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The birth of the East Ender: neighborhood and local identity in interwar east London.

The East End of London plays a unique role in the British national imagination. An area redolent with historical and cultural associations, from Jack the Ripper to the Krays, from The People of the Abyss to EastEnders, the East End is Britain's most famous urban neighborhood. William Fishman, the area's most noted historian, has claimed that the East End "has a uniqueness of character which transcends period and generation." David Feldman and Gareth Stedman Jones, referring to the phenomenal success of EastEnders, have called it "the favoured setting for the national fantasy of everyday life." (1) The central place of the East End in British culture can be traced back to the late nineteenth century, when social explorers often chose East London as the ideal locale for their investigations into the lives of the working classes. (2) These explorers presented the East End, despite its geographical proximity to the centers of national wealth and power, as remarkably distant from the norms of British society. The East End was "outcast London," the "Abyss," a place of shocking economic deprivation and criminality. In contemporary British culture, however, the East End has taken on a new significance. The East End is now one of the great symbols of authentic working-class life, the heartland of that quintessentially working-class figure, the Cockney. (3) The "decline" of the British working class has been mourned since at least the 1950s, and the East End has become the primary locale for the romanticization of working-class life that pines for the "good old days" before a variety of transformations, both economic and demographic, began to remake the face of urban Britain. (4) But what in particular is being celebrated in these salutes to working-class life? In 1979 William Fishman bemoaned the loss of "the little streets and their ancient communities," (5) and community is perhaps the key term for appreciating this Cockney ostalgie. The communal spirit of working-class life is the central feature of the world that is increasingly seen as lost. (6) The East End has come to symbolize this rich urban culture of the working classes before the Second World War, and this is a powerful theme in the autobiographies and memoirs of the area's former residents. In the words of former East Ender Sid Berg, "on an evening, a summer evening ... when it was very warm, we'd sit on in the garden on the ground ... and neighbors and friends would walk by, come in for a cup of tea or whatever.... Now, these days ... you don't see that anymore. And I think that, you know, we've lost a lot." (7)

This strong sense of community is seen as a crucial component of the Cockney spirit, which allowed members of the working classes to overcome their poverty, their poor living conditions and, eventually, even the bombing campaigns of the Luftwaffe. As Ron Barnes says of his street in Bethnal Green: "There was poverty there all right. There was violence too. There was sickness and distress. There was hatred and malice. There were bugs, fleas, dirt and dampness. But the people who lived there overcame them all with their natural love and communal instinct. I don't think such closeness and sense of duty to your neighbour will ever be seen in London again." (8) In the view of East Ender Louis Heren, this communal spirit was the great contribution of London's working-class culture: "Cockneys had something to offer, the ability to live peacefully and happily in a crowded urban environment. Its passing will be regretted one of these days." (9)

For historians of the Jewish East End, the primacy of "community" in discussions of the East End has presented something of a conundrum. If it is assumed that the East End was characterized by a rich communal culture, a key question to ask would be to what degree Jewish East Enders were part of that culture, of that community. Discussion of this issue has generally focused on the issue of anti-Semitism, trying to discover how prevalent anti-Semitic attitudes were in East London and to what degree these attitudes impacted the lives of Jewish East Enders. Historiography on this subject has generally been divided between two polar opposites--accounts that portray East End neighborhoods as riven by anti-Semitism, or accounts that argue that the East End was characterized by harmonious cohabitation. (10) The reason for this wide divergence is that, to some degree, focusing on anti-Semitism is to take the wrong approach. Examples of anti-Semitism can easily be found, but counter examples of friendly relations or at least quiet tolerance are also not difficult to locate. To view the East End through the prism of anti-Semitism does not help us to understand the place of Jews in East End life, particularly in the interwar period. In order to do that we must return to the issue of community, and clearly distinguish between two very different meanings of this term. In order to grasp the ways that Jews in the East End related to their non-Jewish neighbors we need to differentiate between two very different kinds of communities. The first is the local community of neighborly assistance, celebrated in working-class autobiographies for providing a security blanket for its members. This is a very localized notion of community--the working-class street in which doors were unlocked and neighbors helped one another in times of need. Secondly there is the notion of the East End as community--a working-class neighborhood brought together under a common identity. (11) These two are sometimes confused, particularly in autobiographies and memoirs. Jewish East Ender Aubrey Rose, for example, implies that the Jewish East End was one vast network of mutual support: "The Jews of the East End were one big family, at least my part of the East End. Talk about extended families, we were an extended family of thousands." (12) However the localized community of cooperative assistance and the larger community of the East End should not be confused. In fact, these two communities were to some degree conflicting, and it was in part the destruction of the first that made the creation of the second possible. The broadening of horizons that helped to create a new East End identity in the interwar period also began to weaken the bonds of the local community. Separating these two makes it easier to understand the place of Jews in the East End. For the most part, the localized communities of Jews and non-Jews were completely separate. The neighborhood networks which were the backbone of these communities rarely included both Jewish and non-Jewish families. Jews played a crucial role, however, in the creation of the larger community of the East End. Such a community did not predate their arrival, and was only born late in the interwar period. In this sense, Jews were among the first true East Enders, in the sense that they consciously identified themselves as such. Both of these communities were built on personal relationships, but with very different results. The localized community was created through the daily interactions of the residents of a street or neighborhood, mostly women. The East End community, and the East End identity that was created along with it, was also built through a series of personal interactions that developed in the interwar period. In this case, however, the community that was created was not the intimate, face-to-face community of the working-class street, but a largely imagined community that gave birth to that quintessential working-class figure, the East Ender.

The localized communities of working-class neighborhoods had been born in the late nineteenth century, and community life remained a central feature of these neighborhoods into the interwar period. (13) The importance of the local community is a staple of autobiographies and memoirs from the period. In the words of B. Ackerman, who lived in Spitalfields, "the community life was marvelous; something which we lack so much today." (14) The central aspect of this communal culture was economic--the local community was, above all else, a response to the common poverty of the area's residents. As Alexander Hartog recalls, "it's a surface thing now, but in those days you cared deeply about your friends and relations and co-religionists. Before the war there was a camaraderie, a warm feeling you would never starve." (15) The physical basis of the working-class communities recounted in oral histories and autobiographies was very small--the street or neighborhood, not the large subdivisions of the East End such as Poplar or Stepney, and certainly not the entirety of the East End itself. Local identities were built on the immediate surroundings of the working-class home.

What was the actual nature of these working-class communities? Autobiographies and memoirs often portray the local community as an all-encompassing entity--a complete world that included all members of the street or neighborhood. As Joanna Bourke has argued, however, the rosy memories of community present in working-class autobiographies should not be taken at face value. (16) For example, working-class neighborhoods were much more divided than the conventional notion of community would indicate. (17) In contrast to the accounts of many autobiographies and oral histories, East End neighborhoods were filled with divisions, fractured by conflict, competition, and suspicion. The neighborhoods of the East End were divided in almost innumerable ways, as the poverty shared by almost all East Enders did not necessarily produce feelings of unity and sympathy. It was just as likely to produce jealousy and competition over the few resources that residents of East End neighborhoods possessed. There was, as Paul Johnson has argued, a "curious mixture of neighborliness and isolation" (18) Within these neighborhoods there were complex gradations of respectability, where factors such as cleanliness, of both homes and persons, were major determinants of local status. (19) Even those families who experienced success, whether economic or educational, were not sources of communal pride, but were resented for their ability to "get on." As East Ender Doris Bailey recalls, she and her sister were both called "stuck up" by their neighbors--Doris for her grammar school uniform, and her sister for her relationship with a man of a higher social station. (20) This does not mean, however, that the entire notion of community needs to be abandoned. It does indicate, however, that a more nuanced understanding of local identities, and of the specific contexts in which community did have tangible meaning, needs to be developed.

Although community in the sense of a tightly-knit group of people sharing a common outlook did not apply to working-class neighborhoods, this does not mean that there was no identification with the street or neighborhood. Working-class neighborhoods, despite their divisions, could provide some sense of belonging, a local identity that provided meaning for residents. (21) This was particularly expressed in relation to outsiders. While competition and jealousy may have divided the residents of a particular street, in relation to outsiders this was still "our street." Newcomers were greeted with suspicion and even hostility. (22) Other outsiders, particularly the police, were even more unwelcome. As Elizabeth Flint recalls of an unpopular neighbor who still had the support of the street in a confrontation with the law: "it was not that we liked Lil, but neither did we like coppers overmuch either." (23) As with any imagined community, residents of East End neighborhoods were most sure of who they were when there were outsiders to remind them. In times of crisis residents of a neighborhood could overcome their divisions and close ranks against the outside world. This is why, in Joanna Bourke's words, working-class neighbors are best seen as "allies, rather than as friends." (24)

