My name is E. I will be your guide on the Whitechapel walk of the East End.
The walk will last some two and a half to three hours. I have arranged to visit two synagogues and Brady Street cemetery closed since 1858.
I have photocopied maps of the Jewish East End at the turn of the century and marked in red the path we are to follow. You will notice the Jewish population at that period is given as 100,000. As I will explain later the figure is nearer 200,000 as overcrowding was hidden from the authorities. I will later illustrate this with an inspector's report.
On previous walks I have often been asked what a Jew with a South African accent is doing in the East End. Let me explain. Some ten years ago I accompanied Prof. W. M. (Bill) Fishman on an East End walk. This sparked my enthusiasm as the things Prof. Fishman pointed out was a mirror image of my experience as an immigrant in Cape Town, South Africa. It is interesting to record Prof. Fishman's forward to his book on East End radicals. He wrote:
"The East End was my home in the 1920's and 1930's. I breathed, ate, laughed and wept and dreamt dreams with the immigrant poor. For better or worse they were my People. As long as there is one cobbled alley, one deserted tenement left I will walk and record the images of the East End".
Before we start our walk let us discuss and look at the reasons for the mass immigration of Jews at the turn of the century. In actual fact we are all immigrants - ourselves or our parents or grandparents or even great-grandparents.
In 1835 after the collapse of Poland and part absorption by Russia Pale of Settlements were created where Jews were confined. Jews were barred from professions, trades etc. and living conditions became very difficult. On 13 March 1881 Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. This was followed by vicious pogroms against the Jewish people. Thousands were murdered. In the period 1881-1882 alone 225,000 Jewish families fled Russia. Pogroms continued culminating in the worst at Kishinev on 6 April 1903.
The Jewish population in Britain in 1882 was 46,000. By 1914 it had increased to 300,000. The Jewish Establishment made up of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews and Ashkenazi Jews of largely Dutch origins were horrified by 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".
Now let us look at buildings , sites and general things of historical interest.
Behind you above Whitechapel station you will notice SURAYA & CO. Attorneys. This was the offices of the Grand Order Sons of Jacob. This was one of many lodges which existed in the East End. Members paid six pence or a shilling a week which entitled them to medical attention and burial rights.
Next door you will notice a fine Victorian building. This was the premises of the Victorian Boys Club - a club established to counter hooliganism. The Jewish establishment created the Brady Club in 1897 which gave Jewish youngsters the opportunity for a meeting place for sport, hobbies and games as well as going to the sea-side camp in summer time. In 1913 the Jewish Lads brigade was formed.
Notice the wide pavement we are standing on. Reputed to be the widest in London. At the turn of the century it served as a promenade especially on Sabbath and Festivals when young Jewish boys and girls paraded up and down eyeing one another. Many a shiddach (match) was made here! The area between Brady Street and Vallance Road was known as the waste market.
Notice the Royal London Hospital known then as the Great General Hospital for East London. This is where Dr. Barnardo trained. Charles Booth (Salvation Army) worked here. It is now a major emergency centre. Notice the helipad. I will mention the hospital again at a later stage. Also the original rooms where the Salvation Army was formed way back in 1860's will be shown.
We will now walk on and I will stop at the monument to Edward VII. The background to the Jewish inhabitants of the East End erecting this monument is important.
Edward VII succeeded Queen Victoria on 22.1.1901 and reigned until 6.5.1910. The poor Jewish inhabitants of the East End donated their pennies and three pences to erect this memorial as a mark of respect, their loyalty to the crown as loyal citizens and mainly in gratitude for having been allowed to stay and being given shelter.
This display of gratitude was against a background of hostility to further Jewish immigration. An organisation known as the British Brothers League, formed in 1901 started agitating for Jewish immigration to be stopped and those living here to be repatriated. Some of their propaganda read like this:
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.
