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
East End Childhood, October 1948 – April 1960
I was born in
Whitechapel’s Royal London Hospital (where my son and his
girlfriend now work – returning to my roots).
My mum Hilda
Marks (nee Swade) who died in 2005 aged 95, was aged 34 when she
gave birth to me. She had had a very hard life and had started
work aged 13 in a shoe factory.
Nine months pregnant, waters
broken, Mum walked down Turner Street all alone from our home at 52
Jane Street (off Commercial Street) E.1. Mum gave birth to me
on Friday 8th October – Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) in
Mary Northcliffe Ward.
My mother told me about the food
she was given, ‘chicken’ and mash and how she had commented on how
delicious the chicken was. The nurse replied, ‘Mrs Marks, this is
rabbit’ (non-kosher for us Jews) ‘Oy vei!’ said Mum (‘Oh dear!’ in
Yiddish). However, rabbit on Yom Kippur of all days was acceptable
to my beloved Mum, hungry after the birth of a 6lb. 4 oz.baby
daughter named Rachelle.
In those days
mothers stayed 10 days in hospital after the birth so poor Dad
(Max Marks) had to fend for himself. His speciality was stuffed
neck of chicken, roast potatoes and he loved sweet and sour
mackerel and eggs and onions! So he survived on this menu for 10
days or so: according to my mother, Dad did not starve during
those 10 days but alas the kitchen was rather messy!
My dad was in tailoring, working
in Princelet Street at the time (no mobiles to announce the birth)
so I guess that, returning from work, he realised his beloved Hilda
was not at home and rushed straight to the ‘London’ as it was known
then (the famous ‘London’ got its royal title later on in the 20th
Dad worked in many factories in
the East End and Hackney: Mare Street, Morning Lane and Minimax. I
remember vividly the long hot summers, going on my tricycle after
school up to the top of the road to Commercial Street where it meets
Turner Street, to wait for Dad to get off the 653 bus after work
around 6.30pm. He would be very tired, not a young man in 1947 when
aged 44 he married Mum. So by 1954 he was 57, middle aged then!
My Dad always had many a
wisecrack: ‘God made women beautiful; the only thing wrong, He gave
them a tongue’ or, ‘I’ll have any cheese provided it’s Cheddar.’
He always had a smile for his
beloved Rachelle and had endless toffees on his pocket – which
reminds me of little old Mr Harris, my parents’ friend from
Cable Street, another figure in my childhood; he had a sweetshop and
used to give me Cadbury’s milk chocolate from his pockets, rather
warm but okay. When we used to go and visit him, we sat in the back
of the shop on Sunday nights and watched ‘Sunday Night at the London
Palladium’ with the young Des O’Connor. When Sophie Tucker appeared
with her rendering of ‘My Yiddisha Momma’ I, aged only 10 or 11, did
not appreciate her but I do now as I look back. I heard her on Good
Friday 2007 when Ben Helfgott chose this wonderful song on ‘Desert
Island Discs’. My son bought me her CD last year – my husband said
I’m going daft!
We had no hot
water at 52 Jane Street, only a tap with cold, icy water, a
mangle in the shed to rinse the washing and an outdoor toilet.
The word loo (from ‘l’eau’ – a disfiguration from the French I
believe) was not known to us at that stage.
The toilet had a well scrubbed
wooden seat and squares of newspaper were cut up for loo roll as
soft ‘Andrex’ did not exist in the ‘50s of my East End childhood. I
remember the hard tissue, like tracing paper, called ‘Izal’.
Obviously, I do not remember my
first two or three years at 52 Jane Street E.1. My earliest memory
is of 1952 when coal was delivered to Jane Street to fuel the fire.
It was stored in the cellar where mice used to play and roam around.
We had a cat that I called Silky because of her smooth fur but she
was not very successful at catching mice!
Today there is a street sign but
no houses – all demolished for slum clearance. We were all re-housed
into council flats with indoor loos. 52 Jane Street did not have
such a luxury: we had to use an outdoor loo with a wooden seat and
used almost to freeze to death while relieving ourselves during
The mouse incident
One day much
later on in life, aged 6 or 7, I was playing with my dolls and
pram when all of a sudden a mouse appeared on the pram cover. I
yelled out ‘Mum, there’s a mouse!’ and Mum came with a newspaper
scrunched up and killed one mouse; she had strong hands. A few
seconds later, Dad (Max) was standing on a chair, ‘Hilda, a
mouse!’ Mum killed a second mouse. All in all, she bumped off
eight mice. Dear Mum was never squeamish, was very practical and
obviously had inherited her tough Lithuanian genes from her
father David Swade. Her mother Miriam Soref had died aged 38
when Mum was only 13. Not long afterwards Mum went to work - at
an early age as her father left home to live with his second
wife Becky Bogin whose daughter Isobel is my aunt (Mum’s half
sister) living in Warrington. We correspond and I visit from
time to time.
