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The Good News & The Bad News

April 22, 2021
by the gentle author

The GOOD NEWS is we have only £3,168 left to raise of the £10,000 we need to pay for a top QC and barrister to represent us at the High Court on 5th & 6th May in our fight to save the 500-year-old Bethnal Green Mulberry. We are offering big pots of our homemade Mulberry sorbet or rooted cuttings of Shakespeare’s Mulberry in appreciation to our supporters. Click here to support us

The BAD NEWS is that – despite a record 7,057 individual letters of objection to the application to build an ugly shopping mall with corporate offices on top at the Truman Brewery – Tower Hamlets Planning Department is recommending approval. There is still time to object. Find instructions at

Today I announce a new webinar, next Tuesday 26th April, focussing on the challenges for the Brick Lane traders in the light of the threat of the Truman Brewery development. Below you can also watch the film of this week’s webinar, Voices from Brick Lane’s Jewish Past.




Tuesday 26th April 7:00pm

Members of East End Trades Guild and Bangla Restaurants Association discuss their fight for affordable rent on Brick Lane.

Curry restaurants in Brick Lane have decreased by 62% in the past fifteen years and the drop in footfall due to the pandemic is crippling businesses that were already struggling.

The proposed Truman Brewery development would compound this crisis, extracting wealth out of the community by increasing the land value and displacing East End cultural heritage. It will be the end of small independent businesses on Brick Lane.

GULJAR KHAN is chair of Brick Lane Bangla Restaurants Association and has been fighting for fair rents and rates for seven years. He owns four restaurants on Brick Lane including Masala and Gram Bangla.

RHEANNA LINGHAM is a co-founder of Luna & Curious. The shop opened on Brick Lane in 2006 before moving to Calvert Avenue. Rheanna is part of the East End Trades Guild, launching a new EETG Council Tenant’s Group to address the challenge of escalating rents.

The recent Runnymede Trust report highlights shocking levels of economic and racial inequality in which British Bangladeshi households have ten times less wealth than White British households.

In a joint survey conducted by Extended Ventures and Your Startup Your Story on the impact of COVID-19 upon ethnic minority businesses, 48% of respondents stated that they did not access or expect to qualify for any government support scheme.

Click here to register for free for THE CURRY HOUSES OF BRICK LANE





Professor Nadia Valman and Rachel Lichtenstein investigate the Jewish history of Brick Lane.

From the late nineteenth century until the Second World War, Brick Lane and the surrounding streets were home to Britain’s largest Jewish population. Originating from towns and villages in Russian and Eastern Europe, Jews came to London in search of freedom and a better life. Crowded into dilapidated eighteenth-century houses, they built a rich and complex subculture over generations.




Louis Schulz of Assemble introduces Annetta’s House, a new centre for campaigning and resistance against exploitative development.

25 Princelet St in Spitalfields was the home of the architect, cybernetician, conservationist, builder, beekeeper, and campaigner Annetta Pedretti until her death in 2018. An obsessive polymath, her work has been all but forgotten.

Samuel Pepys At St Olave’s

April 21, 2021
by the gentle author

Do you see Elizabeth Pepys, leaning out from her monument in the top left of this photograph and directing her gaze across the church to where Samuel sat in the gallery opposite? These days the gallery has long gone but, since her late husband became celebrated for his journal, a memorial to him was installed in 1883 where the gallery once was, which contains a portrait bust that peers back eternally at Elizabeth. They will always see eye-to-eye even if they are forever separated by the nave.

St Olave’s on the corner of Seething Lane has long been one of my favourite City churches. Dating from the eleventh century, it is a rare survivor of the Great Fire and the London Blitz. When you walk in from Hart St, three steps down into the nave immediately reveal you are entering an ancient building, where gothic vaults and medieval monuments conjure an atmosphere more reminiscent of a country church than one in the City of London.

Samuel Pepys moved into this parish when he was appointed Commissioner of the Navy Board and came to live next to the Navy Office at the rear of the church, noting his arrival at “my house in Seething Lane” in his journal on July 18th 1660. It was here that Pepys recorded the volatile events of the subsequent decade, the Plague and the Fire.

