Jewish Presence (1) - Settlement

note: the Whitechapel Gallery, a fine Arts & Crafts building of 1901 designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, restored and extended in 2009, became a focal point for Jewish intellectual life in the area ('the University of the Ghetto'), and its reading room and exhibitions reflect this, as does Bernard Kops' poem Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East. Our local First World War poet Isaac Rosenberg is commemorated here with a blue plaque.The London Metropolitan Archives has a good display of Jewish life in the East End, based around a wall-size version of the map shown below.

(Judge) Israel Finestein Jewish Society in Victorian England: Collected Essays (Vallentine Mitchell 1993) provides valuable background material. See also a brief article The Life and Legacy of the Jewish East End (Public Spirit 2014) by Leon Silver, President of the East London Central Synagogue and a key member of Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum.

See here for the 1983 Auschwitz exhibition at St George-in-the-East.

A new immigrant community

In Russia, Tsar Nicholas I (1825-55) issued many decrees regulating Jewish life, and after the collapse of Poland in 1835 Jews were mainly confined to the Pale of Settlements (present-day Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus and eastern Poland), where they lived in isolated and impoverished shtetls (small market towns). The assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 led to vicious pogroms (the worst at Kishinev in 1903), and vast numbers fled. Many of them walked to Hamburg, from where - if they could obtain a visa, which usually involved bribery - they could sail to London in appalling steerage class conditions for 16s. a head (half price for children). From 1880-1895 they landed at Irongate Steps, Tilbury Dock, where some were sold bogus onward tickets to the USA.

There were 6,000 Jews in England in 1740 (some prospering, some living in poverty: with a prejudice typical of the age Nathaniel Spencer's  Complete English Traveller of 1772 notes that Pettycoat-lane is one of the most wretched streets in or near London, being inhabited by many of the poorer sort of jews, who apparently live in great penury, and are perhaps the most filthy creatures in the universe); 
20,000 in 1810, 35,000 in 1850 and 60,000 in 1880; by 1914 this had increased to 300,000 (official figures almost certainly under-represent the numbers, because of the immigants' fear that overcrowding would be reported). The majority were in London. Previous Jewish settlers - mainly Spanish and Portuguese, and Dutch Ashkenazis - were horrified at the influx: in 1888 the former Chief Rabbi Nathan Adler wrote to the rabbis in Eastern Europe: Every Rabbi of a community kindly to preach in the synagogue and house of study, to publicise the evil which is befalling our brethren who have come here and to warn them not to come to the land of Britain, for such ascent is descent. Reports home from families who had settled here were garbled and contradictory.

G. Eugene Harfield's handsomely-printed Commercial Directory of the Jews of the United Kingdom (Hewlett & Pierce 5634/1894), listing established traders and professionals (including barristers) throughout the land, is a sign of the desire to make good by assimilation, which a flood of poor immigrants threatened - see below. Significantly, its title page [right] combines Palestinian aspirations and loyalty to the Crown. (See here for the listings of shops and businesses in this parish.)  By contrast, many eastern European immigrants espoused radical politics: see here for a scurrilous, and racist, article from the Evening Standard of 1894 on the 'haunts of the anarchists'.

The British Brothers League, formed in 1901, agitated for an end to immigration and called for repatriation (alongside less extreme voices calling for restrictions on health and safety grounds). Who is corrupting our morals? The Jews. Who is destroying our Sundays? The Jews. Who is debasing our national life? The Jews. Shame on them. Wipe them out. The League was supported by the Tory MP for Stepney, Major William Evans-Gordon: he chaired some of their meetings, and was a driving force for, and member of, the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration which resulted in the 1905 Aliens Act and had the effect of reducing immigration by 40%. Under the Act, immigration officers were given the right to deport 'undersirable' (the term was not defined) immigrants. A few Jewish politicians actually supported this trend, fearful for the impact on what the Jewish community had so far achieved. It certainly changed the scene: for instance, most Jewish schoolchildren were now those of the second generation, who had been born here. The local Board schools were heavily used for voluntary activities on Sundays.

published The Alien Immigrant (Heinemann 1903), much of which is a report of his fact-finding (and fact-laden) travels through the Jewish heartlands of Eastern Europe, topped and tailed with chapters on the housing crisis in East London and the recommendations of the Commission, citing the support of some elements of London Jewry. Was he anti-semitic? In fact he supported some aspects of Zionist aspirations, and claimed that his motivation was primarily to avert the re-creation of East European ghettoes in the East End. But, for modern ears at least, his language often belies this. This is particularly evident in his questioning, at the Royal Commission, of another well-known restrictionist and supporter of the League, Alderman James Silver, proprietor and one-time editor of the East London Observer and vice-chair of Stepney Council's Housing of the Working Classes Committee. Silver's language is crude and offensive; he refers throughout to a 'foreign colony' and 'these foreigners'. (See here for another example of evidence taken in relation to the Hessel Street market.)

Patterns of settlement
Russell & Lewis's 1900 map of Jewish East London
[right] shows the density of Jewish settlement street by street - from dark blue (over 95%) to dark pink (less than 5%). In this parish, the dark blue areas were all north of the railway line: from west to east, the Goodman's Fields area (then part of St Mark Whitechapel), some streets to the east of Backchurch Lane (then part of St John's parish), the area round Rampart Street, and the top of Watney Street (then part of Christ Church parish). South of the railway, only Cannon Street Road and Cable Street were predominantly Jewish, plus the area north of the railway and west of Cannon Street Road. All other parts of the parish are light or dark pink - including a few patches in the Jewish 'heartlands': some of these were predominantly Irish.
The details changed somewhat in the following years, but the pattern remained broadly the same.

Charles Booth's 1889/1898 poverty survey had noted
The German Jew is coming into St George's in large and increasing numbers. They can live under conditions and so close together as to put to shame the ordinary overcrowding of the English casual labourer ... There were at one time only Irish colonies in St George's but these are slowly giving way before the German Jew who ocupies their quarters and supplants them in other ways. His secretaries saw their influence as mixed: although they contributed to appalling overcrowding, they presented a favourable contrast to the promiscuity of many of the English poor and could be seen as as cleaners or scavengers of districts of Irish poor, although this was not true in 'better' districts. See here for a sample local survey, and here for his listing of all the tailors working in the parish - predominantly Jewish, but some Irish - and here for his more extended comments, published in 1902, combining concern about the impact of Jewish settlement on the East End with a degree of respect for their way of life and philanthropic arrangements.

Before 1939 there were some 80,000 Jews in the East End and about 70 synagogues. However, although most homes were 'observant' - keeping Sabbath and some or all of the dietary laws - synagogue attendance was probably not more than 25% in most areas. The institutions that promoted assimilation, education and career aspiration were victims of their own success, with many of the community prospering, moving on and 'marrying out'. Today it is estimated that there are between two and three thousand Jews in the 'traditional' East End. There is not a single kosher butcher (though plenty of halal ones), and the three surviving synagogues struggle to maintain a minyan (quorum of ten men) for the Shabbat service; others have disappeared, often without a trace. But the Stepney Jewish Day Centre (run by Jewish Care) hosts about 700 people a week, and provides kosher meals on wheels. There is a Jewish Society at Queen Mary College. And there are a few remaining food shops, including Carmel Wines on the Mile End Road (strictly kosher), some non-Beth Din bakers selling traditional bagels, and Tubby Isaac's famous jellied eel stall remains near Aldgate East station [right, then and now]: a commodity once common to all East Enders, which fell out of favour, but has recently become trendy.

Welfare agencies and housing initiatives
Various welfare charities had been active in the first half of the 19th century to cater for poor Jews in East London. Among those in this parish, see here for the Joel Emanuel Almshouse and the Hand in Hand Home which were based in Wellclose Square in the 1850s, and here for the Jews' Orphan Asylum based in North Tenter Street from 1848-77, and other Jewish influences in the Goodman's Field area. But with the new influx in the latter years of the century, Baron Rothschild warned: We have now a new Poland on our hands in East London. Our first business is to humanise our Jewish immigrants and then to Anglicise them. (Basil Henriques later took the same approach.)

