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Place, Space and Memory in the Old Jewish East End of London: an Archaeological Biography of Sandys Row Synagogue, Spitalfields and its Wider Context

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Abstract

Sandys Row (London E1) is the only functioning Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) Synagogue in Spitalfields and the oldest still functioning Ashkenazi synagogue in London. Located in an area, which from the mid-late nineteenth century until WW2 was the center of London’s Jewish population, it is one of the last surviving witnesses to a once vibrant and dynamic heritage that has now virtually disappeared. This area has been the first port of call for refugees for centuries, starting with French Protestant Huguenots in the eighteenth century, then Jews fleeing economic hardship and pogroms in Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century followed by Bangladeshi Muslims in the twentieth century. Using a broadly archaeological analysis based very closely on the sort of practice widely used in church archaeology, the authors argue that much can be inferred about wider social and cultural patterns from a study of architectural space at Sandys Row and its associated material culture. This is the first such archaeological study undertaken of a synagogue in Britain and offers a new perspective on wider issues regarding the archaeological definition of religious practice and religious material culture.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to record their gratitude to the Sandys Row community, in particular Mr. Harvey Rifkind, the current president of Sandys Row. Jonathan Wells has provided a huge amount of assistance with the project, in archives and in the Synagogue itself. A small team of University of Winchester students assisted in the recording process; supervised by Dominic Roberts they included: Tom Brown, Louise Clare, Hermione Noyce and Zoe Umpleby. The comments of two anonymous referees were gratefully received and have improved the original paper immeasurably. Any errors remain the fault of the authors.

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Correspondence to Niall Finneran.

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Finneran, N., Lichtenstein, R. & Welch, C. Place, Space and Memory in the Old Jewish East End of London: an Archaeological Biography of Sandys Row Synagogue, Spitalfields and its Wider Context. Int J Histor Archaeol 23, 380–403 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10761-018-0474-1

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Keywords

  • Buildings archaeology
  • Archaeology of Judaism
  • Post-medieval London
  • Place and memory