In Seething Lane, a gateway adorned with skulls as memento mori survives from that time. Pepys saw the gate from his house across the road and could walk out of the Navy Office and through it into the churchyard, where an external staircase led him straight into the private Navy Office pew in the gallery.

The churchyard itself is swollen above surrounding ground level by the vast number of bodies interred within and, even today, the gardeners constantly unearth human bones. When Elizabeth and the staff of the Navy Office took refuge from the Plague south of the river, Pepys stayed behind in the City. Countless times, he walked back and forth between his house and the Navy Office and St Olave’s as the body count escalated through the summer of 1665. “The sickness in general thickens round us, and particularly upon our neighbourhood,” he wrote to Sir William Coventry in grim resignation.

The following year, Pepys employed workers from the dockyard to pull down empty houses surrounding the Navy Office and his own home to create fire breaks. “About 2 in the morning my wife calls me up and tells me of new cries of fire, it being come to … the bottom of our lane,” he recorded on 6th September 1666.

In the seventeenth century vestry room where a plaster angel presides solemnly from the ceiling, I was able to open Samuel Pepys’ prayer book. It was heart-stopping to turn the pages. Dark leather covers embossed with intricate designs enfold the volume, which he embellished with religious engravings and an elaborate hand-drawn calligraphic title page.

Samuel and Elizabeth Pepys are buried in a vault beneath the nave. Within living memory, when the Victorian font was removed, a hole was exposed that led to a chamber with a passage that led to a hidden chapel where a tunnel was dug to reach the Pepys vault. Scholars would love to know if he was buried with his bladder stone upon its silver mount, but no investigation has yet been permitted.

If you seek Samuel Pepys, St Olave’s is undoubtedly where you can find him. Walk in beneath the gate laden with skulls, across the graveyard bulging with the bodies of the long dead, cast your eyes along the flower beds for any shards of human bone, and enter the church where Samuel and Elizabeth regard each other from either side of the nave eternally.

St Olave’s at the corner of Seething Lane

“To our own church, and at noon, by invitation, Sir W Pen dined with me and Mrs Hester, my Lady Betten’s kinswoman, to dinner from church with me, and we were very merry. So to church again, and heard a simple fellow upon the praise of Church musique, and exclaiming against men’s wearing their hats on in the church, but I slept part of the sermon, till latter prayer and blessing and all was done without waking  which I never did in my life…” SAMUEL PEPYS, Sunday 17th November, 1661

Samuel Pepys’ memorial in the south aisle

Samuel Pepys’ prayerbook

Engraved nativity and fine calligraphy upon the title page of Pepys’ prayerbook

Door to the vestry

The oldest monument in the church, 1566

Memorial of Peter Capponi, a Florentine merchant & spy, 1582

Paul Bayning, 1616, was an Alderman of the City & member of the Levant company

A Norwegian flag hangs in honour of St Olave

The gate where Pepys walked in from the Navy Office across the street

Sculpture of Samuel Pepys in the churchyard

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Down A Well In Spitalfields

April 20, 2021
by the gentle author

Thirty years ago, eighteen wooden plates and bowls were recovered from a silted-up well in Spitalfields. One of the largest discoveries of medieval wooden vessels ever made in this country, they are believed to be dishes belonging to the inmates of the long-gone Hospital of St Mary Spital, which gave its name to this place. After seven hundred years lying in mud at the bottom of the well, the thirteenth century plates were transferred to the Museum of London store in Hoxton where I went to visit them as a guest of Roy Stephenson, Head of Archaeological Collections.

Almost no trace remains above ground of the ancient Hospital of St Mary yet, in Spital Sq, the roads still follow the ground plan laid laid out by Walter Brune in 1197, with the current entrance from Bishopsgate coinciding to the gate of the Priory and Folgate St following the line of the northern perimeter wall. Stand in the middle of Spital Sq today, and you are surrounded by glass and steel corporate architecture, but seven hundred years ago this space was enclosed by the church of St Mary and then you would be standing in the centre of the aisle where the transepts crossed beneath the soaring vault with the lantern of the tower looming overhead. Stand in the middle of Spital Sq today, and the Hospital of St Mary is lost in time.

