Whitechapel, even some of the places where there shouldn’t be any food, they [allow it]. People are making something and bringing in the people. It looks better. They should have done that. After four o’clock, this area is a ghost town.

Nobody is here. Five, six o’clock, nobody is -- only a few bars privately owned, they're operating and you can see them. Apart from that, nobody. It is scary. If you even come about seven, eight o’clock, its scary. To park your car and get into yourself is quite scary.

…I’m 46 now, [in] 10 years time, it will be untouchable, this area. Even to get a property in terms of lease, it will be untouchable. ..This area is going to go up, that’s what I believe…

..but I’ve seen the way the whole area is getting changed. It’s happening for good but some of our small business are getting hit.

..I hope somebody comes out and say, "Look, we want to keep some of the heritage." Look at that corner of Wentworth Street, there is a big restaurant chain. There was a small, small shop like men's wear. They're all gone because there's another thing, East End Homes [housing association]. Once they came in, they're just targeting the big shops. If you look at all the property, they have taken all the properties…

..from this building ..we sit in, all this other side used to be Tower Hamlets and they [East End Homes] bought it from Tower Hamlets. They just come in and they put in this service charge, that service charge, and get rid of all the small boys out of the market. They're driving them away. That's how they made the big building on the corner. There's a big write up about East End Homes. A lot of Asians had to go from here .. Either they said, "Okay, we'll give you X amount and you can sell your property…” They took like 56 property and they bought the whole building, Denning Point…One of my friends used to live there. They took the whole building. This is it. For small people, you got no room…

I [lived in] Tower Hamlets before but I've seen the suffering ..in Tower Hamlets, so I moved out of here. I live in Newham. [Alot of people are moving to] Dagenham and all that side. It was a big community here. I miss all the friends ..they all moved. Some of them passed away. Some of them left the area. I just find one of my junior friend. He left this part and he lives in Cambridge. He became a pilot. I just caught up to him the other day on Facebook. It's just like you don't see him 20 years, 25 years, but it's good to see somebody's doing good. That makes you feel good.

I hope it get's better. I'm not complaining but I hope that things get better. Look, you can put it that way. I was here [as] a little kid. Now my kid is so devoted to this country, he doesn't even know where father is from… My father, when he came, he was worried about his mom and dad. When [his] mom and dad passed away, he was worried about us. Now it goes the same way. When we leave this world, my son will worry about his sons. We want to give them a better life and that's what we always think about."

Bilal Haq was interviewed at 24 Wentworth Street by Shahed Saleem on the 30th of September 2016