Saturday, November 17, 2012

Jews moving to England

Hels is today's guest poster and this is her response to me asking about Jewish settlement in England.

The official total number of Jews in the Russian Empire towards the end of the 19th century was 5.2 million. Of these, a quarter were in Poland (especially  Warsaw), and three quarters were in the Russian Pale of Settlement. (especially Lodz and Odessa)

Throughout the later 19th century, Jews could be summarily evicted from their cities.In 1891, 20,000 Jews from Moscow were forced to give up their homes and livelihood, and were deported to the already over-crowded Pale. After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, a wave of pogroms spread throughout the South West that lasted until 1906 - Jews in Odessa, Kishenev, Simferopol, Melitopol, Zhitomir, Lodz and Minsk were murdered.

The authorities did nothing to protect the Jews. In fact in May 1882, a new period of anti-Jewish persecution began. Jews were prohibited from living in villages, from obtaining property outside their prescribed residences, denied jobs in the civil service and forbidden to trade on Sunday and Christian holidays.

Soup kitchen for the Jewish poor in London.

Two million Jews left Eastern  Europe in the 30 years before WW1 broke out in 1914. The Jewish immigrants who settled in the north of England, especially in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, came mostly from Lithuania. Their trip started with travel by train to a Baltic port, and then transport by steamship to Britain. Eastern Europeans who were in "transit" in Britain, waiting for a visa to the USA or for a ship ticket, remained in Liverpool.

With the huge influx of Yiddish-speaking Jews from Poland, the Ukraine and Belarus flooding into London, the Jews' Temporary Shelter in London was their first port of call. People lived by whatever skills they brought with them, as artisans or in trade. Many were tailors, occasionally metal workers, cobblers and carpenters. Some worked in the food trade, as butchers or bakers, preparing food in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. They settled in suburbs like Spitalfields, Stepney, Whitechapel, Aldgate, Bethnal Green, Hackney and Shoreditch.

The Jews Temporary Shelter was founded in London in 1886.

Some 175 synagogues were built in the East End, from the gorgeous to the minuscule. An old chapel was converted into the The Spitalfields Great Synagogue in 1897. Brick Lane was the heart of London's Jewish community and this was the principal synagogue of the area. School rooms were provided for the children of the masses of impoverished, hard working refugees. At the rear of another of the handsome Georgian houses in Spitalfields that dated back to 1722, we see the Princelet St Synagogue, built in 1862. The Sandys Row Synagogue site had originally been bought by Huguenots as a church. Note that this synagogue was established in 1870 by a society of Dutch Jews, not Russians, Ukrainians and Lithuanians. This may be the only synagogue that still operates in the East End today.

Before WW2 the Jewish population of Britain was 350,000, only 0.7% of the nation's population. However since half of the nations Jews lived in London's East End, their impact in that tiny cluster of suburbs was greatly intensified.

Only from the 1960s was the Jewish community of the East End much reduced, many moving into the greener north of London suburbs. East End synagogues and schools closed one at a time; kosher butcher shops and restaurants soon followed.

Note: Any typos are probably mine and not Hels.


  1. This post [and the post linked to] are full of info new to me, and very interesting. We often hear about Jews who settled in the USA, but little about England.

    Thank you both, Hels and Andrew.

    1. FC, at some point in the future it may be useful knowledge, but knowledge is always useful to one's self.

  2. agreed, thanks Andrew.
    My grandmother lived in dire poverty in Whitechapel, with the three adults and 10 children in a tiny rented flat. But they were so pleased to be out of Russia, London was loved as the golden land of freedom.

    1. Anonymous6:20 pm

      Your grandmother wouldn't recognise the East End now. The new migrants from the Sub Continent still settle there, but the old Jewish and Irish communities have moved to the suburbs.


    2. Hels, did she become a UK citizen?

    3. Deb, thanks for the update on the area. I think similar has happened in many area where Jewish people started their new lives, certainly here in Melbourne.