Food for the Jewish Poor

Brune St, 1986.  Peter Marshall

I came across the Jewish Soup Kitchen in Brune St, Spitalfields in 1986, but I never went inside.  I thought it had probably closed down, but apparently it kept running until 1992, but I was never there when it was open on a Tuesday morning. I was just starting to photograph London in a more serious and systematic manner, and one of the first areas I chose to work was Spitalfields, an area of London that had been part of the Jewish East End, but which had for some years been rapidly losing most of its Jewish population to the northern and eastern suburbs. By 1992 there would have been few Jews remaining there in need of handouts.

Brune St, 1986.  Peter Marshall

Four years after me, in 1990, Stuart Freedman was wandering around the area with a camera and was rather more adventurous (or perhaps just fortunate to be there on a Tuesday morning) – as he writes “After I finished studying Politics at university, I decided I wanted to be a photographer but I didn’t know how to do it,” and he “moseyed in to the Soup Kitchen and said ‘Can I take photographs?’ and they said, ‘Yes.’ “I didn’t realise what I was doing because now they seem to be the only pictures of this place in existence. You could smell that area then – the smell of damp in old men’s coats and the poverty.”

You can see some of the pictures Freedman took in a post on Spitalfields Life,  At The Jewish Soup Kitchen, and it is an intriguing glimpse into the past, but also as he notes, relevant again now as “The poverty is back“, with soup kitchens and food banks again needed. Needed even in relatively prosperous areas such as the one I live in where twice a week my wife goes to help as a volunteer with sorting and delivering food parcels. There is a difference now, as most of the emergencies that require assistance are the result of deliberate and uncaring decisions made by government agencies over benefits. People seem to be refused payments or have to wait several weeks for forms to be processed or have payments suspended without proper consideration. As Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, commented:

“… the administration of social assistance … has become more and more punitive. So if applicants don’t get it right then they have to wait for 10 days, for two weeks with nothing – with nothing. For a country of our affluence, that quite frankly is a disgrace.”

Though perhaps the Archbishop didn’t put it strongly enough. It is more than a disgrace, particularly as it is the result of a deliberate and considered  policy. The clergy at least should recognise evil when they come across it.

You can see more of Stuart’s fine work on his web site, and read his thoughts about some of it and photography more generally on his blog, Umbra Sumus, ‘we are but shadows’… a blog about photography and life in general…


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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