19 Princelet Street

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Tassaduq Ahmed MBE Tassaduq Ahmed
1923-2001

London First Special feature

It symbolises both the old and the new, and reflects the changes over time.
Fatima, age 10
Hague School Bethnal Green

Muslim schoolchildren at work in the old Ashkenazi synagogue behind 19 Princelet. Photo Tom Lindsay / The Spitalfields Centre

Susie Symes, Chair of the Spitalfields Centre

At last, London is to become the first European capital to create a museum celebrating diversity – a place of learning and of remembering – that will match the world class visitor attractions which New York and Melbourne take for granted.

19 Princelet Street, in Spitalfields, on the very edge of the City of London, is a symbolic building, redolent of the history of London and of the many diverse peoples who created this multicultural and global city. An inspirational charity, the Spitalfields Centre, is making a new sort of museum here, a permanent exhibition and a place of education for all.

It is a magical building. When you step through the dusty front door, you step into the past. First into the shadowy hall-way of a Huguenot silk merchant’s home, of 1719; then, as your eyes adjust to the gloom, you walk towards the rear garden of the house and discover instead a hidden jewel in London’s architectural crown, a tiny Victorian synagogue.

This is a site of national importance, in the top 4% of all listed buildings in the country. On rare public openings, people queue patiently for hours to glimpse inside. It has extraordinary power to move people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.

Education for all
What better way to preserve this amazing building than to give it a sustainable new purpose, as a place to learn and to acknowledge the contribution so many immigrant groups have made to our capital city, and to our nation.

Breaking down barriers: children from Christ Church School, Brick Lane, act a Yiddish tale from the ghettos from Eastern Europe. Photo: Tony Sleep / The Spitalfields Centre

Making a permanent exhibition here, a special sort of museum, will show the world that London does genuinely value and promote the ethnic diversity that is so important in attracting global investment and a talented workforce.

Visitors will see how, over many centuries, incomers from all over the world shaped – and continue to shape – our ideas, enrich our cultural heritage, and create the society in which we live.

The exhibition will not only celebrate – it will also challenge. It will be a place tomake connections, to bring people together across generations and cultures. Above all it will bring a historical perspective, to better inform our social responsibility towards all our communities and peoples.

The first melting pot
Where better than Spitalfields to create the first multicultural museum in Europe? Spitalfields has been a home and a sanctuary to incomers since the Romans. Some fled political and religious persecution; others came for trade or business, or to escape poverty and famine. All wanted to make a better life for their families.

Stairway to a new life: The Huguenot merchant's house, dating from 1719.

Regeneration through culture
Strategically placed between the City, the Inner East area of London and the new city of Docklands, Spitalfields today is a fascinating area. Its buildings, streets and businesses show the impact over generations of different cultures. Bagel shops survive alongside Balti houses; the new hypercool neon-lit clubs nudge historic buildings; and internationally-known artists Gilbert and George glide past centuries-old textiles and clothing firms.

The area is still one of the most deprived in London, and also one of the most ethnically diverse. It needs lasting projects such as this, which embrace economic and social inclusion, bring a derelict site back to productive use, and also bring spending power to the area. This project will contribute to the new Cultural Strategy for London and the strategic development objectives of the London Plan: it will be a beacon project for the capital.

International praise
Nowhere else tells the story of London through its diverse peoples. Teachers and children value what we provide. Pilot projects have been exceptionally successful. A recent collaboration with six local primary schools – Suitcases and Sanctuary – used poetry, art, even potatoes, to tell the stories of the Huguenot, Irish, Jewish, Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Somali peoples. It was widely praised, nationally and internationally. It gave the children great confidence to see adult visitors from all over the world learning from their work. Every London child should see this, said one ministerial adviser on citizenship, and we need resources to make sure that they can.

Suitcases and sanctuary.

Corporate responsibility Companies are an integral part of the society in which they work, and we need help and investment in this project, to give London a visible symbol of pride in our multicultural past and commitment truly diverse and equal society.

To support the Museum of Immigration or to find out more,
call 020 7247 5352 or contact susiesymes@19princeletstreet.org.uk
Website: www.19princeletstreet.org.uk