Lord Rothschild (Nathaniel 'Natty' Mayer Rothschild) [right], head of the family bank after his father's death in 1879, and the first (observant) Jewish peer (voting with the Conservative and Unionists) was a key founder of the  Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company following the United Synagogue's 1884 enquiry into 'spiritual destitution'. Most of the patrons and tenants of their 'model artisan dwellings' were Jewish, particularly at the Rothschild Buildings in Flower and Dean Street, which became a focal point of Jewish life - see Jerry White Rothschild Buildings: Life in an East End Tenement Block, 1887-1920 (Routledge 1980). (The company later built Albert Buildings next to the Peabody Estate.) Notably, until his death in 1915, Lord Rothschild was a trustee of the London Mosque Fund - a rôle later held by Lord Winterton.

[Poor] Jews' Temporary Shelter
In 1885 a baker Simon Cohen, aka Becker, began to provide temporary shelter at his premises in Church Lane, Whitechapel, but the Board of Guardians closed it down: as the Jewish Chronicle reported, Its abject misery is worse than any workhouse and it provides less food. There is absolutely no sleeping accommodation except a wooden floor. The only kind of daily food is rice and tea and bread and this is very irregular. Let us get a ‘responsible committee’ or let a few gentlemen see if they cannot get a few cheap mattresses for the older men to lie upon at night and some blankets or rugs. Hermann Landau [right, and pictured welcoming immigrants at the Shelter], a banker who had come from Poland in 1864 and had become an influential member of the Jewish community, rose to the challenge, with a couple of others (and, in the early years, some Rothschild funding), and in 1886 the Jews' Temporary Shelter was established at 84 Leman Street [left] as an institution in which newcomers, having a little money, might obtain accommodation and the necessaries they required at cost price, and where they would receive useful advice. (It's said that its address was traded across eastern Europe to aspiring emigrants.) Those with some resources were referred to local lodging houses, where they were soon propositioned by furniture contractors and landlords; those without were referred to the Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor and other charitable bodies. In 1895 it received substantial funding from another banker-philanthropist, Samuel Montagu [right], who became a Liberal MP and later a peer.

Early annual reports on the Shelter's work were defensive: most immigrants were healthy and had good work skills, they said; the accommodation was deliberately basic and temporary, and supported by weekly subscriptions from other settlers; and by providing protection against exploitation by the dockside 'crimpers' they enabled those who wished to move on, particularly to the USA or South Africa, to do so, with the help of other welfare agencies which quickly developed the skills to enable this. By 1890 numbers had increased by 50%, but many of these achieved 'transmigration' - or even a return home. Indeed, in the coming decade the shelter negotiated agencies with shipping lines (especially the Union Castle Line to South Africa) which provided valuable funding. The Shelter was effective and became trusted, and more confident: for instance, in 1892 it ended the stealing of luggage in Hamburg, in 1893 it co-operated with the Port of London Authority medical officer in coping with a cholera epidemic; in 1896 it resolved issues with exploited emigrants at the Dutch frontier, and in 1905 similar issues at German borders. At the turn of the century the superintendent met every incoming ship carrying immigrants (receiving notice by telegraph) to prevent abuses. Huge numbers passed through its hands, some at short notice (253 Jews expelled by the Boers in 1900, and a few months later 650 Romanians); between 1902-05 they had assisted 16,000, some of whom were painstakingly processed for onward journeys to the USA, for which a special ship was chartered. But tension with the police remained - Landau explained that many victims regarded the police as much the same as the dreaded objescik whom they had left behind - and the shelter was raided because it was not registered under the Common Lodging House Act, so had to stop its minimal charges. There were more personal and local interventions, including payments for proving a minyan (the quorum of ten males to enable synagogue services), and issues about who should receive immigrants on the Sabbath and at festivals.

What radically changed the nature of the Shelter's work was the 1905 Aliens Act, mentioned above, which restricted immigration on public health and housing grounds: see Bernard Gainer The Alien Invasion: the origins of the Aliens Act of 1905 (Heinemann 1972). Herbert Asquith, the Liberal Home Secretary, had recently visited the Shelter and spoke of the plight of the Russian refugees he had met, but the Act was passed, and henceforward the Shelter became involved in advocacy, translation, appeal work and guaranteeing bonds for would-be migrants. There was also work with non-Jewish migrants, including in 1910 an appeal from the Thompson Line to help travellers to the USA and Australia, and assistance given to Canada-bound emigrants whose ship had caught fire. But up to and through the First World War the priority to help eastern European Jews remained (during the war, some came via Belgium).

