Visit www.alondon.net to view tourist information about London for Ivrit (Hebrew) speakers.
The Jewish East End of London – every street has a story to tell
At the beginning of the 20th cventury over 100,000 Jews were crowded into the area around Whitechapel, Mile End and Aldgate. A feature of Jewish East End life was the growth of clubs for young people – the idea being to keep them off the streets, encourage them to become good British citizens, to be proud Jews and to give them a break from the poverty in which so many lived. Clubs like Brady, HaBonim, Victoria Boys, Oxford and St Georges proliferated. Jews Free School in Bell Lane – in its time the largest secondary school in the World – also played a major part in this Anglicising process.
With increasing prosperity many Jews moved out to the leafier suburbs, and today only some 3,000 – mostly elderly – Jews remain in the East End. For their sakes it is important the remaining synagogues (shuls) survive. If you are Jewish please make up a minyan/attend a service when you can.
Acknowledgements to Philip Walker for the above information. Please visit Phil’s website, A Jewish East End of London History photo gallery & commentary – A personal journey by Philip Walker, for more detailed information about the Jewish East End.
If you are interested in Jewish East End cemeteries, please visit The East of London Family History Society website.
A London Miscellany
Adapted from: Zeff, Linda. 1986. Jewish London. pp. 11-21. London: Piatkus.
Jews have played an important part in the history of London, and London Jews have played an important part in the history of the world. Just consider this selection of famous and infamous characters.
Sir Ernest Cassell (1852-1921) Financier and philanthropist, and close friend of King Edward VII, he created the first London Underground railway in 1900.
Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881) The first Jewish-born MP to become Prime Minister (1868). His father had him baptised at the age of 13 after quarrelling with Bevis Marks Synagogue and resigning from the congregation. An accomplished novelist, Disraeli combined a literary career with his political career, and was made Earl of Beaconsfield in 1868.
Sir Francis Goldsmid (1808-1878) The first Jew to be called to the Bar, becoming the first Jewish barrister (1833). He also became the first Jewish QC in 1858.
Sir George Jessel (1824-1883) The first Jew to be a law officer of the Crown, as Solicitor-General (1871) and a judge, as Master of the Rolls (1873).
Joseph Moses Levy (1811-1888) A printer who established the first London penny paper – the Daily Telegraph – in 1855. He was succeeded by his son, Edward Levy-Lawson (Lord Burnham; 1833-1916), who developed it into one of Britain’s leading newspapers.
Lily Montagu (1873-1963) Founder of West Central Liberal Synagogue, she became the first Jewish woman minister in Great Britain when she was awarded the title of Lay Minister (1943). She was also one of the first women in England to be a Justice of the Peace.
Baron Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) He became the first Jewish member of the House of Commons (1858). His son, Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915), became the first Jewish member of the House of Lords (1885).
Sir David Salomons (1797-1873) The first Jewish sheriff (1835), alderman (1844), and Lord Mayor of London (1855-1856).
Sir Herbert Samuel (1870-1963) The first professing Jew to become a member of the British cabinet (from 1909). He held office in the Liberal government from 1905-1916, and in the national government from 1931-1932. His memorandum to the cabinet in 1914 concerning a British trust for the Jewish Home influenced the Balfour Declaration.
Sir John Simon (1818-1897) The first Jewish lawyer on the Common Law side, and the first to sit on the bench as an acting County Court Judge n 1858. He was made a Sergeant-at-Law in 1868.
Baron Henry de Worms, Lord Pirbright (1840-1903) The first Jew to hold government office and the first Jew to stand as a Conservative candidate (1880).
Famous People in Politics and Public Life
Helen Bentwich (1892-1972) Chairman of the London County Council, 1956-1957.
Sir Samuel Gluckstein (1880-1958) May of Westminster, 1920-1921.
Leslie (Isaac) Lord Hore-Belisha (1893-1957) British statesman, MP from 1923 and Minister of Transport 1934-1937, and Minister of War 1937-1940. He introduced the Belisha Beacon, the flashing beacon which stands at zebra crossings.
Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading (1860-1935) Son of a London fruit merchant, became viceroy of India, 1921-1926.
Samuel Montagu, Lord Swaythling (1832-1911) Founder of Samuel Montagu and Co., one of the most important private banks in London, he became a Liberal MP and founded the Federation of Synagogues in London in 1887.
Famous People in Religious Life
Antonio Carvajal (c.1590-1659) The first leader of the modern English Jewish community when it emerged into the open after the Resettlement.
Aaron Hart (1670-1756) The first Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazi community, 1709-1756.
Benjamin Levy (died 1705) The founder of the Ashkenazi community of London.
Jacob Sasportas (1610-1698) The first Haham (officiating rabbi of the Sephardi community) in London, 1664, but left the following year at the outbreak of the Great Plague.
Famous People in Music, Dance and Drama
Sir Michael Balcon (1896-1977) British film director and producer who died at Ealing Studios, makers of the famous Ealing films such as Passport to Pimlico and The Blue Lamp.
Lilian Baylis (1874-1937) Took over the management of the Old Vic Theatre in 1912, promoting Shakespeare, opera and ballet on the London stage. She also managed the Sadlers Wells Theatre when it reopened in 1931.
Sir Frederick Cowen (1852-1935) Conductor of the London Philharmonic Society.
Bud Flanagan (1896-1968) Once of Britain’s most famous music-hall stars, who formed a partnership with Chesney Allen and was a member of the Crazy Gang. Born in East London, he wrote a number of songs including ‘Underneath the Arches’ and ‘Umbrella Man’.
Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965) A pianist who organised lunchtime concerts in London’s National Gallery during the Second World War.
Sir Alexander Korda (1893-1956) Hungarian-born film producer and director who formed London Films in 1932. His 112 films include The Third Man and Anna Karenina.
Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra 1961-1964.
Dame Marie Rambert (1888-1982) Pioneer of modern British ballet, she opened a ballet school in London in 1920. Her company became, in 1935, the Ballet Rambert.
Sir Carol Reed (1906-1976) London-born film director whose films include The Third Man and The Stars Look Down.
Sir Landon Ronald(1873-1938) British conductor, pianist and composer who accompanied Dame Nellie Melba. He became principal of the Guildhall School of Music 1910-1938.
Joseph Rosenthal (1865-1946) Born in East London, he became Britain’s first war cameraman. He was sent to report the Boer War in 1989, and later the Boxer Uprising, the Russo-Japanese War and the First World War.
Vivian Van Damm (1889-1960) Founded the Windmill Theatre in London in 1932.
Famous People in Sport
Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis (1893-1970) Born Gershon Mendeloff, became British Featherweight Boxing Champion in 1913, European Champion in 1914, and World Welterweight Champion in 1915.
Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836) One of the most famous British boxers. Born in Aldgate, he was billed as ‘Mendoza the Jew’ and became Champion of All England 1792-1795. He was the first boxer to be accorded Royal patronage, innovated ‘science pugilism’, which he promoted in his book, The Art of Boxing (published 1789), and opened his own Academy.
Famous People in Art, Literature, Poetry and Publishing
David Bomberg (1890-1957) Brought up in East London, he is best known for his paintings of Palestine and his daring Cubist renderings of East London scenes.
Joseph, Lord Duveen (1869-1939) British are dealer and benefactor of the British Museum, the Tate Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) Famous British sculptor who moved to London in 1905, where much of his work can still be seen. His first major commission was for the British Medical Association Building. He also sculpted busts of leading figures, including Albert Einstein and Chaim Weizmann.
Barnet Freedman (1901-1958) Internationally-acclaimed book illustrator, born in East London and a leading member of the ‘second generation’ of East End Artists.
Mark Gertler (1891-1939) Artist born in Spitalfields, much of his early is based on his Jewish family and East End background..
Edmond Kapp (1890-1978) Painter and caricaturist, born in London, who became official artist to Unesco, 1946-1947.
