London's East End Synagogues, cemeteries and more......

My personal journey through the Jewish East End of London


The Oxford and St Georges's clubs & Settlement - a vanished World

"When we are asleep and when we are awake, into thy hand we commend our spirits and with our spirits our bodies also. Thou art with us we shall not fear" - The Club prayer of the Oxford & St George's Settlement Jewish Youth Club

Front cover of Oxford and St Georges 80th (1914-2004)anniversary celebration invitationSometimes neglected in the history of the Jewish East End of London is the remarkable story of the St Georges's Settlement Synagogue.  Briefly, it is as follows:  In 1914 Basil Henriques founded a boys' club in 125 Cannon Street Road dedicated to improving the lot of young Jews in the East End.  Rose Loewe founded a similar girls club in 1915.  In 1917 they married.  Captain Basil Henriques served in the 3rd Battalion East Kent Regiment and distinguished himself in the Tank Corps on the Western Front and took part in the Battle of Cambrai - the first time tanks were used en masse in World War One.  In 1918 he published 'Prayers for Trench and Base' for the use of Jewish soldiers, and elements from this were later included in the Settlement's unique siddur (prayer book).  In 1919 Rose and Basil Henriques founded the St Georges Settlement Synagogue in a disused hostel at 26a Betts Street.   Their motivation was to Anglicise the children of East European immigrants and keep them out of mischief.  Their dedication was such that they lived on the premises and ran their pioneering club from there.  Club members affectionately knew them by the sobriquets of 'The Gaffer' and 'The Missus'.  In 1929 they moved to a former school in  Berners Street off Commercial Road. Berners Street has been renamed Henriques Street in honour of Basil & Rose Henriques.  The premises were called the Bernard Baron Settlement after Bernard Baron (major shareholder in Gallagher's tobacco Co) who donated £65,000 for the building's purchase.  The Berner Street building had 125 rooms equipped for welfare work and recreation.  All sorts of games, skills and arts and crafts were available to Jewish East End boys and girls. The famous light weight boxing champion Harry Mizzler coached the boys' boxing team. Basil & Rose Henriques continued to dedicate their lives to the Settlement and other philanthropic work within the Jewish Community and in the wider World, with particular concentration on the  rehabilitation of young offenders.

In 1942 Basil Henriques founded the anti-Zionist 'Jewish Fellowship' - a movement that sought to define the Jewish people in terms of a Religion rather than as citizens/affiliates of the coming nation state of Israel.  Although the movement disbanded in 1948, regrettably its anti Israel bias defined the attitude towards Israel of a generation of Liberal Jews. 

Basil Henriques - 'The Gaffer'Basil & Rose Henriques (who Basil refered to as 'Bunny') resigned as wardens of the Settlement in 1947 but continued to live on the premises.  Subsequently Basil Henriques was awarded a knighthood 'for services to youth welfare'.  With increasing prosperity Jews began to move away from the East End, and in 1973 Bernard Baron House was sold and the youth clubs relocated to North London.  St George's Settlement synagogue moved to The Brady club and and then to current premises in Beaumont Grove, Stepney. 

At one time St Georges Settlement Synagogue was one of the largest non-Orthodox synagogues in the UK and was affiliated to both the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues (ULPS) and The Reform Synagogues of Great Britain (RSGB).  In 1997 St Georges Settlement Synagogue  merged with South West Essex Reform Synagogue.  Meanwhile, their Beaumont Grove branch continues to provide essential support to East End Jews of all affiliations.

For more information about Basil & Rose Henriques and their Settlement read 'Basil Henriques - a portrait based on his diaries, letters and speeches as collated by his widow Rose Henriques' by L.L Loewe and published by Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Prayer book cover from St George's Settlement Synagogue

Invititation to St George's Settlement Synagogue 75th Anniversary Service Feb 1994

Oxford and St George's Settlement - Bernhard Baron House, Henriques St (formerly Berner St), London E1- Now Renovated!

War Memorial Plaque of Oxford and St George's Settlement (Bernhard Baron House) on right handside of entrance facing the building

This plaque was laid on 9th April 1929 by Bernhard Baron esq by whose generosity this building has been erected-left hand of entrance facing building

Every July Oxford & St Georges Settlement youth club organised one week's annual camp in Goring by Sea, Sussex

The club had their own book of Camp Songs, and this is a scan of the front cover of their 1933 girls edition

This is the 1st song in the Camp Song book and is called 'Camp Rules'. Note refererences to Betts Street, Cable St., & Berner (now Henriques) St.

Camp Song no 45 anticipates the fun of July's annual camp in Goring by Sea - Do sing along to it (to the tune of A Hunting we will go)!!

More Oxford and St George's songs, including the 1926 anniversary song 'Long Live St Georges!'

More songs...who was Yetta Nitsky?

"There was a club in Aldgate's heart..."

Young ladies of Oxford & St Georges girls club at camp and performing gymnastics on the roof of The Settlement in Berner Street

Memories of The Oxford & St George's Settlement Jewish Youth Club and Basil Henriques, by former Club Chairman Simon Benedictus who is now in his 70's.

