News and Events

Going Digital: Mapping Family Histories of Whitechapel

Posted by Survey of London on June 5, 2017

On Saturday 3rd June we held a fascinating workshop on personal and family histories of Whitechapel at the Tower Hamlets Archives on Bancroft Road. The event was attended by a range of people who represented diverse strands of Whitechapel’s history. Here’s a quick summary of some of the stories we listened to, to give you a flavour of the day:

Sufia Alam opened the session by narrating the story of how her father settled first in Princelet Street in the 1960s, before moving to Yorkshire with his young family. Her uncle remained in the East End, and Sufia and her family would spend summers in Whitechapel where they felt a great connection with the place and the Bangladeshi community living there. After her marriage Sufia moved back to East London and has spent the last 20 years working in local womens’ organisations, including the Jagonari Centre, and she is now the manager of the East London Mosques’s Maryam Centre from where she continues to run programmes for local women.

Another participant, Jackie, grew up on Petticoat Lane in the 1950s and reminisced about how the lanterns on the market stalls were lit up as night fell, as well as eating a lot of smoked salmon. She remembered there were many shoe shops on the street as well as a grocers which was very well known, Mossi Marks, located on the corner of Wentworth Street and Toynbee Street. 

Eleanor Leverington has memories of a happy childhood in Whitechapel before moving later in life further east. Her mother Pat, who also spoke at the event, migrated to the East End from Ireland in 1950. Reflecting back over many years, she felt that Whitechapel has provided a fulfilling home for her and her five children. Meanwhile Denis cast his mind back to his early years growing up on Anglesea Street and attending the well-known Brady Boys' Club.


Also a long-standing resident of the area, Stanley Meinchick and his wife’s wedding was the last to be held at the New Road Synagogue in 1973, he remembered that it was such a small synagogue that they had to walk down the aisle one behind the other. 

Rosemarie Wayland recalled a visit to the home in Old Montague Street of the first Bengali girl to arrive in her class, around 1960. She remembers the girl's mother giving her Jacob's Cream Crackers with strawberry jam, to make her feel at home with "English food", which disappointed Rosemarie whose mouth was watering at the smell of the spicy food the woman was cooking.

Tony Wetjen, spoke about his research into the history of his family, who settled in Whitechapel after arriving from Germany several generations ago. His was one of many families who arrived to work in the sugar refining industry locally. He uncovered the mystery of his Norweigan-sounding surname which he found had been adopted during the First World War to deflect anti-German feeling. As he pointed out, it was a strategy adopted by our own Royal Family when they changed their name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the more English (and manageable) Windsor. 

We are collating the many memories shared, and linking them to sites in Whitechapel to be put onto our map. We are always on the look-out for more, so do contribute yours, either online or simply send us an email.