84B Whitechapel High Street

Tenement house in Angel Alley, built in 1869, later a George Yard Mission shelter and since 1968/9 the Feeedom Press and Bookshop

Angel Alley
Contributed by Survey of London on Sept. 12, 2019

Angel Alley, named after the Angel Inn at 85 Whitechapel High Street and reached via a simple doorway through No. 84, exists now only as an access passage to the Freedom Press and its bookshop (No. 84B). Its east side is formed by the Whitechapel Gallery’s extension of 1984–5, and the alley has terminated since 1899 beyond the Press in a slight dogleg that once led to a straight narrow path north to Wentworth Street.1

In the seventeenth century the southern half of the alley’s east side formed part of John Enion and Samuel Cranmer’s large holding that ran through to what became Osborn Street. This included a large house, probably that occupied on and off by Richard Loton and his son and grandson, Edward and Samuel, from the 1650s to the 1690s, and in the 1670s by John Wells, the brewer and business partner of Abraham Anselme, tenants of Loton’s Swan brewery in the 1660s and 1670s.2

Angel Alley’s late seventeenth-century occupancy was varied. Residents in the 1670s included Samuel Pepys’s lover Deb Willet and her husband Jeremiah Wells.3 In the 1680s and ’90s the mathematician Euclid Speidell lived here, his first name indicating that his father, who published on logarithms, as did Euclid, was also a mathematician. While he taught ‘next door to the cock in Bow Street’, in Angel Alley he published and sold his books.4

Until the early eighteenth-century advent of sugar refining, many Angel Alley residents were involved in the cloth trades. By the 1670s there were short rows of small houses on the east side by the High Street, and further north on both sides, probably mainly occupied by lowly clothworkers. Some were not so lowly. Peter Stone, a silk thrower who died in 1686, lived in a nine-hearth house here in the 1660s and ’70s, probably the largest house on the west side.5   Further south on the west side, by 1693 until his death in 1729, was John Cordwell, a citizen framework-knitter. He was implicated in another feature of Angel Alley, the practice of independent-minded religion. In 1719 Cordwell raised a subscription for a publication by Richard Welton, the high- church Tory Jacobite former Whitechapel rector who had been deprived of his living in 1715 for refusing to swear allegiance to George I. Government agents raided Welton’s chapel in Goodman’s Fields in 1717 and he and forty others were arrested. It was at Cordwell’s Angel Alley house that Welton was again apprehended in 1724; he soon departed for Philadelphia.6

Most nonconformity in Angel Alley and wider Whitechapel was of a quite different stripe. In 1672, under the Royal Proclamation of Indulgence allowing the licensing of Nonconformist worship, Richard Loton’s houses in Spitalfields and Angel Alley were licensed for worship led by John Langston and William Hooke, Congregationalist ministers; the Angel Alley licence was never taken up. Loton was a clothworker turned brewer who had been an energetic Parliamentarian and Independent in the 1640s.7

Around 1714 a congregation of Particular Baptists, who had previously met in Tallow Chandler’s Hall in the City and in Alie Street, built a small meeting house on the west side of Angel Alley under the pastor John Nichols who was succeeded from 1715 to 1729 by Edward Ridgeway. Tax on this meeting house was paid in 1743–5 by Samuel Stockell, ‘Sam the potter’, who was a ‘High Calvinist’ from the Petticoat Lane area, and minister of the Independent meeting in Redcross Street, Southwark, from 1728 till his death in 1750. The site in Angel Alley was still referred to as ‘ground belonging to the Meeting’ in 1766.8

The decline of the meeting house coincided with the rise in Angel Alley of sugar refining. Samuel Lane, a sugar refiner and distiller, had premises on the east side by 1719, on part of what had been Cranmer and Loton’s holding, that included a timber-framed house, possibly Loton’s. After Lane’s death in 1741 the sugar house was enlarged and improved by his son Joseph who died in 1753. By 1732 Cordwell’s house on the west side had been taken over by John Bromwell, another refiner who also had a sugar house in Leman Street. Bromwell rebuilt the Angel Alley sugar house on a modest scale and after his departure in 1741 it passed to John Arney. Burnt down in 1749, a common occurrence in the industry, it was rebuilt by John Titien, in partnership until his death in 1757 with John Christian Suhring, who by the time of his death in 1777 had extended the sugar house to occupy the whole site between Angel Alley and George Yard.9