In his storehouse, Roy Stephenson had eleven miles of rolling shelves that contain all the finds excavated from old London in recent decades. He opened one box containing bricks in a plastic bag that originated from Pudding Lane and were caked with charcoal dust from the Fire of London. I leant in close and a faint cloud of soot rose in the air, with an unmistakable burnt smell persisting after four centuries. “I can open these at random,” said Roy, gesturing towards the infinitely receding shelves lined with boxes in every direction, “and every one will have a story inside.”

Removing the wooden plates and bowls from their boxes, Roy laid them upon the table for me to see. Finely turned and delicate, they still displayed ridges from the lathe, seven centuries after manufacture. Even distorted by water and pressure over time, it was apparent that, even if they were for the lowly inhabitants of the hospital, these were not crudely produced items. At hospitals, new arrivals were commonly issued with a plate or bowl, and drinking cup and a spoon. Ceramics and metalware survive but rarely wood, so Roy is especially proud of these humble platters. “They are a reminder that pottery is a small part of the kitchen assemblage and people ate off wood and also off bread which leaves no trace.” he explained. Turning over a plate, Roy showed me a cross upon the base made of two branded lines burnt into the wood. “Somebody wanted to eat off the same plate each day and made it their own,” he informed me, as each of the bowls and plates were revealed to have different symbols and simple marks upon them to distinguish their owners – crosses, squares and stars.

Contemporary with the plates, there were a number of ceramic jugs and flagons which Roy produced from boxes in another corner of his store. While the utilitarian quality of the dishes did not speak of any precise period, the rich glazes and flamboyant embossed designs, with studs and rosettes applied, possessed a distinctive aesthetic that placed them in another age. Some had protuberances created with the imprints of fingers around the base that permitted the jar to sit upon a hot surface and heat the liquid inside without cracking from direct contact with the source of heat, and these pots were still blackened from the fire.

The intimacy of objects that have seen so much use conjures the presence of the people who ate and drank with them. Many will have ended up in the graveyard attached to the hospital and then were exhumed in the nineties. It was the largest cemetery ever excavated and their remains are now stored in the tall brick rotunda where London Wall meets Goswell Rd outside the Museum of London. This curious architectural feature that serves as a roundabout is in fact a mausoleum for long dead Londoners and, of the seventeen thousand souls whose bones are there, twelve thousand came from Spitalfields.

The Priory of St Mary Spital stood for over four hundred years until it was dissolved by Henry VIII who turned its precincts into an artillery ground in 1539. Very little detail is recorded of the history though we do know that many thousands died in the great famine of 1258, which makes the survival of these dishes at the bottom of a well especially plangent.

Returning to Spitalfields, I walked again through Spital Sq. Yet, in spite of the prevailing synthetic quality of the architecture, the place had changed for me after I had seen and touched the bowls that once belonged to those who called this place home seven centuries ago – and thus the Hospital of St Mary Spital was no longer lost in time.

Sixteenth century drawing of St Mary Spital as Shakespeare may have known it, with gabled wooden houses lining Bishopsgate.

“Nere and within the citie of London be iij hospitalls or spytells, commonly called Seynt Maryes Spytell, Seynt Bartholomewes Spytell and Seynt Thomas Spytell, and the new abby of Tower Hyll, founded of good devocion by auncient ffaders, and endowed with great possessions and rents onley for the releffe, comfort, and helyng of the poore and impotent people not beyng able to help themselffes, and not to the mayntennance of chanins, preestes, and monks to lyve in pleasure, nothyng regardyng the miserable people liying in every strete, offendyng every clene person passyng by the way with theyre fylthy and nasty savours.” Sir Richard Gresham in a letter to Thomas Cromwell, August 1538

Finely turned ash bowl.

Fragment of a wooden plate

Turned wooden plate marked with a square on the base to indicate its owner.

Copper glazed white ware jug from St Mary Spital

Redware glazed flagon, used to heat liquid and still blackened from the fire seven hundred years later.

White ware flagon, decorated in the northern French style.

A pair of thirteenth century boots found at the bottom of the cesspit in Spital Sq.

The gatehouse of St Mary Spital coincides with the entrance to Spital Sq today and Folgate St follows the boundary of the northern perimeter .


