Would a Banglatown by any other name smell so sweet?

Political types get knickers in twist about ward boundaries and names and forget George Lansbury

As someone who is quite interested in politics, or ‘affairs’ as it was called on Bullseye, I can’t muster the energy to even form an opinion on the latest row brewing in Tower Hamlets – the controversy over the naming of council wards as a result of the lastest review of political boundaries.

The furore is over the proposal for a ward currently called Spitalfields and Banglatown to….Spitalfields

In its deliberations the Local Government Boundary Commission for England states:


We received different proposals for ward names for the Spitalfields area. The Mayor and the Labour Group argued that the ward should be named Spitalfields & Banglatown, as at present. The Labour Group argued that this name ‘reflects the historic area of Spitalfields and its more recent, additional identity as Banglatown’. The Conservative Group stated that the ward should be named simply Spitalfields, arguing that ‘the Bangladeshi community lives across the borough’ and that to include ‘Banglatown’ in the name ‘implies that the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets is restricted to the Spitalfields area alone’. The local resident argued that ‘Spitalfields & Liberties’ reflected the inclusion of the former Liberties of Norton Folgate and Old Artillery Ground.

Luftur Rahmen, was quoted in the East London Advertiser as saying:

This is an attack on Bangladeshis, not only in this country but across the world, and I will do everything I can to retain the name Banglatown.

I’m not quite sure if Bangladeshis around the world will be up in arms, but I assume anyone who uses the term bangla town to describe the southern end of Brick Lane will do so regardless.

The implication of the Mayor’s comments are, the paper suggests, that he is willing to take legal action to prevent the name change. Now, for a man who has said he has been forced to cut various services because of a lack of funding, it seems somewhat perverse to spend council resources on fighting a name change. However, he was elected, so I respect his right to decide what is value for money for the borough. Similarly, would I give a farthing to support the name change? No, I’d just ask the council to get on with it.

So, how long has the name ‘Banglatown’ been included in the name of the ward? The boundaries before the last change in 1999 are shown in the map below and Banglatown wasn’t present. That’s not to say people didn’t refer to the area, merely that with respect of political boundaries, it’s quite clear that the Banglatown epithet has only been in place for the past 12 or 13 years.

Of interestis that in 1999 the ward names (and boundaries) changed quite noticeably, with Tower Hamlets losing the following names linked to its geography and heritage:

  • (Victoria) Park
  • Grove
  • St James’
  • Holy Trinity
  • St Peter’s
  • St Mary’s
  • Redcoat

Looking at the post 1999 map below, one of the names first appearing as a ward name was Wapping. Now, did the residents of an area along the river change their identity based on a ward name? It seems quite unlikely to me.

So what else is coming in the changes? I’ve stitched together a number of tiles from the original map and included it below.

Wapping politically now becomes defined by The Highway, which may be a nuisance for Network Wapping’s application to be a neighbourhood planning forum and will lead to a drop from three to two councillors.

In addition to the loss of ‘Banglatown’ it looks like Tower Hamlets is also losing ‘Lansbury’ a reference to the Lansbury estate named after George Lansbury, who is described on wikipedia as a ‘campaigner for social justice and improved living and employment conditions for the working class’ and his impact both locally and nationally was significant.

So, what labels do we choose to protect andat what financial cost? Perhaps spending money on those in need, rather than paying lawyers to undertake a judicial review might be the greatest tribute to George Lansbury. Politicians of Tower Hamlets take note, get over it, and get on with improving the Borough.

The pre-1999 situation

Post 1999 changes

2012 proposals

(Stitched from several tiles of the PDF map)

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