No ordinary tradesmen: the Green family in 19th-century Whitechapel

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The Jewish Chronicle of 14 July 1899 reported the death of Solomon Abraham Green (1830-99) of 46 Mile End Road, affectionately known in the Jewish East End of London as ‘Sholey’. He was a fishmongerl and for some years also the keeper of the Freemasons’ Arms, a beer-house in Goulston Street, Whitechapel;2 in this he was following in the footsteps of an older brother, Judah Green (1819- 88) who was licensee of the Blue Anchor Tavern at the corner of Middlesex Street and Aldgate High Street for thirty-six years (1852-88).3

In an obituary notice of Sholey Green, the Revd J. F. Stern (1865-1934), minister (1887-1927) of the East London Synagogue, wrote in the formal, con- descending manner of the period: ‘The late Mr. Green, though an ordinary East End tradesman, was quite a public character, and was widely known throughout the East End for his zeal in any public cause or private case in which he was interested . . . . If his father was unable to provide him with what is termed a liberal education, he certainly set before him an example by which he could see that the untutored and unlettered man need not be excluded from the charitable workers of the community if only he is possessed of the heart and will to be of service.’ Although written of one individual, these words are equally true of others of his family and his generation who, despite modest circumstances, devoted time, energy and thought to improving the lot of their fellows.

Sholey’s grandfather, Ephraim Gruen (d. 1821),4 was an immigrant who reached London from Amsterdam in about 1792, accompanied by his wife and two sons, the one aged seven or eight and the other under two.5 According to a tradition in the family they travelled on a Dutch herring-boat. On arrival Ephraim adopted the surname by which his descendants are still known.

Nearly a century and a half after their resettlement in England the vast majority of the Jews of London were still living in the Whitechapel area, and it was there, in 1793, that Sholey’s father, Abraham Green (1793-1852), was born. With few exceptions the family continued to live in East London throughout the 19th cen- tury. At the time of the 1851 census there were, within 350 yards of the Great Synagogue, at least nine households comprising forty-seven of Ephraim’s des- cendants and their spouses.

Ephraim’s eldest son, Levi Ephraim Green (1784-1858), became a tailor and later described himself also as a piece-goods broker and dealer in trimmings.6 In July 1805, at the age of 21, he married Amelia (1779-1854), daughter of Aaron Hyams, whose family is said to have been associated with the Great Synagogue for several generations, and they had four sons and four daughters. Levi played a prominent part in the grandiloquently-styled ‘Institution for the Relief of the Distressed Sick of the Jewish Persuasion’ (Meshcmat Lecholim) which was founded in 1824.7 It was supported by voluntary subscriptions of Id a week or 48 4d a year

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