A measure of increasing affluence in Angel Alley once sugar refiners established themselves is the description in 1765 of the household goods of the refiner Nicholas Beckman who had taken over Lane’s premises on the east side, with a ‘great Variety of rich Household Furniture … a very elegant wrought Epargne … large services … most beautifully painted in Landscapes and Figure … cut glass lustres with twelve arms to each’.10 After Beckman left, his premises were taken over by Frederick Rider, a refiner who went bankrupt in 1773 also in possession of a substantial estate at Woodford. Rider’s property, including the sugar house, had at £1,350 one of the highest insurance values in Whitechapel in 1767. It included a two-storey house, 34ft by 19ft, four rooms of which were fully panelled, three with marble mantelpieces. There was also a three-storey timber building for servants’ rooms, possibly Loton’s former house, plus a large coach house and stable. The roomy brick house and new sugar houses were enlarged again by William Pycroft and Samuel Payne, Pycroft later operating with William Wilson. By the late eighteenth century, Angel Alley’s sugar houses tended to form parts of larger businesses with premises elsewhere. Associated facilities appeared, such as the sugar cooperage of two brothers, Jonas Gandon (1756–93) and Peter Gandon (1761–1814), whose father Jonas (1726–?) had a leather business in Hooper Square in the 1760s. The brothers began in a small way on the alley’s west side near the corner with Wentworth Street in 1790, and by the time of Peter’s bankruptcy in 1805, the site included a house on Wentworth Street, a three- storey workshop and warehouse, 175ft long and 40ft wide, with a long narrow yard on its east side fronting the west side of Angel Alley. Gandon decamped to Osborn Place, Brick Lane, to more general coopering, continued there by his descendants till the 1840s.11

Suhring’s west-side sugar house survived as a refinery under a succession of owners – his nephew John Gask let it in 1777 to Jeremiah Glover, who expanded the premises, which grew again from 1783 under Richard Samler (d. 1816) and Thomas Ferrers, Samler being part of a family with extensive sugar houses in the City and elsewhere in Whitechapel.12

Pycroft’s east-side sugar house was sold in 1806 when the premises extended east to Osborn Street. It was last used as a sugar house about 1826 by Walton, Fairbank & Co. who also had premises in Lambeth Street.13  By 1852 it had been taken over by Ind Coope, whose former Coope sugar refinery on Osborn Street adjoined its north side. A beer-barrel warehouse, which survives, was built on the Angel Alley side of the site. Sugar refining was moving further east and south, where there was room for expansion. Other businesses took over the buildings in Angel Alley.

John Kelland’s City Saw Mills, first established on Wenlock Basin, City Road, in the 1820s, and on Wentworth Street by 1834, expanded to take over a long narrow site that snaked down the west side of Angel Alley, previously that of the Gandons’ cooperage. By 1843 Kelland had premises that consisted of buildings several storeys high including mills, machinery rooms, stables and an engine house at the south-west corner, the source of a devastating fire that year. The site was cleared in 1882.14

Angel Alley suffered decline in the nineteenth century, like most of the streets and courts north of the High Street. Many houses fell to use as ‘low’ lodging houses, charging 3 d. a night. On his visit to ‘the Back of Whitechapel’ in 1861, John Hollingshead deplored the impression he gained that the ‘best paid occupation appears to be prostitution and it is a melancholy fact that a nest of bad houses in Angel-alley, supported chiefly by the farmers’ men who bring hay to Whitechapel market twice a week, are the cleanest-looking dwellings in the district. The windows have tolerably neat green blinds, the doors have brass plates, and inside the houses there is comparative comfort, if not plenty.’15 The East London Association ‘established for the suppression of vice, etc’ pursued prosecutions of brothel-keepers and succeeded in closing twelve establishments in Angel Alley and Wentworth Street by the end of 1862. In an effort at mitigation, a lease of four houses at the north-east end was acquired in 1875 at the Rev. Samuel Barnett’s suggestion by Edward Bond and the Earl of Pembroke, for improvement and letting to respectable tenants.16 One was occupied in the 1880s by the Salvation Army ‘slum sisters’, later at 78 Wentworth Street, but the houses were demolished around 1892 when Gustav Wildermuth’s lodging house was built in Wentworth Street.

