Our East End Heritage

The Museum of the Jewish East End at the Sternberg Centre in Finchley has aroused a great deal of interest during the short period of its existence. Its central task has been to convey the rich heritage of the East End to the large number of Jewish people who live in North West London.

Although fewer Jews now live in the East End, the Museum intends to stage a number of future exhibitions at the Heritage Centre which has been established in Spitalfields. Exhibitions on East London synagogues and the Yiddish Theatre will be on view next year. The Heritage Centre is situated in the building of the old Princelet Street synagogue near Brick Lane’s famous Machzike Hadath. The Centre is not entirely devoted to Jewish themes because the house—like the East End itself—testifies to the working lives of successive waves of immigrants. 19 Princelet Street was built in 1718 by a carpenter, one Samuel Worral. The building was in the centre of a rag trade which existed even before the Jewish immigration due to the endeavours of the hardworking Protestant

Huguenot community. It boasts a first-floor drawing room which is a fine example of a Georgian town interior with its original panelling, box moulding, inset glass cupboard and rococo fireplace. In 1862, a chevra was initiated and eight years later was registered as the Chevrath Nedevath Chen (Loyal United Friends Synagogue) at Princelet Street. The synagogue was originally a converted workshop built over the garden at the back of the house. It was rebuilt in 1893 and finally closed in 1970. It is a striking example of a small East End shul of Victorian England.

In the last twenty years, Bangladeshi immigrants have populated the East End. Sylheti is spoken in place of Yiddish and more bajee are sold than beige’s. Leather clothes manufacturers and saree shops have replaced the tailors’ sweatshops. The Machzike Hadath synagogue was originally built as a Huguenot church, Neuve Eglise. Today, it is the Masjid Jame mosque.

The Heritage Centre hopes to raise funds to restore 17-19 Princelet Street to its rightful ethnic glory. This will include the Huguenot weavers’ loft as well as the synagogue. After renovation, it is proposed to use the premises for multicultural exhibits.

Last year saw the 300th anniversary of the Edict of Nantes which led to the Huguenot emigration from France. The Tower Hamlets Environment Trust organized a successful exhibition to commemorate the Huguenots. In 1987, it hopes to coordinate wide ranging activities under the all-embracing title—”A Celebration of the Jewish East End”. Whitechapel Art Gallery will play host to an exhibition about the life and work of Jacob Epstein. Judaica from the Victoria and Albert collection will be displayed at the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood. The history of the Sephardi community will be portrayed through music and drama at Bevis Marks synagogue. One of the more interesting projects is a concert with JAM (Jewish Awareness through Music) and Dishari, a Bangladeshi group. Other activities including Jewish film and Yiddish opera are now being organized and, even at this early stage, there is the promise of a festival of considerable richness.

Jewish Quarterly Winter 1986


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