13: Come and be Anglicised: Educating Jewish Children

Podcast Thirteen: Come and be Anglicised
00:00 / 05:43

Address: At the corner of Bell Lane and Frying Pan Alley.

Directions from the previous stop: Head east up Artillery Lane, just a few feet, and turn right at the junction with Bell Lane. Keep to the right hand pavement and stop when you reach Frying Pan Alley on the right.

13 - JFS classroom.jpg

A class at the Jews’ Free School

This simple photograph of a class for girls on making ‘a girl’s pinafore’ contains several interesting details. The first arresting point is the uniform stance of the girls, acting in unison. Before criticising the ‘collective’ pedagogic method as being frightfully infra-dig, please note the size of the class: there are something more than 30 pupils, which most would consider large. More positively, the children are all dressed adequately, in clean-looking clothes. The desks are uniform and in good condition. The seats are ranked upwards, auditorium style, focusing attention on the front of the class. There is an entire wall of glass, leading out into a well-lit corridor. Additionally there are seven visible electric lights hanging from the ceiling. The rear wall is classic late-Victorian, easy-to-keep-clean tiling. A metal beam across the ceiling indicates that JFS was a modern building built around an iron skeleton. All-in-all, the scene is impressive and fairly hopeful. Considering that any Russian-born grandparents and parents, of the children pictured, may well have had very limited if any formal or secular education – particularly the women – and the JFS classroom can be viewed as a veritable gateway between the Pale of Settlement and the rest of the world, no less than the very docks of London!

Photograph credit: JFS

Extract from Children of the Ghetto by Israel Zangwill, 1892

“Moses understood that attitude towards the nature of things. He went out and wandered down another narrow dirty street in search of Mordecai Schwartz, whose address Baruch Emanuel had so obligingly given him. He thought of the Maggid's sermon on the day before. The Maggid had explained a verse of Habakkuk in quite an original way which gave an entirely new color to a passage in Deuteronomy. Moses experienced acute pleasure in musing upon it, and went past Mordecai's shop without going in, and was only awakened from his day-dream by the brazen clanging of a bell. It was the bell of the great Ghetto school, summoning its pupils from the reeking courts and alleys, from the garrets and the cellars, calling them to come and be Anglicized. And they came in a great straggling procession recruited from every lane and by-way, big children and little children, boys in blackening corduroy, and girls in washed-out cotton; tidy children and ragged children; children in great shapeless boots gaping at the toes; sickly children, and sturdy children, and diseased children; bright-eyed children and hollow-eyed children; quaint sallow foreign-looking children, and fresh-coloured English-looking children; with great pumpkin heads, with oval heads, with pear-shaped heads; with old men's faces, with cherubs' faces, with monkeys' faces; cold and famished children, and warm and well-fed children; children conning their lessons and children romping carelessly; the demure and the anaemic; the boisterous and the blackguardly, the insolent, the idiotic, the vicious, the intelligent, the exemplary, the dull—spawn of all countries—all hastening at the inexorable clang of the big school-bell to be ground in the same great, blind, inexorable Governmental machine. Here, too, was a miniature fair, the path being lined by itinerant temptations. There was brisk traffic in toffy, and gray peas and monkey-nuts, and the crowd was swollen by anxious parents seeing tiny or truant offspring safe within the school-gates. The women were bare-headed or be-shawled, with infants at their breasts and little ones toddling at their sides, the men were greasy, and musty, and squalid. Here a bright earnest little girl held her vagrant big brother by the hand, not to let go till she had seen him in the bosom of his class-mates. There a sullen wild-eyed mite in petticoats was being dragged along, screaming, towards distasteful durance. It was a drab picture—the bleak, leaden sky above, the sloppy, miry stones below, the frowsy mothers and fathers, the motley children.”