08 July 2002
Migrant museum in danger of collapse
By Chris Gray
A Huguenot silk merchant's home that campaigners have spent 20 years trying to turn into Britain's first museum of immigration is in danger of collapsing.
The five-storey Georgian terraced house built in 1719 conceals a synagogue constructed over the garden 150 years later and houses an exhibition dedicated to immigrants to the East End of London over three centuries.
The house is at 19 Princelet Street, just off Brick Lane in Spitalfields, the heart of the Bangladeshi community. The charity has been unable to find the £3m needed to make the building safe and tomorrow it will be placed on English Heritage's register of Buildings at Risk. Susie Symes, chairwoman of the Spitalfields Centre charity, said if the Grade II building deteriorated further the chance to preserve the experience of immigrants in the way the United States did at the Ellis Island museum in New York would be lost.
The building is supported by internal props. Ms Symes said she hoped that once it was categorised as at risk, bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund could be persuaded to give it a grant.
Now is the perfect time for a museum like this because it brings home much we have gained as a society from the different forms of incomers, be they asylum-seekers or economic migrants, she added.