Brick Lane has been described by many as the ‘heartland’ of the Bangladeshi community in Britain, representing five decades of the struggle to belong and be recognised as part of the global city of London and the wider multicultural nation. Perhaps the most visible testament to this presence is ‘Banglatown’ – the short stretch of Bangladeshi-owned curry restaurants, cafés and other retail spaces that crowd the southern end of Brick Lane. The story of Bengali Brick Lane is a lens onto a vibrant but little-known history of the East End, of London, of Britain and its former empire – which is one strand in the tapestry of modern multicultural, post-imperial Britain. It is a story, too, of the street itself, and its iconic place within London and Britain’s history of migration.
The 'Beyond Banglatown' project grew out of a larger piece of research on the Bengal diaspora (2006–09, see Bangla Stories), which explored Muslim migration from the north-eastern Indian state of Bengal in the period after partition. As part of this work, the project team became interested in the iconic status of Brick Lane as the centre of the Bangladeshi community in Britain and in the significance of Banglatown and the curry restaurants to the area.
Research for ‘Beyond Banglatown’, which took place from July 2018 to June 2020, explored the changing fortunes of Banglatown’s restaurants, and the implications of this change for the Bangladeshi community in East London and for Brick Lane itself. Through visual mapping, face-to-face surveys with shop proprietors and employees, a qualitative survey, and in-depth interviews with Bangladeshi restaurant owners, former restaurant owners and key stakeholders, the project aimed to capture some of the complexity of Brick Lane and Banglatown at a moment of transformation and uncertainty. By the close of the project, the southern section of Brick Lane hosted only 23 restaurants and cafés focused on curry – a decrease of 62% in 15 years.
The pages of this website capture the project's findings, tracing the rich and complex history of Bengali migration to East London, the development of Banglatown and changes to Brick Lane's Bangladeshi-owned curry restaurants over time. It also provides a snapshot of the contemporary context of the street, including broader and more recent processes of urban change and gentrification.
Fieldwork for ‘Beyond Banglatown’ ended in February 2020, shortly before the coronavirus crisis hit London. While the impact of the crisis on Bangladeshi-owned restaurants in Brick Lane remains unknown, it is likely to be severe, exacerbating existing challenges and posing new ones.