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At The Jewish Soup Kitchen In Brune St

April 5, 2017
by the gentle author

Originally established in 1854 in Leman St, the Jewish Soup Kitchen opened in Brune St in 1902 and, even though it closed in 1992, the building in Spitalfields still proclaims its purpose to the world in bold ceramic lettering across the fascia. These days few remember when it was supplying groceries to fifteen hundred people weekly, which makes Photographer Stuart Freedman’s pictures especially interesting as a glimpse of one of the last vestiges of the Jewish East End.

“After I finished studying Politics at university, I decided I wanted to be a photographer but I didn’t know how to do it,” Stuart recalled, contemplating these pictures taken in 1990 at the very beginning of his career. “Although I was brought up in Dalston, my father had grown up in Stepney in the thirties and, invariably, when we used to go walking together we always ended up in Petticoat Lane, which seemed to have a talismanic quality for him. So I think I was following in his footsteps.”

“I used to wander with my camera and, one day, I was just walking around taking pictures, when I moseyed in to the Soup Kitchen and said ‘Can I take photographs?’ and they said, ‘Yes.’ “I didn’t realise what I was doing because now they seem to be the only pictures of this place in existence. You could smell that area then – the smell of damp in old men’s coats and the poverty.”

For the past twenty years Stuart Freedman has worked internationally as a photojournalist, yet he was surprised to come upon new soup kitchens recently while on assignment in the north of England. “The poverty is back,” he revealed to me in regret,“which makes these pictures relevant all over again.”

Groceries awaiting collection

A volunteer offers a second hand coat to an old lady

An old woman collects her grocery allowance

A volunteer distributes donated groceries

View from behind the hatch

A couple await their food parcel

An ex-boxer arrives to collect his weekly rations

An old boxer’s portrait, taken while waiting to collect his groceries

An elderly man leaves the soup kitchen with his supplies

Photographs copyright © Stuart Freedman

You can read more about the Soup Kitchen here

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Linda Carney, Machinist

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. April 5, 2017

    It’s sad that in 21st century Europe poverty is really back. Once again many families are dependent on donated groceries. Here in Germany, too, many kids need the warm dinners that they get in soup kitchen, often their only good meal of the day. The rich get rich and the poor get poorer….Great photos from former times here. History is repeating itself. Valerie

  2. Shawdian permalink
    April 5, 2017

    What a world. New Kitchens are opening to feed hungry people and on the other side, there are those trying to cut down on what they eat because they are too over weight.

  3. Sarah permalink
    April 5, 2017

    Fabulous photos. Have long admired the outside of this building – really interesting to see inside. Thank you!

  4. Malcolm permalink
    April 5, 2017

    Great set of pictures. Having photographed the outside many times I always wanted to get inside the Soup Kitchen For The Jewish Poor but it was always closed whenever I was there. It’s a pity the place was closed because as Stuart says, the poverty is back and there are very few places like the Soup Kitchen around. It seems that governments are ignoring the issue and leaving the work of poverty relief to food banks and the left-overs from Pret-a Manger and the like. Every night hundreds of people gather in Lincoln’s Inn Fields to get hot drinks and left-over food, also along the Strand at the junction with William IV Street. There are many more locations like this where it seems for all the world as if one has entered a time warp back to Dickensian London, where men are reduced to no better than beggars against the opulent backdrop of the greatest City on earth. The 21st century has been a cruel one thus far for so many people.
    I’m amazed the Soup Kitchen building has survived the rapacious developers of London but perhaps this building is endowed with too much significance to be razed to the ground and replaced with a carbuncle representing the victory of Mammon. The mouldings and decoration on the front are a beautiful example of Victorian architecture. A very fine example also of Victorian philanthropy, much of which was directed at the local area. The first Peabody Estate was in Commercial Street, of course, although now it’s privately owned. George Peabody was a great man, probably the greatest philanthropist and reformer who changed the lives of so many Londoners.

  5. April 5, 2017

    Gentle story with evocative photos

  6. Adele Lester permalink
    April 5, 2017

    The picture with the carton marked “Food for the Poor” particularly struck me, as I hoped the people waiting for their allotment didn’t see the notation, making them feel even worse than they must do – what a comment to our society in this day and age with people taking five holidays a year, yet our seniors have to rely on handouts.

  7. CAROL ANN CONLEY permalink
    November 22, 2021

    My Dad went to the Jewish Soup Kitchen in Brune Street even though he wasn’t Jewish. They would give him a loaf of bread to take home. He lived in Brune House with his parents, one sister and four brothers. They were one of the few non-Jewish families in Brune House.

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