Further south in Angel Alley the George Yard Mission had expanded into a building on the west side by 1876. In 1886 the Mission erected two new buildings opposite replacing old houses: Shaftesbury House, used as a library, office, kitchen and caretaker’s rooms, and a new infants’ school. Opened by the Duchess of Teck, these were the work of the architect John Hudson, the infants’ school having some architectural presence, its windows elaborated with pediments. Its basement was used originally for boys’ industrial classes, the ground floor as day and infant schools and in the evenings for clubs and benefit societies, the first floor for what would now be called youth work with young men and women, including ‘ambulance classes’, as well as Bible classes. The second floor had three rooms for a crèche and nursery, open in its early days from 7.30am to 8pm. The flat roof was intended for use as ‘a prettily arranged encampment for babies’ in the summer’.17

Angel Alley was reduced to the rump that it is today in 1899 when the Whitechapel District Board of Works expanded its George Yard depot across its northern part. The George Yard Mission buildings were sold off in 1923: Shaftesbury House became 84C Whitechapel High Street and was in use as a tailor’s before it was badly damaged during the Second World War and demolished around 1947. The infants’ school survived until about 1982 when it was demolished to make way for the extension of the Whitechapel Gallery.

  1. Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), L/WBW/11/9 

  2. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA),LMA/4453/F/01/001: Hearth Tax returns 1674–5 

  3. Ancestry: Kate Loveman, ‘Samuel Pepys and Deb Willet after the Diary’, The Historical Journal, vol.49/3, Sept 2006, pp.893–901 {p. 896} 

  4. The Mathematical Gazette, vol.18/231, Dec 1934, p.310: LMA, Land Tax returns (LT): London Gazette, 18–21 June 1688, p.2 

  5. Hearth Tax returns 1666, 1674–5: The National Archives (TNA), PROB11/384/253 

  6. Weekly Journal or British Gazette, 23 February 1724: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB): Ancestry 

  7. Keith Lindley, ‘Whitechapel Independents and the English Revolution’, The Historical Journal, vol.41/1, March 1998, pp.283–91: G. Lyon Turner, Early Nonconformity under Persecution and Indulgence, 1911, pp.237,254,440: Charles Ray Palmer, ‘Revd William Hooke, 1601–1678’, Papers of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, vol.8, 1914, pp.56–81 {76–7}: _ODNB, sub _Hooke and Langston 

  8. F. J. Powicke, ‘The Salters’ Hall Controversy’, Congregational Historical Society Transactions, vol.7/2, November 1916, pp.110–24 {p.114}: Walter Wilson, The History and Antiquities of Dissenting Churches and Meeting Houses in London, vol.3, 1810, pp.309–17; vol.4, 1814, pp.424–6: Joseph Ivimey_, A History of the English Baptists … 1668 to 1760_, vol.3, 1830, pp.533–41 

  9. TNA, PROB11/710/246; PROB11/1032/1581754: LMA, LT; MDR/1739/5/54 

  10. Public Ledger, 23 Aug 1765, {p.3} 

  11. LMA, LT: Ancestry: Post Office Directories (POD): Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 16 June 1774: Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 15 Dec 1805, p. 397: Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 17 Feb 1806, p. 3: Derek Morris, Whitechapel 1600–1800, 2011, p.25 

  12. LMA, LT; O/203/9; CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/314/482462 

  13. POD: Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 17 Feb 1806, p.3: LMA, LT 

  14. POD: Morning Advertiser, 25 March 1834, p.4: The Globe, 18 Sept 1843, p.3: Perry’s Bankrupt Gazette, 18 Jan 1862, p.9: East London Observer (ELO), 5 Aug 1882, p.8: LMA, MBW/1838/5 

