Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Exploring the Diversity of Victorian London

Two online resources remind us of the rich diversity of cultures in nineteenth-century London.

The Jewish Museum has a very interesting online exhibition on the roots of Yiddish theatre, which was created by and for Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who settled in the East End of London, especially Whitechapel and Spitalfields, in the late nineteenth century. The exhibition provides details on Abraham Goldfaden and the birth of Yiddish theatre; on the first professional Yiddish theatre company in London, formed by Jacob P. Adler in 1883; on the first purpose-built Yiddish theatre in London, known as the Hebrew Dramatic Club (1886); and on the Standard Theatre and Pavilion Theatre ("the Drury Lane of the East," which became the primary London venue for Yiddish theatre in 1906).

The story of a much smaller group in Victorian London, the Chinese who lived in Limehouse, are the subject of a fascinating web resource published by Untold London. "Before the First World War there were never more than a few hundred Chinese people in London -- and many of these were transitory sailors," writes John Seed, professor of history and cultural studies at Roehampton University. "Why then did so many myths grow up around the Chinese of Limehouse – stories of mysterious murders in foggy riverside alleys, of sordid opium dens, of innocent English girls lost in a dangerous underworld controlled by an evil Chinese genius?" Reprinted here is a transcript of a talk given by Seed earlier this year at the Docklands Museum. He shows how public responses to drug scandals, interracial marriage, housing shortages, and unemployment contributed to an enduring myth: the idea of a Chinatown in Limehouse that never really existed.

Shown here: A poster for a benefit performance of The Lost Soul at the Working Lads' Institute, Whitechapel Road, c. 1900.


Anonymous said...


Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails