Brick Lane

Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1957.

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, 'Brick Lane', in Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, (London, 1957) pp. 123-126. British History Online [accessed 28 May 2024].

. "Brick Lane", in Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, (London, 1957) 123-126. British History Online, accessed May 28, 2024,

. "Brick Lane", Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, (London, 1957). 123-126. British History Online. Web. 28 May 2024,

In this section

CHAPTER X - Brick Lane

This street existed under its modern name as early as 1550 when a survey of the Manor of Stepney mentions two tile garths on its eastern side. (fn. 1) These were places either where clay was dug to make tiles or perhaps where brick-earth was dug. In Agas's map of c. 1560–70 Brick Lane is shown, apparently quite without buildings. Faithorne and New court's map, published in 1658 but probably surveyed in the 1640's, shows building on its east side approximately as far north as Hanbury Street.

The first extensive building on its west side probably began in the 1650's, associated with the estate developments carried out by the Fossans between Wentworth Street and Fashion Street, and by Sir William Wheler and his lessees further north, between Black Eagle Street and Bethnal Green (see Chapters VI and XVII). In 1658 Samuel Twinn, a bricklayer, built six houses, probably in the neighbourhood of Fashion Street, (fn. 2) and in 1663 or soon after eight brick houses were built by William Russell, a homer, immediately north of Wentworth Street. (fn. 3)

Part of the street between Truman, Hanbury, Buxton and Company's premises and the railway line was built up by John Stott, mariner, under a lease from Sir William Wheler, between 1660 and 1670. (fn. 4)

Building was proceeding on the east side in the late 1660's. In May 1671 John Carter submitted a petition to the Privy Council, in which he asked for permission to continue building development in Haresmarsh, on the east side of Brick Lane, which he had partially built up in the previous year: this was probably between Carter's Rents and Buxton Street. Hitherto Brick Lane had been ’altogether unpassable for Carriages, and travelling on horseback in the winter Season’, but Carter promised that if the completion of the building was permitted ’a Spatious High way will be set out for passage of Carriages and Horsemen'. (fn. 5)

In June Sir Christopher Wren reported that he had viewed the site on foot, ’the place being unpassable for Coach, adjoyning to Durty lands of meane habitations, & farr from any Church’. Building having been begun, Wren thought it would be best to finish it ’by which the wayes may be paved … which should otherwaies have been mended and made passable by Gravell, not by buildings …’. (fn. 6) In the following month the issue of letters patent was ordered, ’In which letters Patents are to be inserted such Conditions and provisions for building regularly and with Brick, according to Direction, and the Designe to which his Pattent is to referre with Party Walls, sufficient Scantlings, good paving in the streets and sufficient Conveighances for the water, with such other Clauses as are usual in Grants of like nature, and enjoyned to other builders’. (fn. 7) In August the letters patent were issued, (fn. 8) although ’the designe of the building’ which was required to be enrolled in Chancery has not survived. (fn. 7)

In the same year Wren recommended that Edward Sleymaker should be allowed to complete other buildings on the east side of the street in ’Gurle's Garden’, (fn. 9) probably just north of the later line of Chicksand Street, (fn. 10) ’the greatest part being upon an Old Foundation, and adjoining to old buildings’. (fn. 9)

The degree of development of Brick Lane in 1677–82 is shown in Ogilby and Morgan's maps, which record more or less complete lines of building as far north as the vicinity of Fournier Street, and more irregular development beyond that. In the years 1681–84 Booth Street (now Princelet Street east of Brick Lane) and Montague Street (now Hanbury Street east of Brick Lane), and Brick Lane in this area, were developed by sublessees from Nicholas Booth, a carpenter, and others. Among the builders were Robert Hart, a plasterer, Robert Martin, a bricklayer, and Thomas Dellar, John Goodman and Richard Janeway, all carpenters. (fn. 11)

An inhabitant of this side of the street, just south of Booth Street, in the mid-1680's was Ralph Alexander, (fn. 12) a brewer who was suspected of secretly arming opponents of Charles II's government. (fn. 13)

An ephemeral project in the street in 1694 indicates its suburban character at that time. A Robert Diggs of the City of London, Doctor of Physic, being possessed of a piece of ground in the Lane whose position is not known, decided to erect on it ’two little shedds or places called Ban-quetting houses’, doubtless for the accommodation of Cockney junketings. Henry Smith of Chancery Lane, joiner, was employed to erect the evidently all-wooden buildings. The work appears never to have been completed, Diggs accusing Smith of failing to fulfil his contract and Smith accusing Diggs of failing to pay his wages. (fn. 14) At one stage the dispute was referred to the arbitration of workmen including a ’Mr. William Chapman’, perhaps the Whitechapel carpenter who worked in the Old Artillery Ground.

