by Jason Lever
Posted on Sun, 01 Dec 2013 13:30:08 GMT
The family and a Jewish trade
In the early and mid-Victorian periods, Jews were closely associated with street trades such as selling sponges and spectacles, and as proprietors of “swag-shops”, which sold a wide array of goods including braces, garters, rubies and time-pieces (ref: Mayhew).
Yet Jewish immigrants in the last quarter of the 19th century tended to continue in familiar artisan trades from the “old country”, such as tailoring. Orthodox Jewish observance prevented employment on a Saturday at a time when the six-day working week was the norm. Hence the attraction for many of having a Jewish employer. This was compounded by anti-alien prejudice of mainstay East End industries such as in the docks.
This helps explain the pattern of occupations recorded at the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter: 29 per cent made garments, 23 per cent were in trade and commerce, 9 per cent made boots and shoes and 7 per cent described themselves as carpenters (1895-96 to 1907-08). Among the many remaining trades was baking (ref: Gartner).
Many arrived with cabinet-making skills in every field of domestic furniture, from general carpenters to specialist woodturners, carvers and marquetry workers (ref: Black G). Jerry White records that cabinet making was the third highest employment type in the Jewish residential population of the Rothschild Buildings in 1900 (ref: White, 2003).
The growth of a middle class and of more prosperous artisans in the Victorian period created a demand for cheaper furniture. This was the main market for the East End furniture trade, centred on Curtain Road but soon spreading out along Bethnal Green Road and Hackney Road (ref: Kirkham).
While some picked up their first knowledge of timber and tools in cabinet making classes at school, in Solomon’s case his father had been an apprentice to the craftsman who laid a new floor of St. Petersburg Cathedral.
Solomon followed this trade in the specific area of bedroom suites with his father and brother after he left school.
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