This agitation culminated in the 1905 Aliens Act which effectively reduced Jewish immigration by 40%. To their disgrace two Jewish MP's - Simon Samuel and Harry Marks made scurrilous attacks on pauper aliens. Political ambition overrode concern for their unfortunate co-religionists. From 1880-1905 immigrants landed at Tilbury Docks - Irongate stairs - and after a cursory health check were allowed in. After the 1905 Aliens Act Immigration officers were given the right to deport any undesirable immigrants without a clear definition of what undesirable is. Many were sent back. Those settled here regarded themselves as very fortunate indeed - hence the display of gratitude and this monument.
The coming here in the first place was not easy. A visa (passport) to leave had to be obtained from the authorities and this was a lengthy tenuous process. Applicants were kept in suspense. With their meagre means prospective applicants had to bribe officials. There were contradictory garbled reports from friends and relatives about conditions in England. The address of the Jewish Shelter was bought and sold in the shtetls. A word about the Jewish Temporary Shelter. It was established by Lord Rothschild (son of Lionel) and others of the establishment in 1895 at 84 Leaman Street and moved to 63 Mansell Street in 1928. It was on the way from Irongate stairs where immigrants landed. It gave the new arrivals temporary shelters and prevented the immigrants being defrauded or cheated on arrival and young girls being coerced into prostitution. The dilemma the establishment found themselves in is best illustrated by Lord Rothschild. He summed up Jewish up Jewish activities when he 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".
Yet this is the same man who was instrumental in establishing the shelter.
When I handed out the maps I mentioned that although the official figure was 100,000 Jewish residents the actual figure was probably 200,000. Exact figures were never given by householders for fear of being expelled from their homes because of overcrowding. In a spot check a Whitechapel Sanitary inspector found in a house in Goulston Street - just off Whitechapel Street - 20 people living in a small house. In a back room inhabited by an immigrant named Cohen, his wife and two children, twelve fouls were feeding under the bed.
The main departure point was Hamburg as it was the least expensive to get to London - 16 shillings per head for adults and half price for children but the steerage conditions were appalling. Many travelled on foot for periods of ten to sixteen days to reach Hamburg en route to London.
The ship itself resembled a cattle boat with passengers herded together, sleeping on fouled rags or blankets in small spaces between decks. All had to bring their own food and bedding. Toilet facilities were extremely limited. A reporter from the East London Reporter on seeing passengers disembark in 1891 at Irongate Stairs, Tilbury Docks wrote as follows:
"Of the passengers some were young women wearing shawls on their heads and clad in soiled, faded and torn refinery. Some were men, young or middle-aged, but so enfeebled and spiritless that one might have fixed their age at nearer 70 than 30. A few were old women, bent emaciated and almost lifeless. On landing, scroungers and loafers often robbed the new immigrants of their meagre means selling them bogus tickets to the USA and trying to coerce the young unprotected females into prostitution".
Now walk onto Fulbourne Street.
Standing on the corner of Fulbourne and Whitechapel Streets you see the same building (now marked Dental Surgery) which was the headquarters of the Radical Left movement. The Bakers Union was in this building as well as the Social Democratic Party - forerunner of the Communist Party. Many of the young immigrants were Bundists - left orientated secular Jewish movement, anarchists and Radicals. Rudolf Rocker who came from Germany in 1895, was not Jewish himself but became fluent in Yiddish, organised the workers who were being exploited and was regarded by Jewish workers as their champion. Before the 1917 October revolution in Russia, there was a failed attempt in 1905. The leaders of that failed attempt came to London here at the Social Democratic Party among them Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. They lived in a doss house - a Victorian building still standing - in Fieldgate Street (which I will point out later) to show solidarity with the workers and unemployed. Among the leaders of the Jewish Radicals at the time was Lieberman, Dreen, Woss, Lief and Zhedwoski. Lenin spoke at Alexandra Hall, Jubilee Street.
