Winding through fields, the street was originally called Whitechapel Lane. Brick Lane was so named as early as 1550 after the two tile garths which stood on its eastern side, these being places where tile or brick clay was dug. The lane already had buildings on it by the 1650s, on the east side as far as modern Hanbury Street and the Fossan estates (which included the Flower and Dean Street rookery) soon followed on the west side.
Land to the north of present Hanbury Street was acquired for the Black Eagle Brewery in the late 1600’s and the earliest reference to the brewing here is a reference to Joseph Truman, brewer ’of Brick Lane’ in 1683. By 1701, the nucleus of the brewery was in evidence.
Building continued in earnest over the next 100 years and by 1746, the street was completely built up. The ’Neuve Eglise’ the former Huguenot Chapel at the corner with Fournier Street was built in 1743 (now the Jamme Masjid Mosque).
The southern stretch (today’s Osborn Street) was little more than a narrow dirt track and acquired the nickname ’Dirty Lane’. Brick Lane and many of its surrounding streets were paved c.1772 and ’Dirty Lane’ was widened to improve access to Whitechapel Road c.1778.
In the 19th century, Irish people and Ashkenazi Jews immigrated to the area. Jewish immigration continued into the early 20th century.
The Sunday market, like the ones on Petticoat Lane and nearby Columbia Road, dates from a dispensation given by the government to the Jewish community in the 19th century. At the time, there were no Sunday markets open because of the Christian observance of Sabbath. Located at the junction of Cheshire and Sclater streets, the market sells bric-a-brac as well as fruit, vegetables and many other items. Near the junction with Hanbury Street are two indoor markets; Upmarket and Backyard Market. The street was renumbered on 21 December 1883.
In the later 20th century, Bangladeshis comprised the major group of immigrants and gradually predominated in the area. Many Bangladeshi immigrants to Brick Lane were from the Greater Sylhet region. These settlers helped shape Bangladeshi migration to Britain; many families from Jagannathpur and Bishwanath tend to live in the Brick Lane area.