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Today approximately 300,000 Bengalis live in Britain, most of whom originate from - page 2 / 9

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Start at Aldgate Station (not Aldgate East) turn right (west) towards the City of London.  Begin the walk at an East End site with early links to Bengali settlers. St Botolph’s Church, Aldgate (1), which is dedicated to the patron saint of travellers, has stood here since the reign of William the Conqueror.

The current church was built between 1741 and 1744 by George Dance. Church archives mention the burial of a converted Indian Christian (who may have been a Bengali) “James, Indian servant of James Duppa Brewer” here in 1618.  If you stand in front of the Church, Jewry Street is diagonally to your right across Aldgate High Street, running southwards. East India House (Lloyd’s Insurance building) is round the corner, in Leadenhall Street, running westwards.

Across Aldgate High Street is Jewry Street (2). Mr and Mrs Roger set up an Ayah’s home and job centre on the corner of India Street in the 1890’s where nannies from Bengal, Burma and China could have lodgings, seek work and arrange passage home.  On the right is Lloyd’s Insurance building, designed by Richard Rogers, with its twin rooftop blue cranes (blue lights at night), which towers above Leadenhall Street.  It is on the site of East India House (3), the East India Company’s headquarters from 1722 to 1873 after which time Lloyds took it over.

The East India Company

The East India Company was of vital importance to the development of the East End and its links to Bengal. It began to develop trade with Asia in 1600, particularly in spices and by 1608 its first ships had arrived in Surat, India. In 1614 the company had built its own dock in Blackwall, London.  

The company’s first trading factory opened in India in 1615.  In 1757 the company took control of Bengal. Its ships brought back precious cargoes of goods to east London, but also a human cargo of immigrant workers - lascars (Asian seamen) and later ayahs (Indian nannies, nurse maids and servants) who accompanied the families of the colonial memsahibs (wives of senior officials) of the Raj back to Britain.  

The numbers of lascars arriving in the Port of London on East India Company ships - and later on P&O, Clan Line Steamers and British India Steamship Company vessels - grew to over a thousand by the Napoleonic War and to many more thousands through the 19th century. Many arrivals were Bengalis who returned home on the next passage. However some jumped ship. Others were just abandoned here without wages by unscrupulous employers.   

The East India Company records lascars arriving at their Leadenhall Street offices “reduced to great distress and applying to us for relief” (1782). From 1795 lascar hostels and seamen’s homes were set up in Shoreditch, Shadwell and Wapping. The lives of lascars were often poverty stricken and hard. In the winter of 1850 “some 40 sons of India” were found dead of cold and hunger on the streets of London. The Society for the Protection of Asian Sailors founded the Stranger’s Home in Limehouse in 1857.

From the Church, turn right into subway (exit 7), come out of exit 2 (westside) into Houndsditch which is the old moat outside the city wall. Over the centuries noxious trades were confined to the east of Houndsditch beyond the walls of the City. The curing and tanning of leather took place here.  Whitechapel’s messy haymarket was

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