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03 April 2013

Ending overcrowding in East End slums

DURING the 19th century, London’s East End – including Hackney – suffered from massive overcrowding in some of the city’s poorest housing.

As more incomers flooded in, the situation became worse, with many settlers coming from Eastern Europe to escape the violence against Russian Jews that erupted following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II.

Indeed, a Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor was established in 1859, aiming to provide for impoverished incomers through the Jewish community’s own charitable funds, rather than allow them to be a drain on the already over-burdened local poor rate.

But the slum crisis was beyond control, with the Board’s Sanitary Commission reporting in 1884 that ‘the houses occupied by the Jewish poor … are for the most part barely fit, and many utterly unfit, for human habitation’.

The report, commissioned by the United Synagogue to inquire into the East End’s ‘spiritual destitution’, recommended two aims to remedy the situation: new settlers should be integrated into the ways of life of their new country, and should be provided with decent, healthy homes.

These homes were believed to ‘constitute the greatest of all available means for improving the condition, physical, moral and social of the Jewish poor’.

Investors in the scheme were promised an annual dividend of four per cent from the 1,600 shares of £25 each, while rents were fixed at not more 
than five shillings per week.

This was a lower return than some other social housing projects offered, but was designed to keep the rental charge low.

The report was presented in March 1884 to the United Synagogue which fully approved its suggestions, and six days later the new Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company was formed at Nathan Rothschild’s City banking house.

By 1899, the Company had housed over 4,000 people and the death rate in their tenements was a third of the average in Whitechapel. The Company’s work soon expanded to other parts of London, including Camberwell and Hackney.

Coronation and Imperial Avenues off Stoke Newington High Street were completed in 1903, 
and the 300 flats of Navarino Mansions 
built in an attractive Art Nouveau style with Art Deco features designed 
by the Company’s architect, Nathan S Joseph, during 1903/4.

Joseph’s work used red brick and lots of decoration, probably in reaction against the dismal style of the first Spitalfields building, but after 1905 the Company built no more blocks until 1934, when the economic situation forced them to explore using 
more economic construction methods.

The first new project was Evelyn Court in Amhurst Road, Hackney, which is the first box-framed structure in Britain to use reinforced concrete.

It was named after Evelyn Achille de Rothschild, great grandson of Nathan Rothschild, who was killed in action during the First World War.

The Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company changed its name in 1952 to the Industrial Dwellings Society (1885) Ltd and continues today as the IDS, a registered housing association providing accommodation at fair rents to those most 
in need.

Based in Stamford Hill, where Nathan Rothschild himself lived, it retains strong links to the Jewish community providing specialised housing on mixed developments and manages over 1,400 properties across London.

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Evelyn Court, in Amhurst Road, Hackney, in the 1930s

Evelyn Court, in Amhurst Road, Hackney, in the 1930s

Evelyn Court, in Amhurst Road, Hackney, in the 1930s

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