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Jewish East London

Wess letters

The late 19th century saw increasing numbers of Eastern European Jews settling in Britain, fleeing economic hardship and increasingly violent anti-semitic persecution (particularly after the assassination of the Russian Tsar Alexander II in 1881). These primary sources look at different responses to the new Jewish residents in the late 19th and early 20th century.

= This symbol after a link means that it links to catalogue descriptions of the documents (including the reference numbers which will help you to order up the original documents at the MRC).

= This symbol after a link means that it links to digitised copies of the documents.


The MRC holds the archives of William WessLink opens in a new window and Aaron Rapoport RollinLink opens in a new window, two men who left the Tsarist Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th century and settled in London. The collections include documents about their work as political activists and trade union organisers, together with some material about the Jewish communities in London at the turn of the century. The archives also reflect the multilingual environment in which Wess and Rollin lived - although some documents are in English, others are in Yiddish and Russian.

A small number of items relating to protests against proposals by the Home Secretary in 1916 to deport Russian refugees unless they joined the British army are also held at the MRC.

Selected sources:

'Small clouds in the sky'Link opens in a new window, 3 October 1884

Article in 'The Polish Yidel', a moderate socialist newspaper published in London in Yiddish between 1884-1886. The leading article in vol.1, no.11 comments on everyday anti-semitism experienced by East London Jews (as the original is in Yiddish a typed translation has been provided). A follow-up articleLink opens in a new window was included in the next issue . The article and translation have been made available as pdfs, please contact us if you are unable to access this format.

'Jewish East London'Link opens in a new window, 4 April 1887

Hostile article from the newspaper 'St James's Gazette', which outlines the "social, economic, moral, and political questions created by the existence of a vast colony of foreign Jews in Whitechapel and Spitalfields". More (undigitised) newspaper articles on Jewish communities in LondonLink opens in a new window are included in the archives of William Wess.

'The Jewish Community'Link opens in a new window, 1889

Extract from Charles Booth's 'Labour and Life of the People', vol.1, 'East London'. This chapter was written by Beatrice Potter (better known by her married name of Beatrice Webb), and attempts to provide an outline of Jewish settlement and institutions in East London for a British audience. The chapter focuses on the new Eastern European immigrants, rather than the more established Anglo-Jewish community.

Jews in Russia - protest meeting against persecutionLink opens in a new window, 1890

Correspondence about arrangements for a mass meeting in London. Invited speakers included key figures in the British socialist movement and Russian political refugees (including Eleanor Marx, Peter Kropotkin, Sergey Stepniak and John Burns).

'Valentine's Anglo-Jewish Almanac and Diary'Link opens in a new window, 1892-4

Pocket diary and almanac which contains information considered to be useful for an Anglo-Jewish resident of Britain in the late 19th century.

A voice from the aliens: About the Anti-Alien Resolution of the Cardiff Trade Union CongressLink opens in a new window, 1895

Pamphlet, written by Joseph Finn, which was issued on behalf of eleven trade unions or trade union branches which represented Jewish workers. It provides a counter-argument to the "anti-alien" (i.e. anti-foreigner) resolution passed at the 1895 Trades Union Congress.

Newspaper report of an East London protest meeting against the Anti-Alien resolution of the Trades Union CongressLink opens in a new window, 1895

The Whitechapel meeting was reported in the Daily Chronicle.

The proposed deportation and compulsion for Russian subjectsLink opens in a new window, 1916

Appeal on behalf of Russian Jews by the Conference of Jewish Trade Union Committees in London. It includes references to types of anti-Semitism experienced in Britain.