In terms of lived experience the local community had the most power for two groups--children and women. For children the local community was territorial--turf to be protected from outsiders. As Doris Bailey recalls of her street in Bethnal Green, "an Englishman's home may be his castle, but the cockney fellow's street was his kingdom, and not lightly trampled on by outsiders. Even we small girls felt this bristling pride of belonging.... I can well remember 'Get out of our court,' whenever children from the main street came down there to play." (25) This territorial aspect of local communities was most important for boys, as they took part in the street battles that defined and reinforced territorial boundaries. As Mick Mindel, a resident of Spitalfields, recalls, "we used to run around the streets and visit other territories in groups. Sometimes end up in fights or quarrels." (26) The territorial battles fought by boys made the boundaries of their local community very real, as they were regularly reinforced through confrontation and conflict. While these boundaries may have seemed impermeable to boys, for adult men they had little meaning. They did not define the boundaries of their world in any significant way. Emanuel Litvinoff, for example, recalled a local street which terrified him as a child, but through which he walked without hesitation once he was "big and fairly robust." (27)

For women the local community had a very different meaning. For women these communities were a cooperative survival network, providing resources to members of the community in times of need. (28) In the classic nostalgic recollection, all the residents of the street knew one another, helped one another, and looked out for one another. As John Gorman recalls, "there always was a very close community spirit in the East End, if somebody was ill then the neighbor would do the shopping if somebody was old or infirm, or for any reason, they couldn't cook, then the neighbor next door would cook them a dinner and give them a dinner, it was always like this." (29)

How did Jews fit into these very narrowly defined local communities? Jews began arriving in the East End from Eastern Europe in large numbers starting in the late nineteenth century, although Jewish immigration essentially ceased after the First World War. Jewish immigrants were entering an area in which local communities were already well-established. Working-class communities were notoriously unwelcoming to outsiders, not just immigrants from Eastern Europe, and the arrival of large numbers of Jewish immigrants in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries did provoke some resentment among the existing East End population. (30) Jews and non-Jews had little to do with one another in this period, and the anti-Alien agitators who attempted to make political capital out of Jewish immigration had some success in the East End around the turn of the century. (31) This situation has given rise to what might be called the two communities view of East End history. In this version the East End consisted of two entirely separate populations, largely hostile to one another.

There is a great deal of truth to the view that the East End was divided during the period of immigration, particularly territorially. For the most part, Jews and non-Jews lived in fairly well-defined neighborhoods and streets. In Jewish neighborhoods, just as in non-Jewish ones, territoriality was crucial in the lives of boys, as groups of Jewish boys defended their streets and courts just as vigorously as their non-Jewish counterparts. These neighborhood street battles often took on the appearance of Jew vs. Gentile, although this was little more than an ethnic gloss put onto a territorial matter. As Willy Goldman recalls, "anti-semitism ... never amounted to anything more serious than a kind of game. It was largely a pretext for staging occasional 'battles' between the Jews and Gentiles." (32) While the territorial community existed for young Jewish boys, the community of mutual support also existed for Jewish women, as the recollection of one life-long resident of Stepney illustrates: "We didn't have much to eat, but, there was nothing to pinch we were all alike and we all cared for one another. If one of the neighbors made a great big saucepan of soup, out of bones you know, cheap, everybody had, everybody had a plateful. She'd go round, 'you got dinner today?' Everybody shared, what we had." (33) Compared to non-Jewish areas, however, the neighborhood was perhaps less important for Jewish women, as they could rely on the wide array of philanthropic services provided by the Anglo-Jewish elite and thus did not need the help of neighbors to the same degree. (34) It was very unusual for Jewish and non-Jewish women to be members of the same support network, given the importance of food in these networks and the fact that most Jewish East Enders, even those who were not religiously observant, continued to follow the dietary laws. The story of Lou Levene's brother indicates how unusual it would have been for this barrier to be broached: "He was, had a heart complaint, and he was weak you know. And his doctors said he's to have, he's gotta have something to build up his strength, and it was bacon, which was good for him to build up his strength. And my mother said, 'well I'm not having bacon in this house.' So, this Christian family, opposite to us you see ... he was very friendly with them ... and, he spoke to Mrs. Casey, and asked her if she would, if she would make him bacon every morning for his breakfast.... My mother bought a frying pan for her as well, said she was to keep just for Joe, just for his bacon. And he used to go and have bacon every morning [laughs]." (35) So the local communities constructed by East End Jews were remarkably similar to those constructed in non-Jewish neighborhoods. The main difference in Jewish neighborhoods was the significance of neighborhood contacts for men, especially older men. Particularly during the period of immigration, Jews in the East End often lived in the same streets with those from the same towns in Eastern Europe. The small local synagogues favored by the immigrant generation followed this pattern, so that for adult men, at least those who were religiously observant, the community of the neighborhood played an important role in their religious and social lives. (36) By the interwar period, however, these synagogues were dying out, and so in Jewish neighborhoods the sense of community among residents was often no more powerful than in non-Jewish neighborhoods of the East End.

