Rochelle School  » Area of Refuge

Area of Refuge

London’s East End has, for centuries, been a refuge for those fleeing poverty and persecution at home. French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in the seventeenth century settled in what had once been home to Jews until their expulsion from England in 1290. With their skills as Europe’s pre-eminent silk weaves, they brought prosperity and employment to the area and integrated comfortably with the local population. The Huguenot heyday is commemorated by the remaining master weavers’ houses in Spitalfields, a stone’s throw from Rochelle. But within a century, the trade had declined and those same grand houses were subdivided into tenements, a pattern that has repeated itself to this day as successive waves of new immigrants and refugees seeking sanctuary from persecution elsewhere, made the area their home.

In the mid-nineteenth century, it was Irish immigration escaping famine; by the end of the century, a new generation of Jews fleeing pogroms in Europe arrived in the area. In the 1930s, it was joined by the last great Jewish exodus, this time fleeing Nazi persecution. Today, the area is home to much of the UK’s Bangladeshi community who have been moving into the area since the 1960s and 1970s.

The local mosque, Jamme Masjid, sums up the changing face of the area: originally founded as a church for the Hugenots, it was later used by Methodists. In the late-nineteenth century, when the area became the centre of the Jewish East End, it was converted into the Machzike Adass, also known as the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. With the dispersal of the Jewish community and the influx of Bengali immigrants, it became the Jamme Masjid or Great London Mosque in 1976.