Arcadia Court, formerly 90 to 222 Wentworth Dwellings

1886 block of flats with shops at 30 to 50 Wentworth Street and 36 to 48 Goulston Street to ground floor

Jewish Workhouse, 123-4 Wentworth Street (demolished)
Contributed by Survey of London on July 16, 2018

Between 1871 and 1876, Nos 123-4 Wentworth Street (site of later Nos. 46 and 48, part of Wentworth Dwellings), was briefly the Jewish Workhouse, an attempt to provide welfare to Jews unable to work, who were denied the opportunity for religious observance in Christian workhouses, especially at the end of their lives. Its founder and first President was Solomon Abraham ‘Sholey’ Green (1830-99), a fishmonger and sometime landlord of the Freemasons’ Arms at 70 Goulston Street, from an extensive family much involved from the 1820s in Jewish relief work in Whitechapel and its surroundings, including his uncle, Levi Ephraim Green (1784-1858), and his father Abraham (1793-1852).1 Donations enabled Green and his supporters to take over the lease of a pair of unpretending houses, one door away from the west corner of Old Castle Street, and it opened on 4 April 1871, with fourteen inmates. It was established in the face of opposition from both the Jewish and official English establishments - a whiff of anti-Semitism surrounded suggestions from the latter that such an institution merely attracted ‘foreigners’ to come and enjoy an easy life in England. The Jewish Board of Guardians, somewhat defensively, broadcast their intentions to encourage mainstream workhouses to accommodate Jewish dietary and other requirements. Usually, however, objections were couched in financial terms. The Poor Law Board complained about the cost of maintaining paupers from ‘elsewhere’, while both they and the Jewish Guardians had misgivings about the class of people involved in running the institution and their ability to raise sufficient funds: most donations in its founding year were under £1, many being collected by Green himself, soliciting coppers from traders in Petticoat Lane.[^2 ]

The name ‘workhouse’ was misleading (‘no stones to break, no sickening concoction of oatmeal to gulp down’), as it aimed only to provide succour to the aged and infirm and, most importantly, to prevent the break up of couples and families whom Green rescued from workhouses across London, and from other parts of England.3 One of Green’s more excitable critics referred to ‘certain loud-mouthed, impulsive orators’, and the workhouse as ‘a five-roomed house with a large “kennel” in the back yard for the inmates to sleep in… of which house the President of the workhouse was landlord… (I understand the… “kennel” has …. [just been] done away with).’4 This was one of the improvements made in 1873 when the party wall between the two houses was demolished to make a single large dwelling to accommodate more than twenty inmates, and a garden was created out of the back yards. A glowing description was published in the Jewish World (perhaps not entirely impartial because Green’s cousin was on the paper’s staff) and was picked up and quoted by the East London Observer. The workhouse was described as a ‘specimen of cleanliness, order and even salubrity’, among the ‘filthy dwellings, squalor… and misery’ of Wentworth Street.5 The street door opened in to ‘a spacious hall, well sanded, containing two very long tables covered with snow-white cloths… Round the fire were seated a few of the inmates, male and female, talking and chattering as if they knew no worldly care’. On the first floor was a room fitted up as a synagogue, the Ark containing two scrolls ‘covered with pretty damask mantles’.6 Daily morning services were conducted by Albert Kisch (1845-1929), who also provided medical care free of charge.7

Green and the Board of Guardians settled their differences in 1875 and the Workhouse was renamed the Jewish Home, with the experienced organiser and philanthropist Frederick David Mocatta (1828-1905) as the new President, and it moved to more commodious premises at 37-39 Stepney Green in 1876.8 Merged with two other small charities founded in the 1840s by Green’s father and uncle (the Hand-in-Hand Asylum for Decayed Tradesmen and the Widows’ Home, both in what became Ensign Street, Whitechapel) the institution became part of the new Home for Aged Jews in 1894. Following numerous moves and amalgamations, this is still in existence as the Nightingale in Wandsworth.9 The building at 123-124 Wentworth Street was demolished in 1884 as part of the Metropolitan Board of Works Goulston Street Improvement, and one of the Wentworth Dwellings blocks was built on the site.10

  1. Alex Jacob, ‘No ordinary tradesmen: The Green family in 19th-century Whitechapel’, Jewish Historical Studies, 33 (1992-4), pp. 163-73 

  2. Jewish Chronicle (JC), 24 Feb 1871, p. 10; 5 May 1871, p. 9: 15 Sept 1871, p. 11: 1 Dec 1871, pp. 7-9: 15 March 1872, p. 7: 22 March 1872, pp. 4-5 

  3. East London Observer (ELO), 4 Oct 1873, p. 7 

  4. JC, 6 Sept 1872, p. 311 

  5. JC, 6 Dec 1872, p. 496: ELO, 4 Oct 1873, p. 7: Jacob, op cit, p. 165 

  6. ELO, 4 Oct 1873, p. 7 

  7. ibid: JC, 19 Dec 1873, p. 644 

  8. JC, 16 June 1876, p. 166: C. Adler and I. Singer, eds, The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 8, New York and London 1894, p. 637 

  9. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), LMA/4456 

  10. LMA, District Surveyor's Returns 

Site of Goulston Street Graffiti
Contributed by amymilnesmith on July 17, 2016

During the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888, one of the few pieces of evidence was discovered in the doorway of the Wentworth Dwellings on 30 Sept September 1888. A bloodied piece of  Catherine Eddowes' apron was discovered in the doorway of 108-119 Wentworth Dwellings. A police constable also noticed writing on the wall nearby. He transcribed the writing into his notebook and called for advice on what to do next. Superintendent Thomas Arnold explained what happened following this:

"I beg to report that on the morning of 30th Sept. last my attention was called to some writing on the wall of the entrance to some dwellings No.108 Goulston Street Whitechapel which consisted of the following words "The Jews are not [the word 'not' deleted] the men that will not be blamed for nothing", and knowing that in consequence of a suspicion having fallen upon a Jew named 'John Pizer' alias 'Leather Apron' having committed a murder in Hanbury Street a short time previously a strong feeling ['ag' deleted] existed against the Jews generally and as the buildings upon which the writing was found was situated in the midst of a locality inhabited principally by that sect. I was apprehensive that if the writing were left it would be the means of causing a riot and therefore considered it desirable that it should be removed having in view the fact that it was in such a position that it would have been rubbed by the shoulders of persons passing in & out of the building. Had only a portion of the writing been removed the context would have remained. An Inspector was present by my directions with a sponge for the purpose of removing the writing when the Commissioner arrived on the scene." 1

Arnold did not think the graffiti was necessarily relevant to the case (as it might have been pre-existing) and given the heightened anxiety in the neighbourhood, he ordered the offensive (and rather confusing) words to be removed.

  1. The National Archives (TNA), HO 144/221/A49301C, ff.197-8, Supt Arnold's report, 6 November 1888 

Arcadia Court and shops in Wentworth and Goulston Streets
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Rehan Jamil discusses the Pakistani and Sikh community when he lived in Wentworth Street in the 1970s

Rehan Jamil who grew up in Spitalfields and Whitechapel interviewed about his memories of Arcadia Court, when it was still called Wentworth Dwellings, and the people who lived there.

Contributed by Shahed Saleem on Sept. 13, 2016