Both Jews and non-Jews in the East End created local communities based on territory and networks of support. For the most part, however, these communities were mono-ethnic. There are those who claim that the local community knew no boundaries when it came to religion or ethnicity, but these accounts are very much in the minority. Many non-Jewish autobiographies make little or no mention of Jews, even in cases where Jewish neighborhoods must have been only a few streets away. Even those that do discuss the Jewish presence, like Grace Foakes's, still remember the East End as consisting of separate communities: "The East End of London was truly cosmopolitan.... Each group of people had their own community and if you ventured among any one of them it was as if you were in another country. Each group kept its own language and we cockneys were quite shut off from them." (37) Because the localized communities of Jews and non-Jews generally did not mix, it is not surprising that so many Jewish autobiographies and memoirs portray a communal life limited to Jews. In this shetetlized version of East End history the Jews of the East End were a community apart. As Bernard Kops recalls, "it was a self-imposed ghetto, but a happy world. And there was a spirit of community as in a village. People were involved in each other's lives, and not for the wrong reasons. Now, looking back, I see it was a desperate time--but then it meant security, and happiness. It was my world, and Aldgate East was the outside frontier of that world, a world that consisted mainly of Jewish people." (38) The ethnically homogeneous nature of these localized communities was the origin of the hostility recalled by many East End Jews. Although anti-Semitic attitudes did exist in the East End, it was often the case that hostility directed at Jews was the typical rivalry between different streets and neighborhoods. This was particularly the case for young boys, who engaged in the territorial battles that defined the boundaries of the local community. Bill Belmont recalls often violent relations between the Jewish and non-Jewish parts of his street in Spitalfields: "'The street' was the focus of our lives and an absolute extension of the house one lived in. It was the unit, and all who lived in it owed a loyalty to every other street-dweller. When we first moved into Grey Eagle Street this was a bit difficult, because it was at the very edge of the ghetto ... We were, in fact, Jews who were encroaching on to Christian territory--and we were made very aware of this. Grey Eagle Street was not very long--about 150 yards--with a pub at one corner and a small grocery shop at the other. It was roughly divided by race--the southern half being mainly Jewish and the northern half almost entirely Christian. This led to almost daily fights between north and south--fist-fights usually, but, occasionally, more seriously pursued with lengths of wood and iron bars." (39) This kind of violence, however, was unusual. Because Jews and non-Jews generally did not establish close social relations, particularly through neighborhood networks of support, there was usually some degree of distance between them. Despite this, however, once Jews were well-established in the East End they were largely accepted as legitimate residents of the neighborhood. This was clearly revealed in a survey on anti-Semitism conducted by Mass Observation in 1938. Very few respondents offered either openly anti-Semitic or pro-Semitic responses, but perhaps more revealing is what they did say. Common responses stressed that Jews were "all right," that they fit in. More detailed answers, however, are revealing. One respondent stated that "the Jews are all right. They're neighbourly. They don't interfere with me and I don't interfere with them." (40) What is most striking about this answer (and the many responses like it) is the notion that neighborliness implied being left alone. Jews were not part of networks of support, but could still be seen as good neighbors.

The localized communities that provided meaning and tangible assistance to some East Enders were breaking down in the interwar period. Richard Hoggart famously argued that working-class communities were weakened by American-style consumerism in the 1950s, but this phenomenon actually began earlier, particularly in London. New consumer goods such as the wireless were beginning to make inroads in the 1930s. As a result working-class culture was becoming less street-oriented, and more focused on the individual home. Although the localized community of the street was becoming less important, the same factors that produced this change were also leading to the creation of a new community--the community of the East End. For the first time an East End identity was born, in which individuals identified themselves with the entire area, and not just their street.

The causes of this development were a series of changes in work, leisure, and politics that marked the interwar period. These areas created new opportunities for East Enders to reach beyond their immediate neighborhoods, to become familiar with the East End as a whole. While earlier an East Ender's sense of belonging had been limited to the immediate surroundings of the neighborhood, the interwar period saw new sites of personal contact, contacts that would form the basis of an expanded notion of belonging in the East End. Crucially, this newly-created sense of belonging included the East End's Jewish and non-Jewish populations.

