Kingsland High Street is a short thoroughfare running almost exactly south to north between the districts of Dalston and Shacklewell, in the north London borough of Hackney; to its east runs Ridley Road, site of a bustling market but, sixty years ago, more famous as a rallying ground of the British Union of Fascists. Today the neighbourhood of Kingsland is inhabited largely by people of Afro- Caribbean origin; it is now, as it was sixty years ago, a working-class area, whose families are extremely cash-limited. There are now, as there were then, pockets of affluence, but Kingsland has not followed the example of nearby Canonbury, which has become gentrified. Today few Jews live in Kingsland. A mile or so to its north there is, it is true, a thriving enclave of sectarian OrthodoxJews, mainly Hasidim, living in the vicinities of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill. But the neighbourhood of Kingsland itself is an area of declining Jewish population and decaying Jewish institutional life.
It was not always thus. A century ago Kingsland High Street lay at the very centre of a thriving, expanding Jewish population. A picturesque village in Middlesex which had been unable to escape the remorseless encroachment of the nation's capital, Kingsland had become a London suburb - part, indeed, of the County of London created by Act of Parliament in 1888. It was a prosperous area, into which a Jewish merchant, shop-keeping and skilled-artisan class had been moving, slowly, for the past twenty or so years, part of a larger movement ofJews out of the City of London and Whitechapel - the _East End' - which had formed the nucleus of Jewish settlement in London in the I8th and early I9th centuries.
The late Dr Vivian Lipman estimated that in 1880 the contiguous areas of Highbury, Canonbury, Dalston and South Hackney contained around 5oooJews; within the space of half a century the numbers had increased by a factor of seven or eight.((V. D. Lipman, Social History of the Jews in England 1850-1950 (London 1954) 169; V. D.Lipman, A History of the Jews in Britain since 1858 (Leicester 1990) 14-15.)) Proposals for a synagogue in Dalston had been mooted in the early 18708, and in 1874 a house of worship had been established in Birkbeck Road, east of, and parallel to, Kingsland High Street; two years later this site was vacated in favour of one in Mildmay Road, west of the High Street. At that time the Council of the umbrella United Synagogue (created by Act of Parliament in 1870) considered the idea of admitting this community to membership to be premature. But by the time a fresh proposal had been drafted, in I 881 , the situation had changed, in that many moreJews were then to be found in the Dalston catchment area. In 1885 the Dalston Synagogue (by now located in Poets Road, Canonbury) was admitted as the United Synagogue's eleventh constituent congregation.((A. Newman, The United Synagogue 1870 icflo (London 1977) 27-8; Lipman, Social History (see n. 2)