From the delicacies of Tubby Isaac’s jellied eel stall on Brick Lane to the joys of a towel and soap for sixpence at Goulston Street Public Baths, the sights, sounds and smells of London’s Jewish East End are long gone. The thriving Jewish social, commercial, religious and street lives which once dominated Whitechapel and Spitalfields have been lost to the Blitz, to development and to demographic change.
But their memory has not been lost. Artist and writer Rachel Lichtenstein has spent much of her career helping to preserve the history of this unique community, including three of her books
Around 70 of the East End sites which had most often cropped up in the memories of Lichenstein’s interviewees were chosen to be highlighted on the map. They demonstrate the richness and variety of Jewish East End life: synagogues, theatres, cinemas, shops, restaurants, markets, housing, community spaces, and places with an intimate connection to events, such as the famous Battle of Cable Street.
“The map allows you to compare a contemporary street map and the historic map and then hear or read stories of particular places,” explains Dr Hay. “The map format enables you to see how story is embedded in place, how those places change over time and how cultures shape places. For example, have you ever wondered why Brick Lane market takes place on a Sunday? It’s because Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath.”
The project will also benefit other communities in the future, as the software used to create the Memory Map has now been released as an Open Source toolkit to enable local history groups, museums and researchers to conduct their own memory mapping projects. Currently in use by groups in London, Liverpool, and New York, Dr Hay hopes that the toolkit will enable many more communities to bring their histories alive.
“It’s so important to record memories and bear witness, and the digital format allows readers to have a really rich conversation between different sorts of media. That’s why we are now handing over the tools to other communities to allow them to tell their stories about place in this way. Once the physical traces of a community vanish, all you have is the voices.”
The ‘Drury Lane of the East’ opened in 1827 as a small playhouse. By 1900, it was the principal Yiddish theatre in London, attracting audiences of up to 2,000, but fell into dereliction following bomb damage in 1940.
‘There is nothing fancy about the club, but there's plenty on the menu to take your fancy,’ wrote
The Neuve Église on Fournier Street (formerly Church Street) was originally a church and, briefly, the home of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews. In 1899, it formally became the synagogue of the orthodox Machzike Hadath society, and in 1974, it became the Jamme Masjid mosque.
Before the war, every kind of Jewish food and goods could be found at Bloom’s deli bar and restaurant at Number 2 Brick Lane. But it was best known for the political speakers – Communists, socialists, Labour Party members – who gathered to speak to crowds of Jewish immigrants outside.
The ‘beloved Lane’ – one of London’s oldest street markets – was more than just a market. It was a meeting place, an institution, famous throughout the world for its vibrant street life; the cries of the auctioneers and vendors, the banter, the colour and the smells, the great mix of Yiddish and cockney culture.