The City of London
Marcus Roberts


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The 1880s brought a major immigration of Russian and Polish Jews to London and to a lesser extent elsewhere. This massive influx of some 100,000 Jews was to change the social landscape and the geography of Jewish London. Most settled in the East End, just east of the City. The initial settlement was in Houndsditch, Spitalfields, Whitechapel, and Goodmans' Fields which already had established Jewish populations. Houndsditch, Spitalfields and Whitechapel had been frequented by Jews of Dutch origin, from earlier in the century, many of whom worked in the cigar making trade. However in time they spread further eastwards with Stepney being especially favoured. The new influx revived the Jewish character of the old Jewish of London, though its character was now quire different and foreign.

The new arrivals were largely very poor and involved in tailoring, cabinet making and shoemaking. Many were exploited, often by other Jews in "sweated labour" which became in time a national scandal. They frequently lived in insanitary conditions and paid excessive rents, often to other Jewish landlords.

Their role in the traditional Jewish area of the City was not so pronounced, as most were not in a position to afford housing in the city, nor in fact to worship, as they found the prices of synagogue membership too much and the style of worship and community too different from what they were used to. There was in fact considerable antagonism between the new arrivals and the established community who felt that the new immigrants would bring the whole community into ill repute and upset the status quo that had been created with the Anglo-Jewry and its host country.

However, this being said, they helped to maintain the city and its Jewish institutions as the major axis of Jewish life despite the fact that many of the older community had moved elsewhere.

Up to the Second World War, Aldgate and Whitechapel, were regarded as the most Jewish areas of the capital. However, the City itself gradually became less of a Jewish center, it became a place to do business rather than to live in. The destruction in the City and the East End wrought by the Second World War largely contributed to this. From a Jewish perspective the destruction of the Great Synagogue and the Beth Din were of psychological importance. Additionally the Jews of the City and the East End were migrating in large numbers to the northern suburbs as they made good. The immediate destination might be Hackney, Stamford Hill or Stoke Newington and the ultimate and most desired destination might be to Hampstead, Golder's Green or the older established Jewish suburbs of Maida Vale or Bayswater. While Jewish institutions and business's often stayed in the city and the East End until the 1950s, and north London Jews had to make a trek to them, these gradually rationalised themselves northwards too. Overall the pattern of Jewish settlement this century in London can be typified as the flight to the fashionable suburbs aided and abetted by the emergence of more extensive public transport systems and the rise of the Jewish "commuter" not necessarily tied to the old Jewish professions or places of work.

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