The street where God did not strike down Feigenbaum

Ruderman (back row, right)

A short account of anarchist connections to Hanbury Street in the East End of London.

The article A Rose By Any Other Name (here at libcom) dealt with Rose Street (later Manette Street) in central London and its continuing links with anarchism. We will head further East to Darkest London, the Abyss of Jack London, to find two other streets with continuing association with the anarchist movement.

Hanbury Street in Spitalfields had become densely populated by the 1880s with the wave of Jewish emigration from the Russian Empire. As a result of pogroms and poverty many Jews moved into the area, and unscrupulous landlords rented out heavily overcrowded property, whilst equally unscrupulous employers housed their workers in over-crowded and unhealthy workshops in the neighbourhood.

An anarchist movement began to grow and formed groups in different parts of this section of Tower Hamlets. From 1892 these groups came together for Friday evening meetings at the Sugar Loaf pub, at 187 Hanbury Street, at its eastern end. The pub had a large hall behind its bar, and anarchists, many of whom were clothing workers began to congregate there.

A scaremongering article in the Evening Standard (Oct 5th 1894) wrote about these anarchists at the Sugar Loaf: “who get up the weekly discussions that tempt poor flies into the trap. Too lazy to work, they find in the mischievous propaganda they spread a capital means of bringing grist to their own particular mills.

It was here that the German anarchist Rudolf Rocker, then exploring the East End with his comrade Otto Schrieber in 1895, came on a visit. Rocker then took the decision to move into the area and work with the Jewish anarchist movement there. The first lecture he gave at the Sugar Loaf was The roles of Karl Marx and Ferdinand Lassalle within the workers' movement on October 8th,1895.

The anarchist Avrom Frumkin described the Sugar Loaf as the centre of the Jewish anarchist movement, and that the weekly meetings bore an international character, with most of the lectures given by Iakov Kaplan ( bio here at libcom). The audiences built up to at least a hundred at every meeting. Many who visited started an association with the movement that lasted a lifetime, like Millie Sabel and Sam Dreen. Meetings at the Sugar Loaf continued to 1906.

Further west up Hanbury Street at number 71 was a bookshop and newsagent run by an anarchist couple,the Rudermans , both born around 1865-6 in the Russian Empire. Baruch Ruderman, known sometimes as Barnett Ruderman in British newspaper reports and censuses, had been a student at the Yeshiva (Talmudic school) at Volozhin, in what was then Lithuania and is now Belarus. It was the most prestigious Yeshiva within the Russian Empire. After some of his fellow students introduced him to secular studies and to Russian and German books, he had “severe clashes with his fanatically religious parents he broke with Judaism. He arrived in London at the end of winter 1882 ( other sources say 1884) and two years later moved to socialism. He was a pioneer of the Jewish workers movement in London and one of the founders of the Arbeter Fraint Club. Ruderman branched out from bookselling to publishing in the following years, being the first to publish radical books in Yiddish in England. Among these were several additions of the writings of the anarchist poet David Edelstadt (1892, 1900 and then 1911) as well as works by Gorky, many of these publications appearing under the imprint of Rudermans Folḳs Bibliyoṭheḳ.

As Rocker wrote: “Much of our literature went into Russia through the connections which one of our comrades, Ruderman, who kept a bookshop and newsagent's in Hanbury Street, had with the famous Yiddish publishing house Kletzkin in Vilna.” He published his memoirs of the movement in the New York anarchist paper Di Fraye Arbeter Shtime from 1925 to 1926 in serialised form. He wrote articles, sometimes under the name of Ben Eliezer, in Der Idisher Zhurnal (from 1901) Arbeter Fraynt, and Di Tsayt (from 1907). In 1902-1903 he co-edited the journal Der Vanderer. The Rudermans stocked Der Arbeter Fraint and Freedom at their shop. When Special Branch, under the heinous Inspector Melville, and at the bidding of the Russian authorities, moved against the revolutionary Burtsev, the shop in Hanbury Street was one of the places they visited to buy Burtsev’s paper. As a result Burtsev was indicted for incitement to murder the Tsar and got 18 months hard labour, with an associate receiving 2 months hard labour. The Russian authorities rewarded Melville with gifts of gold jewellery to his wife.

Baruch died in 1928 but Rose lived on until 1951. In an obituary that Mat Kavanagh wrote for Freedom on May 12th of that year, he noted that she had been involved in intense labour activity and had been a member of the Berners Street anarchist club. Kavanagh referred to the bookshop as “the rendezvous of foreign comrades, many of whom were helped by the Rudermans who “fed them and found them lodgings”. She was “never in the limelight” and organised the social side of the movement, involving herself in fundraising for Arbeter Fraint. “Those who knew her have many memories of her never-ending zeal for the cause of Anarchism and her many means of inspiring work for this movement that she served so well”. She spoke at a memorial meeting for David Nicholl, anarchist and editor of Commonweal, on 14th April, 1931 in Tottenham.

The young anarchist Willie Ruderman, (born 1898-1899), who was imprisoned at Winchester for refusing military service in 1916, appears to be their son.

Further on up the road at 22 Hanbury Street, is the Christ Church Hall, where Annie Besant spoke in support of the matchgirls during their strike of 1888, followed next year by Eleanor Marx for the striking tailors. It continued to be a meeting place for striking Jewish tailors in 1906 and 1912. The Arbeter Frainter Benjamin Feigenbaum, described by Fishman as a master of anti-religious satire, spoke there on the day of Yom Kippur in 1889 on ‘Is There a God?’ to a packed meeting. As Thomas Eyges, an eye witness, wrote : “He was of medium height with broad shoulders and gesticulated as he spoke”. He shouted: “ If there is a God and if he is Almighty as the clergy claims he is, I give him just two minutes’ time to kill me on the spot, so that he may prove his existence!” Two minutes passed, the band struck up a revolutionary song and Feigenbaum exclaimed: “See! There is no God!” In addition the anarchist orator Iakov Kaplan spoke to a large and successful meeting here on What Do the Anarchists Want? on 23rd January 1897.

Before we leave Hanbury Street and head south towards Fieldgate Street, we should note that Hanbury Street was the launch-pad for a union of mantle makers built on anarchist lines in 1891 (Arbeter Fraint, 20th February). It numbered a membershio of 240 but its existence was short lived.

Nick Heath

Sources; Fishman, W. East London Jewish Radicals.
Leftwich, Joseph. Rudolf Rocker: mentor of the Jewish anarchists in The Golden Chain (ed.) Lehrer, N.
Gartner, Lloyd P. The Jewish Immigrant in England (3rd edition).
Prager, Leonard. Yiddish culture in Britain: a guide.
Kershen, Anne J. Uniting the Tailors: Trade Unionism amongst the Tailors of London and Leeds 1870-1939

Photograph: From Jewish Museum of London. Detail of Free Workers Circle meeting, 1912. Rudolf Rocker in centre.: http://www.jewishmuseum.org.uk/photographic-archive-new

Comments

Battlescarred
Feb 7 2013 15:52

Sorry -some errors which I've corrected which should be visible soon. Christ Church Hall is at 22 Hanbury Street, not Fieldgate Street

Steven.
Feb 6 2013 12:40

Fascinating stuff, I had no idea about about Hanbury street's radical history.

One thing with your articles, it's great how many of them are interlinked. However, rather than mention that the text is available elsewhere on libcom it would be really great if you could link to them directly. Then that would make it much easier for casual readers to browse through them.

You can do this pretty simply like this. First, go to the article you want to link to and copy the web address. So using this example:

Quote:
with most of the lectures given by Iakov Kaplan ( bio here at libcom).

The address of his biography is http://libcom.org/history/kaplan-iacov-aka-jacob-caplan-anglicised-18-1933

So to link it direct from the text just type in:

Quote:
with most of the lectures given by [URL= http://libcom.org/history/kaplan-iacov-aka-jacob-caplan-anglicised-18-1933]Iakov Kaplan[/URL]

missing out the space after the "=".

Then it will display like this:

Quote:
with most of the lectures given by Iakov Kaplan

We have done this with some of your articles, but unfortunately we don't have the time with all of them. Anyway, just a thought. Keep up the good work!

Cooked
Feb 6 2013 22:21

Battlescarred just to say I think the bios and historical notes you put up are great! I don't really comment on them but I read a lot of them.

Battlescarred
Feb 7 2013 15:51

Thanks for your kind comments, they are much appreciated.

John Ruderman
Feb 23 2013 09:57

Barnett Ruderman was my Great Grandfather. His son Willie was my Grandfather ( known to all as Will when I knew him). He never spoke about his father or mother by the time I was old enough to take any notice. As such I was unaware of the history of that side of my family.
Will had a brother, Harry, who changed his name to Harry Stanley and went on to own the " Unique Magic Studio in Wardour Street. I only met him once at a family party for Will's 80th birthday.
I am fascinated to know more about Barnett and Rose as there is now no-one alive in the family who knew them. I want to know more about their work and also to find out about Barnett and Rose's background in Lithuania as I know nothing of this.

Battlescarred
Feb 25 2013 13:51

Do you have any photographs of Barnett and Rose, or indeed Will? I believe Will was involved with the Hackney Socialist Sunday School after World War One. Do you know anything about his subsequent political trajectory?

John Ruderman
Mar 5 2013 13:02

Yes I have a couple of pictures of Barnet and Rose. Plenty of pictures of Will, but I have not yet digitised any of them. If you would like to send me an address I will photocopy some and send to you. My email is johnruderman@sky.com.
Will's political allegiences moved further to the right as he got older.
Will was named after William Morris and was active in Communist and Labour politics for many years. He was imprisoned for refusing to serve in the army as his claim for conscientious objection (refusal to fight against fellow workers in Germany ) was deemed political and not a matter of conscience.
By 1922 he was working as an accounts clerk for ARCOS, Russian trade delegation. after this organisation was closed following a raid in 1927 (?) he went as an accountant to Russian Oil Products in Birmingham. He left in 1934. We believe he had become disenchanted with the Communist party and resigned from the party and his job ( there is some suggestion that he was "asked to leave" on resignation from the party. It all gets a bit vague at this point, but I do know that my grandmother ran a tea shop/cafe/sweet shop on the Hagley Road in the Birmingham area. I believe this property was demolished for road widening. At about this time the family moved to the new town Welwyn Garden City ( where Rose had moved in 1933 to live with her daughter), Will worked for Murphy Radio in the accounts dept.
He later had his own accountancy business in WGC and continued to work into his 70s.
He was also involved in Eyelure and remained friends with the company owners for many years after.
He was a life long supporter of Tottenham Hotspur ( and I think disappointed that neither myself nor my brother followed his interest, although my nephew is a supporter albeit from Melbourne Aus. ). Will was secretary of the supporters club I believe.
He was also an active Rotarian ( I need to do more research on this as I don't know exactly at what level he was involved ) He resigned from this in his 80s in protest against prayers at meetings of what was supposed to be a secular organisation. This occured whan he returned to WGC to live with his daughter in about 1979/80 after the death of his wife, Elsie.
At about this time he joined the SDP, so remained interested in Politics all his life.
I was an active CND member in the 1980's and can remember him saying that although he admired my commitment he couldn't agree with my point of view as he "wouldn't trust a Russian to see him across the road"
I have various papers and pictures of which I can send copies.

syndicalist
Mar 5 2013 21:43

Trusting the goodies can be reposted. I'm particularly interested in Yiddish speaking anarchists (and worker movments).

Battlescarred
Apr 15 2013 16:00

Hi John I will PM you my email address. Fascinating information on Will Ruderman , by the way. Certainly at the time of the First World War he was an anarchist and was written about as such in the pages of Freedom.

Steven.
Apr 15 2013 17:09

Battlescarred, I recommend sending John an e-mail, in case he doesn't check his messages here…

Battlescarred
Apr 18 2013 07:34

Will do!

davidseastendwalks
May 18 2014 07:17

Just came across this great article while looking for something else! Emma Goldman also spoke at Christchurch Hall 22 hanbury street when she visited England at the end of 1899 and beginning of 1900. these meetings as well giving a platform for EG and her ideas were intended to raise funds for the Arbayter Fraynd. One of the meetings that definitely took place there was on a subject that would be good to have today - charity. the leaflet in Yiddish that announces it says "do you want to know what is this thing charity? who gives it and why?". Another great gathering there took place in September 1894 the night before a co-op was opened by members of the Jewish bakers' union. there is a very good description of it on pages 20-21 of Union Bread: Bagels, Platzels and Chollah - the story of the London Jewish Bakers' Union.