We now walk onto Vallance Road. If you look down Vallance Road you see an open space with childrens' swings and slides. This was the site of Hughes Mansions, a tenement of three blocks erected in the 1920's. This and other blocks such as Rothschild Buildings, Nathaniel Buildings, Mocatto House was erected by 4% Industrial Dwelling Society established in 1885. This was a society formed by the establishment such as Rothschild, Montagu and others who were prepared to invest and receive a 4% return and provide decent housing in the area. Rents were reasonable, they were well cared for and strictly supervised to avoid overcrowding and unhygienic conditions. We will see Mocatto House which has been refurbished later. Coming back to Hughes Mansions; on 27.3.1945 at 7.21am one day before Pesach (Passover) the last V2 rocket in World War II hit Hughes Mansions. 130 families were killed of whom 120 were Jewish. Complete families were wiped out. In one family, the grand-father survived to bury 2 sons, 2 daughters, a daughter-in-law and a grand-son. One son had just returned the previous day on leave from active service to be killed with the family. Nearly all the dead were buried at Marlow Road Cemetery, East Ham. Hardened convicts brought in to help the search for the survivors were so touched by the utter devastation that they handed in valuable items of jewellery etc. Hughes Mansions, erected in semi-Victorian architectural style and named after Councillor Mary Hughes was never rebuilt.
We will now walk on and stop outside the Academy of Drama School. On the right of the Drama School with the hoarding is the site of the Pavilion Theatre. The Pavilion Theatre was opened in 1892, could seat 2650 people, had the most up-to-date - for its time - stage equipment and props. It is interesting to note how theatres came to be built at this time. I spoke earlier of the mass immigration of Jews in the period from 1880 driven by pogroms, poverty and to avoid conscription in the Russian army.
Virtually all came form traditional Jewish homes and when established in sufficient numbers developed a rich cultural life. Pamphlets and books in Yiddish were being published and there were Yiddish dailies and weeklies. Die Zeit closed 1950, Polishe Yidl, Die Zukunft and Arbeiter Freint. And so this theatre - not the first - but the largest to become the home of Yiddish theatre. Actors and playwrights of renown in the Yiddish world performed at this theatre. From 1906 to 1934 Yiddish theatre provided the main attraction at the Pavilion which became in the words of one observer writing in the Pall Mall Gazette "the most memorable place of entertainment in the country". Louis Behr, 84 years old, in a rare interview with David Mazower described the scene on a Saturday night:
"When Shabbas was out, that was the treat - you queued up the stairs in Vallance Road, the gallery entrance. And it was fabulous waiting, you would have an hour sometimes hour and a half wait, but it was worth it, to listen to the people queuing up. These housewives, they were the real characteristic Yiddish mommas; the whole week they slaved, there wasn't no washing machines, no refrigerators , no television, but that was their day out of it. Once a week they went, and they'd come along with packets of gefilte fish, fried fish, beigels and food - they should be nourished waiting".
But sadly the enthusiastic faithful started to diminish. The population of the Jewish East End started falling at a rapid rate and whereas other theatres offered regular new plays, the Pavilion did not. There was the attraction of the cinema a decline in spoken Yiddish as the children of the immigrant generation became increasingly Anglicised. Audiences at the Pavilion gradually declined to the point where it became impossible to make Yiddish theatre pay on a permanent basis. Even its use as a venue for Cantorial concerts, High Festival services, Political rallies, boxing and wrestling promotions did not help. It was forced to close in 1935 and demolished in 1962. The last Yiddish theatre - The Grand Palais - which until 1935 was a wedding hall, became an Yiddish theatre, played throughout the war , closed in 1970 and thus came to an sad end the history of Yiddish theatre in London.
Now right next door where you see the the Signboard Academy Drama School was the Christian Mission to Hebrews. In fact if the signboard is removed one can see the word engraved in the plaster. The use of the word "Hebrews" - I presume a more genteel word than "Jews" - we will come across further in our walk.