In 1906 the Shelter had moved to 63 Mansell Street [right, today - rebuilt in 1930 in neo-Georgian style by Lewis Solomon]; in 1914 the word 'poor' was removed from the title. There were various crises in the inter-war period, such as the 1923 change in US immigration law which stranded many; but, of course, the greater crisis came from Europe itself. By 1937 1,183,000 people had been met at the docks (and they were now being met at railway stations too); 126,000 had stayed at the shelter, including a fair number of non-Jews, as noted in a 1937 appeal (endorsed by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig with a pamplet House of a Thousand Destinies). During the Second World War bombed-out locals were accommodated, until the buildng was requisitioned for American troops in 1943, and was used after the war to receive children from displaced persons camps and refugees from Europe and the middle East.

The work was now increasingly advisory, and in 1973 the Shelter moved to smaller (25-bed) well-appointed premises in Mapesbury Road, Kilburn, but because of changes in the law this was under-used;  it closed in the 1990s (it is leased for student accommodation), and a part-time administrator now uses the funds for emergency grants. (The Mansell Street building is now a private clinic, but retains the name-plate - right.)

Jews' Free School; self-help organisations
The school had been founded by Joshua van Oven in 1817, in Bell Lane, Spitalfields [Great Hall left] - through traces its origins back to a Talmud Torah set up for a couple of dozen orphan boys in 1732 by affluent members of the Ashkenazi Great Synagogue. By the turn of the 20th century, supported by the Rothschilds, it laid claim to be the largest secondary school in the world, with over 4,000 pupils (boys and girls) [doorway left]. [The 'JFS' is now in Kenton, and in recent years has been involved in controversy over its admissions policy.]

Self-help organisations burgeoned. The ethos of the friendly society - often coupled with ritual and regalia, and status for its officers - had a particular appeal. The order Achei Brith, founded in 1888, had 2,800 members over thirty lodges, and a capital fund of £7,000. There was also the Grand Order of Israel, the Hebrew Order of Druids [sic!] and the Ancient Order of Maccabæans (an early advocate of the Zionist cause), and smaller associations named after Russian and Polish towns, of which the Cracow Jewish Friendly Society (established 1864, first meeting at the Angel and Crown in Whitechapel, and in due course claiming about 380 members, with a base at the Cannon Street Road Synagogue), was the largest.

'The Hutch'
In 1872 a Jewish Working Men's Club & Lads' Institute had been founded by the Jewish Association for the Diffusion of Religious Knowledge, with a reading room and lecture hall at Hutchison House, Hutchison Street, Aldgate; Samuel Montagu was President. Becoming independent two years later, they added a library, games, entertainments and other club features for 400 members of both sexes. In 1883, a purpose-built club for 1,500 was built in Great Alie Street, with a Lads' Institute for boys between 14 and 20. Membership continued to increase; the Lads' Institute returned to Hutchison Street, and in 1892 the Great Alie Street premises were enlarged at a cost of £4,000. By 1905 there were 975 members, and the Hutchison House Club was created by the Rothschild family in conjunction with Max Bonn (1877-1938, an American-born merchant banker, later Sir Max Bonn KBE) and Frank Goldsmith MP, based at Camperdown House, in Half Moon Passage. (In 1915 they offered these premises to the government for war work; in 1918 the newly-raised Jewish Battalion of the 38th Royal Fusiliers had a kosher meal here and was inspected in Great Alie Street by Lt. Gen. Sir Francis Lloyd, as part of its famous march through Whitechapel; in the 1920s, social work conferences were held here.) 
It thus became one of several local agencies committed to encouraging young people to combine loyalty to faith and citizenship - see below for another example - particularly through sport ('the sunshine of manly sports and pastimes'). It was also the HQ of the Jewish Lads' and Girls' Brigade (in some rivalry with Jewish scout troops). When the club closed, administrative activities transferred to north London; in more recent times, it has funded a London University research fellowship: see Sharman Kadish A Good Jew and a Good Englishman (Vallentine Mitchell 1995). Pictured is present-day Camperdown House, an office block at 6 Braham Street.
(See here for the Jewish Working Girls' Club, established in Leman Street in 1886.)