Baron Julius von Reuter (1816-1899) Founded Reuter’s Agency. He was born in Germany but moved to London in 1851.
Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918) Painter and poet who was born in East London and became one of the most famous artists of the First World War. He was killed in action.
Vicky (1913-1966) German-born cartoonist, Victor Weisz, who moved to London in the 1930s. His works appeared in many leading newspapers and magazines, including the Daily Express, the Evening Standard and The New Statesman.
Israel Zangwill (1864-1926) London-born writer best known for his sympathetic and humorous works depicting East End life. Originally a teacher at the Jews’ Free School, he wrote books, essays on Jewish themes, made verse translations of Jewish liturgical poetry and became an enthusiastic Zionist.
Chief Rabbis of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
1704-56 Aaron Hart
1758-64 – Hart Lyon
1765-66 David Tevelle Schiff
1765-80 Meshullam Solomon
1780-91 David Tevelle Schiff
1802-42 Solomon Hirschell
1845-90 Nathan Marcus Adler
1891-1911 Hermann Adler
1913-46 Joseph Herman Hertz
1948-65 Israel Brodie
1966-91 Immanuel Jakobovits
1991-present Jonathan Sacks
Jewish Lord Mayors of London
1855-56 Sir David Salomons
1865-66 Sir Benjamin Samuel Phillips
1889-1890 Sir Henry Aaron Isaacs
1896-97 Sir George Faudel Phillips
1902-03 Sir Marcus Samuel, 1st Viscount Bearsted
1942-43 Sir Samuel George Joseph
1960-61 Sir Bernard Waley Cohen
Childhood Memories of the East End (1920-1939)
Members of a North London family recall what life was like for them as children in Mile End, E1, between the wars.
‘We didn’t have bathrooms in those days – we used to go to the local public baths with our soap and towels. Water was pumped in from outside the cubicles – we used to shout out “More hot water for number four”…’
‘On Friday’s my mother used to prepare the cholent – a dish of meat and vegetables in a pot – and take it to the baker’s. For a few pence he’d cook it in his ovens and we would collect it at lunchtime on Shabbat…’
‘In the evenings people used to meet each other walking along Whitechapel. Then they’d go to John Isaacs in Mile End Road for fish and chips and pickled cucumbers. Outside would be a man or woman selling bagels from a sack. Others would simply bring their chairs outside their doors and sit and chat…’
‘The unemployed used to play dominoes inside the Union building in Great Garden Street [now called Greatorex Street]. Sometimes my father would come home with his winnings – a bar of chocolate…’
‘Tailoring workers would congregate outside the Gas Company on the corner of Great Garden Street and Whitechapel to chat. If they were lucky someone would come along and offer them work…’
‘At Pesach we used to play “Nuts” in the street – a game played with real nuts and shoeboxes…’
East End Excitement
The East End had its fair share of Jewish gangsters, including the ‘Bessarabian Tigers’ who preyed on fellow Jews at the turn of the 20th Century. The Bessarabian Tigers ran a protection racket and members of the gang were said to have been responsible for robbing and beating up a Russian police officer on holiday in London in 1902.
Then there was the Reubens Case, where Messrs Marks and Moses Reubens were found guilty of stabbing a ship’s engineer and executed on 24th May 1909.
The Battle of Cable Street
One of the most memorable East End events was the Battle of Cable Street, which took place on Sunday 4th October 1936. It was a clash between the Metropolitan Police, overseeing a march by the British Union of Fascists (BUF) led by Oswald Mosley, and anti-fascists, including local dockers from Wapping Street and St. George’s, plus Jewish, socialist, anarchist, Irish and communist groups. The majority of both marchers and counter-protesters travelled into the area for this purpose. Mosley planned to send thousands of goose-stepping marchers dressed in Blackshirt uniforms that mimicked those of Hitler’s Nazis. His target was the large Jewish community then living in the impoverished East End. The Blackshirts mobilised in Royal Mint Street to march in four columns via Cable Street, protected by nearly 7,000 policemen.
