Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A Rough Guide To London's East End

London’s East End is probably the best place to go to truly experience what London is really like. The area is a complete melting pot, with so many different cultural and social groups and different types of business living side-by-side in one of London’s most exciting and fast moving areas. London’s East End is highly regarded as a poverty stricken area, being home to many refugees and immigrants over the centuries due to its proximity to the Docklands. However, over the past 30 years has developed into an ever-growing, diverse and desirable area. The area around Spitalfields was originally known for its silk weaving, these weaver settlers then built the familiar Huguenot mansions seen on Fournier Street and the surrounding streets. This silk weaving trade thrived until a treaty was established with France which allowed for the cheaper import of French silks, leaving many of the Spitalfields and surrounding areas weavers unable to compete, forcing them to leave the area. After this the area was inhabited by Eastern European Jews, either escaping harsh treatment in Russia and Poland or looking for enterprise. Evidence of this community is still obvious through the famous bagel shops located on Brick Lane, which draw in customers from all over. More recently the area is known for its large Bangladeshi population, which spreads throughout the East London area. This community are most noted for their work in local textile industries and for making Brick Lane the curry capital of London, one of the main attractions to the area. From the Victorian era onwards this part of London was infamous for its deprivation and criminality. Over-crowding, poverty and epidemics were just few causes of the areas problems. The issue of poverty and crime lingers still today, however the area has developed into a thriving, eccentric and creative area, popular with artists and designers, loved for its nightlife, known for its curry and salt beef bagels, and for being an area that never gets boring, continues to excite and inspire. The area has such a diverse community ranging through all races and social statuses, however these communities live harmoniously and only contribute to their community. It was found that during the recent riots in the UK, that when groups of potential rioters arrived in Bethnal Green with the intention of looting, local Bangladeshi men took to the streets to protect their Mosques and local shops and businesses, showing a true community spirit and a love for the area.

When looking for an object for this project, I found it difficult to find something particularly interesting, as everything in this area is second-hand or from a market stall, so its difficult to find something a little out of the ordinary. However, in a second-hand furniture/bric-a-brac store on Bethnal Green Road called Grenier I noticed a basket full of old glass bottles for 50p. The bottle was a small, dusty and slightly grimy old beer bottle of Dutch origin. The fact that the little forgotten bottle was so old and grimy and from a foreign place, made me think of the area it was found in. In a way, it represents the area; its old and drenched in history, it’s a bit rough around the edges and like most of the people in the area it has travelled from a faraway place, yet was once filled with “first quality” beer, a description I feel perfectly suits the area. The fact that the bottle only cost 50p made me think about its worth. Its clearly of low value, and seems quite meaningless to its previous owner, however if this same bottle was placed in a museum setting, it suddenly becomes a historical piece and so increases its worth as it represents a period in time.

For the image from a shop, I chose this photo of the loved beigel shop on Brick Lane. I chose it because it is one of the most popular and most visited locations in the area; always packed with customers, especially on a Sunday when the queue pours down the road, I have also seen school children on organised trips to these shops! The bagel shops are open 24/7, proving its popularity and status in the community, as a such a simple food brings people in from all over just for these particular bagels. If these shops were placed elsewhere in the world, they would not receive the same reaction and would not have the same reputation, as they would no longer be the “Brick Lane beigels”, the bagels are synonymous with the area.

 My chosen object from the Geffrye Museum was a birch veneered plywood chair designed by Jasper Morrison. It is a plain, simple, pale wooden chair; with a very simple shape with absolutely no detail or decoration, made of plywood which is cheap and of low quality. The associations I got when looking at this chair was that of school chairs, waiting rooms and other uninteresting locations. I couldn’t help but think what makes this chair interesting/important enough to be placed in a museum, however, this simple, possibly boring, piece represents an era of furniture. The Geffrye Museum is the museum of the home, this chair would fit in in a home setting, however when singled out in a museum it looks out of the ordinary, too ordinary to have a place there. In the future it may be viewed differently as it will be a historical representation of an era through furniture.

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