  15. Morning Post, 21 Jan 1861, p.4 

  16. Shoreditch Observer, 6 Dec 1862, p.2: ed. C. S. Loch, The Charities Register and Digest, 1890, p.575 

  17. ELO, 30 April 1887, p.7: Loch, p.428: Census: The Builder, 8 May 1886, p.698: London County Council,Creches or Day Nurseries: Report of the Chief Officer of the Public Control Department, 1905, pp.14–15 

The Freedom Press and Bookshop, 84B Whitechapel High Street
Contributed by Survey of London on Sept. 12, 2019

Despite its address, this curious survival of both evangelical and radical Whitechapel is located in Angel Alley. It is a four-storey stock-brick building, exposed on three sides, narrowing towards the north end which is canted to follow the curve in the alley’s direction. The site was historically part of the Angel Inn at 85 Whitechapel High Street and was used as a yard from which Thomas Gardner ran his hay and straw business from 1825 to 1865. The building was new in 1869 when its lease was offered for sale to ‘Owners of Small House Property’, described as ‘a newly erected tenement, containing 10 rooms with yard and washhouse, in Angel-alley, at the back of the “Angel” wine vaults’.1 After use as a general lodging house, by the end of 1876 it was occupied by the George Yard Mission, connecting to the ragged school across the back of 86 Whitechapel High Street. It was adapted as a shelter for the schoolchildren, and in 1901 housed five boys and girls aged from four to fourteen, a matron, and two domestic servants. The building had ceased to be a shelter byabout 1910, and was sold with the Mission’s other Angel Alley properties in 1923. At least partly residential in the 1920s, 84B Whitechapel High Street, as it had become, was used through the 1930s by Morris Mindel and Abraham Sorotkin, bookbinders, singly or in partnership.2

No. 84A, opposite, the Mission’s former infants’ school, was then occupied by Express Printers, a firm specialising in printing in Hebrew and Yiddish that expanded into No. 84B during the Second World War. On the death of the printer in 1944, the business was acquired at a bargain price by Vernon Richards (1915–2001), an anarchist activist who was able to recoup some of his costs by selling the Hebrew type.3

Richards had been born Vero Recchioni, the son of an Italian anarchist who owned a café in Soho. Since 1936 Richards had been a contributor to the anarchist newspaper Freedom. This traced its origins to 1886 when Henry Seymour and Charlotte Wilson, a former Fabian, invited Peter Kropotkin to England. That October Wilson and Kropotkin began publishing Freedom: A Journal of Anarchic Socialism (soon changed to Anarchistic Communism) as a monthly newspaper from William Morris’s Socialist League offices. From 1889 the Freedom Press also published books by a wide range of socialists, positivists, communists and anarchists, from Morris and Kropotkin to Herbert Spencer and Emma Goldman. The organisation prospered, in 1897 taking over Commonweal, Morris’s former journal, and the printing presses of William Michael Rossetti’s three children, who had founded a short-lived anarchist journal, The Torch, at 127 Ossulston Street in Somers Town, where the Freedom group remained until 1927.4

Vernon Richards began contributing to Freedom during a period of flux when the journal and press had no fixed home. This changed in 1944 when he acquired Express Printers, which began printing Freedom, although editorial work continued elsewhere until 1945, often in the homes of the group’s editors and contributors. The Freedom group had been under investigation since the beginning of the war. Soon after the acquisition of Express Printers, with the war still on, Richards, his wife and fellow activist, Marie Louise Berneri, Dr John Hewetson, Freedom’s publisher, and Philip Sansom, another contributor, were charged and the three men sentenced to nine months in prison for publishing encouragement to insurrection among the armed forces in War Commentary, published by the Freedom Press.5 The formation during the trial of a Freedom Press Defence Committee which included influential establishment progressives and free-speech advocates from Herbert Read and George Orwell to Bertrand Russell, Harold Laski and Vera Brittain, helped ensure relatively lenient sentences. Printing continued in the ‘decrepit brick dungeon’ in Angel Alley and more stability came with offices at 27 Red Lion Street, Holborn, from 1945 to 1960, through which period Colin Ward, the housing and planning historian, was an editor. Freedom Press had first opened a bookshop in Red Lion Passage, off Red Lion Street, in 1940, only for it to be bombed out in 1941.6

