London's East End Synagogues, cemeteries and more......

My personal journey through the Jewish East End of London

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The story behind 40 Hanbury Street , London E1

If buildings could talk what stories they would tell, and 40 Hanbury Street must have much to say.  This tiny derelict looking address is located off a Brick Lane backwater in the heart of Spitalfields in London's East End.  The sole clue to its past is a painted over mezuzah attached to the front door that must have been there for 100 years or more.  The first reference I can find relating to 40 Hanbury Street is in the 1 February 1918 edition of the Jewish Chronicle announcing the death and funeral of the head of its household, Wolf Biber, a master butcher born in Vienna in 1860.  It says…on the 28 January, Wolf Biber, the beloved husband of Johanna Biber, and beloved father of Simon, Samuel, Barnett, Janey, Solomon, Rachel, Freda and Lily Biber.  Deeply mourned by a large circle of relatives and friends.  Funeral from 40 Hanbury Street, Friday 11.30. Shiva at above address.  American and New Zealand papers copy.

Tragedy had struck twice because in the same 1918 edition of the Jewish Chronicle the funeral of Wolf’s 8 year old grandson Isadore was also announced…on the 28th January the beloved son of Pinkus and Yetta Schagrin, grandson of the late Wolf Biber,  Funeral from 40 Hanbury Street, Friday 11 o clock.  I can only speculate on what tragedy could have occurred to cause grandson and grandfather to have their funerals on the same day.  I note that neither Yetta nor Pinkus are included in the list of Wolf’s children, but presumably this is an error and Yetta is one of his daughters.  Yetta is recorded in the 1911 census as having been born in Vienna in 1891.  I doubt we can imagine how cramped living conditions must have been in so small a household with such a large number of occupants.

On a happier note, an October 1928 announcement records the engagement of Freda, daughter of Wolf and Johanna, to Simon Strassmann of Antwerp. 

Wolf and Johanna had other grandchildren and an April1930 announcement records the bar mitzvah of their grandson Samuel Schagrin, son of Pinkus and Yetta Schagrin, at Black Lion Yard synagogue.  In 1931 a further grandson, and son of Pinkus and Yetta, William Schagrin, has his bar mitzvah in Spitalfields Great Synagogue.  Spitalfields Great Synagogue is on the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane.  The bar mitzvah boy’s parents did not have far to travel because they were living at 22 Fournier Street.  Meanwhile, Wolf Biber’s widow Johanna is still living at 40 Hanbury Street. 

40 Hanbury Street was also used as a venue for a study circle club.  A Jewish Chronicle announcement in February 1934 advertised a talk at this address to the E.L.Y.M Study Circle by a Mr Isaacs B.A.  If anyone can tell me what the initials E.L.Y.M. stand for I would be grateful. 

The Schagrin family is now on the move with Wolf and Johanna's grand daughter Sylvia living at 27 Northfield Rd, London N16 from where a 1935 announcement records the birth of her and husband Solly's daughter, Shirley Rachelle. The baby's great grandmother, Johanna Biber, is still living at 40 Hanbury Street. 

In February 1942 Lily Kleerekoper, (Wolf and Johanna Biber's daughter Lily), and her husband Joseph proudly announce the arrival of their son Victor Samuel. Joseph Kleerekoper was born in the Netherlands and his surname means 'clothes buyer' which equates to market dealer.  At this time Lily and Joseph Kleerekoper have moved/evacuated from the East End to 30d Shakespeare Rd, Bedford.  After the War they emigrated to Australia where the next reference I can find brings us forward to January 1981.  It is an announcement of the death in Melbourne of Lily's husband Rabbi Joseph Kleerekoper.  Lily dies just over a year later in September 1982.  Their son Victor Samuel Kleerekoper, described in a 1996 Jewish Chronicle article as an Orthodox Jew with an impressive beard, grew up to become one of the editors of The Australian Jewish News. 

On a different tack, by March 1952 40 Hanbury Street was the premises of Mr S Guth, Kosher butcher and poulterer.  Mr Guth was under the Kedassia Kashrut authority.  A rather enigmatic Kedassia announcement of that date states ….The Committee accepts responsibility for meat, fowl and sausages sold by S Guth only if purchased at 40 Hanbury Street E.1. or if they bear the Kedassia seal. 

Kedassia’s reign over 40 Hanbury Street was not to last, and neither was S Guth’s because in December 1954 a Louis Simpson (telephone number BIS. 7867) is now on site and….wishes to inform his numerous customers that he remains licenced by the London Board of Shechita and is under the supervision of the Beth Din, London, but has given up his Kedassia licence.  Louis Simpson must have had quite a prosperous business because he also had premises at 28 Crawley Road, Wood Green, London N22.  Louis Simpson last appears in the Jewish Chronicle in December 1972 for the announcement of the engagement of his and his wife Goldie’s eldest daughter Elaine Leila to Neil Howard Cooper M.A. L.R.A.M ( L.R.A.M. is a professional diploma from the Royal College of Music).

Louis Simpson did not trade for long in Hanbury Street and by 1960 40 Hanbury Street was in use as a small forge belonging to Sonnie (Solomon) Libovitch.  Sonnie had previously been a blacksmith shoeing horses at his father's forge at 5 Hanbury Street.  By 1960 the shoeing horses business had died and Sonnie - who described himself in a 1980 Jewish Chronicle article as the last of the Yiddisher blacksmiths - had moved to 40 Hanbury Street to make steel hooks for dockworkers. He had a business on the side doing what he described as burglary prevention work.

This is as far as I have been able to go with my research, but the story of the inhabitants of 40 Hanbury Street, their successors and descendants is a story of tragedy, courage, upward mobility and changing times which must have echoes in the family histories of many readers.

If you ever walk down Fournier Street to the junction of Brick Lane it is worth glancing up at the sundial on top of the former Spitalfields Great Synagogue.  Do read its Latin inscription, Umbra Sumus, placed there in 1743 by the Huguenot refugees who constructed it.  In its time this beautiful building has been a Huguenot chapel, a Methodist Church, a synagogue and now a mosque.  ‘Umbra Sumus’ means ‘We are Shadows’.  Indeed we are.

40 Hanbury Street
40 Hanbury Street in 2013
Mezuzah, 40 Hanbury Street
Mezuzah on the door lintel of 40 Hanbury Street
Spitalfields Great Synagogue, corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street Umbra Sumus - we are shadows
Spitalfields Great Synagogue (now a mosque), corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street Hugenout Sundial on top of the former synagogue. Umbra Sumus - We are Shadows

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