West End Jewish Walking Tour Report
A blustery, cold day, slashing rain. Yes, it must be the first day of summer in London!
Despite the inclement weather, a dozen souls including our Rabbi and Chazan braved the elements to meet our walking history teacher, the eminently qualified Stephen Burstin.
The words ‘fascinating’, ‘illuminating’ and’ remarkable’ are frequently bandied about when talking of Stephen, but they were in strong evidence on this delightful walking tour learning amazing accounts of many of our London antecedents.
Starting off at Warren Street tube station, we headed west into Fitzrovia and soon discovered the likes of Jewish boys and girls clubs where, through the efforts of generous philanthropists in the later parts of the 19th and early 20th century our forebears were educated in social ways, and how to generally ‘look after themselves’. Stopping off in Charlotte Street, we learned about publicans, educators, restaurateurs and theatrical promoters. Few original buildings remain, but where they do still stand, their uses have been radically transformed.
Before crossing over the “Dividing Line” of Oxford Street, we came across the imposing terracotta façade of the Westminster Jews Free School in Hanway Place, which has been preserved, and which is now the rear of a branch of Sainsbury’s supermarket!
Into Soho, and of course, some of the most colourful and disreputable figures were discussed including Jewish Women of the Night such as ‘Yiddisher Sadie’. Apparently, she never worked on Shabbat! Oy!
The sites of old synagogues and shtibls were pointed out; now film companies, now advertising agencies….
The two hour walk (it felt like minutes!) ended near Piccadilly Circus in the now pedestrianised Glasshouse Street pointing out the site of the former Jewish-owned Regent Palace Hotel now a flagship branch for the Australian boot company Ugg!
Stephen’s walking tours, even on the same subject, are constantly updated, and an identical tour would be different since he is always learning from archives, and indeed (as was the case on this tour), anecdotes from the participants!