Gascoine's map of 1703 suggests that all the part of the street in Spitalfields was then built-up, except for small stretches on the east side of Joyce's Garden and the tenter ground. Rocque shows it all built-up except where the eastern end of the churchyard abutted on the street.

In 1769 the Spitalfields Vestry decided to oppose a clause in a Bill then before Parliament for paving part of Whitechapel parish, which provided for the erection of a toll-gate across Whitechapel and a side gate across ’Dirty Lane’, the narrow continuation of Brick Lane south of Old Montague Street in Whitechapel parish. (fn. 15) The Act of 1770 for paving Whitechapel High Street (fn. 16) makes no provision for these gates.

Two years later, in 1772, Commissioners were appointed with power to pave certain streets in Spitalfields and all of Brick Lane within and without the parish. (fn. 17) It was described as ’a great Thoroughfare for Carriages, and the only convenient one from the Water-side, through Whitechapel, to Spital Fields, Mile End New Town, Bethnal Green, Shoreditch and Parts adjacent’, but as being ’much out of Repair and incommodious’.

When the construction of Union Street was being considered, the widening of ’Dirty Lane’ to give better communication from Brick Lane to Whitechapel High Street was also urged. (fn. 18) In 1778 an Act was accordingly passed (fn. 19) appointing Commissioners to widen Dirty Lane; they were also empowered to widen Brick Lane south of Fournier Street to a uniform width of from thirty five to thirty-eight feet on the expiry of the house-leases on both sides of the street. In consideration of the fact that the widening of Dirty Lane would’contribute to making a commodious and useful Line of Communication between Whitechapel Road and Moorfields’ the City of London was to pay £67 10s. per annum towards its cost, as it was similarly associated with the financing of Union Street to form another link in this line. A substantial widening of Dirty Lane, to become Osborn Street, was carried out, but Horwood's map of 1799 suggests that any widening of Brick Lane in Spitalfields was inconsiderable.

The narrowness of the Lane continues to recall its origin as a sixteenth-century field path.

No. 57 Brick Lane

See page 215.

No. 59 Brick Lane

See page 221.

No. 63 Brick Lane


See page 186.

Nos. 65–79 (odd) Brick Lane

Formerly Nos. 187–180 (consec.) Brick Lane

These houses were built by Joseph Truman in 1705–6 (see page 189).

Nos. 81–85 (odd) Brick Lane

Formerly Nos. 179 and 178 Brick Lane

These were perhaps built in consequence of a lease made in 1691 to an Andrew Mayer, probably by Sir George Wheler (see page 193).

Nos. 87 and 89 Brick Lane

Formerly Nos. 177 and 176 Brick Lane

Nothing is known of the early history of these two houses. They are similar in appearance to Nos. 81–85,and may date from the same period.

Christ Church C.E. Primary School, Brick Lane

Christ Church Schools had their origin in a charity school which was founded in the parish in 1708. (fn. 20) By 1732 there were thirty children in attendance, (fn. 21) and in 1782 the number had risen to seventy. (fn. 22) The boys were taught in a room in a house in Brick Lane and the girls in a house in Booth Street (now Princelet Street east of Brick Lane). (fn. 22) A fund of £700 had accrued by 1782 (including a legacy of £200 from John Cob, a hair merchant of the parish) and in that year a faculty was obtained permitting a school to be built on the edge of the churchyard. (fn. 22) This site, which measured eighty-six feet from east to west and twenty-eight feet from north to south, (fn. 22) abutted on Red Lion Street in front of the west end of the church (fn. 23) and had formerly been occupied by the parish engine-house. (fn. 24) (fn. n1) The school (Plate 46b) was erected in 1782 (fn. 26) and faced north. It is illustrated by a plaque on the present school building in Brick Lane. It had a charming brick and stone front of late eighteenth-century Classical design, with a central feature slightly recessed between two triangular-pedimented wings. In the centre were two doorways, set in a colonnade, and in the wall face above were two niches, containing statues of a boy and a girl. Each wing had two ground-floor and attic windows, all with flat arches of gauged brickwork, and the first-floor windows were underlined by a pedestal-course, carried across the central colonnade.