My best friend
morning in winter 1955 when I was 7 years old, a little girl
appeared in my bedroom. It was eight o’clock – so early – still
dark and freezing cold. She lay down next to me, this little
creature called Judy with her teddy bear Sylvie clutched in her
hand - and fell asleep. She had been woken at 6 am and taken out
of her lovely warm bed into the cold to come to our house. We
got up around ten o’clock and as we had breakfast, Mum explained
that Judy’s parents were working in Shepherd’s Bush Market and
that we were going to look after her on Saturdays.
I remember Judy’s birthday
parties. Her mum always asked each child to entertain, prepare a
poem to recite by heart, sing a song, dance or play an instrument.
This was the old fashioned ‘party piece’! Imagine asking a child to
I prepared John Masefield’s ‘Sea
Fever’….’I must go down to the sea…’ and was petrified that I would
forget the lines.
I clearly remember Judy walking
with me down Turner Street on Saturday afternoons, each eating an
apple after lunch, on our way with my Mum to Whitechapel Market.
Judy would take 20 minutes to eat an apple and dawdle as in a dream
whilst I would demolish my apple in two minutes. We still joke about
this today; she’s still rather ‘slow to operate’ and often arrives
late for our meetings – but as the saying goes, I am ‘loving and
giving’ having been born on a Friday!
Judy and I celebrated, in 2005,
the 50 years’ anniversary of our friendship by going to Prague for
the weekend. I still look after her, it was I who made her cups of
tea to get her going in the mornings!
Apart from these trips we used
to go to the West End on the number 25 bus or the 15 from Stepney to
the luxury of St James’ Park and tea in a Lyons Corner House, a
special treat served up by ‘nippies’ in their black outfits and
white ‘pinnies’. Tea and toast followed by a chocolate éclair –
no-one worried about cholesterol then – and on your birthday the
band would play ‘Happy Birthday’. Judy’s parents took us to the
Strand Palace on Sundays as a treat so we girls were lucky to go to
the West End on both Saturdays and Sundays: true Londoners from an
Sometimes we used to visit my
Mum’s best friend Aunty Fanny (Mrs Preston) in Hackney. We used to
play with her grandson Denis under the table in her back yard. After
that we used to go down to the Narrow Way to Marks and Spencer and a
lovely ABC cake shop to buy cream horns. Marks and Spencer was the
first real taste of a supermarket for me…
Back to 1952 at
52 Jane Street E.1: I was supposed to go to nursery school at
age 3 or 4 and Mum took me along to Harry Gosling JMI. However,
when I saw the nursery and the children asleep in the afternoon,
I got scared and did not wish to remain. I couldn’t understand
why there were rows of children asleep at one thirty in the
afternoon, on camp beds that did not look very comfortable. I
thought that the children were naughty and the teachers had put
them to sleep; all rather sinister as if they were drugged! How
the mind boggles, even at 3 or 4….
So Mum took me home and there I
stayed in comfort and security until November 1954, aged 6 years and
one month, having had my sixth birthday on 8th October
1954. Mum did not want me to leave home and part company with her
so she filled in the school forms rather too late for the September
entry! I joined the Infants of Harry Gosling JMI in November after
half term. My Infant teacher Mrs Morstadt was a lovely, middle aged,
grey-haired Dutch lady
We had to finish
the first course before taking a pudding. I remember the awful
shepherd’s pie. In those days we did not have paper tissues so
as I could not finish the shepherd’s pie, I wrapped it
discreetly in an old hankie and asked the ‘Miss’on duty if I
could go to the toilet – and promptly flushed it down the pan. I
don’t know if the next day’s ‘blockage’ was my responsibility!
This bliss of two years in the
Infants was to end in the Juniors when, in classes 4A –1A (or 1A-4A
I can’t recall the order in those days), a teacher, a Miss Angel
from Golders Green, a spinster who ruled with a rod of iron, took
over our class. In spelling I recall those of us who got 10/10 had
to test those weaker pupils who had less than 6/10.
Since I was good in the ‘three
Rs’ I was usually in Miss Angel’s good books: so much so that on one
occasion she asked me to buy her some smoked salmon in Roggs, the
well known delicatessen in Hessel Street/Cannon Street (so much
cheaper than in Golders Green). My mum gave me the money and I duly
arrived in school with 8oz of smoked salmon!
Fortunately I was also good at
sewing, my mum being a felling hand and Dad in tailoring too. I used
to go with Mum to tailors like Mr Russell, Mr Broder and Mr
Rosenblatt to help carry home and baste the jackets sleeves,
armholes and cuffs. Poor Mum got 5 shillings (10p) for sewing about
a dozen jackets, staying up to midnight to finish them in between
cooking, cleaning and helping me with school work.
