Subversive actions culminated with the radicalism of the late 19th century. Jewish emigrants from Eastern Europe as well as Russian and German radicals congregated in the Whitechapel area. Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin attended meetings here in 1903, and Joseph Stalin participated in the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which was held in a local church.
East London Mosque
Steps away we stopped on Fieldgate Street where we saw the East London Mosque right next door to the Fieldgate Street Synagogue. This Jewish house of worship was founded in 1899 and was rebuilt after sustaining severe damage as a result of German air raids during World War II. The Mosque right next to it was conceptualized in 1910 and serves London’s largest Muslim community, including a large number of Bangladeshi, Somalian and North African members.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry, established 1570
We also walked past the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the oldest manufacturing company in Great Britain. Established in 1570, this company cast Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell as well as London’s Big Ben. Master founders have existed in Whitechapel since the early 1400s. We also stopped at the remainder of the St. Mary Matfelon Church, a thirteenth century church of which there is nothing left other than a stone outline in a grassy area, the result of a German World War II bombing.
Only the outline is left of St. Mary Matfelon Church
Our last part of the walking tour focused on Brick Lane, a street that was historically the heart of the local brick and tile-making industry in Whitechapel. This is now the centre of the local Bengali community, and dozens of popular curry houses line the street. Brick Lane has become a popular restaurant area, and many artists have started to move into the neighbourhood. Today a street festival was going on, and throngs of people were strolling on Brick Lane.
Stores along Brick Lane
Harry, our expert guide, pointed out the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, a mosque that has been operating here since 1976. For more than 260 years this building has been used for religious purposes. Earlier incarnations of the same building include the Spitalfields Great Synagogue of 1898, a Methodist Chapel dating from 1819 as well as La Neuve Eglise, a Huguenot Chapel built in 1742. This house of worship is a perfect example of the transformations of this neighbourhood, a result of the successive waves of immigrants who have settled in London’s East End.
The Brick Lane Jamme Masjid
We turned left onto Fournier Street, a street originally inhabited by Huguenot silk weavers who needed the large windows of their 18th century houses to provide sufficient light for their detail-oriented work. The entire Brick Lane area has been undergoing gentrification for the last quarter century, and in some cases local houses are now selling for several million pounds.
Some of the weavers’ houses on Fournier Street
At the end of Fournier Street was the final stop of our tour: we stopped at Christ Church Spitalfields, an Anglican Church built between 1714 and 1729. Harry explained that since there was a shortage of churches in the area, the construction of this church was initiated by the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches which had been created by an act of the British Parliament.
Christ Church Spitalfields
Across the street we looked at the Old Spitalfields Market whose buildings date back to 1887. A public market has been in existence here since 1682 and was originally a wholesale fruit and vegetable market. The fruits and vegetables were moved to the New Spitalfields Market in 1991, while the old market today holds various fashion outlets as well as various food and general retailers. Fittingly, Harry finished us off with one final example of a murder by Jack the Ripper which had taken place just around the corner from were we stood.
Entrance to Spitalfields Market