23 June 2023

Whitechapel fountain is
a reminder of East End’s
diversity and Jewish history

The Jewish Memorial Drinking Fountain on Whitechapel Road was erected ‘from subscriptions raised from Jewish inhabitants of East London’ in memory of Edward VII (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

One of the most unusual Jewish monuments in the East End is the King Edward VII Jewish Memorial Drinking Fountain on Whitechapel Road. A plaque on the fountain records that it was erected ‘from subscriptions raised from Jewish inhabitants of East London’ in memory of Edward VII.

Today, the fountain surrounded by a market that fills the street and looks forlorn and forgotten, without water and often with piles of rubbish from the market collecting around it. It appears less like a reminder of its regal legacy and more an image of the cultural variety that has always been a distinctive mark of the East End.

The idea for the memorial was conceived by the writer Annie Gertrude Landa, better known to young readers as ‘Aunt Naomi.’ Gertrude Landa was an author, journalist and playwright. Her book Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends was published in 1908, republished in 1919, and expanded on several times.

She was born Hannah (Annie) Gertrude Gordon in 1892, a sister of the writer Samuel Gordon. She married the Jewish writer Myer Jack Landa, and together they published a number of novels and plays. She also wrote a children’s column in the Jewish Chronicle.

The fountain on Whitechapel Road was unveiled on 15 March 1912 by Charles Rothschild (1877-1923), a banker and entomologist who is best remembered for ‘The Rothschild List,’ a list in 1915 of 284 sites across Britain that he considered suitable for nature reserves.

Nathaniel ‘Charles’ Rothschild was a partner in the family bank NM Rothschild and Sons. He went to Rothschild’s Bank every morning and never missed a day, despite his varied interests in science and in natural history. He identified the Bubonic plague vector flea, Xenopsylla cheopis, and his enormous collection of 260,000 fleas is in the Rothschild Collection in the Natural History Museum.

Charles Rothschild was married to Rózsika Edle von Wertheimstein (1870-1940), a descendant of an old Austrian-Jewish family who was born in Nagyvárad, Hungary – now the Romanian city of Oradea. She was a champion lawn tennis player in Hungary, and they met on a butterfly-collecting trip in the Carpathian Mountains.

The fountain was designed by Henry Poole and William Silver Frith (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The fountain cost £800, is made from Hopton Wood Stone, and was made by Henry Poole, who made a number of public fountains around Britain.

The figures on the fountain are the work of William Silver Frith (1850-1924), an architectural sculptor who often with architect Sir Aston Webb. Frith studied at the Lambeth School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools. He succeeded Jules Dalou as master of the South London Technical Art School – now the City and Guilds of London Art School – where he was a guiding force to several figures in the New Sculpture school, including FW Pomeroy, CJ Allen and George Frampton. His other work includes statues of the sculptors Grinling Gibbons and John Bacon for the Victoria and Albert Museum (1899-1909).

The fountain is designed in a classic pillar style, and is made from white stone with a tapered central square pillar. The pillar displays bronze figures of the Angels of Peace, of Liberty and of Justice, and four cherubs holding objects that were significant to the Jewish community at the time the memorial was unveiled:

• a ship is a reminder that many members of the local Jewish community were recent immigrants;
• a needle and thread signifies the clothing industry that employed the majority of the East End Jewish community until the 1970s;
• a book signifies the importance of education to the community both from the local secular Jewish schools and the schools of Talmudic study;
• a car held by a cherub shows the increasing pace of modernity and the shift away from the horse and cart.

The side facing the street has a relief portrait of Edward VII with emblems of the Order of the Garter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A crowned roundel on the north side carries the inscription: ‘In grateful and loyal memory of Edward VII, Rex et Imperator, Erected by subscriptions raised by Jewish inhabitants of East London, 1911’. The side facing the street has a relief portrait of Edward VII with emblems of the Order of the Garter.

The fountain was listed at Grade II on the National Heritage List for England in 1973.

Michael McNay, in the Hidden Treasures of London, describes the memorial fountain as sitting ‘in the ethnic Asian community today as naturally as the exotic and overweening architecture of Mumbai, built on the high tide of the British Raj, suits the gateway of India.’

The memorial was covered with pieces of raw meat and chicken in August 2015 in what newspaper reports described as an ‘apparent anti-Semitic attack.’ The incident was reported to police and the memorial was cleaned by Tower Hamlets Council workers.

Despite its anachronistic pledges of royal loyalty and its forlorn and forgotten appearance today, this fountain remains a reminder of the need to appreciate the diversity that is part of the East End and a reminder of the need to be vigilant when it comes to antisemitism and racism.

Shabbat Shalom

xxx (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (26) 23 June 2023

The Monastery of the Holy Trinity is one of the six surviving cliff-top monasteries in Meteora (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This week began with the Second Sunday after Trinity (18 June 2023) and Father’s Day. Today the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship commemorates Saint Etheldreda, Abbess of Ely (ca 678).

Before the day begins, I am taking some time for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Six of the original 24 monasteries in Meteora remain the homes of monastic communities (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Monastery, Meteora:

This week I am reflecting on Orthodox churches named after the Holy Trinity. These Trinity-themed reflections continue this morning (23 June 2023) with photographs of Meteora in central Greece, where the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (Μονή Αγίας Τριάδος, or Agia Triada), is one of the six surviving cliff-top monasteries.

The monastery is in the Peneas Valley north-east of the town of Kalambaka, at the top of a rocky precipice over 400 metres high. It is one of the 24 monasteries originally built in Meteora and one of the oldest of the surviving monasteries that form the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites at Meteora.

The name Meteora means ‘suspended in the air’ in Greek. Six of the 24 monasteries atop ‘heavenly columns’ are still active and open to visitors.

The monasteries of Saint Stephen and Holy Trinity are separated from the main group, which are further to the north. Before the 20th century, the entrance Holy Trinity had a very difficult approach that involved crossing a valley and climbing through the rock outcrop. Provisions were placed in baskets drawn up by rope-ladders, but are now provided by using a winch.

Today, one can walk from Kalambaka for 3 km along a foot track to reach the monastery, or use a winch-operated lift. It is reached through tunnels and 130 steps of stone, and at the summit the grounds include a 2 acres (0.81 ha) garden.

Dometius is said to have been the first monk at the site of Holy Trinity and to have arrived in 1438. Holy Trinity is said to have been built in 1475-1476, although some sources say the dates for building the monastery and its adjoining chapel, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, are of a much earlier date.

By end of the 15th century, there were 24 such monasteries in Meteora, but only six are still inhabited today – Holy Trinity, Saint Stephen, Rousanou, Saint Nicholas Anapafsas, Varlaam, and the Great Meteoron – make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Meteora.

The main church in Holy Trinity is cruciform in shape, with a dome supported on two columns. This church was built in the 15th century and decorated with frescoes in 1741 by two monks. A pseudo-trefoil window is part of the apse. There are white columns and arches, as well as rose-coloured tiles. The small chapel of Saint John the Baptist, carved into the rock, has 17th century frescoes.

At one time, 50 monks lived at Holy Trinity, but by the early 20th century there were only five. When the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor visited the monasteries as a guest of the Abbot of Varlaam, Holy Trinity was one of the poorest monasteries in Meteora. Holy Trinity was once richly decorated and had precious manuscripts, but its treasures were looted by the Nazis when they occupied the monastery during World War II.

Holy Trinity Monastery features in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981). In the climax to the film, Bond climbs the rock cliff and finds upon Aristotle Kristatos and Erich Kriegler who are using the monastery in the film as a hideout.

The monastery also features in the film Tintin and the Golden Fleece (1961) and the film Boy on a Dolphin (1957) was partly shot in Meteora, where Clifton Webb’s character goes up to Holy Trinity monastery to do some library research.

The name Meteora means ‘suspended in the air’ in Greek (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 25: 1-13 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 1 ‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9 But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12 But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’

The early winches, ropes and pulleys still survive in many monasteries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘The snowdrop that never bloomed.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (23 June 2023, International Widows Day) invites us to pray:

We pray for an end to the poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows and their dependents throughout the world.


Eternal God,
who bestowed such grace upon your servant Etheldreda
that she gave herself wholly to the life of prayer
and to the service of your true religion:
grant that we, like her,
may so live our lives on earth seeking your kingdom
that by your guiding
we may be joined to the glorious fellowship of your saints;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Merciful God,
who gave such grace to your servant Etheldreda
that she served you with singleness of heart
and loved you above all things:
help us, whose communion with you
has been renewed in this sacrament,
to forsake all that holds us back from following Christ
and to grow into his likeness from glory to glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org