top of page

12: Aliens have landed: Jews as mass immigrants

Podcast Twelve: Aliens have landed
00:00 / 05:27

Address: In a niche, beneath a sign saying “MEN” of the large yellow-brick building in Artillery Lane, London E1 6HQ.

Directions from the previous stop: Face the nearby crossing of Widegate Street with Sandy’s Row, and cross Widegate Street. Head into Artillery Passage (a reminder of Tudor soldiers training here when Spitalfields was still comparatively open ground) until you come out at Artillery Lane. To your right is a noticeably magnificient century shopfront erected during the reign of George II. Pass this Hanoverian gem on your right and cross the lane, taking a berth in the niche of the large sandstone building where, if you look up, you will see a painted sign on the stonework saying “MEN”.

12 - Jewish East London, a map by George

Russell, C., ARKELL, George E, BARNETT, Samuel Augustus, Bryce, James Bryce, Viscount, & LEWIS, Harry Samuel. (1900). The Jew in London. A study of racial character and present-day conditions. Being two essays prepared for the Toynbee Trustees by C. Russell, B.A., and H. S. Lewis, M.A. With an introduction by Canon Barnett and a preface by the Right Hon. James Bryce, M.P. With a new map specially. © British Library

This inaccurate map has sinister parentage. The progressive campaigner for poverty relief and old-age pensions, shipowner Charles Booth, brought a new thoroughness to the analysis of London poverty. His 'Life and Labour of the People in London' went through several editions after its first publication in 1889. The product of painstakingly detailed work, 'Life and Labour' contained colour-coded maps showing degrees of poverty in London streets. The social ‘grades’ used included (in the 1898-99 edition), in shades of blue, “Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family,” “Very poor, casual [labour]. Chronic want.” The lowest ‘grade’, filled in with black ink, was “Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.” Booth’s team of researchers included Beatrix Potter but also a cab driver named George Arkell, a cartographer in his own right. Arkell went on to compile this map, “Jewish East London” for “The Jew in London” by Charles Russell & H.S. Lewis, “A study of racial character and present-day conditions.” Rather than “semi-criminal” poverty, the dark colouring here indicates Jewish density of population. The area covered is far smaller than in Booth’s maps, but the effect is of density, of spread, almost of contagion. Booth was a Positivist, seeking to rectify social problems through information. Arguably, Arkell and his Anglican East End missionary sponsors, intended to present Jewish existence as a problem, and that problem as being ‘worse’ than it in fact was. Connections with the passage of the Aliens Act (1905), which restricted immigration severely, are not spurious.

Extract from The Jewish Chronicle, 13th June 1890

"The Debate in the House of Lords on Monday and Tuesday cannot but be regarded with satisfaction. Lord Dunraven, it is true, made some unpleasant, unkind – and we are bound to add some untrue – references to Jews, but his remarks were more than counterbalanced by the kindly, generous and just words of Earl Derby and Lord Thring, both of whom not merely disproved the allegations of Lord Dunraven, but spoke of the industry, the frugality, and the sobriety of the Jewish working classes. As Mr. Samuel Montagu, M.P., pointed out at the Free School Dinner, there were clear indications in Lord Dunraven’s speech of a bias to the prejudice of the Jewish workman as shown by is ungenerous reference to the creed of the witnesses whose evidence disproved his theories. We should be positively grateful to Lord Dunraven for initiating the discussion. The debate proved the utter groundlessness of the charges so freely and unfairly made that the immigration of foreign Jews has anything to do with the Sweating System. Were the comparatively handful of Jews that reach here from Russia excluded from England, the Sweating System [low-waged labour, usually in the garment trade] would be quite unaffected. Its evils result from economic, industrial, moral and social causes that are beyond the direct control of the legislator.”

bottom of page