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Today approximately 300,000 Bengalis live in Britain, most of whom originate from - page 3 / 9





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held three times a week from the 17th Century to 1926. Also banned from the City were brick making, theatres, places of entertainment and foreigners. In 1484 King Richard III declared it illegal for “aliens” (foreigners) to work in the City.

Take second right into Cutler Street (4). At the T-junction at Cutler Street the smartly renovated luxury office accommodation is directly in front of you. It occupies the 6/7 storey former warehouses of the East India Company.  Spices, perfumes, pearls, tea, cotton, muslins, ginghams dungarees, chintz and taffeta, calico, silks, indigo ivory and

saltpeter of the company’s East India trade were stored here.

So was opium, grown in Bengal and sold particularly in China to finance the tea trade. In 1699 angry local weavers, protesting at cheap imported cloth from Bengal, stormed East India House. In 1700 the importation of dyed and printed cottons from the East was banned in Britain, causing devastation in Bengal.

From Cutler Street go south eastwards and then left into Harrow Place, from Harrow Place turn left into Middlesex Street and go up to Sandy’s Row, which is the 2nd road on the right.  

From the end of World War 1 more Asian seamen began to settle in this area. Their numbers grew steadily, mostly single Bengali sailors who left their ships to find work in the catering industry in the West End or jobs in the East End’s clothing industry.  

An early and influential Bengali resident was Ayub Ali Master, who lived at 13, Sandy’s Row (5) between 1945-59.  He ran a seamen’s café in Commercial Road in the 1920s and the Shah Jalal Coffee House, also called the Ayub Ali Dining Rooms at 76, Commercial Street. Shah Jalal was the Yemeni Sufi mystic who came to Sylhet in 1303.

Ayub Ali Master turned his home into a vital centre of support for Bengalis which included a lodging house, job centre offering letter writing, form filling, an education service, a travel agency and an advice bureau. He also started the Indian Seamen’s Welfare League in 1943.

Just before Sandy’s Row, turn right into Frying Pan Alley, which will take you to Bell Lane, turn right to go towards Wentworth Street (6). At the crossroads of Bell Lane, Wentworth Street and Goulston Street turn left. First right is Old Castle Street, where Calcutta House is situated.

Walk through to Wentworth Street, part of the famous Petticoat Lane Sunday Market which started in 1603 with stalls selling Huguenot lace and silks. Visit when the market is open and spot a wide range of stalls selling leather, fashion and fabrics including printed cottons for the African community.

Progress to the far end of Old Castle Street to find Calcutta House (7), once an East India Company tea warehouse, now part of London Metropolitan University. The East India Company shipped thousands of tons of tea to Britain. Firstly from China and then in the 1850’s from Assam (India) and British tea estates on the hills of Sylhet, Bangladesh.

The building is named after the Indian city of Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) which was founded by Job Charnock, an English sailor who settled in a Bengali village 150

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