The first generations of the Ottolangui family lived in the East End of London
The district known as the East End is not an administrative region, doesn’t have any firm, or specific geographic boundaries except perhaps the River Lea to the east. For a long time it was defined as the area “east of the Aldgate Pump” and was regarded as an unsavoury area in Victorian and Edwardian times. The pump has stood at the junction of Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street since being relocated in 1876 from a location slightly further east in Aldgate Pump Court, which was about where Fenchurch Street Station stands today. Water drawn by the pump in those days from one of London’s many underground rivers was said to have “a good, refreshing taste” and to be rich in minerals, but it was then found to be drawing water leaching from cemeteries along the river’s route from Hampstead, and thereafter the pump was detached from that water source and fed by mains water. The pump is no longer connected to any water supply but its drainage grating is still there. A recent addition is the wrought iron lamp on top, a replica of the original which had somehow disappeared over the years.
David Ottolenghi’s son, Israel Ottolenghi and his wife Miriam/Amelia nee Alevy, lived in Spitalfields in the parish of Christ’s Church ruled by the splendid Anglican church of the same name built between 1714 and 1729 by the famous ecclesiastical architect Nicholas Hawksmoor on Commercial Street opposite the Spitalfields Market.
It was one of the first (and probably the best) of the “Commissioners’ Churches” built for the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches, established by an Act of Parliament in 1711. The purpose of the Commission as indicated by its name was to build fifty new churches to serve London’s new settlements. This parish was about 1 square mile (2.6 km2) within the boundaries of the medieval Stepney parish for an area then dominated by Huguenots (French and Belgian Protestants) and others not members of the Church of England to “show thus allegiance to the Church and the King” as a show of Anglican authority.
When I was growing up and well into my teens, the churchyard and gardens were locally known as “Itchy Park” because it was a haven for rough sleeping vagrant meths drinkers.
The streets towards the southern part of Spitalfields were a tightly packed warren of overcrowded dwellings where all the children of Israel & Miriam were born and most of them lived for most of their lives, side by side mainly in Shepherd Street where the census reports of the 1860’s and 1870’s show many Ottolangui neighbours. The next generation lived around the same area in Tilley Street, Middlesex Street, Bell Lane, Wentworth Street and around the Tenter Ground.
My Great-grandfather Aaron Ottolangui was born in Middlesex Street (formerly Petticoat Lane). At the age of 18 when he married Mary nee Schaap/Sharp he was living at No. 2 Bell Lane and they later moved to no. 23 Tilley Street, Spitalfields where most of their 11 children were born. That area was largely demolished and redeveloped (you won’t find those streets on today’s map – Shepherd Street is now called Toynbee Street) and many of the residents moved to the newly constructed Boundary Estate in Bethnal Green.
The Boundary Estate was reported to be Britain’s first council estate, built on the demolished rubble of one of London’s worst slums, The Old Nichol.
Conditions in The Old Nichol, which previously had been a rural area, began to worsen from about the 1830s. By the 1880s it had become known as the worst slum in London. The huge influx of largely unskilled workers nourished the growth of cheap properties within easy reach of the centre of London. In the absence of enforceable housing laws combined with influential property owners, many of whom who were respectable local businessmen and officials and included the Church of England and peers of the realm, meant that little notice was paid to the state of the properties they rented out to the poor. Even though rents were extremely low, the numbers of people paying rent in each dwelling made the owners more money than properties in west end areas like Mayfair. Often families of 8 lived in one room of the small terraced houses with one shared water tap in squalid back yards, toilets were latrine-like pits. The window frames, doors and their frames were often broken up and used for firewood. The properties were too hot in summer, too cold in winter and damp all year round.
The reputation of The Old Nichol as a “no-go area” full of the unemployed with extreme criminality, vice and violence was often widely exaggerated in the newspapers of that time particularly around the time of the “Jack the Ripper” years, but there were some courts and alleys that were very dangerous, illegal gaming, dog- and cock-fighting took place and prostitution was commonplace, but under the surface of any London neighbourhood at that time you would have found similar activities. Between 1885 and 1895 only one murder was committed in the Old Nichol, the murderer was caught and tried convicted by the evidence given by local residents.
In 1891 London’s population was over 5.5 million and the Public Health (London) Act and the Boundary Street Scheme Act were passed by the government. The Boundary Street Scheme meant the end for the Old Nichol, but it took most of the next two years to verify property ownership and for compensation to be paid to the owners and 5,700 people were evicted. It was reported then, as with any abandoned dwellings, that as the properties emptied the rat population exploded, “wreckers” stripped the buildings of any usable materials and goods previous residents may have left and squatters moved in – not much has changed since then….Mounted police patrolled the area due to rumours of organised criminal gangs using the area as a base to operate in Bethnal Green and Shoreditch. Demolition began during 1893, and building started during 1895.