For many East Enders, this expansion of horizons began in the schools of the London County Council. As young children East Enders tended to move in fairly circumscribed environments, largely consisting of the family and the street. This was the period when their East End was limited by the dictates of territoriality. In school, however, young people came into contact with a more diverse group of people--diverse in geography and in some cases in religious and ethnic background. Schools were often the first place, for example, when Jews and non-Jews interacted on a regular basis. While there were certainly occasions when this caused tension within schools, it usually did not do so. As East Ender Ralph Finn recalls of the students of the Whitechapel Foundation School, "being at school brought me into real contact for the first time with non-Jews.... We mixed as though there were no barriers. Made close friends with boys of different religious beliefs. Worked and played together as if we were, which we were, all members of the human race." (41)

While the example of schooling demonstrates that boundaries between Jews and non-Jews were always permeable, the schools of the L.C.C. were not sufficient to be the basis of a common local identity. This could only take place in the interwar period, when larger socio-economic and political developments created new arenas for interpersonal contact in East End life. From the beginning of Jewish immigration to the East End economics had provided a site of contact between Jewish and non-Jewish residents. In the early period of immigration most contact took place in street markets and through itinerant street sellers. These helped to break down the isolation of localized communities, as the memories of Anna Tzelniker illustrate: "All the people knew one another, and cared for each other's wellbeing, and all of the people living in Bromehead Street were Jewish. I think a non Jew would have felt very much the odd man out in such a closely knit Jewish community, so no one ventured in, except the milkman, the postman, the dustman, the window cleaner and the rag and bone man." (42) While these means of contact persisted into the interwar period, this period also saw the development of new areas of interaction between Jews and non-Jews, particularly in the area of employment. The East End economy was being transformed in the interwar period, creating new arenas for contact between all East Enders. In the early period of Jewish immigration to Britain most Jews worked in the immigrant trades of tailoring and cabinet making. These were industries that were almost entirely staffed by Jews. Reinforcing this separation, many of the other major occupational categories in the East End, such as the dockworkers, were devoid of Jewish employees. This economic separation began to break down in the interwar period. While the immigrant trades remained important sources of employment, they were increasingly being displaced. Young Jews, both men and women, were more likely to move into other industries, or into work as shop assistants or office clerks. (43) Crucially, these industries drew from both the Jewish and non-Jewish populations of the East End for their labor force. Thus the world of work became a crucial point of contact between Jews and non-Jews in the East End. Jewish East Enders like Bessie Perkin, for example, established close relationships with non-Jews at work. (44)

Commercial leisure was another point of contact in the interwar East End. In the late nineteenth century this was not a common space for Jews and non-Jews, partly because commercial leisure was much more undeveloped in this period. But it is also true that the leisure activities pursued by Jews and non-Jews in the late nineteenth century were markedly different. The most popular forms of leisure among the non-Jewish population, particularly the music hall and the pub, had little appeal among East End Jews. The synagogue was often their main social outlet, while the most popular form of secular entertainment was the Yiddish theater. In the interwar period, however, a common commercial culture had developed that included members of both the Jewish and the non-Jewish populations. As a result, a much wider array of leisure opportunities was available in this period. As one former Jewish East Ender recalls, "our age group had our clubs, sport, cinemas, [and] dance halls." (45) Sport was particularly important for young men, both as participants and as spectators. Following a football club was an important way of expressing affiliation with a local community, one that was larger than the street or neighborhood. (46) Football had little appeal for the immigrant generation, as illustrated by the views of Ralph Finn's grandfather: "grown men running around like meshuga, med. Footbollick. Nothing with nothing." (47) Young men, both Jewish and non-Jewish, often displayed their allegiance to the local community through their support of the most popular clubs in the East End: West Ham, Arsenal, or Spurs. The cinema, which by the 1930s dominated working-class leisure, could play a similar role for young women. (48)

Politics was the final location of more frequent and intense interpersonal contacts between Jews and non-Jews. Partly as a result of the expanded suffrage put in place in 1918, which gave the vote to both women over 30 and also extended the vote to all men, political parties, particularly the Labour party, put more emphasis on grass-roots organization in the interwar period. (49) This resulted in more intense political activity at the local level. Particularly in the heavily politicized 1930s, when the East End was the focus of a campaign by the British Union of Fascists to gain national attention, Jews and non-Jews interacted regularly in the political sphere. This was often through political parties, particularly the Communist Party, which at the time was the most vigorous anti-fascist organization. As Joe Jacobs, a Jewish member of the C.P., recalls, "I was getting to know more of East London.... We were meeting dockers, seamen, municipal workers, builders, transport workers, and so on." (50) Similarly, another Jewish East Ender recalls of his time in the Young Communist League, "we got our education, we learned how to mix with Christian[s], not to be suspicious of 'em." (51) Raphael Samuel has argued that the Communist Party was "a way of being English, a bridge by which the children of the ghetto entered the national culture." (52) It is also true that the C.P. was a way of being an East Ender, a further means of developing a new local identity for the East End.

