Boris Bennett, Photographer
It is my pleasure to publish this selection of pictures by the celebrated Whitechapel Wedding Photographer, Boris Bennett (1900-1985), whose work is now collected into a handsome monograph entitled Vintage Glamour in London’s East End published by Hoxton Minipress. There is a compelling poignancy to these pictures, recording the most important events in the lives of their subjects. Brimming with emotion, many were putting a troubled Eastern European past behind them as they turned their faces to the camera – and Boris’ emotive photographs capture the significant moment when his subjects ‘arrived.’
Boris Bennett, 1985
“My father, Boris Bennett, was the doyen of Jewish wedding photographers and became a legend in his own lifetime. Over the course of his working life, he took 150,000 wedding photographs and it was cited in the Jewish East End that, ‘if you haven’t got a Boris wedding picture, you aren’t married.’ Even today, it is hard to find a London Jewish home where a ‘Boris’ wedding photo is not on display. Indeed, his popularity extended beyond the East End – prior to the end of World War II, Boris opened studio premises in the West End, at first on Oxford St with further studios in Bond St, Marble Arch, Leicester Sq and the Strand.” – Michael Bennett
Polly Cohen & Julius Henry Goldwater were married on 26th December, 1929 at West Ham District Synagogue, Earlhamgrove, Forest Gate. The couple settled in Cambridge and Julius, originally from Edgbaston, Birmingham, ran ladies and menswear shops. They had two children, Clive & Marlene.
Dora Sweetman & Isaac Feierstein were married on 15th June, 1930 at Fieldgate St Great Synagogue, Stepney. Isaac, born in Warsaw, was a master tailor with a workshop in Stoke Newington and Dora was a tailoress.
Elsie Pliskin & Victor Pliskin were first cousins aged nine and six at the wedding of their cousin Minnie Pliskin, a milliner, and Barnett Cooklin, a cabinetmaker, on 11th December, 1932 at Jubilee St Great Synagogue. Victor’s winged collar was specially made by the outfitters, Mays in Whitechapel Road, next door to the Blind Beggar pub. Victor later married Irene Plisken on 11th August, 1946 in the Dunstan Rd Synagogue, Golders Green with the reception at the Regal Ballrooms, Finchley Rd. Victor was a machinist at a London tailor but was evacuated to Luton during World War II. Later he set up his own ladies’ tailoring business called ‘Renvic Modes’ and Irene became a hairdresser like her father Reuben Plisken.
Dora Ackerman was a bridesmaid at the wedding of Aida Margolis & Hyman Lever in October 1931. Dora, a friend of Aida, was married in 1933 to Nathan Misner and had a daughter in 1936 and a son a year later. Both Dora and Nathan worked in the jewellery trade. During World War II, Nathan served in the Far East and Dora died prematurely in 1944, aged only thirty-six.
Fanny Borona (also known as Felice Flatto) was a shop assistant who married Morris Winter, a tailor’s cutter, on 1st May 1932 at the Great Synagogue, Dukes Place, in the City of London. Fanny died aged eighty-eight on 27th January, 1996 in Hove, after an unspecified accident.
Eva Specter & Sanuel Goodstein were married on 30th March 1933 at Jubilee St Great Synagogue. The reception was held at La Boheme Ballrooms in Mile End Rd and was catered by M. Stern and Sons of Dalston with music provided by Leavey’s Oxford Orchestra. The bride’s parents were born and married in Russia and arrived in London in the early nineteen-hundreds, where Eva was born in Poplar in 1908. David’s parents were also born and married in Poland and arrived at the beginning of the century. Samuel was born in Mile End in 1906, he was an electrician by trade and Eva was a dressmaker, making all the dresses in the photograph herself. On the left of the bride is Gertrude Goodstein, Samuel’s sister, and to her left is Dinky, Eva’s cousin. To the right of Samuel is Rebecca Specter, Eva’s sister, and standing in front is Rene Specter, Eva’s niece.
Fay Kaufman & Sidney Croup were married on 17th March, 1935 at Philpot St Synagogue, Whitechapel. Sidney, whose parents came from Lithuania, was a self-employed tailor like his brother Morris and Fay did the button-holes for suits made by her husband. The couple lived in Stepney and in 1960 moved to Ilford. The page boy was Sidney’s nephew, Roy Segal, while the bridesmaid is believed to be a cousin of Fay’s.
Esther Davidson & Kurt Keyem were married on 22nd June, 1939 at the Beth Hamedrash Synagogue, Stamford Hill. Kurt, born in 1914, was director of a chemical company, his father Jacob was an upholsterer and Esther, born in 1906, was a tailor’s manageress. Esther had a brother, Alec Davidson,who married Eva Yanovitch in 1943, and four sisters Annie, Yetta, Bella and Dolly. The wedding hats were made by Bella, a milliner, and the dresses by Bella’s mother Betsy.
Annie & Isaac Abraham Severin were photographed c. 1931. Isaac was a furrier and both were born in Poland in 1884. Isaac died in 1953 and Annie two years later. They are both are buried in Edmonton Cemetery.
Monty Hubbersgilt was photographed at his Bar Mitzvah in April 1938 with his sister Sylvia and his parents, Alec & Rachel. At the time, the family lived at Wellington Ave, Stamford Hill and Monty attended Tottenham Grammar School. The Hubbersgilts came to London in 1901 from Vitebsk in Lithuania. Alec was brought over nine years later by his aunt. His family of eleven children (eight boys and three girls) lived in Brick Lane above his workshop and all the boys were trained as cabinet makers. Alec was educated at the Jewish Free School but left at fourteen to work with his father. He married Rachel on 17th June 1924 at Philpot St Synagogue. By the time of Monty’s Bar Mitzvah, Alec owned his own factory in Stamford Hill, employing around fifty people, specialising in the manufacture of cocktail cabinets and dining room furniture. Monty’s mother Rachel had also come to London from Vitebsk in the early nineteen-hundreds with her family (ten girls and one boy) and lived in Customs House, Docklands. Not wanting to stay at home, she trained to be a shorthand typist.
Sir John Edward Cohen, known as Jack Cohen, was born in 1898 in Whitechapel, the son of a Polish tailor. In 1917, he joined the Royal Flying Corps, serving as a canvas maker. In 1919, using thirty pounds of his demobilisation gratuity, he set himself up as a market trader in Hackney selling surplus NAAFI food. With his fast turnover and low prices, Jack earned himself the nickname ‘Jack the Slasher’. He soon owned a number of stalls and started a wholesale business. In 1924, the same year Jack married Cissie Fox, he created the Tesco brand name from the initials of a tea supplier, T. E. Stockwell, and the first two letters of his surname. The first Tesco store opened in 1931 and, over the next eight years, the company grew rapidly, opening more than a hundred small stores mainly in the London area. In 1935, Jack visited the United States but his dream of setting up American-style supermarkets was halted by World War II. In 1948, the first self-service store opened in St Albans and, over the next twenty years, Tesco expanded quickly across the country, mainly by the acquisition of smaller grocery chains. In 1969, Jack was knighted and retired from the business in 1973, by which time Tesco operated nearly nine hundred supermarkets. Jack & Cissie had two daughters, Shirley & Irene. Jack died in 1979.