My vowes fly up to heaven, that I would make
Some pious work in the brass book of Fame
That might till Doomesday lengthen out my name.
Near Norton Folgate therefore have I bought
Ground to erect His house, which I will call
And dedicate St Marie’s Hospitall,
And when ’tis finished, o’ r the gates shall stand
In capitall letters, these words fairly graven
For I have given the worke and house to heaven,
And cal’d it, Domus Dei, God’s House,
For in my zealous faith I now full well,
Where goode deeds are, there heaven itself doth dwell.

(Walter Brune founding St Mary Spital from ‘A New Wonder, A Woman Never Vexed’ by William Rowley, 1623)

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Frost Brothers, Rope Makers & Yarn Spinners

April 19, 2021
by the gentle author

Founded by John James Frost in 1790, Frost Brothers Ltd of 340/342 Commercial Rd was managed by his grandson – also John James Frost – in 1905, when these photographs were taken. In 1926, the company was amalgamated to become part of British Ropes and now only this modest publication on the shelf in the Bishopsgate Institute bears testimony to the long-lost industry of rope making and yarn spinning in the East End, from which Cable St takes its name.

First Prize London Cart Parade – Manila Hemp as we receive it from the Philippines

Hand Dressing

The Old-Fashioned Method of Hand Spinning

The First Process in Spinning Manila – The women are shown feeding Hemp up to the spreading machines, taken from the bales as they come from the Philippines. These three machines are capable of manipulating one hundred and twenty bales a day.

Manila-Finishing Drawing Machines

Russian & Italian Hemp Preparing Room

Manila Spinning

Binder Twine & Trawl Twine Spinning – This floor contains one hundred and fifty six spindles

Russian & Italian Hemp Spinning

Carding Room

Tow Drawing Room

Tow Spinning & Spun Yarn Twisting Room

Tarred Yarn Store – This contains one hundred and fifty tons of Yarn

Tarred Yarn Winding Room

Upper End of Main Rope Ground – There are six ground four hundred yards long, capable of making eighteen tons of rope per ten and a half hour day

Rope-Making Machines – This pair of large machines are capable of making rope up to forty-eight centimetres in circumference

House Machines – This view shows part of the Upper Rope Ground and a couple of small Rope-Making Machines

Number 4 House Machine Room

The middle section of a machine capable of making rope from  three inches up to seven inches in circumference, any length without a splice. It is thirty-two feet in height and driven by an electric motor.

Number 4 Rope Store

Boiler House

120 BHP. Sisson Engine Direct Coupled to Clarke-Chapman Dynamo

One of our Motors by Crompton 40 BHP – These Manila Ropes have been running eight years and are still in first class condition.

Engineers’ Shop with Smiths’ Shop adjoining

Carpenters’ Store & Store for Spare Gear

Exhibit at Earl’s Court Naval & Shipping Exhibition, 1905

View of the Factory before the Fire in 1860

View of the Factory as it is now in 1905 – extending from Commercial Rd

Gang of rope makers at Frost Brothers (You can click to enlarge this image)

Rope makers with a bale of fibre and reels of twine (You can click to enlarge this image )

Rope makers including women and boys with coils of rope (You can click to enlarge this image)

Frost Brothers Ropery stretched from Commercial Rd to St Dunstan’s Churchyard in Stepney

In Bromley St today

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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Bethnal Green Mulberry Campaign News

April 18, 2021
by the gentle author

Ice Cream Maker Kitty Travers tastes her Mulberry sorbet 


People sometimes say ‘I’d give my right arm…’ when expressing a heartfelt wish. It almost happened to me – quite literally – when I fell out of a Mulberry tree in Bethnal Green and broke my wrist while gathering fruit to make ice cream for our campaign.

I shall never forget the moment I saw my right hand bent back the wrong way like a broken doll. Fortunately two angels delivered me to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel where a metal plate was fitted and now my hand is quite serviceable again, even if I will never quite get all the movement back.

Yet I wear my scar as a badge of honour in our campaign to Save the Bethnal Green Mulberry. To crown it all, Kitty Travers of La Grotta Ices has made sorbet from the Mulberries and we are offering large tubs of this irresistible confection to those who contribute £100 or more to our legal fund. I can personally attest to the deliciousness of it.

After three years of campaigning – and now with the patronage of Judi Dench – we are overjoyed that our case has been granted a Judicial Review with a full public hearing at the High Court on May 5th & 6th, if we can raise £10,000 to pay our Barrister and QC.