To try to covert Jews coming from traditional observant homes was a disaster. So the mission created a medical service to entice Jews to come to their rooms.
It was generally known at the time that there was a general reluctance of the population to attend the Great General Hospital for East London (now the Royal London Hospital). I found evidence of this in a letter to the Lancet written by an intern a Dr. A. Treves in 1898. He wrote that while there was a "plentiful supply" of sick people in the East End, not many would attend. It had a bad reputation. Mortality was high, particularly after operations and the populace regarded the hospital as a place you came to die and not get better.
Against this background Jews did indeed go to the mission to get medical attention. They mouthed what was to them a meaningless phrase about Jesus Christ being their saviour and in return were examined by a doctor, received medicine from the dispenser and were even given a cup of tea. The story is told that immediately afterwards they went across the road to Fieldgate Street Shul to daven mincha.
A scale of costs for conversion was found amongst mission records. Chinese £10, Muslims £20 and Jews £60
We now stop at the Davenant Centre (formerly known as the Foundation School) was established and bequeathed by public donation. This school and Raines Foundation School ( established by Mr Raines - a wealthy brewery owner in the area) in Arbour Square were the two upper class "grammar schools"in the area. Gifted Jewish students attended there usually on bursary. When the Education Act of 1944 raised the school leaving age from 14 to 15 years it was found that 80% of the sixth formers were Jewish. One must also remember the Jewish Free School (JFS) in Bell Lane which had 4,300 pupils and 70 teachers - reputed to be the largest in the world!
We will now cross Whitechapel Road at the pedestrian crossing and gather at the side of the Albarata Mosque. The mosque stands on the site of the Rivoli Cinema which masqueraded under the title "The Rivoli Cinematograph Theatre" - foremost cinema in the East End. Damaged during the war and never to be rebuilt. The site was sold for the present mosque.
Behind the hoarding where we are now standing was a piece of waste ground known as the Employment Exchange. Tailors, cutters, pressers would gather with their tools on a Sunday to find a "guvnor" who would give them work for a week or month. Terms, wages, hours would be arranged. It must be remembered this was the period of exploitation - the sweat shop system which culminated in a garment workers strike from the 27th August to 2nd October 1889. The victory of this strike limited the day to 12 hours with lunch break and specified pay for over-time. Conditions for the garment workers can be gleaned from an article by a group of doctors which appeared in the British Medical Journal in 1884, headed "Sweat system - no system". It said:
"In Hambury Street we found 18 workers crowded into a small room measuring 20ft by 12ft. and not quite 8ft. high. The room was damp with water coming through the rotting wall. Workers were surrounded by mounds of dust from cut cloth breathing an atmosphere full of woolen particles. It is not surprising that so large a proportion of working tailors collapse from respiratory disease."
The Garment Workers Union were in Greatorex Street across the road then known sa Great Garden Street.
If you look lower down towards Aldgate East Station you will see Black Lion Yard Building. This building absorbed Black Lion Yard itself. Black Lion Yard merged into Old Montagu Street and combined 21 shops of whom 12 were jewellers and several bookshops. This was the Hatton Gardens of the East End in its time and every prospective Jewish bride always went with her mother to Black Lion Yard to buy her Sabbath candles. At the end of Montagu Street Mr. Evans kept 40 cows and motif on his gates in Yiddish - MILCH, FRISH FUN DI KU.
If you look beyond Black Lion Yard there is Osborne Street which leads to Brick Lane. On the corner of Osborne and Whitechapel Road was Feldman's Post Office. Feldman's Post Office played a major special rôle to new immigrants unfamiliar with English. Mr. Feldman spoke Yiddish fluently and immigrants turned to him for help in completing forms and arranging money orders to be sent to relatives left behind in Eastern Europe and other legal documents. In addition, Mr. Feldman's brother, Israel, was a GP in upstairs rooms and being equally fluent in Yiddish he was popular in the area.
