EAST END OF LONDON PHOTO GALLERY & COMMENTARY
London's East End Synagogues, cemeteries and more......
My personal journey through the Jewish East End of London
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The Belasco family, Bevis
Marks orphanage and more, Clive Simmonds writes:
I chanced upon your website about the Jewish East and West
Ends of London purely by accident. What a wealth of fascinating
information. How I wish I had known about it, and the walks you
conduct, a few years ago when I was still living in London.
I was especially touched by the story
of the little boy who died in the
Bevis Marks Orphanage fire.
I believe it was in that orphanage that my great uncle George (Guershon)
Simmons Belasco was looked after for a while. He and his many
full, half and step siblings were orphaned when my
great-grandparents, Joseph Simmons Belasco and his wife Sarah
(formerly widow Sarah Genese, née Tolano) both died in 1873.
was born in 1869. One of his sisters, my grandmother, Rachel
Simmons Belasco, in 1871. She was looked after at Norwood, and
later by her half-sister Mrs Rebecca Zagury, whose Moroccan
husband was the caretaker at the Bryanston Street Synagogue. At
the age of about 12 she was sent out to work as a dressmaker in
what would now be called a sweat shop in the West End.
George later became rabbi at the
Montefiore Synagogue Ramsgate. The story goes that while he was
still in the orphanage, Sir Moses Montefiore picked him out as a
bright lad and arranged for him to study to become a rabbi. He
ministered at Ramsgate, where he fathered 7 children by his wife
Cordelia Nathan, for 40 years until he died in the late 1920s.
Apparently, he used to tell his nephew, my father Maurice
Simmonds: "Young man, if you read enough you will believe in
can see, "my lot" were Sephardim. Belasco (originally Velasco,
and on some records as Balasco), Da Costa, Nunes, Vaz, Martinez
or Martines, Mendoza, Nahon, are among the family names in
England in the 18th and 19th centuries. A few married into
Ashkenazi families, a few "married out".
The Belasco "tribe" flourished both in
the East End and the West End. Their professions ranged from
synagogue officials to brothel keepers, and from fishmongers to
I cannot help but wonder if my great
uncle George or his immediate family knew Henry, the little boy
who died in the fire.
years ago I worked in the office block at 100 Whitechapel Road.
As you will know, we had a Salvation Army hostel across the
road, a bomb site / car park on which was built the East London
Mosque to one side of us, and Fieldgate Street Synagogue behind
us! Truly a melting pot area.
paternal grandmother's Belasco 'tribe' - if I may call them
that! - included some interesting characters, including the
Belasco prize fighters; David James (born David Belasco)
actor and one time part-owner of the Vaudeville Theatre; his
illegitimate son, David O'Hara Belasco James, who was also a
well-known 19th century actor; and his nephew California
born David Belasco, theatrical impresario of Madam Butterfly
and Girl of the Golden West fame, who was known as the
Bishop of Broadway and who discovered "Barbara Stanwyck"
(formerly Ruby Stevens); and more recently my father's
cousin Dorothy Belasco the artist (born about 1896 I think),
one of the 7 children of Rabbi George Simmons Belasco of
Ramsgate, some of whose water colours and drawings are held
by the V & A and by the Jewish Museum. For some reason, a
photographic portrait of her taken in 1926 is held by the
National Portrait Gallery.
I worked in Brunning House, 100 Whitechapel Road, I used to
go sometimes at lunchtime with our Jewish office book-keeper
to the Kosher luncheon club in Greatorex Street, We didn't
belong to it officially, but everyone seemed welcome. The
food was hearty Ashkenazi fare, and I can remember seeing a
lot of elderly men smoking heavily and drinking Russian tea.
we bought latkes in Grodzinskis and took them back to the
office to eat.
Thank you for keeping part of London's
Jewish heritage alive,
Clive writes a further letter,
below, about Henry
Martinez, the boy who died in the 1882 Bevis Marks orphanage
There is a bit of
intertwining between the little boy who died in
the orphanage fire and my Belasco forebears. I
1) In 1871 the head of
the orphanage was Phoebe Belasco. Her
granddaughter Sarah Levy lived with her there
along with 11 boys, including a Benjamin Martin,
who may or may not have been related to Henry.
2) In 1881 the heads
of the orphanage were Lewis and Rebecca Levy,
who were in charge of 12 boys, among them my
great uncle Guerschon - various spellings of
this in different records - (a.k.a. George)
Belasco aged 12, and an Aaron Martinez aged 14.
There is no mention of a Henry (or a Haim),
though. Maybe he arrived after the 1881 census
was taken, and I've no idea whether Aaron was
related to him. So I don't know whether the
paths of Guerschon and Henry ever crossed in the
orphanage, its school, or elsewhere.
3) Henry's father,
David Nunes Martinez (1828 to 1881) and his
mother Elizabeth Lewis (1835 to 1899) were
married in London City (Bevis Marks, maybe?) in
1850 and had 8 children, including Henry,
between 1853 and 1879. As Henry died in the fire
in 1882, by then only his father was dead, not
his mother. But of course it was quite normal in
those days for a widowed parent to have to place
offspring in orphanages. In fact, I have
discovered that some inmates of 'orphanages'
were not in fact orphans, it was just that their
parents hadn't the means to care for them or, in
some cases, they were placed there because they
were born out of wedlock.
4) Going back further:
Sarah Nunes Martinez (1771 to 1833) married
Joseph Belasco - one of
Joseph Belascos in 'my lot'! - (1768 to 1823).
They had 9 children, one of whom, Jacob Belasco
(1804 to 1875) married Agar Nunes Martinez.
As you may have
discovered, among tight-knit communities there
was often a lot of intermarriage between
families. Certainly among 'my' Belascos, the
same surnames keep cropping up time and time
again, and in one instance a male Belasco
marrying a female Belasco first cousin, not to
mention a number of instances of two brothers
marrying two sisters, or two cousins marrying
two cousins, or .... etc. etc.
As I understand it, in Jewish law a man is not
supposed to marry a deceased brother's widow.
But that did happen at least once among the
Belascos, and they were in deep water for it,
and had to get a special dispensation from a
rabbi to legalise their marriage - after they
had had several children!
Well, there we are,
more fascinating bits about 19th century British
Good wishes, Clive
website copyright of Philip