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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19 Princelet Street

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19 Princelet Street seems a fitting place for an immigration museum given its layers of history that follow patterns of immigration in the local area. Last week the house held two rare open days – due to its fragile nature it is not yet able to be open to the public on a more regular basis. Funding is desperately required for repairs to the Grade II listed property so that its Museum of Immigration and Diversity can be fully realised. The Londonphile attended the second opening, and the queue stretching all the way back to Wilkes Street would suggest that number 19 has a bright future.

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Originally built in 1719, this five-storey building was home to the Ogier family, French Huguenot silk weavers. A metal bobbin hangs outside the building today as a lasting reminder of the weavers’ presence in the house. After a number of years housing various workshops and lodgings, 19 Princelet Street underwent its most significant change with the building of a synagogue in 1870 by a group of mainly Polish Jews, working together under the banner of ‘Loyal United Friends Friendly Society’ to create a community centre. While the synagogue now comprises the major part of the building, this part of the structure was in fact where the Ogiers’ garden once stood.

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Metal vents in the synagogue floor allow glimpses down to the meeting room built below the synagogue – this downstairs area was also open, along with a kitchen underneath the original house. Upstairs we had access to some of the the women’s gallery in the synagogue, with its lovely views across the space. The floor above that was closed to visitors but now functions as a staff area, while the attic room of mysterious scholar/recluse David Rodinsky – made famous by artist Rachel Lichtenstein’s 1999 book Rodinsky’s Room – is well out of bounds due to structural issues. One of the volunteers told me she had been involved with the charity for ten years and still hadn’t seen it.

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Due to the property’s no-photography rule you will have to imagine the crumbling beauty of its interior for yourself. But it is beautiful, and hopefully the Spitalfields Centre charity will be able to generate the funds needed to preserve and restore this lovely building and turn it into the museum of their vision.

And the best news is that more open days are already planned for March 2013: on Sundays 17th & 24th March, 2-4pm, and what is sure to be a lovely evening opening on Thursday 21st March, 5-8pm. For more details visit 19 Princelet Street’s website.

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