If we view the buildings across the road one can clearly see the architectural style of the time with the top room in the loft. This came to be known as the "Whozit" room. Tailors usually reserved this room for their workshop. When clients knocked on the downstairs door the tailor usually shouted: "Who is it?" and it became known as the "Whozit room". Where you see Chanans Shop was Mazins Bookshop. Mazin was the top Jewish bookshop in the UK and it had a vast selection of Hebraic literature. It was one of several - the others being round the corner in Old Montagu Street. Mazin bookshop burned down never to be rebuilt. Shapiro Valentine in Old Montagu Street closed in the 1960's.
As we turn into Fieldgate Street you will see the Old Bell Foundry where the Liberty Bell was caste and still operative. This area was a heavily Jewish populated area. We now go straight on to Fieldgate Street synagogue known in its time as the Great Fieldgate Street synagogue. As a synagogue it is actually small but compared to the numerous shtibls in the neighourhood it was large. Right next door is the first bakery established by Grodzinski in 1880. Grodzinski was a baker from Poland.
A word about the Synagogue and why in this walk we visit the synagogues. Throughout the long and tortuous history of Jews in different countries, it has been the synagogue more than any other institution in Jewish life that preserved and protected the Jewish people. In the East End close on 40 synagogues and shtibls at the turn of the century played a major rôle not only as the place of worship but as the centrality of Jewish life. Many of the shtibls were formed by landsleit who helped and advised one another and it served as a sanctuary for the lonely, the anxious and the sick who found comfort, sympathy and warmth within its walls. This contrasts with a recent survey of 18-35 year olds who where disillusioned with their synagogues which the report says "should become centres where people can drop in to read, pray, learn and meet others, rather than simply be places of formal worship. " Just what they where 100 years ago. Mr. Nat Roos, the Vice-president of the synagogue will tell us more about the synagogue when we go inside. When entering the synagogue note the inscription above the main doors; note the famous words uttered by Bilaam: "How Goodly are thy tents O Jacob thy tabernacles O Israel" - Bamidbar (numbers Chapter 24). Our Rabbi interpret tabernacles to mean present day synagogues.
Leaving the synagogue we will walk along Fieldgate Street. Note the Victorian Building now derelict which was the doss house for the homeless and destitute. This is the building where Lenin, Stalin etc. lived in their stay in England. Opposite note Parfett Street. Parfett Street is my favourite street in the East End. The homes have been refurbished to look exactly as they were in their prime. If for a minute you can imagine that there are no cars in the street one can visualise how a communal spirit was created and existed. One can imagine on a warm afternoon particularly Saturday or Sunday children playing in the street and mothers sitting outside their homes chatting with their neighbours. Confinements took place at home with midwives in attendance. Neighbours would always come in to help - to see that there is food at home, children were dressed and seen to school. There was a strong sense of community. All were poor and struggled to make a living.
We will then turn right into New Road. Look left and at no 113 which was the New Rd Synagogue. It is now a factory / warehouse for clothing owned by Asians. Site of the Ark, the Bimah and ladies gallery can still be clearly seen. We will now walk along New Road towards Nelson Street and the synagogue. Some of the houses in New Rd have been converted into clothing showrooms but in their time they were regarded as more lavish and higher standard homes. Those that have been refurbished look very good indeed.
If you look above the house near to Nelson Street you will see the blue plaque signifying the room where the first meeting took place in 1868 leading to the formation of the Salvation Army.
