C.A. Mathew returns

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This March and April Londoners will get another chance to view the compelling street photography of C.A. Mathew. This series of black and white images, which capture the people and streets of 1912 Spitalfields, are unique and unmissable. Revealing the daily life of an area rarely depicted in photographs of the time, this new exhibition features the first chance to see all 21 photographs – including some original prints – on display.

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The story behind the photographs is a fascinating one in itself: C.A. Mathew was actually based in Essex and is thought to have taken these photos while travelling to nearby Liverpool Street Station one fateful Saturday morning in April 1912 (April 20th, to be precise). These are the only surviving body of work by Mathew, who started out in photography just a year before these images were taken, and it is not known for what purpose he chose this subject. Thankfully for us he did – as they have now become the primary visual record of early 20th century Spitalfields.

The sheer number of people out and about on the streets – and the relative youth of many – is fascinating, as is the comparison of the streets and buildings themselves then and now. And with the works on display at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery in Princelet Street, you won’t need to go far to draw such comparisons…

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The images will be on display at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery from 7th March to 25th April 2014; on weekends 10am-6pm and by appointment during the week.

The collection of C.A. Mathew’s work is now housed at Bishopsgate Institute, which is also running a series of events – entitled East End in Focus – in conjunction with the exhibition.

On the same day this blog post was published, Spitalfields Life published this lovely piece by Vicky Stewart, which unravels some of C.A. Mathew’s life story.

All images are ©Bishopsgate Institute.

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City views

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For the Londonphile’s Christmas special this year I will share with you some photos of our pretty city. These were the result of a super day out for bloggers organised by the good folks at the City of London. We lucky participants gained access to one of the turrets on Tower Bridge and down into its bascule chambers, and took a trip along the Thames at sunset in a London Port Authority Boat, amongst other treats.

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Tower Bridge’s turrets are located just above its walkways – and while the former are not accessible to the public the latter can be visited as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. We visited the northern turret, whose narrow ledges are accessed via a number of tiny doors on each side of the small room seen above. While the views are quite literally breathtaking, they are certainly not for the faint-hearted – the only barriers being the turret wall and an iron post in the crenel (the photo below gives you some idea of the set up). Given my former fear of heights these photos are nothing short of miraculous!

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While the views from Tower Bridge’s walkways are similar, I’d have to say that those from the turrets are superior, especially as they afford more side views from the bridge. However the good news is that your viewing pleasure will be vastly improved in 2014 with the addition of glass flooring in the walkways – something that IanVisits has written about in more detail here. This innovation will enable visitors to look down upon the bridge itself and to view the bridge lifts from above. Those less fond of heights will be relieved to hear that the entire floor will not be made of glass – there will be a narrow strip of glass flooring only, so that people can still walk across a non-transparent surface should they prefer.

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We were also taken down to visit Tower Bridge’s huge bascule chambers underneath the river bed – where the counterweights that balance the bridge swing down when the bascules are opened. I’ve written about these previously after taking one of the bridge’s excellent Engineering Tours. Tours for early next year are almost fully subscribed so you’ll need to be very quick to get on one of those – otherwise if you can get together a group of at least six people you can book a behind-the-scenes private tour of these subterranean areas for £29 per person.

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While there is no way for the public to organise outings on a London Port Authority Boat – from which the rest of these photographs were taken – I would highly recommend a trip on the Thames Clippers to those looking for a cheap and easy way to access London’s spectacular river views. The bridges are looking particularly special now at night with the coloured lighting. The clippers have an outside deck area from which you can take photographs, but you may want to avoid peak hour as people do use the service to commute.

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The Londonphile is on holiday until the second week of January – wishing you all a fabulous festive season!

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Sandys Row Synagogue

Hidden behind a fairly nondescript brick frontage in one of my favourite warrens of old streets in Spitalfields is London’s oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue – Sandys Row. Sandys Row actually started life as a Huguenot church (circa 1763) and was later a place of worship over many years for various Baptists congregations. The local Jewish community – composed primarily of Dutch Ashkenazi workers – created a fellowship in 1854 and took ownership of the site in 1867.

Utilising the chapel’s balcony as the women’s gallery, they also instigated a re-design to create the new main entrance on Sandys Row. The old entrance on the eastern side can still be seen today in its bricked-up form on Parliament Court, the alley behind the synagogue. It was relocated as the Torah Ark (a cabinet containing the synagogue’s Torah scrolls) needed to be housed on this side as it’s the closest to Jerusalem. Following the destruction of the Great Synagogue of London in Aldgate during the Blitz, Sandys Row became London’s oldest Ashkenazi synagogue.

Today Sandys Row is Spitalfield’s last surviving, operational synagogue – in an area that was once home to a flourishing Jewish community. After years of a declining congregation, it has experienced a renaissance of late, with an increasing number of Jewish families moving back into the area and board members who are keen to open the synagogue to visitors. A recent £250,000 English Heritage restoration project allowed for the repair of the Huguenot roof, which had been badly damaged by vibrations from exploding bombs in the Second World War.

A rare glimpse of the human face in these lights – not usually depicted within synagogues.

Currently on display in Sandys Row is a series of fascinating 1912 street photography of the local area by C.A. Mathew. Mathew was an Essex-based photographer – these photographs represent his only surviving body of work. They show a heavily populated Spitalfields that is at once both familiar and unfamiliar: some areas have changed out of sight while others are surprisingly recognisable. Anyone familiar with the wonderful Spitalfields Life blog will probably have read some of the Gentle Author’s pieces about Mathew’s work – or even about Sandys Row itself.

Mathew’s photographs will be on display until February 2013 – Sandys Row is open to the public on Sundays from 10:30am-4pm, but check their calendar to confirm as the synagogue may be booked for private events on some dates.

http://sandysrow.org.uk/

The Londonphile photo gallery