The anti-fascist groups built roadblocks in an attempt to prevent the march from taking place. The barricades were constructed near the junction with Christian Street, towards the west end of this long street. An estimated 300,000 anti-fascist demonstrators turned out. Over 10,000 police, including 4,000 on horseback, attempted to permit the march to proceed and a battle broke out when a lorry was overturned in the middle of the road and the police attempted to clear it away. The demonstrators fought back with sticks, rocks, chair legs and other improvised weapons. Rubbish, rotten vegetables and the contents of chamber pots were thrown at the police by women in houses along the street. After a series of running battles, shouting the Spanish civil war slogan “No pasaran” – “They shall not pass” – more than 300,000 people turned back the army of Blackshirts. Mosley agreed to abandon the march to prevent bloodshed and the BUF marchers were dispersed towards Hyde Park whilst the anti-fascists continued to fight with the police. 150 demonstrators were arrested, although some escaped with the help of other demonstrators. Several members of the police were kidnapped by demonstrators. Around 175 people were injured including police, women and children. This victory over racism and anti-Semitism became known as the Battle of Cable Street and encapsulated the British fight against a fascism that was stomping across Europe. In the 1980s, a large mural depicting the battle was painted on the side of St George’s Town Hall. This building was originally the vestry hall for the area and later the town hall of Stepney Borough Council. It stands in Cable Street, about 150 yards (140m) west of Shadwell underground station. A red plaque in Dock Street commemorates the incident.
Did You Know That…?
… during the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Sir Solomon de Medina (c.1650-1730), and English Jewish financier knighted by King William III, kept the British army supplied with bread during the Duke of Marlborough’s famous forced march from The Netherlands to Blenheim in Bavaria?
… in 1710, John Mendes da Costa was one of three Jewish merchants who provided £30,000 for the supplies of necessities to the army in Flanders?
… Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), who settled in London in 1805, helped fund the government during the Napoleonic Wars because of his family connections abroad?
… the famous Joe Lyons tea-shops were created by the five sons of Samuel Gluckstein (1821-1873), a German immigrant, and their brother-in-law, Barnet Salmon? The Glucksteins started as tobacco merchants in the East End, with a catering sideline for exhibitions, which developed into their first tea-shop in Piccadilly in 1894. By 1981 there were over 350 cafés throughout Britain, including the popular London Lyons Corner Houses in Coventry Street, Oxford Street, The Strand and Marble Arch.
… the Tesco supermarkets on high streets throughout Britain were founded by Sir John Cohen (1898-1979), who was born in Stepney of immigrant parents? After serving in the Royal Flying Corps, ‘Jack’ Cohen started work as a barrow-boy in Caledonian Road Market. He founded Tesco Stores in 1931 and by 1939 he had 113 shops, and by 1950, 20 self-service stores. He established his first hypermarket in 1976, with over 50,000 square feet of shopping area.
… in the 1830s, London’s Belgrave Square was designed by George Basevi (1794-1845), a cousin of Benjamin Disraeli? Besavi was also responsible for the enlargement of the Middlesex Hospital in 1834.
… the Shell Oil Company was created by English industrialist Marcus Bearsted, 1st Viscount (1853-1927)? He was to become Lord Mayor of London in 1902 and was raised to the peerage in 1920.
… that the co-founder (with Cecil Rhodes) of De Beers Consolidated Diamond Mines was Isaacs Barnato (1852-1897), an English financier who earned his living as a conjurer before becoming an outstanding diamond magnate?
… Sir Misha Black OBE (1910-1977) was consultant designer of both London Transport’s Victoria and Jubilee Lines? Born in Russia (he was brought to East London at the age of two), he became a professor of the Royal College of Art, a trustee of the British Museum, a founder member of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers, and a senior partner of the Design and Research Unit. He was a co-ordinator of the Festival of Britain in 1951 and the Silver Jubilee Exhibition of 1977.