East End Walk

to Highlight Resettlement

to Regeneration

We started our walk at St. Botolph-without-Aldgate Church  to the sound of the peeling bells on a lovely sunny Sunday morning and were met by our tour guide Rachel Kolsky, a Blue Badge Guide. The church sits on the boundary of the City and the East End and it now lies in the shadow of The Gherkin and other modern buildings, it was rebuilt in the 16th century and then again between 1741-1744 to designs by George Dance the Elder and was bombed in the blitz.

 

In the courtyard was a statue of a woman by the famous Jewish sculptress Naomi Blake, made out of fibre glass.

 

Outside was a drinking fountain with its cup still intact and was provided by David Mocatta to enable people to drink fresh clean water.

 

A short walk away was the site of The Great Synagogue which was the earliest Ashkenazi synagogue constructed in London after the return of Jews to England in the 17th century, it was built about 1690 at Duke's Place. The congregation grew, and in 1722 a new building was erected with the cost being borne by businessman and philanthropist, Moses Hart. An enlarged building, designed by George Dance the Elder, was consecrated in 1766.

 

Between 1788 and 1790, the third synagogue was built on the site. This building would stand until destroyed by the Germans in 1941. Unusually for the times, the principal donor was a woman, Judith Hart Levy, a descendant of Moses Hart. The architect was James Spiller and the building was in the classical style identified with Adam.

 

The Royal Dukes of Cambridge, Cumberland, and Essex, sons of George III, visited the Great Synagogue of London in 1809. There were seated on elegant Egyptian revival chairs as they watched the religious service.

 

The synagogue was destroyed in the London Blitz on May 10, 1941 and a plaque commemorates this.

 

We made our way to No.19 Princelet Street where the shul was located at the back of the building, the house was a former Hugenot property built in 1772. A Synagogue was built over the rear garden in 1862. The recluse David Rodinsky lived at the top of the building for many years and the house was abandoned in the 1960's. When it was entered years later prayer books and shawls were found undisturbed on tables and pews.

 

A few women used youth work as a springboard for wider political activity. Miriam Moses, an energetic East End youth worker and social worker, entered local politics as a Liberal Councillor. She became highly influential in Liberal politics in East London in the inter-war years and, in 1931, became the first woman mayor of Stepney. Her work is commemorated with a blue plaque on her house in Princelet Street in the East End. (photo 17) Also in this road was very dilapidated building, we were told that inside it is a beautiful modern interior but the outside is used as a film location.

 

From here we walked to Bevis Marks Synagogue which is meant to be the oldest Synagogue founded in 1701, built in the style of the great architect Wren. It was built in this style so that it would not stand out from the neighbouring churches. It bears a striking resemblance to The Great Synagogue of Amsterdam. In the centre are seven branch candelabra still used to light the building with candlelight on High Holydays and celebrations. The fine seating is mostly original, early 18th century. Upstairs in the ladies' gallery, there are twelve columns which represent the twelve tribes of Israel. One of its most famous congregants was Sir Moses Montefiore who gave vast sums to charity. Queen Victoria called him 'the great religious Jew'. Isaac Disraeli, father of Benjamin Disraeli, was a member of the synagogue until 1813 and after an argument baptised his children resulting in Benjamin being permitted to the Houses of Parliament, but he never forgot his Jewish roots.

 

We then made our way to the site of the Jewish Free School which was founded in 1732 and moved to Bell Lane in 1822. By the end of the 19th century it had 4000 students. It was bombed in 1941 and a modern block now occupies the site.

Jewish Soup Kitchen 

Upper class women, such as Charlotte and Louisa de Rothschild, were involved in a range of philanthropic organisations including The Jewish Soup Kitchen. Many charitable institutions, like the soup kitchens that were set up in the East End for poverty-stricken newcomers, were run by women. It opened in Brune Street in 1902 and in the 1950's it was regularly feeding 1500 clients, the premises closed in 1992 when it was still feeding 100 people.

 

We made our way through Petticoat Lane market to:

 

Sandy's Row 

We were met at Sandy's Row Synagogue  by the Freedman family, Henry, Jenny and Jeremy (Woodside Parkers) who warmly welcomed us. The shul opened In 1854, 50 poor Dutch Ashkenazi Jewish families founded a chevrah, a type of Friendly Society with a small synagogue attached known as the 'Society for loving-kindness and truth'. The first of its kind, most of them worked in the tobacco industry. It is the oldest Ashkenazi synagogue surviving in London. The building was designed as a chapel in 1776. Many members of Sandy's Row are descendants from these early Dutch immigrants - and orange the Dutch national colour - is a notable feature of this synagogue's lovely interior.

 

By 1867, it had grown to five hundred members when it acquired the leasehold of the French chapel, having found a champion in the architect, Nathan Joseph. The site was particularly suitable because it had a balcony and was on an East-West axis, albeit facing westwards. Joseph blocked up the original entrances which are still visible, and formed a new one in Sandys Row, together with a new three-storey building for offices and accommodation.

 

The community's independent streak, which perhaps goes a long way to explaining its longevity, was first evidenced in 1870, when the leading Sephardi rabbi, Haham Benjamin Artom of nearby Bevis Marks Synagogue, formally consecrated this Ashkenazi place of worship.

 

For many years the Synagogue acted as the secretariat of the Stepney and Whitechapel Street Traders' Association, bringing together all the market traders from both Petticoat Lane and Whitechapel Markets.

 

Sandys Row Synagogue holds a wealth of artefacts, many of which originate from its early beginnings. Thanks to recent donations and support, some of them, including a framed paper plaque commemorating the 50 founding families, has been preserved for future generations. The Freedman family kindly served refreshments for the group from Woodside Park.

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