Echoes of Ferrer in an East End back street

Helena Applebaum with Lou
Helena Applebaum with Lou

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

Author
Submitted by Battlescarred on February 7, 2013

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

Comments

yidkid

11 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by yidkid on February 8, 2013

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

Battlescarred

11 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Battlescarred on February 8, 2013

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

yidkid

11 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by yidkid on February 9, 2013

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

Battlescarred

3 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Battlescarred on April 30, 2020

The Zaidman in Egypt seems remarkably akin to the Whitechapel one, both were excellent orators, both had connections to Freedom and Arbeiter Faint. But according to Freedom, Zaidman was still in Whitechapel in 1923. In addition, in J. Franzen's Communism in the Arab World and Iran,(2017) Edward Zaidman is described as "a Russian Jew with connection to Odessa who had served under the British in the war. Following the war, he settled down in Alexandria". Misterioso.

syndicalist

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on February 8, 2022

Was thumbing through an old SWF " Direct Action" and came across this obit for the late Yiddisg speaking anarchist E. Michaels, who is mention in this article.

If anyone has additional information on E. Michaels, please share. I'll be looking a the "usual" books (Fishman, Rocker). Thanks

Working Class …

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Working Class … on February 10, 2022

Battlescarred

The Zaidman in Egypt seems remarkably akin to the Whitechapel one, both were excellent orators, both had connections to Freedom and Arbeiter Faint. But according to Freedom, Zaidman was still in Whitechapel in 1923. In addition, in J. Franzen's Communism in the Arab World and Iran,(2017) Edward Zaidman is described as "a Russian Jew with connection to Odessa who had served under the British in the war. Following the war, he settled down in Alexandria". Misterioso.

That's really interesting, just by chance I looked up Edward Zaidman on ancestry.com. Didn't find much, but did find an E Zaidman in Egypt who was listed as receiving a bronze medal for service to the British Army in Egypt as either a native interpreter or machine-gun porter… So it's possible this could be the same person I suppose.

Battlescarred

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Battlescarred on February 10, 2022

Indepth interview with Lou Appleton with much info on his father and mother:
https://www.andrewwhitehead.net/political-voices-lou-appleton.html

Battlescarred

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Battlescarred on February 10, 2022

Freedom does indeed give Zaidman's first name as Edward in its issue of 1st June, 1921. In January 1925, Freedom remarked on the Anarchist Communist Conference that had taken place on December 13th, 1924, at the Workers Circle club at 22 Alie Street , London E1. IT "was not as successful as hoped" but Zaidman was one of those involved .
"In 1923 the Workers’ Circle Friendly Society acquired a lease and took up occupation. Founded by Baruch Weinberg, a Brick Lane printer and writer, the Circle was a Jewish socialist mutual-aid society. It helped striking labourers and campaigned for better pay and working conditions. Beyond the purely economic sphere, the Circle supported working-class Jews through social, cultural and political events and meetings, the far less progressive Jewish Working Men’s Club having closed down a decade earlier. Unlike the club, which had conducted its affairs in English, the Arbeyter Ring _was entirely Yiddish speaking. A regular visitor, Joe Jacobs, recalled: ‘Every shade of Russian and European Labour thought and action was represented here.’ Indeed, the London Workers’ Circle maintained links overseas, as with its senior counterpart in New York City.

The Circle commissioned L. G. Ekins, the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s architect, to draw up plans to adapt the building, which was renamed Circle House. The Alie Street front block accommodated offices and a large first- floor clubroom. A self-contained flat was in the basement. The Tenter Street hall, to the rear, was adapted to house a lecture and meeting room, a committee room and a classroom. The building was badly damaged in the Blitz. In the 1950s the patched-up Alie Street building was occupied by W. J. Furse & Co., electrical and lift engineers. An additional storey was added in 1978–9 and in 1998 the block was converted to form nine flats above a ground- floor office, to designs by Richard David, architect. Back parts had been ruined in the Blitz, and the warehouse at 12 North Tenter Street was built in 1956–8. In 2012–14 two more flats were formed in attic additions to both the Alie Street and North Tenter Street buildings."
from: https://surveyoflondon.org/map/feature/1401/detail/

Battlescarred

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Battlescarred on February 10, 2022

syndicalist

Was thumbing through an old SWF " Direct Action" and came across this obit for the late Yiddisg speaking anarchist E. Michaels, who is mention in this article.

If anyone has additional information on E. Michaels, please share. I'll be looking a the "usual" books (Fishman, Rocker). Thanks

Can you quote the article?

syndicalist

2 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on February 10, 2022

I was thunmbing thru my paper copies, which I uploaded here on Libcom.

The specific issue mention E. Michaels is the March 1966 edition, page 4.
https://libcom.org/library/direct-action-workers-direct-control-v-7-3-57-march-1966