We will be represented by top QC Richard Harwood OBE and Andrew Parkinson, Barrister, challenging Tower Hamlets Council’s decision to issue planning permission to Crest Nicholson, which includes partly demolishing the listed Chest Hospital building and digging up the 500 year old Bethnal Green Mulberry. We believe Tower Hamlets acted unlawfully and there are five grounds for Judicial Review.

Anyone who donates £100 or more will receive either a big tub of our homemade Mulberry sorbet made from the fruit of historic London Mulberries picked by yours truly or a cutting of William Shakespeare’s Mulberry.

Planted in Stratford Upon Avon by the poet in 1610, Shakespeare’s Mulberry was cut down in 1770 but David Garrick rescued a cutting which flourishes to this day. Your cutting comes from this tree.

Send an email with your preference to and we will supply your rooted cutting later this year or give you details to collect your Mulberry sorbet from a Central London location. (Both are available only in limited numbers)

We will publish details of how to watch the High Court hearing online in due course



Dame Judi Dench is patron of our campaign to Save the Bethnal Green Mulberry

Mulberries from St Dunstan’s, Stepney

Mulberries from Victoria Park and Fournier St

Mulberries from Spitalfields

Kitty Travers heats the Mulberries in a pan

A pan full of Mulberries

Kitty pours the Mulberries into the blender

Kitty sieves the Mulberries to remove the pips

Kitty decants the mixture into pots

Mulberry sorbet in the making

350ml pots of Mulberry sorbet

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

Click here to read my feature in The Evening Standard about the scandal of the Bethnal Green Mulberry

Click here to read my feature in The Daily Telegraph about the scandal of the Bethnal Green Mulberry

Read more here about the Bethnal Green Mulberry

A Judicial Review for the Bethnal Green Mulberry

The Fate of the Bethnal Green Mulberry

The Bethnal Green Mulberry

A Letter to Crest Nicholson

A Reply From Crest Nicholson

The Reckoning With Crest Nicholson





On Friday 15th April, the High Court also agreed that we could raise – as another ground for Judicial Review – the fact that the Conservation Officer in her report concluded the plans would result in Substantial Harm to the listed buildings but this was not disclosed to the public or the councillors making the decision – on the basis of a claim that she had changed her mind by the time of the planning meeting, thereby defeating the public and councillors’ right to know.

Nicholas Borden’s Lockdown Paintings

April 17, 2021
by the gentle author

Through all the chaos and disaster of the past year, Nicholas Borden has been painting continuously and produced an inspirational body of more than thirty splendid new works of visionary intensity of which it is my delight to reveal this selection

Arnold Circus, Boundary Estate

Tower of London

Meynell Rd, Hackney

Hackney Rd and beyond

Regent’s Canal

View from St John’s, Hackney

Tower Bridge

St Paul’s Cathedral

River Lea, Clapton

Gawber St, Bethnal Green

Tower block near Columbia Rd

Getting a bit of fresh air in Church St

St John of Jerusalem, Hackney

Victoria Park by Regent’s Canal

St Martin in the Field

Leopold Buildings, Columbia Rd

The Lake, Victoria Park

Southwark Cathedral

Liverpool St Station

Wishful thinking

Waterloo Bridge

Garrick Theatre, St Martin’s Lane

St Mary Le Bow, Cheapside

Well St Common, Hackney

Poole Rd, Hackney

Feeding pigeons near Mare St

Westminster Abbey

Public Baths

Christ Church, Spitalfields

Paintings copyright © Nicholas Borden

Email to enquire about any of these paintings

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Barry Rogg Of Rogg’s Delicatessen

April 16, 2021
by Alan Dein

Alan Dein fondly remembers Barry Rogg and his celebrated Whitechapel delicatessen


Barry Rogg by Shloimy Alman, 1977


As the years tick by and the places and the people I have loved pass on, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on a remarkable character whose shop was an East End institution for over fifty years.

Just south of Commercial Rd, Rogg’s delicatessen stood at the junction of Cannon Street Rd and Burslem St with its white-tiled doorway directly on the corner. One step transported you into a world of ‘heimishe’ or homely Jewish food that still had one foot in the past, a land of old-time street market sellers and their Eastern European roots.