All children from eight to ten years of age whose parents resided within half a mile of the school were admitted, and no fees were charged. Living accommodation for the master and mistress were provided. (fn. 26)

On 16 September 1817, a National School was established by Joseph Wilson, of Milk Street, in temporary premises in Wheler Street. The following year the Duke of York laid the foundation stone of a permanent school building on the south side of Quaker Street (see pages 105–6). The architect was James Beck and the builders, whose contract was for £2,596, were James Benson and Son. (fn. 27) The site was leased for sixty-one years from G. H. Wheler in 1819, (fn. 28) and the new school opened on 2 July 1820 (fn. 27) as the ’Spital fields National School for the education of the poor in the principles of the Established Church’. It was declared that ’no poverty however extreme and no difference in religious sentiments in the parents shall be deemed a sufficient cause of exclusion to the children provided they conform to the regulations of the school’. (fn. 29)

The line of Commercial Street cut through Red Lion Street and made it necessary for the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to purchase and clear the Charity School site. The sale was effected in 1845, (fn. 30) but the purchase price of £1,566 was not agreed until 1850. (fn. 31) It appears that owing to a decline of income the Charity School and National School were united in 1842 for instruction only. (fn. 20) The Charity School was occupied until April 1851 and was pulled down between that date and April 1852. (fn. 26) The pupils were moved to the National School and both were conducted by a joint committee, though the funds of each were kept separately. (fn. 32) In 1869 a faculty was obtained to erect a new school with houses for a master and mistress at the east end of the churchyard, facing Brick Lane. (fn. 33) The funds of both the Charity and National Schools were applied to the costs of the building (fn. 32) which amounted to £5,953. (fn. 27)

The new building (Plate 47a), which was to be constructed on arches in order to avoid disturbing the graves, (fn. 33) was begun in 1873 from the designs of James Tolley and Daniel Robert Dale of 13 Angel Court, Throgmorton Street. The builder was Christopher Forrest of Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green. (fn. 34) When the new schools were completed in 1874, the trustees of the Quaker Street National School surrendered their lease. (fn. 27) The building still stands(see pages 105–6).

The present building is set back from the west line of Brick Lane and consists of a single storey of class-rooms raised over covered playgrounds, one for boys and the other for girls and infants, both now closed in and converted for other uses. The class-rooms are reached by four staircases, two rising from the playgrounds and two from Brick Lane. The north staircase is contained in a bay-fronted lobby, and the south staircase rises alongside a wing originally the headmaster's house, containing two storeys and a roof garret. The shallow front court is screened by an elaborate cast-iron railing, with a centrally placed drinking fountain of stone. The group is picturesque in its spiky Victorian Gothic way, with red brick walls, crudely diapered with black, and heavy stone dressings to the angles and openings. The flat two-centred arches of the playground arcade are of stone, with keystones merging into a band course, and the four windows above are gabled. The steep roofs are slated, with bands of shaped slates, and are finished with ornamental ridge tiles. A dummy window in the flank wall of the headmaster's house contains a relief representation of the old school building above an inscribed cartouche.

The Soup Kitchen, Brick Lane

Formerly between Nos. 114 and 116 Brick Lane

In 1797 an organization known as the ’Spitalfields Soup Society’ (fn. 36) or the ’Ladling Society’ (fn. 36) was formed in an attempt to save the unemployed weavers of Spitalfields and their families from starvation. Among the founders was the chemist, William Allen of Plough Court, at whose home the first meeting is said to have been held. (fn. 36) Like several early members of the committee, he was a Quaker, (fn. 35) but the charity was also supported by other well-known reformers, among them William Wilberforce, Bishop of Durham. (fn. 37) Later members included Peter Bedford and Thomas Fowell Buxton. (fn. 38) At the same time, similar soup societies were operating in Clerkenwell and St. George's Fields, apparently closely connected with the organization in Spitalfields. (fn. 37) A soup kitchen was opened at No. 53 (now Nos. 114 and 116) Brick Lane, from which soup was sold at Id. per quart and potatoes at 2d. for 15 lb. to families whose need had been established. The members of the committee visited homes in the Spitalfields district to discover such cases, as well as personally supervising the making and distribution of the soup. (fn. 37) Members were fined for any failure to carry out their part of the work or to attend the monthly meetings of the committee. (fn. 38)

The soup kitchen was found to be so necessary that it was again opened in succeeding winters. In the early months of 1812 the amount of soup sold monthly averaged nearly 80,000 quarts and it was estimated that about 6,000 people were being fed daily. At this time the daily requirements of the Brick Lane soup kitchen were 856 lb. of beef, 426 lb. of barley, 317 lb. of split peas, 40 lb. of onions, 62 lb. of salt, and 3 lb. 14 oz. of pepper. (fn. 38)

In 1812 the charity was aided by the formation of the Spitalfields Association for the Relief of the Industrious Poor whose members operated a depot to supply cod, herrings and rice at a low cost, and distributed money in cases of need. Both the societies co-operated closely with the Spitalfields Benevolent Society, which was founded in 1811 at the Wheler Chapel (fn. 39) (see page 103).

