Inside 19 Princelet Street – Spitalfields’ Unique Museum
Princelet Street, and the mysteries it hides, never ceases to amaze me.
The early restored 18th century houses look identical, but behind the doors are film producers, architects, a landmark trust property and – most intriguingly – London’ second oldest synagogue.
Nearby Wilkes Street, perpendicular to Princelet Street (usually has less cars to spoilt photo-ops!)
A Particular Address
At no. 19 is the Museum of Immigration and Diversity.
It’s rarely open to the public due to its fragility, but I recently went to an open day for a look inside the time capsule.
The story of Princelet Street and Spitalfields in general is one of immigration. From Huguenots to Irish and Jews to Bengalis, waves of people have made the street their home and left traces of their lives here.
The earliest houses on Princelet Street appeared in 1700 and Number 19 was built in 1719, first home to a Huguenot silk merchant Peter Abraham Ogier.
Other poor weaver families succeeded the Ogiers then later it was home to Irish and Polish immigrants. But the family home changed drastically in 1869, when the back garden was built over and the East End’s first purpose built synagogue installed for the growing Jewish population.
It was Polish Jews that bought the lease for the house and with hard-earned financial contributions from the local community, the synagogue opened in 1870.
It was in use until the 1970s but is now looked after by the Spitalfields Centre charity, a Grade II* listed building that’s on English Heritage’s ‘Buildings at Risk’ register.
Inside 19 Princelet Street
Doorway from the past to the present. A rare glimpse inside the historic site at 19 Princelet Street. Photo © Matthew Andrews / 19 Princelet Street.
When you first enter the crumbling building, you’re reminded – In a collection of languages – to “listen to the building”.
And boy can you feel the ghosts of people, from a myriad of countries, who have walked across these same floorboards.
A magical monument to our cultural diversity. Photo © P Black / 19 Princelet Street.
Looking up you’ll see names of the Jewish congregation commemorated on wooden panels, like “In memory of the late Fanny Reinnalf who died 18 April 1953” who left £7 to the synagogue.
Donations, mainly in guineas, inscribed on the wooden panels to commemorate a beloved family member. Photo © Ed Marshall / 19 Princelet Street.
Israel Sangwill – the eminient 20th century Jewish writer – paints a vivid picture of the lively atmosphere when in its prime;
“The worshippers dropped in, mostly in their workaday garments and grime, and rumbled and roared and chorused the prayers with zeal which shook the windowpanes.”
As well as the museum’s main exhibit: the building itself, there are two installations – Suitcases and Sanctuary created by local primary school groups who contemplate immigration, identity and belonging; and Leave to Remain by 3 refugee artists taking a wry look at the issue of Asylum in Britain today.
A deceptively simple yet powerful explanation of the Irish Potato Famine in the groundbreaking ‘Suitcases and Sanctuary’ exhibition in London’s Museum of Immigration and Diversity. Photo © Ed Marshall / 19 Princelet Street.
In the middle of London’s most diverse borough it’s a place for debate and dialogue on a topic which is integral to London’s history and future.
The internationally praised Suitcases and Sanctuary was thoughtfully designed to harmonise with this fraying monument to our cultural diversity. Photo © Ed Marshall / 19 Princelet Street.
And there are more surprises.
Downstairs, below the synagogue, a basement was created: community space which, in the 1930s, hosted antifascist meetings including those planning the famous ‘Battle of Cable Street’ against Oswald Moseley’s blackshirts.
Suitcases and Sanctuary in the basement of the magical and historic 19 Princelet Street encapsulates the many stories of movement and settlement that have shaped London’s East End. Photo © Morley Von Sternberg / 19 Princelet Street.
More recently, the attic was unlocked in 1980 and writings in a collection of 15 different languages were found apparently left by the mysterious Mr Rodinsky who disappeared in the 1969.
So the house continues to surprise and amaze us.
It doesn’t really do the place justice, to pigeon hole it into the category of a ‘museum’ it’s more of an immersion and I urge you to go and explore it for yourself.
They don’t have anymore listed open days this year, but you can find out the latest events, keep up to date and organise a private group tour on their website here.
NB Photography is not permitted inside so pictures have been reproduced with permission and credits from 19 Princelet Street where captioned.
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My great, great grand parents got married here in 1882 May 30, just before a refurbishment in 1883 I am so happy to this is and has been such an important place.
Wow, thanks for sharing Adam, what a wonderful family connection. I’m hoping they get more funding so can have it open more regularly!
Were you previously Booth Street? Did James Jones, a silk dyer, have premises at No 37 Booth Street?
As far as I know Princelet Street was previous named Princes Street, not Booth Street. I’m unaware if the museum was previously held elsewhere.
The eastern half of Princelet Street (past Brick Lane) was previously called Booth Street. take a look on the Booth Poverty maps of London.
Last few days came across TNA insurance reference to 37 Booth Street, as a policy was held on that property by Nathaniel Whitlock and George Pocock, chemists, in 1833. So far no other reference found. Presently looking for info on Whitlock, who was born in 1770 in Nottingham and who married Mary Pocock in 1828. No record of his death yet.
1885 map of Spitalfield area surrounding Christ(s) Church shows Princes Street; however, east of Brick Lane was shown as Booth Street. The street along the north end of the church was known as Church Street.
I recently came across a reference to 37 Booth Street, via TNA, where an insurance policy was held by George Pocock and Nathaniel Whitlock, chemists, against the property in 1833. Whitlock was born in Nottingham in 1770 and married Mary Pocock in 1828. Have not yet found Whitlock’s death record, or much information about Pocock.
Robert Walter Whitlock
An update on Nathaniel Whitlock. The Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties Friday 19 August 1836, “on the 14th instant, Mr. Nathaniel Whitlock, aged 66 late of this town, and of Booth-Street, Spital-fields, London, deeply regretted by his widow, relatives and friends… page 3 of 4. There are records regarding the bankruptcy of George Pocock which follow.
My great great grandfather, Abraham Heiser, was the founding secretary of the synagogue in 1869. Now I just need to obtain access to the building to view all the commemorative plaques!
My Great-Grandparents, Abraham and Eva (nee Jacobs/Jacobsohn) Davis were married here on 27th May 1888. I have both their normal marriage certificate and the Jewish marriage certificate competed b the officiating Rabbi. They lived at 34 Boyd Street, off Back Church Lane at the time. I know that Davis was the surname adopted by Abraham’s father, Woolf, when he came to England from Poland, possibly because the authorities and he could not fully explain the correct name. It is possible that David was his middle name that became corrupted to Davis. I must try to visit on an open day in the hope that I may discover some answers.
A post-script to my previous post. ‘competed b’ should have been ‘completed by’.
I have discovered that another Woolf Davis lived in Whitechapel at around the same time and also had a son called Abraham who, along with his brothers, was instrumental in many of the buildings constructed in the surrounding area. This particular Woolf Davis married Rachel Magnus and that family is not the one from which I am descended.
I wonder if you could kindly help me. I am doing some research on Met police superintendant, William Fitzmaurice Pierse who lived at number 17, Princes Street with his family from 1835-1846. The 1841 census seems to show no.17 as an end house – the current number 17 certainly isn’t. Does anyone know when the numbers changed.
Any information would be greatly appreciated.
I don’t know the date the numbers changed off the top of my head I’m afraid Lee, however if you’ve tried Dan Cruikshanks’ Spitalfields that is an excellent book all about Spitalfields and I think details the name (and number changes) on most Spitalfields streets