We will now stop at the corner of Nelson St. and New Rd. Looking across Commercial Rd. there is Cannon St. Rd. and Hessel St. where the Hessel St. market was. A Mr. Nathan Dubosky ran a pub there known as Mackworth Arms. It was more popularly known as Latke House. Apparantly Mrs. Dubosky was a very good cook and always had a plentiful supply o f latkes on the counter which customers buying their pint were entitled to. At 162 Commercial Road c/o Cannon Street Road a few doors away from the pub was Frumkins, wholesale / retail wine spirit and liqueur merchants and as they called themselves The House for Weddings. Mrs. Frumkin was the grandmother of the present Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
We now walk along Nelson Street and come to Neson Street Synagogue (President H. M. Singer). This is the second synagogue we will visit. This synagogue was built in 1923 and was the last to be built in the East End. This synagogue follows the Sefardish Minhag not to be confused with Sephardi. The Sefardish Custom originates from Safed and is the one followed by Chabad and other Chassidic sects. While Fieldgate Street Synagogue has minyanim every day, Nelson Street Synagogue manages Sabbath and festivals thanks to a Lubavitch young man who walks from Stamford Hill to conduct services and leien from the Torah. The synagogue itself is architecturally totally different from Fieldgate St. While it might lack the warmth and closeness of Fieldgate St. Synagogue it is nevertheless a very beautiful synagogue, which the outside appearances tend to belie. The Aronson family was closely linked with this synagogue and a member of this family who was a skilled cabinet maker was responsible for all the pews, Bimah and other furniture in this synagogue. If you remove the letter "A" from Aronson you get Ronson and Gerald Ronson is a leading member of the Aronson family. In 1975 the synagogue was reconsecrated as the East London Central Synagogue and in 1982 the synagogue became the amalgamation of 18 synagogues. The following synagogues were "amalgamated": Bels, Berdichover, Buroff St, Cannon St. Rd, Chevra Sass, Commercial Rd. Great, Grove St., Jubilee St, Mile End, New Rd, Philpot St. Great, Philpot St. Sefardish, Rumanian Sidney St., Sons of Brithchan. Amalgamation is of course a euphemism for the closing down of synagogues many of them large and covering a wide area of the East End and indeed the continuity of this synagogue must be called into question. This synagogue escaped serious damage during the Blitz but an incendiary bomb did come through and set the parochet (curtain) of the ark ablaze. Fortunately an apprentice butcher in a nearby shop salvaged all the Sifrei Torah and the damage was repaired.
I always mention at this stage that the East End produced many talented people.
Wolf Mankowitz - A kid for two farthings - d. 1953
Selia Brodelsky - noted mathematician - d. 1954
Joseph Leftwich - editor of Yiddish daily Die Zeit - d.1983
Israel Zangwill - "Children of the Ghetto" - d. 1926
Avram Stencil - Author and poet in Yiddish and editor of the monthly periodical "Losher and Leben" (Language and Life). Just a few words translated from his Yiddish poem "Whitechapel in Britain":
If we ever have to leave Whitechapel
As other Jewish towns were left
Its soul will remain a part of us
Woven into us, woof and weft.
We will now make our way to Brady Street Cemetry. Along the way we will pass places of interest where I will pause briefly to point them out. We now pass Philpot Streeet where the Philpot St. Great Synagogue stood. It was destroyed during the war. Philpot St. also had the original Sefardish shul which no longer exists.We will now walk through a lane to Edith Cavell Street. Notice the bollards on either side of the lane to exclude traffic. These bollards were cannons captured from French warships during the Battle of Trafalgar. We now stop at the end of Ford Square. Right at the end is Jubilee Street. In its day it had a high concentration of Jewish inhabitants with its own shul. Jubilee St. also had the Alexandra Hall where political meetings took place. It was here that Lenin addressed a huge audience in his visit in 1905 on the 32nd anniversary of the Paris Commune uprising and suppression. This shul was one of those amalgamated with Nelson Street Synagogue. One street nearer to us and parallel to Edith Cavell Street is Sydney Street. At 100 Sydney St. is where the famous siege of Sydney Street took place.
