By: ANSAR AHMED ULLAH
Their Majesties, The King and The Queen Consort, made a historic visit to the heart of the British Bengali community in Brick Lane, Banglatown, on Wednesday, 8 February.
Their Majesties, The King and The Queen Consort, visited the heart of the British Bengali community in Brick Lane, meeting charities and businesses. Arriving at Altab Ali Park, they were received by Tower Hamlets Speaker Shafi Ahmed, British Bangladeshi Power and Inspiration (BBPI), Ms Ayesha Qureshi MBE JP and Cllr Abdal Ullah, with singing from British Bengali singer Sohini Alam in the background. Their Majesties then met community members who were actively involved in the anti-racism movement of the 1970s and 1980s, including representatives of the Altab Ali Foundation.
Walking to the Shaheed Minar, The King and The Queen Consort spoke to young people from local schools who have worked on anti-racism projects and the preservation of the Bengali language. The location of Altab’s murder, now a focal point for the local community, has the Shaheed Minar, commemorating the Bengali language movement.
Altab Ali was a young Bengali man murdered in a racist attack on 4 May 1978 in Adler Street as he walked home from work. In his memory, St Mary’s Garden was renamed Altab Ali park in 1998.
Their Majesties were then invited to plant a Dodoens Elm tree together in commemoration of the death of Altab Ali before departing via car to Brick Lane. With primary school children and locals welcoming Their Majesties to Brick Lane, The King and The Queen Consort paused at the Banglatown arch and the new street mural The Land is Calling, commissioned as part of Bangladesh’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. Next, their Majesties, accompanied by a dance procession, walked the short distance to the Gram Bangla Restaurant. At the Gram Bangla Restaurant, where they were served Bengali snacks. Their Majesties met women involved in the British Bangladeshi Power & Inspiration organisation, demonstrating the strength and diversity of women of Bengali heritage today. The Queen Consort was gifted a Jamdani sari.
Brick Lane is one of London’s most iconic streets at the heart of the East End. Historically it’s been home to French Huguenot and Jewish immigrants, and now it’s home to the British Bengali community. Along with its rich heritage, Brick Lane is known for its food and the famous selection of curry restaurants, also known as the Curry Capital of Europe. The surrounding area of Brick Lane is known as Banglatown, which is home to many annual street festivals, including the Baishakhi Mela, the Brick Lane Festival and the Curry Festival.
The King and The Queen Consort then moved towards the historical Brick Lane Mosque. Entering the Prayer Hall, Their Majesties met a local author to learn about the unique history of the building, from a Church to a Synagogue to the present Mosque. The Mosque is at the heart of Brick Lane’s community today, representing stories of immigration and identity. Before departure, Their Majesties also had the opportunity to meet the mosque Imams, trustees, and several community representatives, including the Brick Lane Funeral Service Director and the East London Central Synagogue President. It provided vital services to the community throughout the Covid-19 lockdowns, including 24-hour funeral services at the height of the pandemic.
The last time His Majesty The King, as The Prince of Wales, visited Brick Lane was in 1987, attending various community meetings and visiting local employment projects.
The historical visit was hosted by the founders of the British Bangladeshi Power and Inspiration (BBPI), Ms Ayesha Qureshi MBE JP and Cllr Abdal Ullah. BBPI partnered with Tower Hamlets Council, Brick Lane Business Association and Brick Lane Mosque to organise the visit. Ayesha Qureshi MBE JP, Founder of BBPI, said, “Brick Lane is more than just a street to the British Bangladeshi community. We are humbled beyond words that Their Majesties, The King and The Queen Consort accepted our invitation to visit the community in our spiritual home of Brick Lane and in so recognised the struggles our elders faced in making Britain their home.”
Shafi Ahmed, Speaker of Tower Hamlets Council, said, “We were incredibly proud to welcome The King and The Queen Consort to our borough. We have seen today how much the Royal Family means to our residents, traders and schoolchildren.”