Every now and again, you find yourself in a situation or a place where you feel instantly comfortable. It just feels ‘right’. It feels like home. Welcome to Brick lane.
Arriving at Aldgate East tube station at 10am on a very wet Saturday morning in mid September, Brick Lane was unsurprisingly quiet. Not only had the rain seemingly kept people away but it was a Saturday, one of the sleepier days for Brick Lane. Before I carry on with the details of our Brick lane experience (for it was an experience) I’d like to take the opportunity to tell you a little bit about this amazing and historically rich part of the UK’s capital city.
The History Of London’s Brick Lane
Originally outside the walls of the city, it served as a Roman cemetery. In the late 16th century it became a server of industry. The area where Brick Lane stands today supplied water from deep wells for brewing, with the Truman brewery still standing today albeit now serving a different clientele. It’s now known as ‘East London’s revolutionary arts and media quarter, and is home to a hive of creative businesses as well as exclusively independent shops, galleries, markets, bars and restaurants’ Visit the Truman Brewery website for further information: http://www.trumanbrewery.com/
The area was also dug for its clay to make bricks for local houses and factories. Hence the name. How this went with its history as a cemetery one can only guess! Who knows how many London townhouses have fragments of Roman human bone built in to its walls!
The 17the century saw the area developed into a street for housing due to an increase in the population. The population that settled here were mostly immigrants which established Brick Lane as a place of non-conformity, with different religions and cultures combining in a hotchpotch of styles that still exists to a certain extent today.
Historically, it has been known as a less illustrious part of London; downtrodden and slum like, poverty stricken and rife with crime. A hundred or so years on and I’m pleased to say, it’s been regenerated and is now known as one of the best streets for vintage, and boutique shopping, art, galleries and great café’s.
Starting at the top of Bethnal Green it stretches right down to Spitalfields and Whitechapel, famous for the Jack the Ripper murders. In fact the 10 Bells Pub where two of his victims; Annie Chapman and Mary Kelly last drank still stands today as a tangible link to this horrific time in Londons history, bringing the story, the Ripper and his victims to life once more. I’m not sure if it’s this history that helps to give Brick Lane its gutsy and urban edgy feel but I’m sure it makes a valid contribution.
Review Of Brick Lane’s Vintage Treasure Troves
Viva La Vintage!
Not one of the most touristy attractions and miles away from Portobello Road, both figuratively and literally with is hordes of tourists all clambering over each other for a view of the famous blue door from the film Notting Hill and snapping pics of anything and everything with their iPhones. Brick Lane has a much more relaxed and ‘human’ feel. It feels lived in, used and loved, just like some of the vintage wears that are sold in its little hickledy-pickledy shops.
Hunky Dory Vintage
Our vintage shopping spree started at Hunky Dory Vintage, a small but lovingly stocked vintage outlet focussing on an earlier vintage from the 40’s onwards. The owners are an absolute delight and were very welcoming, we chatted for ages and I felt like I’d made new friends by the time we left. The emphasis (as I often find) is on ladies vintage but they do make sure they have a good level of stock to serve us gentlemen, with a good selection of jackets and waistcoats in wool and tweed, hats, ties and scarves and other accessories. I brought a lovely blue wool waistcoat from here for £20 ($32) which I’m really pleased with and which has been sported on a few Instagram pictures and received many a compliment.
Split over 2 floors, the lower floor was undergoing redecoration but overall this was my favourite shop and suits a dapper chap like myself. It was the most warm and welcoming and came with a friendly old world charm that is lost in some of the larger and more funky vintage outlets such as Rokit Vintage which has a much ‘younger’ feel and was our next stop. Take a look at Hunky Dory on Instagram or Facebook or visit their website for more information.
Split between 2 buildings at 101 and 107 Brick Lane, Rokit Vintage is the largest vintage outlet in this location. It started life in 1986 starting out with a market stall in Camden and now has four London stores in Camden, Brick Lane and Covent Garden. It is frequented by a younger more arty crowd and is rammed full with a more modern collection of vintage, predominately 80’s in my opinion with some earlier items mixed in the plethora of racks and shelves.
I brought 3 ties and 2 pairs of leather ended braces both of which came from a huge selection of styles, colours and patterned pieces. The ties were £7 ($11) to £10 ($16) each and the braces were £8 ($13) a pair which is very reasonable. If you haven’t seen my previous article for Bespoke Unit on how to attach button for braces, go check it out! What have you been doing with yourself?!
Rokit Vintage are very social media savvy and promote their Instagram page, doing a £50 giveaway if you submit a ‘Rokit Selfie’ for their perusal (I of course obliged using their dedicated selfie mirror)
The Vintage Emporium
At the other end of the scale and entirely different from the 2 vintage shops above we have the Vintage Emporium. Somewhat hidden away just off Brick Lane at 14 Bacon Street and only highlighted by a sandwich board on the corner of the street pointing the way, it has a beautiful and sumptuously decorated vintage café on the entrance floor filled with stunning vintage furniture and lighting, it is an absolute delight for the vintage enthusiast and I’d highly recommend an afternoon tea pit stop where you can slip off your vintage brogues, rest your aching feet and give your arms a rest from carrying all those shopping bags!