Political and Friendly Societies: Workers' Circle (Arbeiter Ring), Workers' Friend (Arbeiter Fraint)
The centre of working-class left wing activism was the Workers' Circle, which functioned as a friendly society and a cultural, social and political club, established by cabinet-makers in an upstairs room in Brick Lane in 1909. Its membership was broad, including trade unionists, Marxists and Communists, Labour Party members, anarchists and Zionists. Between the wars 20 branches were established, in London and elsewhere, with total membership rising to about 3,000 by 1939, after which it declined (it disbanded in 1985). It owned a rest home in Littlehampton. Symons House at 22 Alie Street [right today] became its headquarters in 1924, providing lectures, concerts, dances, debates and classes. Workers gathered in its canteen to read newspapers, drink tea and argue, finding, as one writer put it, consolation, a spiritual refuge from their struggle with the day-to-day world, a place to recharge their dreams. [The only Jewish Friendly Society now remaining is The Grand Order of David and Shield of Israel Friendly Society, which now functions solely as a social club.]

40 Berner [Henriques] Street housed the International Working Men's Club, and was also for a time the print works of the anarchist Yiddish newspaper Arbeiter Fraint (Workers’ Friend), which was edited for a time by Rudolf Rocker [left, a painting by his son Fermin] who came to London from Germany in the 1890s. But in 1900 one of many financial crises forced a move to a smelly shed in Stepney Green. See further Bill Fishman East End Jewish Radicals 1875 -1914. Jewish anarchists and socialists have been active in the area ever since.

A regular topic of conversation in the street was the productions at the two Yiddish theatres in the area, the Pavilion Theatre in Whitechapel Road (closed in 1936) and the Grand Palais at 131-139 Commercial Road (opposite Umberston Street). The Grand Palais [doorway left] opened in 1926 in a former cinema, and survived in regular use until 1961 [left  are Leo Fuchs and the company rehearsing in 1956, and Max Bacon, a regular performer - on the right of the photo], with occasional performances until 1970 when it became a bingo hall.

Its most famous production was the 1943 wartime hit musical Der Kenig fun Lampeduza (The King of Lampedusa), starring Romanian-born Meier Tzelniker (1898-1980) and his daughter Anna, b.1922 [left, plus a poster for another production]. (See here for the 2013 Lampedusa boat tragedy.) They also acted together in Yiddish productions of Shakespeare (e.g. Meier as Shylock and Anna as Portia in The Merchant of Venice, in 1946 - a thrilling experience, said the Jewish Chronicle), put on by the Jewish National Theatre which Meier formed in 1936 with Fanny Waxman (Anna's husband Phil Bernstein became its musical director). Anna also featured in Lionel Bart's Blitz!, singing 'Petticoat Lane (on a Saturday ain't so nice)', and in more recent years regularly recited her father's Yiddish poem about Hessel Street Market. The Grand Palais site now houses Flick Fashions [right], whose main offices are round the corner in Cavell Street: part of the doorway remains. Footage of the theatre can be seen in the 1967 James Mason film The London Nobody Knows.

Thus over time what has been described as a 'miniature welfare state' for the Jewish East End, with various political complexions, emerged. See this (racist) article of 1894 about anarchist groups. This 1896 article comments on the range of Jewish activities in Whitechapel, and this 1911 article favourably but somewhat sentimentally contrasts the 'Jewish' end of Cable Street, around the Shelter, with its 'Irish' end. Vibrant patterns of Jewish life had emerged, with Yiddish newspapers, theatres, the Hessel Street market and many social, philanthropic and political organisations. The First World War brought sharp tensions, as many German and Austrian-born Jews were interned under the Aliens Restriction Act of 1914. Samuel Montagu, Lord Rothschild and other members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews were the signatories of this letter appealing for help on behalf of the Russo-Jewish Committee in London to assist the victims of the pogroms in Russia.

See further pages on local Jewish life:
Jewish Presence (2) - Synagogues in the parish
Jewish Presence (3) - St George's Settlement Synagogue
Jewish Presence (4) - Hessel Street
Jewish Presence (5) - convert clergy

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