Hitting the high street: the changing faces of local markets along the East London Line

High streets have always been at the heart of London’s many village communities. As the commercial centre of their areas, they offer a visual map of the many different people who have passed through.

In Whitechapel, shop signs and places of worship have left a living trace of the waves of immigrants who have swept in, settled down and then moved on from the Huguenots in the 17th century to the Jews of the 20th century and the Bangladeshi’s who have made the area their home today.

In Ridley road market and Kingsland road the everyday lives of the many communities collide in a riot of colour: Nigerian fabrics, Turkish bridal shops, Jewish beigal bakeries, Caribbean fruit, nail bars run by Vietnamese and mainly used by African and Caribbean communities.

Its hard to imagine today that Lewisham was once a wealthy suburb of London and Croydon’s Surrey St market has been totally eclipsed by the burgeoning city centre with its glass and steel structures and high street brands.

Over the next few weeks East London Lines will be taking a closer look at our high streets and the people who make them special. So check back in to find out about  Tower Hamlets ambitious project: High Street 2012, which aims to improve and celebrate its high streets, including Whitechapel Road, Brick Lane and Mile End Terrace. We will also check out Lewisham High Street, Ridley Road in Hackney and Surrey Street in Croydon, seeing how these roads have changed over time and what residents think about these changes, as well as the future for these streets and their lively markets.

By Katie Gibbons and Nalini Silvathasan

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