Rogg’s was crammed from floor to ceiling with barrels, tins and containers of what Barry Rogg always called “the good stuff”. He was the proud proprietor who held court from behind the counter, surrounded on all sides by his handpicked and homemade wares. The shelves behind him were lined with pickles and a variety of cylindrical chub-packed kosher sausages dangled overhead.

Barry’s appearance was timeless, a chunky build with a round face that sometimes made him look younger or older than he was. He would tell you the story of Rogg’s if you wanted to know, but he was neither sentimental about the heyday of the ‘Jewish East End’ nor did he run a nostalgia-driven emporium. Rogg’s customers were varied and changed with the times. There was always the Jewish trade but, up to their closure, Rogg’s was also a popular a haunt for dockers who would traipse up from the nearby Thames yards. After that his customers were made up from the local Asian community, until there came another wave when he was being discovered by the national press increasingly focusing eastwards.

Barry’s grandfather started in the business at another shop on the same street in 1911. By 1944, when Barry was fourteen and still at school, he had already begun to help the family out at their new corner shop at 137 Cannon Street Rd. In 1946 he moved in for good, though he had only anticipated it would be a two-year stint as the building was earmarked for compulsory purchase for a road widening scheme that fortunately never happened.

I got to know Barry Rogg in 1987 when I joined a team of part-time workers at the Museum of the Jewish East End – now the Jewish Museum – who were collecting reminiscences and artefacts relating to East End social history. Then Rogg’s was one of the very last of its kind in East London. By the nineties it was Barry alone who was flying the flag for the Yiddisher corner deli scene that had proliferated in Whitechapel from the late nineteenth century. Thankfully, due to his popularity and the uniqueness in the last decade of the twentieth century, we have some wonderful photographs and articles to remember Barry by.

There are tantalising images of the food but we no can longer taste it. An array of industrial-sized plastic buckets filled with new green cucumbers, chillies, bay leaves and garlic at various stages of pickling, the spread of homemade schmaltz herrings, fried fish, gefilte fish, salt beef, chopped liver, the cheesecake. I am sure everyone reading this who visited Rogg’s will remember how their senses went into overdrive. The smells of the pickles, the herrings, the fruit and the smoked salmon, the visual bombardment of all the packaging and the handwritten labels. “Keep looking” was a favourite Barry catchphrase and how could you possibly not?

Of course, you could spend all day listening to the banter with his customers. I also fondly recall conversations with his partner Angela, who helped out but generally kept a low profile in the back of the shop. Rogg’s was Barry’s stage. He had a deep love for the theatre and for art, and one wonders what else he might have done if – like so many of his generation – he had not ended up in the family business as a fifteen-year-old out of school.

Barry died in 2006 at the age of seventy-six. Years ago, I co-compiled an album for JWM Recordings, Music is the Most Beautiful Language in the World: Yiddisher Jazz in London’s East End from the twenties to the fifties. As a follow-up, my co-compiler and regular companion on trips to Rogg’s, Howard Williams suggested releasing another disc, this time with a food theme and dedicated to Barry Rogg.

This disc dishes up two sides recorded in New York in the late thirties and forties. Slim Gaillard – whose hip scatological word play would be celebrated in On the Road – performs a paean to the humble yet filling Matzoh Balls, dumplings made of eggs and matzoh meal. Yiddish singer Mildred Rosner serves Gefilte Fish a galloping love affair with this slightly sweet but savoury ancient recipe which consists of patties made of a poached mixture of ground deboned white fish, boiled or fried. These two classic dishes have graced the Jewish luncheon or dinner table for generations and the recipes are included.

On the label is Irv Kline’s portrait of Barry from 1983. Irv was an American who had retired to live in London. Barry’s photograph formed part of Irv’s study of surviving Jewish businesses in the East End, a travelling exhibition which I helped to hang during the eighties. I recall Irv being a real jazz buff so I hope that he too would appreciate the music accompanying his portrait of Barry Rogg.

Click here for information about the ‘Gefilte Fish/Matzoh Balls’ recording

Irv Kline’s portrait of Barry Rogg, 1983

Alan Dein’s photograph of Rogg’s with one of Barry’s regular customers framed in the doorway, 1988

Shloimy Alman’s photograph of Rogg’s interior, 1977

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