Echoes of Ferrer in an East End back street

Helena Applebaum with Lou

An anarchist history of Fieldgate Street in the East End of London

Before the Jewish anarchists in the East End started to meet at the Sugar Loaf pub in Hanbury Street, they conducted regular meetings at the King’s Arms pub at 16 Fieldgate Street until it closed in 1892.

After the Worker’s Friend (Arbeter Fraint) Club closed in Jubilee Street in 1915, and with it the Yiddish anarchist paper Arbeter Fraint, as a result of the impact of the First World War on the Jewish anarchist movement) alternative premises were found at 62 Fieldgate Street. The Worker’s Friend Club rang dances and socials on Saturday evenings for the benefit of the English language anarchist paper Freedom. In addition the buiding was the address for the East London Anarchist Group, whose secretary was E. Zaidman. He seems to have been particularly energetic. On September 16th 1919, he held a public open air debate with E.L. Martin at Tower Hill on The Fallacy of Marxism with a large crowd attending, with 3 dozen anarchist pamphlets sold. In addition several Sunday morning meetings were held in Victoria Park in the same month with Zaidman speaking on various subjects with 4 dozen pamphlets and 50 copies of Freedom sold.

However, Zaidman appears not to have had any other orators at hand to help him, despite an appeal in Freedom for comrades to come forward to give a hand. The Group still conducted open air meetings every Sunday at 11.30 a.m at Osborn Street and Sidney Street alternating, with Group meetings on Sunday evenings at Fieldgate Street in 1923.

Zaidman made strenuous efforts to revive the anarchist movement in London and several meetings were held around this. Dr Jacob Salkind, who had broken with Zionism, was appointed editor of a revived Arbeter Fraint in 1920 and he was one of those who attended meetings at Fieldgate Street. (E.Zaidman appears not to be Edward Zaidman, anarchist and then Bolshevik and Comintern agent, active in Egypt during this period).

The building was also used for the last of the International Modern Schools in Britain, free schools founded on the principles of the libertarian educationalist Francisco Ferrer. A group of Jewish anarchists who had been associated with the Worker’s Friend, and with Louise Michel’s School in Fitzrovia and with the anarchist centre at Marsh House in Bloomsbury formed the Free Educational Group. In February 1921 they announced they were looking for teachers. On Sunday 6th March 1921 the School was opened at Fieldgate Street. Amongst those involved were Helena Applebaum, A. Gilbert, E. Michaels and H. and E. Michaels. Both Shotton and Thomas in their books say that C. B. Warwick was also involved, basing this on a notice in Freedom. However, a subsequent note in that paper informed its readership that he had no connection with the school.

Helena Applebaum had been married to the anarchist Nathan Applebaum, a tailor’s machinist. He returned to participate in the Revolution in Russia in 1917, leaving Helena and their son Lou behind. He remarried in Russia and appears to have eventually died there. Helena was an anarchist in her own right and particularly interested in libertarian education. She established a dressmaking business in the East End. Her son Lou (who later changed his name to Appleton) attended the school and has left some oral records of his time there.

E. Michaels, who acted as the secretary of the group, later became the secretary of the Fraye Arbeter Shtime group in London (the New York based anarchist paper Di Fraye Arbeter Shtime acted as a a substitute for Der Arbeter Fraint when it closed in 1923).

A. Gilbert was hon. sec of the Clothing Workers Industrial Union No.9, which held open air meetings meetings every Sunday at 11.45 a.m at the corner of Fulborne Street and Whitechapel Road. His address is given as 35 Cephas Street, E1.

Having started with 30 children, there were over 100 at the school by June, with an average weekly attendance of 85. The school had its aim "to combat the anti-social environment of capitalist education as operating through the state schools and the religious institutions, and to bring up the child in the spirit of freedom". The school intended to entertain "such subjects that may develop the young mind towards the love of nature, beauty, self-expression and social outlook and activity” and to "interest and instruct without the use of domination."

There were classes in clay modelling, singing and story reading, for younger children. There were also classes in drawing, social science, physiology, evolution and botany, as well as debating classes. In addition there were educational outings to such places as Regents Park Zoo and Kew Gardens.
Lou Appleton remembered with great joy the feeling of taking part in a movement helping to, in the words of the IWW phrase, “fan the flames of discontent”. The pupils do not seem to have been involved in decision making, but did produce the School magazine, The International Modern School Magazine, copies of which have survived. As Thomas notes: “In number one most of the writing was creative material with articles about eclipses of the sun and a story entitled The Boy in Rags'. A similar range of issues was covered in issue two. There was a piece about ancient village communities, an open letter to a Ferrer School in America and short pieces about Russia. There was also a piece attacking the state schooling system.”

The School ran on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. By 1928 with a shortage of teachers and lack of funds, the School was forced to close.

The Fieldgate Street School continued until 1928, when it was forced to close because of a shortage of funds and difficulty in finding teachers.

Of course, by a remarkable coincidence, 62 Fieldgate Street again became associated with anarchism with the opening of the London Action Resource Centre (LARC) in 2002. It was to house meetings of a whole host of groups including the Whitechapel Anarchist Group.

Nick Heath

Shotton J. (1993) No Master High or Low - Libertarian Education and Schooling 1890-1990
Thomas, M. (2005) Anarchist ideas and counter-cultures in Britain, 1880-1914

Posted By

Battlescarred
Feb 7 2013 15:49

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yidkid
Feb 8 2013 08:29

Very interesting but I thought it was the london ACTION resource centre

Battlescarred
Feb 8 2013 10:46

Yes, you're right, well spotted. I will make a correction.

yidkid
Feb 9 2013 08:17

nice one. very interesting for me as a Jewish anarchist regularly in whitechapel