This is the second of two articles illustrating my wanderings over a few months in and around Brick Lane in London. The first focused on the street art; this focuses on the markets in the street and those which have occupied the site of the now-closed Truman Brewery.
Having taken the train to London Bridge and walked from Sho
The markets in and around Brick Lane have different characters depending on their location. Around the street, more traditional market stalls continue to sell new clothing, fabrics and fruit and vegetables. At the north end of the road, the stalls seem to be set up by weekend traders selling stuff such as army surplus clothing, used cameras and odds and ends.
As an aside, in England army surplus clothing and equipment used to be popular buys for those wanting to work or camp in the countryside or for a more ‘edgy’ fashion look. The sector has suffered a decline in popularity due, I suppose, in part to the increased number of outdoor clothing and camping shops and the more military styles offered by the mainstream clothing shops.
The camera stall had a mishmash of cheaper, lower quality cameras, nothing like the quality of those at the recent Photographica fair in London last month. Some specialised shops have opened at that end, part I assume of the gentrification of the area, but, generally, the street is scruffier than at the Whitechapel Road end. I nipped into a branch of the coffee and chocolate shop Dark Sugars, with their chocolates beautifully displayed in wooden bowls, to try and capture the flavour – so to speak – of the street.
Further down the street. a chess player had set up his table but whether he was making – or taking – money from the punters I couldn’t tell. Having played around with the cropping I decided to convert the picture to black and white as the red van in the background dominated in the colour version.
Further toward Whitechapel Road, past the main railway lines out of Liverpool Street Station, are the buildings previously occupied by the Truman brewery which was a major business in the area for many years. A search on Wikipedia revealed the following.
The site’s first associations with brewing can be traced back to 1666 when a Joseph Truman is recorded as joining William Bucknall’s Brewhouse in Brick Lane. Part of the site was located on Black Eagle Street, hence the Black Eagle Brewery’s name. The Truman name came from Joseph Truman who took control of the brewery in the 1680s. By 1748 the Black Eagle Brewery was the third largest brewery in London, and likely the world, with 40,000 barrels produced annually.
In 1971 Truman’s became the centre of a bidding war between Grand Metropolitan and Watney Mann. Eventually, Grand Metropolitan won and then immediately turned its attention to Watney Mann. Upon taking over Watney Mann, Grand Metropolitan then merged it with Truman’s.
Grand Metropolitan made many changes to the company, including changing the name to Truman, creating a new brand, switching to kegs and changing the beer – all decisions that proved to the detriment of the company.
Here I interject a personal note. At this time the quality of beer generally available in England was pretty poor and nothing like it is now, much of it being produced by a few large brewers with their gassy keg beer being carbonated and pushed from the keg in the cellar up to the serving tap in the bar.
The Campaign for Real Ale promoted ‘real ale’ – being hand pulled from the barrel to the tap without gas – and smaller brewers. Keg beers such as Watney’s Red Barrel were derided and badges appeared labelling Ind Coope’s Double Diamond as DD is K9P (it wasn’t, don’t ask). I used to share a house in North West England with the local CAMRA representative and sometimes accompanied him on his beer inspection trips.
We once made a day trip up a remote valley in Lancashire to a small pub with nothing on show on the bar. The landlady went out the back and poured the beer straight from the barrels. It was excellent, but I don’t remember who brewed it. With that diversion, I have to leave the peaceful beautiful Lancashire countryside and return to the noise and grime of East London.
These mistakes were realised in the 1980s when casks were brought back along with the traditional Truman’s eagle, but the damage had been done and the brewery was shut in 1989. The former buildings, warehouses and yards were redeveloped by The Zeloof Partnership as the “Old Truman Brewery” and now house over 250 businesses, ranging from cultural venues to art galleries, restaurants, and retail shops. The Director’s House and former Brew House are
The old brewery buildings now house a collection of offices, shops and markets which tend to be more upmarket than those at the northern end. A major feature is the number of secondhand clothing shops, which are now termed vintage. I suppose clothing sells better marketed as ‘vintage’ rather than ‘second hand’. It’s become very popular with millennials as a reaction to the throwaway fashions of the high street and as always their desire for a bargain. Some markets open only at the weekend with stalls that feature artisan craft goods and ethnic street food.
Taking a break in a café, I noticed two girls walking arm in arm in high spirits ‘on a mission’. They disappeared into one of the vintage markets. Hanging around on the street I happened to see them emerge and begin what I thought of as an exuberant, protracted ‘victory dance’ outside the market. I have no idea why.
As I wrote in the first article, Brick Lane has many facets and communities living and working in and around it. These two articles are only snapshots. If you are visiting London and want to photograph street art, markets and some of life’s more colourful characters – and drink some good coffee – the street is one for your list.