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Architect Shahed Saleem on London’s East End, its history as a centre for migrating communities and its diverse and vibrant character.

“I have worked in the heart of the East End for over a decade – the areas of Bethnal Green, Shoreditch and Spitalfields. It has always been a place of migration, cultural flux and rapid change, and has always felt like a very natural place to be.”

Shoreditch has smartened up in the last few years as shops and galleries opened up, followed by a few established eateries. It’s lost some of its edge as tourists and out-of-towners come here for day trips, but overall I think it still retains a mix of energy and enough genuine creativity to make it real – just about.
Brick Lane
From Shoreditch we head down towards Brick Lane and through the streets of town houses built by the French Huguenots, who were refugees from France fleeing persecution in the 18th century. They established the silk weaving industry in the East End, and the houses had weaving studios on the top floors. They gradually moved out and were followed by Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe who settled across the area and established a dense Jewish community, the legacy of which still remains.
From the 1960s and 70s onwards, Bengalis started settling in the area, and the Jewish community gradually dispersed to other parts of London, to be replaced by more Bangladeshis until this area had their largest population in the country. This migration brought new types of shops for food, clothes, and it also brought mosques.
Now another change is underway, as land prices rise and local people find they cannot afford to live in the area, while developers move in to create high-priced apartments for a new type of urban dweller. The success of the East End will now be whether it enables diversity and opportunity to flourish as it has always done, and so created a multi-layered and complex place.
Church Bell Foundry
An entry in the Guinness Book of Records lists the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, having been established in 1570 and being in continuous business since that date.
Church Bell Foundry

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