Note: all this is based on my memories and there may be omissions or errors. If you would like to add to my narration/correct errors/correspond with me about old times at The Settlement, please write to me at either of the following addresses: Simon B (UK) or Simon B (Fr)

PART ONE:  My introduction to the St George's Settlement, London E1

I was from a typical Anglo-Jewish Family living in the Thames valley about 30 miles from London. Both my parents were Liberal Jews and I was given whatever guidance I wanted but had "to decide Everything for myself" - not an easy way of being taught religion! I went to London University and my mother - who did voluntary work in the East End - and my Father gave me introductions to Basil Henriques and the Settlement. I settled in to my new undergraduate life and eventually phoned Basil - as I later knew him. He suggested that I met the warden Myer Sopel or Sos - as everyone called him.  I don't know if this was due to his name or happy rotund figure!  I did not know what to expect. The East End in 1945 was a strange place and I arrived at the unlocked front doors and went in. There was no one at the telephone/reception except for a boy of about eleven years old. So I said something like, "I have a meeting with a Mr Sopel, could you show me where his office is?" Well, it so happened that the boy was the most mischievous boy in the youth club, but with a big heart - which was very much to Sos's surprise and, when I later came to know the boy, to mine. I was taken up three flights of stairs and round the internal courtyard and along a passage and met the man. I did not know what I wanted to do but  after a few minutes I was put on the desk to check new arrivals and collect their subs - one old penny a week whether they attended or not. There was only friendship shown to myself as a new arrival, and I agreed to help next week and the next and the next....until I was a regular helper-manager, as the club called adults  I eventually became a club leader,  then Treasurer, then Chairman and Senior Trustee - but that will be told later.   Just to finish: a memory of my father from the late Nineteen Twenties. He was articled as an accountant and one of his jobs was to audit the accounts of the settlement. He was working hard and realised by working a bit late he could finish the accounts before the weekend. He was hard at work when Basil Henriques - the Gaffer -came in and tore him off a strip for working just before Shabbat came in!  

PART TWO:  The Oxford and St George's Boys Club:    When I first joined the Oxford and St George's Boys Club there were three clubs: the 31's (1931) from about 10 years old to 13; the 22's (1922 )from 13 to 16 and the 14's (1914) from 16-19. Below these there was the playgroup, and above them (age-wise) there was the old boys club. The girls had similar clubs (the 30's the 15's and the 23's) and the old girls club (really!). The age groups changed over time but the names remained. These were the dates when the various clubs were founded. Originally the boys' clubs were in Cannon street road and the Girls' club in Betts street until The Gaffer (later Sir Basil Henriques) and the Missus (later Lady Rose Henriques) married and acquired the Berner Street (now named Henriques Street) premises an approx. 1930 at which time they moved both sets of clubs there. Basil had been at Oxford University and had helped at the Christian "Oxford and Bermondsey club" as an undergraduate and this so inspired him that he wished to do the same for the Jewish Community. Initially he used his own money and gifts from friends and was very successful. During the First World War he served with great distinction as an officer in the Tank Regiment and if you visit the tank museum near Poole there is much mention of him and his deeds. He was quite unsuitable for First World War tanks as he was about 6 foot six and couldn't fit inside them! There are stories of him in, I think, the battle of the Somme riding his tank standing from his waist up outside the turret leading his line of tanks as if he were a cavalry man riding a charger! A lot of the boys also joined up and to keep in touch he and the missus published a periodical "Fratres" ( brotherís the club motto) and a prayer book later incorporated into the Fratres prayer book. The missus wrote many of the prayers which were added to more traditional elements with however virtually no Hebrew. "Fratres" continued to be published long after the war and was greatly in demand during the Second World War.

PART THREE: How the Oxford and St George's club was organised:  Basil wanted to create a feeling of responsibility in the boys and he also wanted to import some public school ideas (He had been at Harrow before going to Oxford.) He introduced the house system and each club was divided up into 4 houses. Thus the 31's were divided into Britons, Danes, Normans and Saxons. This maybe was to make the kids feel they were not only Jews but ENGLISHMEN! Not only were the boys put into these houses but the adult helpers were also put into them. Each House had two Officers, a captain and a vice captain - both normal club members although he always selected the most difficult boys for these jobs. These boys had a lot of responsibility finding out why boys had missed club, making sure that their boys were coming to camp even reporting problems that the boys were having and dealing with them - bullying in and outside the club comes to mind  - even deciding when a boy should become a full club member rather than a provisional one. They often made home visits. They could suspend a boy or take other action if he was misbehaving. The adults often had to try to tone down the punishment - frequently unsuccessfully. Since Officers were club members, the adults had to be called Managers which was seen as a lower title. There were elections - only the boys had a vote- for secretary and treasurer - both titles which were held by boys. The treasurer and officers decided on spending on sports equipment etc. The secretary had to keep minutes he could ask an adult for help but they were HIS minutes. The girls had a similar system but I was a manager of the boys club so I know less about it. For the two older groups in  the first part of the evening the boys had to do an activity: it might be sports e.g. boxing, football or more sedate activities such as painting, photography or current affairs. These activities were strictly single sex. However providing they had done an activity; they could go to the mixed social for the second part of the evening. This was mostly dancing in whatever was the current fashion. At the end of the evening there was TIME, very much based on school assemblies with announcements, then prayers always ending with the club prayer, "When we are asleep and when we are awake, into thy hand we commend our sprits and with our sprits our bodies also. Thou art with us we shall not fear."

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