The design of the Boundary Street Estate was very different from the usual housing for the poor which had previously been like the Rothschild and Guinness dwellings on the streets between Commercial Street and Brick Lane. Four-storey mansion style blocks of varying size were built on wide, tree lined streets radiating from a central roundabout, with shops, a laundry and workshops for residents, with the existing schools and churches included within the plan. It was a model development “providing all that the residents would need, it would be sanitary, open and airy” – although with minimum indoor plumbing – and it was dry as no pubs were planned in the design and no shops would be able to sell liquor. The blocks were named after towns in the Thames Valley and were first known as “Buildings” then “Flats and finally “Houses”
The first block to be completed was Streetley Buildings on Mount (later Swanfield) Street, (demolished in 1967), with residents moving in during 1897. The intention that the estate was to house the “deserving poor” but only 11 of the original Old Nichol residents were amongst the 5,100 to be housed on the Boundary Street Estate. Amongst those first tenants were police officers, nurses and teachers, as well as “ordinary workers”. The Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra formally opened the Boundary Street Estate on Saturday 3rd March 1900. Calvert Avenue was decorated with union flags, masts and streamers, with by the band of the 4th East Surrey Rifle Volunteers. A marquee was erected near Arnold Circus where the Prince gave his opening speech to dignitaries and guests with covered walkways leading to selected properties for the Royal party and ticket holders to view. The Old Nichol was pronounced dead and the Boundary Street Estate was born.
Public facilities included the baths and laundry essential as the dwellings had only one cold water tap which was in a tiny scullery and although the lavatory was not shared, it was outside on the landing.
This is where Grandmama Sophie used to take us for our weekly baths when we outgrew the tin bath in front of the coal range in her living room. The shouts of “More hot water number ten please” still ring in my ears on bath nights……
Although I have a mental image of a huge mangle, I don’t remember ever going with her to the public laundry. She used the bagwash on Swanfield Street next to her nephew Alfie & Clare Ottolangui’s grocery shop
|This is a shortened Pathe video of a public laundry which was not broadcast at the time, not the Boundary Laundry but something similar in Ramsey Street – between Bethnal Green Road, Cheshire Street and Vallance Road.|
London Wash House (1970-1979)
Arnold Circus was built atop a mound of the Old Nichol rubble amid gardens and on top a covered band-stand. It was years before I knew that it was called “Arnold Circus” to us it was simply “The Bandstand”. The street around the bandstand was our racetrack, there was hardly any motor traffic in those days so it was a safe nearby place to play – the only other options were the many bomb sites in the area, known as “Debris” which were much more dangerous therefore much more attractive to us.
In 1911 the population of the Boundary Estate neared 5,000 persons about 50% were immigrants and more than 20% were British born Jews
Aaron and Mary eventually moved to the Boundary Estate and they lived in Laleham Buildings at No. 17 where Mary eventually died in 1934 and Aaron two years later in 1936.
My father, Solomon Ottolangui (Sydney Langley) Abie and Sophie’s second son, was born on 19th May 1913 in their home at 32 Sonning Buildings. Sophie’s parents, Aaron and Rosa Hart lived next door. Shortly afterwards the family moved to Taplow Buildings. When their children were older Abie and Sophie moved to Cookham Buildings where they lived with their youngest Judah (Jack). Abie died in 1935 and some time after that, Abie’s elder brother Alexander (Alec ) his wife Leah (Norah) and their daughter Rachel (Rae )moved to Cookham Buildings and lived one floor above. Sophie and Jack lived at no. 36 until she died in 1958.
Cookham Buildings now Cookham House. The 3-roomed cold water tenements were knocked through and converted into 1 and 2 bedroom apartments with full kitchens and indoor sanitation. Privatized, the weekly rent is around 500 pounds, probably 200 times more than the rent that Grandmama Sophie paid, and they now market for around 530,000 pounds.
Grandmama Sophie’s flat was the corner flat on the second floor overlooking Montclare Street and the famous (Hugeonot) Vavasseur silk weaving factory and warehouse on Old Nichol Street.
Abie and Sophie’s daughter Rose and her husband Aaron (Tommy) Ereira lived on the other side of Montclare Street from Cookham Buildings in Henley Buildings