Anarchism is notoriously factional and the 1960s saw Freedom supplemented by enterprises such as Black Flag and, from 1983, Class War, suspicious of the intellectual, bourgeois, libertarian streak represented by Read, now a regular contributor to Freedom. For more than sixty years Freedom Press’s financial viability was ensured largely through the efforts of Richards, who had a knack for extracting funding from ‘anarchists made good’ (and even from ‘anarchist picnics’ in the United States, often attended by sympathetic Italian Americans).7

The single most propitious act for the group’s survival was Richards’s acquisition in 1968 of the freeholds of both Nos 84A and 84B; on the death of the previous owner, the son offered these at an attractive price. Printing and editorial functions were united in Angel Alley. There was theft and damage to printing equipment (supposedly by ‘Hell’s Angels’) when the buildings were squatted by students, unconcerned about security – ‘packed bodies, lit by lamps and candles, slept on mattresses’.8 Freedom moved out of No. 84A in 1969 and into No. 84Bhaving strengthened its ground floor to take the printing presses. No. 84A, the old school, became offices for a shipping agent and by 1975 had been sold to the Whitechapel Gallery, which converted the building into a lecture hall and bookshop, landscaping the site of Shaftesbury House (No. 84C), before demolition in 1982 for the gallery extension on the site of Nos 84A and 84C.9

Presses occupied the ground floor at No. 84B until the Aldgate Press, founded in 1981, took over the printing of Freedom. From around1997 till it moved to Bow in 2015, this was from a unit in Sherrington Mews in Gunthorpe Street. In 1982 Richards transferred the ownership of No. 84Bto a trust (‘so it could survive in the event the Collective didn’t’), the Friends of Freedom Press Ltd. From around then, the ground floor was an almost impenetrable labyrinth of stocks of books and copies of Freedom. The bookshop was in one of two first-floor rooms until about 2005, the other was used for typesetting then, once printing was done off-site as a ‘hacklab’. The second floor was originally an archive of papers, books and pamphlets, later an editorial office. The top floor was a store and an office for ‘A’ Distribution, set up in Islington in 1980.10 Since the 1980s the newspaper’s readership has dwindled and in 2014 it ceased to be a monthly paper, moving online as a newsletter, with occasional paper publication. In its place the bookshop, occupying the ground floor since soon after 2000, and publishing have increased in importance and scope. The ‘clapped-out four-storey pile preserved, in the main, as a corner of east London eccentricity’11has also provided office space for other protest and radical groups, including the National Union of Mineworkers (during the 1984 miners’ strike), the Anarchist Federation (founded in 1986), the Advisory Service for Squatters, Corporate Watch, Haven, the London Coalition Against Poverty and Solidarity Federation, and as a place for other anarchist groups to meet and give talks.12 In 1996 black-and-white illustrative panels were installed in the alley’s entryway. A further rectangular steel panel was added within, on the back part of 85 Whitechapel High Street, near the door to the Freedom Bookshop, with black- and-white portraits of thirty-six radicals, more or less classifiable as anarchist, including Peter Kropotkin, Noam Chomsky and Emma Goldman. These are by the cartoonist Donald Rooum (b. 1926), who has been associated with the Freedom Press since 1942.13 The bookshop’s persistence and its location next to the Whitechapel Gallery, mean it has attracted the attention of artists and curators beyond anarchist circles. For the Gallery’s Protest and Survive exhibition in 2000 the artist Thomas Hirschorn built a temporary enclosed bridge across the Alley from the Gallery to the temporarily removed first-floor window of the Freedom Bookshop.14 In 2016 Wayward, a landscape, art and architecture practice, collaborated with the Freedom Bookshop, Whitechapel Gallery and Providence Row to create Literalley (a library in an alley), seating, planters and a digital library in Angel Alley. Wayward developed workshops with homeless clients and volunteers to build concrete planters cast from a library of books. Embedded in the project are digital recordings of interviews, stories and conversations, accessible only in the alley. The planters are cared for by Providence Row’s residents and staff.15