On 17.12.1910 a Jewellers shop H.S. Harris in Houndsditch was burgled at night. A neighbour notified the police. Three unarmed policemen confronted the burglars. All three policemen were shot and killed. Warrants for arrest of the three burglars went out with posters of the three suspects. Two weeks later on 2.1.1911 a Mrs. Gershwin of 100 Sidney St. reported at Arbor Square Police Station that three men answering the description of the wanted men have hired a room at her house. The men, sensing they had been betrayed, deprived the landlady of her skirt and boots on the assumption that no religious Jewess would attempt to escape not properly attired. She did. The next day the police surrounded the house. At 7.30am a gun battle ensued and the men refused to surrender. At 10.00am when the men could not be dislodged the Home Secretary - Winston Churchill - summoned the Scots Guard in full battle regalia. After 6 hours (by 4 pm) the house was alight. The charred bodies of Fritz Svaas and Joseph Marx were found. The body of the third suspect Peter Piatkov (Peter the Painter) was never found. He vanished without trace and so was born the second legendary East London ant-hero. The first of course Jack the Ripper, of whom I will have something to say later. There was quite a lot of crime in that period. On 15.3.1909 two were hanged for robbing and murdering a ship's officer.
We will now walk along Cavall Street towards Whitechapel Road. Notice the small shops along the way - some are the same as those occupied by Jewish shopkeepers at the turn of the century.We will cross Whitechapel Road into Brady Street. Note the Blind Beggar pub on the right. This is where the Kray twins were arrested in '60's. On the corner where you have Sainsbury's was the offices of the Die Zeit, the Yiddish newspaper I spoke about earlier. It closed in 1950 marking the end of Yiddish newspapers.
We now come to Durward Street and Winthrop Street. Since I have been doing the walks many of the streets have been absorbed by developers. Now Durward Street is gone and Winthrop is in the process of going. Durward St. was known as Bucks Row and it merged with Winthrop St. in front of the building known as Bucks Row School. Notice the fencing on the top floor of the derelict school. This was actually used by the children as a playground. Space was at a premium. Durward St. was also the home of the Brady Club. The Brady Club played an important role in developing the character of Jewish youth in the East End. It offered recreation in physical persuits like boxing, wrestling, badminton, table-tennis and annual sea-side camps. There was also a library and debating societies. There was also a girls Brady Club in Hanbury Street.
Between 1880 and 1890 in front of Bucks Row and Winthrop Street, Sunday meetings were held where intellectuals of the day would address the impoverished inhabitants of the East End. One could see and here such splendid orators as William Morris - the great social reformer (1834-1896), George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) exposing hypocrisy amongst the ruling class and promoting socialist ideals.
Durward St. was also the place Jack the Ripper's second victim was found on 22 August 1888. Because the prostitutes murdered were always mutilated with such surgical precision, it was suspected that it was somebody using surgical instruments. Suspicion fell on a poor Jewish Ritual Slaughterer (Shochet) and he was duly arrested. It needed the intervention of the Chief Rabbi to prove his innocence and gain his release. This caused an anti-Semitic outburst. In the East London Observer 15.8.1888 the following appeared:
"On Saturday in several quarters of East London the crowd who assembled in the streets began a very threatening attitude towards the Hebrew population. It was repeatedly asserted that no Englishman could have perpetrated such a horrible crime and must have been done by a Jew."
We now pass Swanlee School opened in 1994 with an enrolment of 800. Two are reputed to be Jewish.
We will now stop at Mocatto House. You might remember that earlier I spoke about the 4% Industrial Dwelling Society 1885 which consisted of:
4% Company Buildings
Mocatto Nathaniel Buildings
Rothschild Hanbury Street Mansions
Goldsmid Hughes Mansions
Montefiore Mocatto House
Salamon and others Rothchild Buildings & others
Mocatto House which has been refurbished is an excellent example of the type of housing offered.