The existence of this new local identity was most visibly demonstrated in 1936, at what has become known as the Battle of Cable Street. On October 4 a scheduled march by the British Union of Fascists through the East End was blocked by a group of protestors and was unable to proceed. What has always been seen as the most significant element of the Battle of Cable Street was the diverse nature of the crowd that prevented the march. According to one East Ender present at Cable Street, "we saw Jews, orthodox Jews with long silk coats and soft felt hats and the sidepieces standing shoulder to shoulder with Irish Catholics ... and Somali seamen." (53) It is this diversity that needs to be explained. The B.U.F.'s campaign in East London centered on anti-Semitism, and thus it could be argued that non-Jewish East Enders had little at stake at Cable Street. Their participation in the Battle of Cable Street, however, illustrates the degree to which they now accepted Jews as part of the expanded neighborhood of the East End. (54) Lou Levene, who had been chased out of Wapping in his youth, recognized the significance of the broad-based participation from across the East End at Cable Street: "You know the people in Wapping were supposed to be anti-semitic, it was the dockers from Wapping who played a big part in driving the fascists away. And, I'll always remember that, because it was a sort of a, a contradictory thing to happen. Here we were chased away from Wapping and here were the dockers from Wapping helping the Jews ... get rid of Mosley out of the East End." (55) From a young age East Enders were taught the importance of territory, and to some degree the East End, a new community in the making, was protecting its turf from the outsiders of the B.U.F. The way that Lou Levene remembers this event is very significant: "It was a victory for the whole East End. Because they weren't going to have the fascists go through." (56)

The Battle of Cable Street signified the creation of something entirely new, a sense of neighborhood that now included not just the street, but the entire East End. A series of socio-economic and political changes in the early twentieth century had created the context in which more meaningful interpersonal contacts could develop, and these were the basis of a new localized identity. While this East End was not a community in the sense that this word has usually been applied to working-class neighborhoods, there were real ties that bound the residents of the area together. Jews and non-Jews were now allies, if not friends.

The term "the East End" has had a number of meanings in British history. In its original form it was merely a geographical expression, whose origins lie in the eastward expansion of London beyond the City in the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth century the East End became a powerful metaphor, a symbol of the urban problems of poverty and crime. In the interwar period, however, the East End took on its most recent, and in many ways most powerful, form. For the first time, the East End took on real meaning for its inhabitants, who moved beyond the limitations of street and neighborhood to develop a sense of belonging that encompassed the entire East End. In many ways, the East End became a kind of community, although a different kind of community than in usually implied when this term is used in reference to working-class neighborhoods. Instead it was a community in many ways just as imagined as national communities, although firmly based on a history of interpersonal relations. Crucially, the East End community that was born in the interwar period was a multiethnic community, one reason this image retains so much power and appeal in contemporary multicultural Britain. Gareth Stedman Jones has argued that the image of the Cockney in contemporary British culture is largely conservative, as there is little room in the Cockney stereotype for disruptive behavior or ethnic difference. (57) While the image of the East Ender has a different history from that of the Cockney, it suggests that there are more varied possibilities in nostalgic views of working-class life. East Enders expressed their new-found sense of self in a massive act of civil disobedience at Cable Street, and did so in defense of a notion of local identity that was open and inclusive. This is one reason why the image of the East Ender remains such a powerful one in twenty-first century Britain. In contrast to the reputation of an area like Southwark, seen as very much the stomping ground of the "white working class," the East End's diversity has been part of its continued appeal as a symbol of working-class community. (58) This community gained national prominence during the Blitz, when the cheerful good humor and dogged determination of the East Ender became one of the primary symbols of Britain's resistance to Nazi Germany. (59) Thus an image of working-class community has become the newest, and most powerful, example of the East End as metaphor. In contemporary British culture the East End signifies many things, but above all else it is shorthand for a particular view of working-class community. This continues to be the case despite the fact that the neighborhoods of the East End have been ravaged in the past sixty-five years by bombs, out-migration, economic hardship, and so-called "redevelopment." The East End community created in the interwar period may no longer exist in the streets of the area, but looms large in the imagination of contemporary British culture. And the East End identity created in the interwar period remains a powerful one for the area's residents, even those, like Sid Berg, who moved away long ago: "I say that I was, that I was an East Ender, you know, with pride. When anybody asks me where I came from, I'm proud to say that I was born within the sound, you know, of Bow Bells and I'm an East Ender.... We lived a certain way of life, that was sort of, you know, great poverty there sometimes. But there was a camaraderie that, we don't get today." (60)