Freedom’s activities have attracted more oppositional attention, from the police up to the 1980s, and by political antagonists more recently. The shop has been firebombed twice, in 1993 by the neo-Nazi group Combat 18, and in 2013 by unknown assailants, burning or water-damaging much stock and part of the archive. Volunteer assistance saw the shop open again in days. Virtual support of Freedom’s aims has included the digitisation of its archive of more than a thousand issues of Freedom dating back to 1886. In 2015 a survey revealed significant structural problems in the roof, walls and staircase of No. 84B. Freedom has been fundraising for repair work.16

  1. East London Observer, 26 June 1869, p.8 

  2. London Metropolitan Archives, MBW/2635/20: Census: Post Office Directories (POD) 

  3. Rob Ray, A Beautiful idea: History of the Freedom Press Anarchists, 2018, pp.71–2 

  4. Ray, pp.12–14: freedompress.org.uk/history/: libcom.org/history/londons-anarchist-hq-127-ossulston- st-1894-1927 

  5. Liverpool Echo, 9 March 1944, p.6: Ray, pp.82–5: The National Archives, HO45/25553; HO45/25554 

  6. George Woodcock, ‘The State of Letters: Half a Life of Editing’, Sewanee Review, vol.89/3, Summer 1981, pp.408–18 {p.413}: Ray, pp.70,87: search.iisg.amsterdam/Record/1117750 

  7. Ray, pp.88–90,94,144–6 

  8. Iain Sinclair, ‘Rooms of Recovery’, Guardian Review, 18 April 2009, p.18: Ray, pp. 139-40 

  9. Ray, pp.139–40: POD: Tower Hamlets planning applications online (THP) 

  10. www.aldgatepress.co.uk/about/: Ray, pp.xx: freedomsbigrebuild.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/the-big-rebuild-may- update/www.leftontheshelfbooks.co.uk/images/doc/Radical-Bookshops- Listing.pdf:freedomnews.org.uk/history/ 

  11. Morning Star, 10 Feb 2013 

  12. freedomsbigrebuild.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/the-big-rebuild-may- update/www.youtube.com/watch?v=7juTVY_ikJI&t=36s 

  13. THP: spitalfieldslife.com/2012/04/03/donald-rooum-anarchist-cartoonist/ 

  14. THP: Sophia Phoca, ‘Protest and survive’, Third Text, 2000, pp.100–3: Julian Stallabrass, ‘Cashing In’, New Statesman, 2 Oct 2000 

  15. www.wayward.co.uk/project/literalley-literally-library- alley 

  16. freedomnews.org.uk/roger-pearce-infiltrated-freedom- press/ www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KJOVteDMnEfreedomsbigrebuild.wordpress.com/: freedomnews.org.uk/archive/ 

Climbing the stairs
Contributed by michaelshade on May 23, 2017

My relative, Lewis Levin, was living here at the time of his death in 1927.

Lewis (Leibisch) Levin was a brother of my great-grandmother Mikhlya. He was born in 1861 in Streshin, a little village on the river Dniepr, in what is now the south-east of Belarus. In the early 1900s he came to London accompanied by his three children from his first wife, who had died a few years previously, and his second wife with her own daughter. They found somewhere to live in the heart of the East End, where tens of thousands of East European Jews had settled over the previous 20 years or so.

My own grandmother - Lewis' niece - came to London soon after, aged about 18, and stayed with the Levins, probably helping to look after the children. Within a couple of years there were two more boys, and they moved from one accommodation to another, always along Whitechapel High Street and Mile End Road, presumably to have more room for the expanding family. In every document, and in various trade directories, Lewis is a 'Paper Bag Maker', even sometimes a 'Master Paper Bag Maker'; his own children, and my own young uncles and aunts, were all roped in to work in his paper bag factory, which was mostly located on the kitchen table.

We knew that he had died in 1927, aged 67, and that he was probably living on his own by this stage - his second wife had died when the boys were very young, his older children had all left home for marriage, America, or the Russian Revolution, and the younger boys didn't see their futures in paper bags and left home to work elsewhere and to put themselves through night school.

The figure of Lewis has long fascinated me, and a few months ago I ordered a copy of his Death Certificate, to see if it could offer up anything new about him. And so it did - an address: "of 84B Whitechapel High Street". So now we knew where he had been living at the time of his death.