The period between 1880-1914 was also a period when the Board of Guardians had to send Jews back. Lipman in his History of the Jews of Britain since 1858 claims that in this period 54,000 Jews who were not regarded as refugees were sent back. It was at this stage that Mocatto after whom this building is named and to his everlasting credit said and I quote:
"It is not for us as Englishmen to try to close the entrance into our country to any of our fellow creatures especially such as are oppressed. It is not for us as Jews to try and bar our gates against other Jews who are prosecuted solely for professing the same religion as ourselves"
We will now enter the Brady Street Cemetery. It is not the oldest Jewish Cemetery after re-admission of Jews in 1656. In 1665 the great plague devastated London and the Jewish community suffered heavily. It is known that at least 6 victims of the plague were buried in what was then the new cemetery in Mile End Road. Another cemetery was opened in 1791. In 1811 observant German Jewish immigrants dissatisfied with the Great Synagogue in Dukes Place formed the "New Synagogue" in Ledenhall Street in the City. In that time it was incumbent upon every synagogue to provide its own burial grounds and the "New" leased this place at 12 guineas per annum as a cemetery. So this cemetery is the third oldest and largest for its time. (It must be remembered that United Synagogues comprising the "Great", the "New" and Hambro was only formed in 1870 and shared burial grounds). By 1840 little space was left here and to extend the number of graves available it was decided to put a four foot layer of earth on top of the centre ground and bury on top. This has resulted in a large flat-topped mound in the centre with headstones back to back - the one stone for the grave below and the one for the one above. The cemetery closed in 1858 except for reserved graves.
Important graves to note:
Solomon Hirschel - "Chief Rabbi" of the Great Synagogue; 1802- 1842
Hyman Hurwitz - Professor of Hebrew at London University, friend of Coleridge; 1770-1844
Nathan Meyer Rothschild - Banker, money changer. He established a business in London 1805. Lived in St. Helens Place; moved to St. Swithens Lane in the City when married. At his express wish his remains were brought from Germany where he died; 1777- 1836.
Hannah - wife; 1783 - 1850; buried alongside. Hannah (nee Cohen) sister Judith married Montefiore.
Miriam Levy - Welfare worker who opened up the first kitchens for the poor in the Whitechapel area. She cared for the sick and mothers in confinement; 1801 - 1856
The gravestones give quite a social history of the time. You will notice on some of the tombstones the address of the deceased. This was usually done by relatives to indicate the financial success of the deceased in moving away from the East End to a more salubrious address. In many other respects the tombstones differ to those we see in Jewish Cemeteries today. Kohanim (priestly families by hereditary) have two hands on top of the tombstone to show their role in blessing the people whereas the Levites have the pitcher of water to wash the hands of the Kohanim before the blessings. Trades were often indicated pictorially on the tombstone - I presume to show that the deceased was some person of substance. A fishmonger is indicated by a fish, a woodworker or carpenter preparing wood from a tree. There is one grave for a musician - the harp on top of the tombstone is clearly visible. There is also a section for infants and children. One must remember that at this period infantile mortality was very high. Those familiar with Hebrew letters will notice "P" and "N" for poh-niftar for a male which means here is interred. For females "P" and "T" poh-tmunah which also means here interred.
Hebrew dates are mostly used on the tombstones. There is a simple formula to convert Hebrew year to the secular one. Take the example of 1979 being 5740. To arrive at a Common Era date do the following:
i) Remove the first digit 5 from the 5740; you are left with 740.
ii) Add 1240 to 740 - you get 1980; that is the corresponding year.
1240 is the key.
The graves have no numbered order. I once came across a gentile man-servant who served his Jewish doctor master all his life and had special permission I presume to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Unfortunately I have not been able to locate it again.
We have now been around for close on 3 hours. If you still want to look around I will stay here.
Before we disperse I would appreciate if if one person would undertake to complete this attendance form and post it to the Jewish Museum. The address is on the form.
I myself lead these walks as a labour of love and these forms enable the museum to get grants from the borough for research. I trust you found the walk interesting and I managed to transmit my enthusiasm.
E.B.- June 1995