Memories of Whitechapel sought for major digital project

Remember the days when youngsters congregated at the Tower of London on Yom Kippur? Then you are just the sort of person the Survey of London wants to contribute to its Whitechapel archive


Rosemarie Wayland can “talk for hours” on her Whitechapel upbringing, whether about her regular visits to the local baths or the “parade of youngsters” who congregated at the Tower of London on Yom Kippur.

The 66-year-old grandmother, now living near Romford, is one of many who have registered to take part in an initiative to compile the definitive history of the East End neighbourhood.

It is the latest project of the Survey of London, which in its 120-year history, has covered areas from Mayfair to Woolwich and from Covent Garden to Norwood. Formerly under the aegis of English Heritage, it is currently part of University College London (UCL).

For the first time, the Survey of London is producing an interactive digital map of its research, enabling users to log their contributions. No detail is too small, according to Dr Aileen Reid, professional historian and research associate on the project.

“It’s a collaborative history,” she said. “We have created an interactive map of Whitechapel which you can click on. Anybody can access it and add their own memories or photos.

“There’s a big Jewish Whitechapel diaspora, particularly in east London.

“Sometimes people have really detailed family histories. We are also interested in the briefest of anecdotes that you might post on Facebook.”

Mrs Wayland lived in Whitechapel from birth until her marriage in 1977. Besides registering on the site, she belongs to several Facebook groups for former East Enders. 
Born Rosemarie Zetolofsky, she and her family lived on Whitechapel Road where her father had a shop called Silk & Woollens Ltd.

“Most of the people I knew as a child have long gone. Some of the buildings are still there but the character is completely different. It’s changed a lot and I think a lot of people, to a certain degree, miss the way it was.”

She recalled that on Yom Kippur, “all the youngsters from all the shuls would meet up and go to the Tower of London. We would hang out with friends for a couple of hours, then walk back home to eat ourselves silly. Those days are never coming back, which I think is what makes people go online. It’s a way to connect with your past and keep it alive.”

Solicitor Gary Nelson, 53, has posted an image of his family’s sweet shop on the site. Mr Nelson — who has conducted extensive research into his family history — said Posner confectioners had two branches, one on Middlesex Street, the other on Commercial Street.

The picture from the 1920s of the Commercial Street shop has his grandfather Harry in the forefront. Mr Nelson believes his great-grandmother Matilda Posner and great-great grandmother Catherine Nathan are at the window above the shop sign.

In his description of the picture on the website, he wrote: “Family folklore is World War II and rationing caused the business to close.”

Site users clicking on “19 White Church Lane” learn about a pastry chef called Simon Cohen, also known as Simha Becker. Mr Cohen lived at number 32 but used number 19 as a refuge for homeless Jewish immigrants. He named it the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter shortly before it closed down in early 1885. However, a fundraising campaign allowed it to transfer to 12 Great Garden Street, and latterly to 84 Leman Street.

The archive also shows that in 1894, the property at 7-11 Greatorex Street was taken over and within two years became the Great Garden Street Synagogue. At its peak, 1,700 families were members. It was last used for worship in 1997 before being transformed into a business development centre.

Dr Shlomit Flint works part-time on the project. The Finchley-based Israeli architect learnt Arabic and Bengali in order to better communicate with today’s Whitechapel population. She wants more Jews to get involved.

“We want to hear about people’s daily experiences and stories, like where they shopped for bagels or which street corners they would meet  their friends on.

“It’s really important to include the Jewish participation as what we have is imbalanced in favour of the communities who currently live in the area and are highly represented on the website.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive