Friday 11 March 2011

Spitalfields cigars

The 1891 census showed that Fashion Street was suitably full of tailors, dressmakers and furriers. There were also more intriguing occupations, too: a nudel sorter did indeed sort nudels! (If anybody knows exactly what that meant, I'd love to know.)

A large number of the street's residents were cigar makers. The raw material, tobacco, was imported from the USA and brought into bonded warehouses at Pennington Street alongside Tobacco Dock before being made into snuff, pipe tobacco, cigarettes or cigars. The area around Spitalfields and Whitechapel was the centre of cigar-making, with several companies based close to Fashion Street.

The cigar makers worked eleven-hour days, and wages were not high. Many were Jewish immigrants from the Netherlands (known as chuts) - a pattern apparent in Fashion Street, although a number of workers recorded their place of birth as Spitalfields and a few were Russian.

One young Dutch woman had a rather brief career in the London industry before returning to Holland, as this extract from her Old Bailey prosecution explains:
William Cappin: I am in the employment of Phineas Cohen, cigar maker, of 24, Hanbury Street—the prisoner has been his apprentice, and would be out of her time in about two months—I identify these twelve cigars as the property of my firm, by the tobacco we make, and the peculiar construction—I have no doubt about them being our make—we did not sell them, because these cigars could never have been purchased retail; we don't sell retail, and they could not have been purchased wholesale in this condition, because these are all sorts of colours, and they have not been packed or put in a box—the value of them is 1s. 6d.—I have seen the prisoner's mother this morning—she has come over from Holland, and says she would take her daughter back with her, and we don't wish to push the matter any further.
She was acquitted, and presumably did indeed return home with her mother.

While other local industries are remembered, cigar-making appears to have left little trace. Nonetheless, it was a significant form of Victorian East End industry which perhaps deserves more of our attention.


Hels said...

I suppose it wasn't much fun working in a cigar factory or a clothing factory for that matter.

My paternal grandmother and her many siblings (10 children survived childhood) left Russia for the East End of London. Yes, the living conditions were squashy and yes, her parents worked extremely hard. But they were safe from violent pogroms. Britain remained the safe haven for that entire generation.

CarolineLD said...

Not much fun at all - long hours of boring, repetitive work. However, as you say, at least life was relatively safe in London.

Kept sick by ESA and DLA madness said...

I have a branch of my family that came to London from Amsterdam my great great grandfather was one of the Jewish Dutch cigar makers that came over around 1840 and he married my great great grandmother in London her family had also come from Amsterdam around 1836.

Kept sick by ESA and DLA madness said...

My great great grandfather Lipman Nathan was a Dutch Jew cigar maker from Amsterdam the family lived at 22 Hanbury Street so I would not be surprised of they also worked for Phineas Cohen. They were amongst the founding families of Sandy's Row Synagogue, known as the Dutch or Orange Synagogue. The family came over in 1840 and his farther in law came over in 1836, he married Phoebe Silver (Zilver) at the Great Synagogue in Dukes Place, no longer there after being bombed in WWII. Sandy's Row is still going and 22 Hanbury Street also houses Hanbury Hall where Karl Marks daughter started the famouse Match Girls Strike.

Unknown said...

Thanks very much for the information. Three of my ancestors immigrated to America in the 1850's from Spitalfields, Raphael Cohen and his wife Hannah Nelson Cohen and Joseph Isaacs. Do you know if any more history on Dutch Jews in London 1790-1850-ish? Thanks again.

CarolineLD said...

Lisa, you may find this post helpful: it has lots of information and also some further sources.

Dot McQuillen said...

Lisa Leach you might be related to my husband! His family worked for the Isaacs first on Brick Lane market and then in the Secondhand Clothes Exchange in Aldgate. One of the family is the famous Barney Benito (Isaacs) who made a fortune in gold and was in Who Do You Think You Are - Ester Ranzten episode.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Magnus family (cigar makers) came from Holland to the Whitechapel- St George in the East area but not sure exactly when. It has also been stated that the Rodrigues family who originally came from Portugal in the 18th century might have come via the Holland route. They were mainly market traders. Grateful for any info.
Thank you.

Eytan Lederer said...

Some of my relatives from Goudsmit and Van Raalte families were cigar-makers that came to England from Holland in 19th century. Most eventually emigrated to New York