East End Jews in the 20th century: Brady clubs recalled in new exhibition

The exhibition features 100 images, as well as 30 oral testimonies on the Brady clubs


The life of young East End Jews in the 20th century is explored in a new exhibition focusing on the Brady clubs, which were central to communal activity in the area.

Being held in its former Hanbury Street premises — now a Tower Hamlets Council-run arts centre retaining the Brady name — the exhibition features 100 images, as well as 30 oral testimonies.

It draws heavily on a treasure trove of more than 1,000 pictures discovered in a Clerkenwell attic a few years back and the ongoing efforts of the Bradians’ Trust to preserve the legacy of what was, for decades, one of British Jewry’s foremost venues.

The boys’ club was founded in 1896; the girls’ section was established in 1925 (the clubs amalgamated shortly afterwards).

In the post-war years, thousands would flock through its doors weekly at a time when Jewish connection was particularly important.

One of those leading the project is Bradians’ trustee Anna Perceval, whose parents met at the club as 14-year-olds.

She told the JC that the images covered the period from the 1940s to the mid-1960s, although people were coming forward with other photos and memorabilia, which would add to the digital archive being compiled.

Thirty oral testimonies have been recorded with Brady “boys” by another key project member — Susan Andrews, emeritus reader at London Metropolitan Museum’s School of Art, Architecture and Design.

“We are now going on to girls and couples,” Ms Perceval explained. The subjects, some in their 90s, “are really enthusiastic. They want to tell their stories.

“So many Bradians formed friendships, relationships and businesses. There is a lot of academic interest in the Jewish East End.”

Music hall star Bud Flanagan, singer Georgia Brown, actor Lee Montague and Manchester City and Crystal Palace footballer Barry Silkman were among famous alumni.

Prominent supporters included Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, which doubtless explains why the Fab Four headlined a Brady benefit at Hammersmith Odeon in December 1964.

The Hanbury Street premises also hosted some memorable music nights, notably a performance by Jimi Hendrix in February 1967.

Ms Perceval’s understanding is that Hendrix was booked before he became famous and tried to cancel when the single Hey Joe reached the UK top ten in January of that year.

But the Brady committee was resolute and around 250 members saw the show, Ms Perceval’s father among them: “Dad said he was amazing.”

But as increasing numbers migrated to the new centres of Jewish population, demand diminished and the club closed in 1976. Brady Maccabi was established in North London, running until 2012, and residential weekends for young people were held at Skeet House in Orpington.

The project is being supported by the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe. And some of the collection is also currently on display at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry at an exhibition titled Grown Up In Britain — 100 Years of Teenage Kicks.

Ms Perceval hopes the East End showcase will be a boost to the remaining local Jewish community, “which tends to be forgotten. It’s important to reconnect to people still living there.”

The exhibition is at Brady Arts and Community Centre, 192 Hanbury Street, London E1 5HU until 28 September (closed Sundays)

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