Update on the Controversy Surrounding Brick Lane

Posted on | Wednesday, 22 February 2012 | No Comments

Tower Hamlets Council, through there publicity vehicle, East End Life, support their decision to tarmac Brick Lane with the statement, 'The irony is that the 'traditional' surface of Brick Lane in centuries past is far likelier to have been hard-packed mud than fancy granite setts'..

Historically wrong, and dangerously misleading. This philistine act of replacing an earlier attempt to recapture the look and feel of our past with tarmac is an insult to all those who care fervently about heritage. It's extraordinary that their limited research into our heritage didn't uncover this photograph and others corroborating a cobbled surface - readily available in their own (underfunded) Local History Library and Archives. At best a sloppy oversight...

The photograph was taken in 1895

Update 23 February 2011
In response to the article in East End Life, I wrote to The Editor:


'Dear Ms Clay

I refer to the above article by John Rennie in your current edition (20 - 26 February 2012) of East End life.

It is both inaccurate and cynical. You will see that I have posted a photograph of Brick Lane circa 1985  at my blog; this clearly shows the street was originally cobbled well before tarmac was laid. Other photographs obtained from the same source - Tower Hamlets Local History and Archives - show connecting roads also laid in cobbles, corroborating the historical fact that the area as a whole was cobbled.

That your columnist was only able to refer to one photograph from Tower Hamlets Local History and Archives, and not those disproving his argument is cause for grave concern. As I have stated in my blog, this is at best sloppy investigative journalism.

Under the circumstances, I'm requesting that you issue an appropriate update and perhaps redrafting your story to account for the fact that the council recognises that they have laid tarmac on a street original laid in cobbles - and this against the wishes of the local community. Here then is the thrust of the issue - your paper, supporting the council's decision, run roughshod over local opinion and saw fit to ignore evidence contradicting the council's statement on Brick Lane's architectural heritage. It's dishonest reporting and lacks the integrity we so sorely need in our media. An apology please.'

She hasn't afforded me the courtesy of a reply; maybe she only responds to council communiques. However, my email was copied to John Rennie the journalist responsible, and here is his reply:

'Dear Grenville,
Thanks for your note. I'm not sure this is either inaccurate or cynical. My point isn't that the street was never cobbled - I don't actually say that - but that the setts that are being covered up aren't especially historical (dating from the 1990s), and that tarmac isn't especially modern. Personally, I like the cobbles, a point I make at the end of my piece ... I think it's a shame to cover them up, and my piece certainly isn't intended to be an apology for the council's love of tarmac. As for the picture - there's no great conspiracy there I can promise you, it was simply a picture I had to hand. Your point about older cobbles is of course an excellent one and well made. I have no control over what goes in East End Life but I will put your comments on the end of the piece when I publish it on my website eastlondonhistory.com.'


East London History? Draw your own conclusions. Never mind, the message here is clear, and one we already new. The paper lacks integrity - and under its present regime it's unlikely to represent the views of the community over the directives issued by the inner circle of the council.

ps In the same issue, Lutfur Rahman focused his column on Brick Lane too. He also conveniently ignored the historical fact that Brick Lane was originally cobbled. Referring at times to its 'tasty curries', 'quirky shopping' and naming it 'Curry Capital 2012', he placed little value on its heritage. In stating the estimated cost of re-laying cobbles (he says bricks but I hope he meant cobbles and understands the difference) he omitted to mention that TfL had partly funded this work. He goes on to say that the cost of ongoing repairs 'would not provide the tax payer with value for money' - a 101 phrase for career politicians unable to put together a sound argument in support of unpopular decisions. So, for someone who holds his position based on 13% of the Borough's vote, and a tax payers funded allowance of  £65,000/year, he talks of 'value for money'!  And, frankly who is he to tell us what price is to be paid for retaining our heritage. Wait, there's more, 'the tarmac will ensure Brick Lane remains a safe, exciting, and attractive place to visit'. Well, I suppose we ought to be replacing our historic cobbled streets nationwide in a sort of Rahman mania as they're all, on this basis, probably unsafe, unexciting and unattractive. His final learned words were, 'the tarmac will provide long lasting improvements'. Really? so tarmac will last longer than 300 year old cobbles with equally minimal maintenance, right?  

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