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Today approximately 300,000 Bengalis live in Britain, most of whom originate from - page 4 / 9

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miles up the river Hooghly in 1687. It soon became a trading post and fort of the East India Company and developed into a great port city.  Kolkata-based Indian serangs (headmen and boatswains of sian deck crews) often recruited their sailors from Sylhet.

Immigrants and the clothing trade

For at least seven centuries immigrants have settled in then East End and worked in the clothing industry. Geoffrey Chaucer, who lived in Aldgate, describes a xenophobic mob chasing Flemish weavers down the streets of Whitechapel in 1381. From 1590 French Huguenot refugees developed silk weaving in Spitalfields. The Jewish community worked here in the clothing trade particularly from the 1870s to the 1970’s.  

Today Bengali cutters, machinists, pressers and finishers continue the long tradition of clothing production.

Turn back up Old Castle Street to Wentworth Street and from Wentworth Street cross Commercial Street and then turn right to find Toynbee Hall (8) (on your left), which was founded by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett in 1884 as a centre for education and social action in the East End. The building has impressive political connections. Clement Attlee, MP for Limehouse and Labour Prime Minister from 1945-51 lived here in 1910.

The economist William Beveridge planned the principles of the modern welfare state in Toynbee Hall.  This work formed the basis for the establishment of the National Health Service and the modern benefits system.  Beveridge himself was born in Bengal, India in 1879 the eldest son of a judge in the Indian Civil Service.

Toynbee Hall has a long history helping the East End community. In the 1960s the Council of Citizens of Tower Hamlets organised English classes for Bengali seamen and machinists here. Today it continues to serve the Bengali community by providing a meeting place, study centre, lecture hall and base for social programmes and religious,

political and cultural events such as the Bangladesh Film Festival. Bengali Hindus celebrate Durga Puja here.  

From Toynbee Hall turn left southwards and continue up Commercial Street and turn left into Whitechapel High Street. Commercial Road junction, which can be seen across the road on the right, was built to enable the East India Company to transport its goods from the docks to their warehouses. Continue along Whitechapel High Street where the famous Whitechapel Art Gallery, has been exhibiting artwork since 1902.

At the southeast corner of the crossroads of Whitechapel High Street, Osborn Street, Whitechapel Road, and Whitechurch Lane walk into the open space through the Altab Ali Arch (9) which was previously the churchyard. The “white chapel” that gave the area its name stood here in 1250. St Mary Matfelon’s Churchyard was renamed Altab Ali Park (10) by Tower Hamlets Council in 1998 in memory of a young Bengali clothing worker from Cannon Street Road, stabbed to death in Adler Street in a racist murder on 4 May 1978.

The abstract monument on your right - a white structure representing a mother protecting her children in front of a rising crimson sun - is the Shahid Minar, ‘Martyr’s Monument’ (11), a locally founded replica of a larger memorial in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which commemorates the “Language Martyrs” shot dead on Feb 21 1952 by the

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