Department of History

Caldwell, NJ 07006


1. William J. Fishman, The Streets of East London (London, 1979):7. David Feldman & Gareth Stedman Jones, "Introduction," in Metropolis London: Histories and Representations since 1800, ed. Feldman & Jones (London & New York, 1989): 1.

2. Deborah Epstein Nord, "The Social Explorer as Anthropologist: Victorian Travellers among the Urban Poor," in Visions of the Modern City: Essays in History, Art, and Literature, ed. William Sharpe & Leonard Wallock (Baltimore, 1987): 123.

3. Cockneys were not always firmly associated with the East End, but clearly have been since the Second World War. Gareth Stedman Jones, "The 'Cockney' and the Nation, 1780-1988," in Metropolis London, 276.

4. For nostalgic celebrations of the Cockney, see Jones, "'Cockney' and the Nation," 272-73. On the "decline" of the working classes see Eric Hopkins, The Rise and Decline of the English Working Classes, 1918-1990: A Social History (London, 1991).

5. Fishman, Streets of East London, 10-14.

6. Postwar studies of the working class tended to argue that working-class culture was being undermined through suburbanization and a new conformist mass culture. See Chas Critcher, "Sociology, Cultural Studies and the Post-War Working Class," in Working-Class Culture: Studies in History and Theory, ed. John Clarke et al. (London, 1979): 17-18.

7. Sid Berg, interview with author, London, 21 April 1994.

8. Ron Barnes, Coronation Cups and Jam Jars: A Portrait of an East End Family through Three Generations (London, 1976): 81-82.

9. Louis Heren, Growing Up Poor in London (London, 1973): 207.

10. See the discussion in Tony Kushner, "Jew and Non-Jew in the East End of London: Towards an Anthropology of 'Everyday' Relations," in Outsiders & Outcasts: Essays in Honour of William J. Fishman, ed. Geoffrey Alderman & Colin Holmes (London, 1993): 33.

11. John Benson distinguishes between the working-class neighborhood, by which he means networks of reciprocity, and working-class community, by which he means an identity developed by those with shared attitudes and beliefs. John Benson, The Working Class in Britain, 1850-1939 (London & New York, 1989):118. While this approach has its uses, it obscures the degree to which working-class identities were often very localized and based on neighborhood networks.

12. Aubrey Rose, "A Memoir of the Old East End" (Unpublished MS, 1990):3. The Jewish Museum London (Finchley Location) #E 738.

13. These communities were most powerful, and most enduring, in poor urban neighborhoods like the East End. Benson, Working Class in Britain, 126-131.

14. B. Ackerman, interview with Jerry White, 6 December 1973, transcript p. 1, Tower Hamlets Local History Library.

15. Alexander Hartog, Born to Sing (London, 1978): 17.

16. Joanna Bourke, Working-Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity (London & New York, 1994): 136-69.

17. Bourke, Working-Class Cultures in Britain, 150. See also Melanie Tebbutt, Women's Talk: A Social History of 'Gossip' in Working-Class Neighbourhoods, 1880-1960 (Aldershot, 1995): 87-91, and Ross McKibbin, "Why Was There No Marxism in Britain," in The Ideologies of Class: Social Relations in Britain, 1880-1950 (Oxford & New York, 1991): 11.

18. Paul Johnson, Saving and Spending: The Working-Class Economy in Britain, 1870-1939 (Oxford, 1985): 227.

19. Bourke, Working-Class Cultures in Britain, 161-162.

20. Doris M. Bailey, Children of the Green: A True Story of Childhood in Bethnal Green, 1922-1937 (London, 1981): 102.

21. While I would agree with Bourke that the working-class communities portrayed in autobiographies are largely "retrospective construction[s]," she perhaps overstates her case in implying that this is all that they were. Bourke, Working-Class Cultures in Britain, 169.