The committee of the Soup Society continued to run the soup kitchen in Brick Lane until 1883, when the work was handed over to the rector of Christ Church, who continued it for some time with a staff of regular workers. (fn. 36)


  • n1. This had been built in 1731 and was ordered to be rebuilt at the east end of the charity school in 1782 according to a plan produced by ’Mr. Dalton, the Surveyor’ at the cost of the trustees of the Charity School. Dalton may have designed the school building too.
  • 1. William Robinson, The History and Antiquities of... Hackney, 1842, vol. i, p. 341.
  • 2. P.R.O.,C5/596/33.
  • 3. M.L.R. I732/2/393.
  • 4. MSS. of Truman, Hanbury and Buxton, ’Abstract of Mr. Jefferies Title to a Leasehold Estate in Spittle-Fields’.
  • 5. P.R.O., PC2/63, pp. 26–7, and see The Wren Society, vol. xviii, 194.1, pp. 17–18.
  • 6. The Wren Society, loc. cit.
  • 7. Ibid., p. 25.
  • 8. P.R.O., C66/3125 m. 26 No. 18.
  • 9. The Wren Society, vol. xviii, p. 13 and Plate III
  • 10. P.R.O., EI79/H3/37O.
  • 11. M.L.R. 1709/2/109; 1720/1/334; 1722/6/ 107;1723/6/262;1727/6/161;1728/3/18; 1728/6/65; 1730/6/60.
  • 12. Ibid., 1719/6/303.
  • 13. Cal.S.P. Dom. 1683, Jan.-June, pp. 103–4, and ibid ., July–Sept., p. 30.
  • 14. P.R.O.,C5/113/35.
  • 15. S.C.L.L.C, Vestry Minutes, 28 Feb. 1769.
  • 16. 11 Geo. III, c. 15, public.
  • 17. 12 Geo. III, c. 38, public.
  • 18. S.C.L.L.C, Vestry Minutes, 18 Feb. 1778.
  • 19. 18 Geo. Ill, c. 80, public.
  • 20. L.C.C.R.O., Acc. 56.82, 22 Oct. 1903, applica tion to Board of Education.
  • 21. New Remarks of London by the Company of Parish Clerks, 1732, pp. 189–93.
  • 22. L.C.C.R.O., Ace. 56.82, 4 May 1782, faculty.
  • 23. Christ Church vestry safe, Vestry Minutes, 11 April 1782.
  • 24. Ibid., 26 June 1782.
  • 25. Ibid., 4 July 1782.
  • 26. L.C.C.R.O., Ace. 56.82, 20 April 1852, copy of affidavit of Thomas Brushfield.
  • 27. J. H. Scott, A Short History of Spitalfields, N.D., pp. 28–33.
  • 28. L.C.C.R.O., Acc. 56.82, 27 May 1819, copy of lease.
  • 29. Ibid., 1869, application to the Charity Com missioners.
  • 30. P.R.O., Works 7/29 G/1.
  • 31. Ibid., Works 6/142/3 No. 2.
  • 32. Endowed Charities, London, vol. i,1897, pp. 116–117.
  • 33. L.C.C.R.O., Acc. 56.82, 11 July 1869, faculty.
  • 34. Ibid., bills, receipts etc.
  • 35. Ibid., ’Minutes of the Committee of the Society for supplying the Poor with a good and nutritrious Meat Soup instituted in Spitalfields’.
  • 36. Scott, op. cit., pp. 38–42.
  • 37. Thomas Bernard, Extract from an account of a Charity in Spitalfields, for supplying the poor with soup and potatoes, 1798 (copy in Bishops gate Institute).
  • 38. Report of the Committee of the Spitalfields Soup Society for 1811–12 (copy in Bishopsgate Institute).
  • 39. The Report of the Spitalfields Association, 1816 (copy in Bishopsgate Institute).