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
Three women who made a big difference - Alice Model, Hannah Hyam and
Lily Montagu were East End heroines.
click the photos to enlarge
This is the story of
three women: women who played a major part in alleviating the
poverty and distress that permeated the East End in the early 20th
To many the East End
has been a sanctuary. There were the French Huguenots fleeing
persecution, the east European Jews escaping pogroms, Irish
immigrants in search of a better life, and, most recently,
Bangladeshis also looking for a brighter future. The statue
“Sanctuary” in the courtyard of St Botolph’s church next to Aldgate
Station by Czech born Holocaust survivor Naomi Blake is
But, for all that, it
has also been a place of deprivation and desperate poverty. When
Jews arrived in their thousands at the end of the 19th century
families were crowded into squalid conditions with no welfare state
to fall back on. In 1902 the celebrated American author Jack London
wrote an account of life among the East End poor. He researched his
book, People of the Abyss, by living as a down and out for
several months on the streets of Whitechapel and elsewhere.
In one memorable
passage he describes an excursion into Frying Pan Alley – a narrow
path off Bell Lane adjacent to Jews Free School: “….and dived into
Frying-pan Alley. A spawn of children cluttered the slimy pavement,
for all the world like tadpoles just turned frogs on the bottom of a
dry pond. In a narrow doorway, so narrow that perforce we stepped
over her, sat a woman with a young babe nursing at breasts grossly
naked and libelling all the sacredness of motherhood. In the black
and narrow hall behind her we waded through a mess of young life,
and essayed an even narrower and fouler stairway. Up we went three
flights, each landing two feet by three in area and heaped with
filth and refuse.”
This is the world that
Alice Model MBE, Hannah Hyam and Lily Montagu sought to change.
Model (photo right) died in 1943 aged 86 after a life devoted
to the welfare of the East End’s poor. In 1895, as part of her
campaign to improve mother and infant welfare, she had founded the
Sick Room Help Society, which evolved into the Jewish Maternity
Hospital (known as Mother Levy’s) in Underwood Road (photo
left). With financial assistance from the Samuel family (Marcus
Samuel, Viscount Bearsted, had founded “Shell” Transport and
Trading, precursor to the Shell oil group) the hospital became the
Bearsted Memorial Hospital and relocated to north London.
Alice Model also
founded a day nursery in Stepney, which I wrote about in an issue of
The Cable. She shared with Hannah Hyman the distinction of
becoming the first woman member of the Board of Guardians (now
called Jewish Care), after a long campaign.
In 1912 the London
County Council appointed her to the committee dealing with the
practicalities of the new National Health Insurance Act. She was
also involved in the Union of Jewish Women, the Highbury Home for
Friendless Children and Babies Hostel, various day nurseries she had
established in the East End, and more. On her 70th birthday she was
presented with an illuminated album inscribed with the names of 22
societies and 367 people who had been associated with her.
citation said: “You have devoted your life to the cause of the
friendless, whether it be child, girl or woman, and you are loved
and honoured in countless homes where your sage counsel and
practical help are always available. Through your work you have
raised the status of Jewish womanhood in the eyes of men and women
of diverse creeds and many nationalities.”
She was appointed MBE
in the 1935 New Year’s Honours list.
Hannah Hyam was a
contemporary of Alice Model. Her 1945 Jewish Chronicle
obituary describes her as one of the Jewish community’s most beloved
charitable workers, who had dedicated nearly 60 years to educational
and philanthropic work among East End families.
Her list of
achievements is impressive: she managed the Berner Street and
Whitechapel group of Board schools; she was a member of the Board of
Guardians and honorary secretary of its Ladies Visiting Committee;
she was the United Synagogue committee member on the Children’s
Country Holiday Fund; a member of the committee of the Jewish Boys’
and Girls’ Clubs Association; President of the Jewish Ladies
Clothing Association; a prison visitor to Jewish women prisoners in
Holloway prison, and much more.
On her death Sir Basil
Henriques of the Oxford and St Georges Settlement wrote to the
Jewish Chronicle: “There has passed on in her 86th year one of the
most saintly women that this country possessed. Hannah Hyam has
been known to almost every family in St George’s in the East for the
past 60 years, and thousands of Jews and Christians alike owe more
to her than will ever be known.
“She started as a
visitor for the Jewish Board of Guardians in the days of the Schools
Board and when social work was an occupation in which few indulged.
In spite of the opposition of her friends she persevered in her
daily visits to the sick and the poor, and gradually made her main
interest the welfare of the children in the eight elementary schools
of the district. She was one of the pioneers in care committee work
and day after day, year in and year out she visited the schools and
the homes of those who were neglected, sick or poor.
“Her persistent loving
service was always constructive. She never dispensed her charity
indiscriminately, but on every problem she focused a very wise and
understanding mind. Nothing was ever too much trouble for her. No
work she undertook was ever left unfinished. She arranged for
emigration of whole families at a time when that was possible; she
organised holidays for thousands of children through the Children’s
Country Holiday Fund; she brought food and clothing to the parents
and children of the poor; investigated the needs of those who asked
for free dinners; attended every medical inspection of school
children and presided over the after care committees for those who
were leaving school.
“It was particularly as
Chairman of School Managers that she became an expert in choosing
staff and maintaining a high tone in their schools. The whole of
her beautiful life was inspired by religion, and Judaism was lived
by her in every thought and deed. Intensely proud of her People,
she defended them with unstinted vigour whenever they were
attacked. Brought up as a strictly Orthodox Jewess, she was
tolerant of all religions. There are few people of this generation
who have done more to make the name of Jew respected. She was
indeed a true servant of her religion and witness to her God.”
Hannah Hyam was an Orthodox Jew, Lily Montagu – or Miss Lily
(photo left) as she was affectionately known – was non-Orthodox
and one of the founders of the Liberal Jewish Movement. Miss Lily
was one of the 10 children of Sir Samuel Montagu, the Liberal MP for
Whitechapel, millionaire banker, founder of the Orthodox Federation
of Synagogues and a major philanthropist.
The comfortable life of
the Montagus in Kensington Palace Gardens is described by Gerry
Black in his book Living up West. He also describes how,
after finishing schooling, Lily and her sister Marion would spend a
day a week helping at Jews Free School in Bell Lane. He goes on to
say that it was common for women of her class to descend on the East
End once or twice a month distributing a smile, a guinea and a pat
on the head before going “back to Kensington as quickly as their
carriages could take them”.
Miss Lily, though, was
different; she sacrificed a comfortable social life to devote her
time and efforts to bettering the lives of underprivileged working
class girls. She went on to found the West Central Girls Club in the
West End of London and died in 1963 aged 90.
There are other great
women in the annals of the Jewish East End to whom I hope to return.
Meanwhile, let us remember them all and honour their memory.
archive, Living Up West by Gerry Black, conversations with
those who knew Lily Montagu.