22. Standish Meacham, A Life Apart: The English Working Class, 1890-1914 (Cambridge, Mass., 1977): 50.

23. Elizabeth Flint, Hot Bread and Chips (London, 1963): 57.

24. Bourke, Working-Class Cultures in Britain, 159.

25. Bailey, Children of the Green, 6.

26. Mick Mindel, interview with Jerry White, 22 March 1976, transcript p. 26, Tower Hamlets Local History Library.

27. Emanuel Litvinoff, Journey through a Small Planet (London, 1993): 30.

28. Ellen Ross, "Survival Networks: Women's Neighborhood Sharing in London before World War I," History Workshop 15 (1983). Also Meacham, A Life Apart & Tebbutt, Women's Talk, 74-97.

29. John Gorman, interview, 16 October 1975, BBC Catalog #T36730-02, National Sound Archive.

30. On the difficulties of newcomers in fitting in, see Meacham, A Life Apart, 50.

31. David Feldman, Englishmen and Jews: Social Relations and Political Culture, 1840-1914 (New Haven, 1994): 282-283.

32. Willy Goldman, East End My Cradle: Portrait of an Environment (London, 1988): 17.

33. B.N., interview with author, London, 1994.

34. For the positive impact of Jewish communal organizations on the health of women and children, see Lara V. Marks, Model Mothers: Jewish Mothers and Maternity Provision in East London, 1870-1939 (Oxford, 1994).

35. Lou Levene, interview with author, London, 2 February 1995.

36. Geoffrey Alderman, The Federation of Synagogues, 1887-1987 (London, 1987):11.

37. Grace Foakes, My Part of the River (London, 1974): 3.

38. Bernard Kops, The World is a Wedding (New York, 1963): 15.

39. Bill Belmont, in Echoes of the East End, ed. Venetia Murray (London, 1989): 174.

40. Mass-Observation Archive: File Report A12 "Anti-Semitism Survey" (December 1938):29 used with permission of the Trustees of the Mass-Observation Archive, University of Sussex.

41. Ralph L. Finn, No Tears in Aldgate (Bath, 1973): 76. Similar observations are made in Sam Clark, Sam, an East End Cabinet Maker: The Pocket-book Memoir of Sam Clarke, 1907-1979 (London, 1982): 12, and Bernard Delfont with Barry Turner, East End, West End (London, 1990): 11.

42. Anna Tzelniker, Three for the Price of One (London, 1991): 52.

43. Harold Pollins, Economic History of the Jews in England (Rutherford, NJ, 1982): 188-189.

44. Bessie Perkin, interview with Sarah El-Doori, 24 March 1988, transcript p. 8, tape #120, Jewish Museum London (Finchley Location). Joe Jacobs also emphasizes the importance of the world of work in breaking down barriers between Jews and non-Jews. Joe Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto: My Youth in the East End, Communism and Fascism, 1913-1939, 2nd ed. (London, 1991): 26 & 29.

45. Morris Beckman, Untitled Memoir (The Jewish Museum London (Fincheley Location) #79-1990): 107.

46. Richard Holt, Sport and the British: A Modern History (Oxford, 1989): 153-155.

47. Ralph Finn, No Tears in Aldgate, 62.

48. Jeffrey Richards, The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in Britain, 1930-1939 (London, 1984): 11-18. For the impact of expanded leisure opportunities on young women and their view of the local community, see Tebbutt, Women's Talk, 148-151.

49. Pamela M. Graves, Labour Women: Women in British Working-Class Politics, 1918-1939 (Cambridge, 1994): 2-3.

50. Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, 38.

51. Jack Straw, interview, #013547/3, Imperial War Museum Department of Sound Records used with the permission of the British Video History Trust.

52. Raphael Samuel, "The Lost World of British Communism," New Left Review 154 (November/December 1985): 53.

53. "Cable Street," interview, transcript p. 7, #61-1987, The Jewish Museum London (Finchley Location).

54. The ability of a wide variety of East Enders to unite behind this issue in is contrast to the period before the First World War, when political behavior in the East End was largely influenced by very localized conditions and issues. See Marc Brodie, The Politics of the Poor: The East End of London, 1885-1914 (Oxford, 2004).

55. Levene, interview with author.

56. Levene, interview with author.

57. Jones, "'Cockney' and the Nation," 278.

58. On Southwark see Michael Collins, The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class (London, 2004).

59. Robert Colls, Identity of England (Oxford & New York, 2002):262.

60. Berg, interview with author.

By Benjamin J. Lammers

Caldwell College
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Date:Dec 22, 2005
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