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.

13 Princelet Street

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.

Inside 19 Princelet Street

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.

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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

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.

Inside 19 Princelet Street

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.

Inside 19 Princelet Street

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.

Inside 19 Princelet Street

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.

Inside 19 Princelet Street

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.

Inside 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.

Inside 19 Princelet Street

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.

Visiting

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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Inside 19 Princelet Street

8 Comments

  • Adam Faith

    Reply

    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.

    March 20, 2019 at 10:48 am
  • Graham New

    Reply

    Were you previously Booth Street? Did James Jones, a silk dyer, have premises at No 37 Booth Street?

    April 22, 2019 at 6:05 pm
  • Stefan Jakobek

    Reply

    The eastern half of Princelet Street (past Brick Lane) was previously called Booth Street. take a look on the Booth Poverty maps of London.

    February 5, 2020 at 11:10 am
  • Robert Whitlock

    Reply

    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.

    January 16, 2021 at 4:44 pm
  • Robert Whitlock

    Reply

    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.

    January 16, 2021 at 5:12 pm
  • Robert Walter Whitlock

    Reply

    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.

    July 8, 2021 at 3:16 am

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