There's no shortage of unusual sights to be found around Brick Lane, but few have the longevity of the area's shoe trees. Clustered in the north-west corner of Allen Gardens, the plimsoll-populated poplars have caused wonder and puzzlement for at least a decade.
Persistent rumours have it that each pair of shoes marks the death of a local homeless person, or else a murdered gang member. In other cities, dangling shoes have been used to mark a gang's turf, or sites for drug dealing. None of these explanations can fully account for the sheer number of shoes in the trees.
Perhaps most are simply whimsical additions from those who've heard about the trees and want to contribute. After all, this isn't the only collection of danglesneakers the area has harboured. It's a bit of a 'thing'. Brick Lane has even seen the phenomenon put to commercial use.
This year seems to have brought a bumper harvest to the Brick Lane trees. The crop of footwear recently extended onto further arbours and railings.
And what's this? SHOE TREE ART. Please donate £1 for each photo taken. Thank you.
Nobody was around to accept our coin, or provide further information. We returned the next day. The sign had gone, but a bucket for payment remained. Again, nobody was nearby. On a third visit, the corner was superintended by a pair of shouting, midday drunks. They couldn't help us with our enquiries.
We can only assume that the shoe trees of Brick Lane have a complex origin. What may have started off as some kind of small-scale shrine or drugs signal soon grew into a place where anyone could contribute to the collection. At some point — possibly coinciding with the Instagram era — an enterprising local seems to have taken ownership of the minor landmark, adding extra shoes and charging passers-by for taking for photos.