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18 June 2014
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Immigration and Emigration
The world in a city


In 1976, the building at the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane was converted again, this time into a mosque, to serve the growing Bangladeshi community.

Their influence on the area has been such that it is now officially known as 'Spitalfields' and 'Banglatown'. While some may dismiss this as a marketing ploy, it is certainly not an exaggeration, in 2001, 68% of the ward's population was of Bangladeshi origin. Most of these originate from the Sylhet region of the country.

Bangladeshi women
Bangladeshi women
Although Bangladeshi migrants had arrived in Britain before, often as seamen, the real influx came in the second half of the twentieth century. Following major political upheavals in Bangladesh, which started with the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, they came to find work and security in England. Initially it was mostly working men who made the trip, their dependents following later; reforming their families in these new surroundings.

On arrival they faced many obstacles, overcrowded accommodation, language and cultural barriers, which initially made it harder to go into higher education, and so on. Some found their professional qualifications were not recognised in this country, and had to do their training again. Despite these setbacks, however, the Bangladeshis have certainly made their mark - their culture and cuisine give Spitalfields a cosmopolitan atmosphere.


Brick Lane, in the heart of the community, is a hive of activity. There are innumerable Balti and curry houses on the road, which even hosts an international curry festival, and Bengali foods are on sale in the local shops and markets. The weekly paper, the 'Sylheter Dak' even has an office there.

Dining outside on Brick Lane
Dining "al fresco" at the Brick Lane Festival
© Brick Lane Festival
But it is at festival time that the vibrancy and energy of the community really comes to the fore. Each year tens of thousands take to the streets for the Baishaki Mela, celebrating the Bangladeshi New Year with music, food, fashion and dance. Established in 1998, and London's biggest Mela, the festival's steering group says it helps Bangladeshis to take pride in their roots and contribute to the regeneration of the area.

So the Bangladeshis have to some extent made Spitalfields their own. There are, however, still links with 'home'. Many in the first generation still dream of returning to Sylhet, and money continues to be sent back to support relatives in Bangladesh, although this practice is decreasing with time.

The Sylhet region too has been changed by its association with the English capital, with new shopping centres, and other building projects funded by 'Londoni' money. In fact Sylhet is now one of the richest towns in Bangladesh. These continuing associations mean that even today, London is still seen by some Bangladeshis almost as a utopia, even though in reality, life there can still be extremely difficult.

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1 Eve (aged 10) from London - 26 October 2003
"It is good that you have got main cities, but what if something happened in an area in London - like where certain prisons, or where religious ceremonies / buildings were held / placed? Or roads which were a major part of history in that place; and we can never forget where places like weaponry shops or where the merchants stalls were set up. Thank you for reading my comment "

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