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At The Jewish Soup Kitchen

July 30, 2021
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-five 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

Harry Landis, Actor

Linda Carney, Machinist

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Stuart Freedman’s Pie & Mash & Eels

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Richard Smith permalink
    July 30, 2021

    I like especially like the picture of the ex boxer posing in a fighter’s stance. The photographer has recently seen soup kitchens in operation in the North of England and he remarks “The poverty is back which makes these pictures relevant all over again.” How true.

  2. Peter Hart permalink
    July 30, 2021

    Wonderful photos and somehow sad especially when Stuart said; “ he was surprised to come upon new soup kitchens recently while on assignment in the north of England. “The poverty is back,” Thank you. GA

  3. Cherub permalink
    July 30, 2021

    It makes me feel really sad when old people who have probably worked hard all their lives become dependent on handouts like food parcels. Elderly poverty never seems to be eradicated, it’s everywhere. About 5 years ago I went to visit Bologna for a few days, it was noticeable in the evenings that elderly people were either busking or resorting to begging in some of the streets. I found it very upsetting, the measure of a decent society is in how it treats people like the elderly. The ones I saw clearly did not have enough pension to live on.

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