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Morley Von Sternberg At 19 Princelet St

May 27, 2016
by the gentle author

The old synagogue in Princelet St is one of Spitalfields’ most atmospheric and mysterious spaces, so I was thrilled when Architectural Photographer Morley Von Sternberg agreed to take these pictures for Spitalfields Life. The project was a natural one for Morley who was born in Whitechapel, and whose great-grandfather arrived from Minsk in 1878 and ran greengrocer’s shop on Brick Lane just around the corner from the synagogue.

Built by Samuel Worrall in 1719, 19 Princelet St was at first the home of the Ogier family, Huguenot refugees from France who established themselves as silk weavers in Spitalfields. Subsequently, the house became home to Irish and Polish immigrants before a synagogue was built in the garden in 1869.

David Rodinsky, caretaker of the synagogue, lived in a single room on the upper floor which he left in 1969 never to return, and Rachel Lichtenstein & Iain Sinclair’s Rodinsky’s Room explores the enigma of his disappearance.

You can visit 19 Princelet St on June 7th, 11th, 14th, 18th, 21st & 25th as part of A SPITALFIELDS JOURNEY, comprising a joint ticket for Dennis Severs House and the Museum of Immigration. Click here for tickets

Photographs copyright © Morley Von Sternberg

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14 Responses leave one →
  1. Chris F permalink
    May 27, 2016

    What is happening to this building?

  2. May 27, 2016

    Wonderful and atmospheric photos. It would be nice to see it restored. Valerie

  3. Tony Cates permalink
    May 27, 2016

    What is happening to this building? Is it just being left to decay which would be a pity as it has some attractive features.

  4. May 27, 2016

    GA you were thrilled indeed, on having these pics. Morley’s interpretation of the old Synagogue is very good, we are seeing it through his eyes/pics. There has been lots of devotion and prayer here since 1819. I hope this holy place at No 19 Princelet St survives the ravishes of time and lots of good things happen here again. Can we have a follow-up blog please more on the history. I am intrigued about the devout caretaker. Finely I hope this Synagogue escapes the developers axe for all time. John

  5. sarah permalink
    May 27, 2016


  6. Richard permalink
    May 27, 2016

    Beautiful colours and textures. It should be kept in its gorgeous state of decay like Calke Abbey.

  7. May 27, 2016

    What a graceful structure; full of so many distinguished and distinctive touches. Like your other readers, I am hopeful that the right person will come along and rescue this fine building. In the meantime, these stunning, narrative photographs capture a moment of “waiting”. Is that a letter displayed on the lectern? Perhaps from a scrapbook of saved correspondence, discovered in one of the discarded suitcases?

  8. Annie S permalink
    May 27, 2016

    I do so love this place, there is something very fascinating and atmospheric about it, I have already visited on four open days over the past few years – very tempted to go again!

  9. Alex Knisely permalink
    May 27, 2016

    Here is the synagogue
    there is no steeple
    open the doors and
    there are no people.

    What is belief without believers?

    This state of decay shames those to whom the building was entrusted.h

  10. May 28, 2016

    I disagree entirely with those who want to ‘restore’ this wonderful building: there are so few places left in which the past is present, the ‘genius loci’ unassailed, and safe from the vandalism of faux restoration.

    Preserve it as it is, with its integrity and spirit alive, and still speaking to those with ears to listen.

  11. November 26, 2019

    It would be so wonderful if this could be fully restored as a working 19th century synagogue and provide us with a real sense of what it would have been like for our ancestors to have attended.

  12. Paul Phillips permalink
    March 22, 2022

    Thank you for your description/history of the conversion from non-conformist worship to Judaism, your words created a real sense of peace within me. But so sorry to see the decay in the Princelet Street building. The pictures still conjure up a sense of peace and healing but the decay is equally depressing.
    I can relate to this somewhat as I started off my Police career at Commercial Street Police Station aged just 17, as a Police Cadet. I can still smell the bagels and pretzels being loaded onto ‘barrows’ in one of the back streets behind Godfrey Phillips’s Tobacco Factory!!

  13. March 22, 2022

    My wife comes from a Dutch family and I am from Polish stock ( unpopular mix in mid 19th C)
    When we last visited Sandys Row what struck me was the names of benefactors displayed prominently on the balcony front were all from Eastern Europe yet the Chief Rabbi here was strongly against its establishment. The consecration was a ceremony was by a Sephardic Rabbi.

  14. Yvonne Cheyney permalink
    March 23, 2022

    Paul Phillips mentioned Commercial Street Police Station. Does he mean the police station just across from Elder Street. We were very familiar with that station as it was just a few houses down from our family living at 20 Elder Street 1953-1959. Visiting a few years back – the police station has gone. So has #20 Elder Street replaced with a building incorporating that number. Thanks to Spitalfields Trust about 80% of the street was saved.

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