The next time I was in the area I looked for the building. Next to the Whitechapel Library I found number 82; a few doors down was number 87. The two or three buildings in between did not appear to be numbered, but I assumed 84B would be one of them and duly took a photo as evidence.

My cousin Beatrice, Lewis' great-grand-daughter, is currently in London visiting from the US. Beatrice's grandfather Sam had been involved in the Workers' Circle, a friendly society established to further the interests of working-class East European Jews, from the 1910s onwards, and her mother Alice was active in the Yiddish theatre movement from the 1930s.

Yesterday afternoon Beatrice and I went on a 'Musical Walk round the Jewish East End', organised by the Jewish Music Institute, and guided by the historian David Rosenberg (highly recommended, by the way). The Workers' Circle and Yiddish theatre both featured in David's programme for the walk.

The group met outside the Library, and then David led us off down a narrow alleyway between two of the neighbouring buildings - Angel Alley. There on the right a notice was pinned to a door: 'This is NOT 84B, it's 84A. 84B is opposite!' You can hear the exasperation in the printed words. You can probably also hear my involuntary intake of breath, for 84B turns out to be the premises of Freedom Press, the long-established Anarchist publishers and booksellers.

David was going to tell us about some of the radical figures and groups that flourished in the area 100 years ago, but Beatrice and I were just standing there, minds racing, staring at the building.

After the walk, we grabbed David for a chat over a superb falafel lunch, then made our way back to see if the Freedom bookshop at 84B was still open. It was. We explained why we had come, and asked the lady in the shop if she knew how the building was being used in 1927. She kindly went off to find a book containing a history of the organisation - and its premises - which told us that at least before 1942 there had been a printing press occupying the ground floor.

"Would you like to see upstairs?" I had to ask her to repeat the question, partly because I don't hear very well, but mainly because I couldn't believe what I had just heard. Upstairs? Lewis must have lived upstairs, 85 years ago. We took a deep breath, and followed her up. The staircase, banisters, walls, and some of the doors, looked as though they had had nothing done to them in 100 years or more.

She took us into one of the rooms, and we discussed the layout. The room we were standing in had a structural beam across the middle, and we reckoned it had probably originally been two rooms. On the landing there was a blanked-off door which confirmed this.

So we sat, and stood, in one half of the room, looking out to the brick wall opposite (the Library building, in fact), and tried to imagine a bed, and a chair, and a table. Where was the sink? There probably wasn't one, he'd have had to bring water in from the bathroom. Was there even a bathroom? How did he cook? Did he cook?

But it was the stairs that got me. He must have gone up and down these stairs every day for months, maybe two or three years. And here we were, treading the same steps, holding on to the same worn banisters, knocking on doors - his door, maybe - to feel the wood.

He fell ill here, and died at the London Jewish Hospital down the road in Stepney Green. I've just looked at the Death Certificate again. He died on 20 October 1927. Just 85 years and one day before we came to visit him.

Free to read
Contributed by Rrudall1

Stairs of 84b Whitechapel High Street
Contributed by michaelshade

Freedom Bookshop, 84B Whitechapel High Street, in early 2021 during lockdown
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Steve Meinke on the firebombing of the Freedom Bookshop, 2013

In 2013 the Freedom Bookshop was firebombed and books and archives lost or damaged.This short clip includes an interview with Steve Meinke, part of the collective that runs Freedom, and shows the damage inside the shop.

Contributed by Survey of London on June 20, 2019

The clear-up at the Freedom Bookshop, 2013

As soon as the Freedom Bookshop was firebombed on Friday 1 February 2013, people came from all over London to help with the clean-up, and the shop reopened on the Monday.

Contributed by Survey of London on June 20, 2019

Mary describes the Freedom Bookshop

Some thoughts and scenes inside and outside the Freedom Press building

Contributed by Survey of London on June 20, 2019

2012: Postcards from East London 7: Angel Alley

As part of the London Olympics High Street 2012 project, young women from the Central Foundation School performed and filmed a series of dances around Whitechapel High Street

Contributed by Survey of London on June 21, 2019