While upstairs serves as a very warm and welcoming café, downstairs is museum like in its approach to vintage shopping with very early vintage items from the Victorian era to the fifties.
Everything is beautifully displayed with immense flair and attention to detail. It’s a real feast for the eyes with 1930’s art deco silk and velvet dresses and original Victorian britches and top hats there is a wealth of history stored here.
But while they have some genuinely stunning items, it has a ‘do not touch’ atmosphere and did feel somewhat unwelcoming and I also found the member of staff down here rather rude. He did not welcome us at all or even make eye contact with us during the entire time we were there. There are no photographs of the Vintage Emporium downstairs I was told in no uncertain terms (again without any eye contact) that photographs were not allowed, so we’ll just move on from here. It’s not a place for people on a budget and due to its rude staff and unwelcoming atmosphere I wouldn’t recommend it, go to Hunky Dory Vintage instead!
The Shop Rocks
Another lovely shop you must visit is This Shop Rocks. It’s less vintage clothing and more of an antique and vintage bric-a-brac shop. If you’re looking for a vintage Chad Valley straw stuffed teddy bear, a 1940’s silk pajama case to display on your bed or an original bakelite telephone, this is the place for you.
The owners are lovely and took their time to talk to their customers, sharing knowledge of the items that are being bought and showed an obvious passion for the items that they stock, albeit a little disheveled in its displays. If you like rooting around and uncovering hidden gems while banging your head on things hanging from the ceiling and tripping on wicker baskets full of books on the floor (and who doesn’t? It adds to the experience!) then go in, have a rummage and who knows what new and delightful edition to your home décor you’ll find.
A: 131 Brick Ln, London E1 6SE
T: (+44) 020 7739 7667
Street Art On & Around Brick Lane
Because of its association with bohemian style and the art set, Brick lane is well know for it’s street art. World renowned street artist Banksy has graced its walls with unmistakable works such as Gas Mask Kid and Surveillance Bin.
At the Truman Brewery car park sits one of 22 art installations depicting a car crushed by an alien winged orb. These were apparently to deter illegal parking. Works for me! Although in a vintage classic car I expect to be able to park wherever I want at a moments notice whenever Aunt Maud commands it!
One morning not to long ago, people in the Shoreditch area woke to be greeted by a giant hedgehog in Chance Street. This is a huge mural by Belgian street artist ROA. Dubbed ‘The Mighty Hedgehog’ it is just one of ROAs animal works that have appeared in London in recent years including a squirrel, a hare, a flayed pig and a Crane.
This is true art, not destruction, not mindless graffiti, these are considered pieces with depth and meaning that only serve to make the area more alive and enjoyable. In fact is so much street art in and around the area of Brick Lane that there is a tour that you can take which will enlighten you to its hidden murals, collages and paintings and the artists behind them. Take a look at http://inspiringcity.com/2013/05/11/a-street-art-tour-of-brick-lane-in-london/ for more information.
Bars, Cafe’s, and Curry!
Again there is an abundance of cool cafes and eateries in Brick Lane and the immediate area. Well known for it’s Indian cuisine you have a choice of curry houses that all offer the standard fare along with their own individual dishes, all claiming to be the best curry house in Brick Lane.
You can book a table and have a 3 course meal or you can go to a street stall and eat noodles out of a tray. The choice is yours. We went somewhere in the middle of the two and stopped for a well deserved Americano at Brick Lane Coffee, which is a cool and funky coffee house serving great coffee and cake to arty hipsters and vintage guys and gals who all seemed to be attached to some form of social media vehicle, no doubt blogging and researching for their art thesis while sipping their hazelnut latte.
There is a great atmosphere here. Loud music gets mingled in with the calls out to customers of espressos and cappuccinos by the aptly vintage styled American barista girls who were behind the counter that day. The décor is fitting with mismatched tables and chairs and wall art and random items of varying nature dotted about either for sheer amusement or simply because that’s where they ended up one day so that’s where they stayed. It’s comfortable, relaxed and quirky. If this is your style, stop here, even if it isn’t, stop here, order a coffee and soak it all up.
Summarising Brick Lane
I said at the beginning of this piece that this was a real experience and for me it was. Working in a standard job in a standard town with standard people, this was fresh and exciting, it fulfilled my ever emerging and nagging need for creativity and imbalance, for things off centre and unusual. It made me smile for many different reasons, for the art, the great coffee, and the chance that it gives for those unique individuals that crave difference to seek affirmation and to know that there are other likeminded people out there. People that appreciate a less formal way of life and who genuinely contribute to Brick Lane simply by being there. There is a depth here, a deep rooted inspirational originality and individualism that is supported and encouraged by all that live, work and visit here.
If you want franchises and store chains go to Oxford street. If you want the tourist experience go to Portobello Road. If you want a real, down to earth and individual experience, go to Brick Lane.
As always feel free to comment below, or on one of our social media profiles with any insights or questions you may have.