I remember Miss Angel rebuking
two friends of mine who could not thread a needle, frequently
scolding ‘So and so can’t thread a needle,’ in a sarcastic manner
which would not be acceptable in teaching today! I was to become a
teacher later on, teaching from 1970 – 2006, now partially retired
although still working on a supply basis aged 59.
However, tough Miss Angel got us
through our 11+ exams and I was accepted, in September 1960, at the
then new ‘JFS’ (Jewish Free School) in Camden Town. So, aged 11 or
12, for 9 months or so I travelled on the 653 bus from Whitechapel
to Camden Road. Out at 7.15 am in winter, snow and fog, with Dad on
his way to Morning Lane, Hackney. I had a torch to see my way down
Turner Street, still dark at 7.15 am in winter.
The bus journey was very
interesting – workers, JFS kids plus Barry Cohen, I think, and his
Vienna rolls and a copy of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ in a brown
At school we had to line up in
the freezing cold – now secondary school kids go straight into
class! We were a tough lot in those days – no mollycoddling for us!
To obtain a place at the new JFS
you had to be able to read Hebrew before entering the school; so my
Dad taught me in three weeks or so in the August holidays. My
linguistic talents continued as eventually I went on to become a
Modern Languages teacher. I did ‘A’ level French in 1967 and Modern
Hebrew, out of interest, in 1997 at the Spiro Institute with
a wonderful teacher and educator, Nitza Spiro.
Years later, Miss Angel came
back to haunt me! In 1973 I was taking part in a National Union of
Teachers demonstration in Oxford Street when Miss Angel, out
shopping, spotted me and accosted me with ‘Rachelle, I’m surprised
Farewell East End 6th April 1961
From Jane Street
to Rowley Gardens, Manor House, N4:
From Stepney to
Hackney! Another world!
We finally moved
on the 6th April 1961 to a brand new estate, Rowley
Gardens, part of the Woodberry Down Estate. It was like home
from home in many ways because most of our neighbours moved with
us and we met other Jewish friends there too. We had all been
re-housed, some neighbours went to Jamaica Street, Poplar, some
to Swiss Cottage and some bought property in new towns like
Basildon or Crawley and some went out to Dagenham.
Our neighbours little Sadie,
big Sadie and her husband Ronnie Gold; Grace and Michael Wigatow,
our Polish neighbours; Mr and Mrs Kraftman: all such lovely and
interesting people. We used to spend Friday nights with Ronnie,
Sadie and their children, Jeffrey and Frances Gold.
We would watch ‘Peyton
Place’on television, together with little Sadie and another elderly
lady, a Mrs Whipman, and would play cards. This lady Mrs
Whipman spoke only broken English but always won the Kalookie game!
Alas all the elderly neighbours, along with my Mum and Dad, are no
longer with us but I often wonder what happened to the children of
these neighbours, such as Jeff and Frances Gold – where are you now
to reminisce with me?
The East End of London during
the 1950s was full of interesting characters and places: the Bagel
Lady, Tubby Isaacs, our lovely GP Dr Abrahams; Petticoat Lane, the
Tower of London.
When we moved to Manor House
the atmosphere changed but we all became accustomed to the new life.
No more number 653 bus - but replaced by the number 29 bus to school
in Camden Road. In the beginning, I took the wrong bus home!
Finsbury Park, opposite our flat, provided the greenery and open
space that we had not had in Jane Street E.1. I used to go putting
there and play tennis and watch cricket with my Dad on Sunday
Those of us who grew up in the
East End of the 1950s did not have the technological and electronic
games, computers and mobile phones of today’s children but I believe
we had a richer, more stimulating home experience; listening to the
Home Service (now Radio 4), ‘Friday Night is Music Night’, ‘Top of
the Form’ ( a quiz), ‘Twenty Questions’ and other radio programmes
which fuelled our minds and imaginations. Opera and ballet were a
large part of my life; my Dad took me, from the age of seven, to see
ballet at Sadlers Wells and Covent Garden. We saw ‘Coppelia’ with
Margot Fonteyn and ‘La Fille Malgardee’ with Merle Park. We also saw
most of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operatta and, a rare treat in 1962,
‘Tosca’ with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi. How Dad got the tickets I
do not know. My favourite was, and still is, ‘La Traviata’. In those
days the prices were more affordable, even for a tailor’s presser
with a wage of about £10 a week! My love of opera and ballet was
acquired at an early age, today you have people seeing opera for the
first time at the age of 30. So, although materially poor, I was
mentally and intellectually enriched. Children of today often miss
out and are deprived of the sort of childhood that I experienced in
the East End with its wealth of luxuries of the mind.
I have written this account in
the memory of a treasured Mum and Dad and I hope it gives a brief
but interesting insight into the charms of my East End!
Copyright Rachelle Marks 2007