Jewish Shelter In Victorian London

Poverty and homelessness were huge problems in 19th century London, and the philanthropic efforts of Jewish societies were significant in providing relief. We’ve uncovered incredible items, in our research for Homes of the Homeless: Seeking Shelter in Victorian London, currently showing at the Geffrye Museum of the Home in Shoreditch, East London. An example is this ‘Punishment Book’ above. It was used by the ‘Hospital and Orphan Asylum’, in the late 1880s, for boys who broke the rules.

From the early part of the century there was particular concern over the fate of Jewish children. ‘The Jew’s Hospital’, founded in 1795, offered board and schooling, while ‘The Jew’s Orphan Asylum’, set up in 1831, supported those orphaned by the cholera epidemic. Both were based in the East End, and were overcrowded by the 1860s.

Help came in 1866, from the philanthropists Barnett and Isabella Meyers, who donated eight acres of land in West Norwood to the Jewish Hospital, and funded a large building for 220 children. In 1876 the Hospital and Orphan Asylum merged, becoming the major institution for Jewish orphans, often known as Norwood. By 1888, 260 children lived there.

A great deal of effort went into the new Hospital buildings. A report in the Illustrated London News, in 1863, described them as fitted out in the latest style. The entrance hall was decorated with encaustic tiles, the major passages tricked out in blue and red. There was a panelled dining hall with an impressive stone chimney piece. From here, a grand staircase led to the synagogue above, lighted by a stained glass window featuring scriptural subjects….

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Homes of the Homeless: Seeking Shelter in Victorian London is at the Geffrye Museum of the Home, London until 12 July 2015. Tickets £5 / £3: www.geffrye-museum.org.uk

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