21 January 2023

Finding elephants, shops and
old houses in Spitalfields
on Chinese New Year’s Eve

Gillie and Marc’s ‘Herd of Hope’ is a family of 21 life-sized bronze elephants in Spitalfields (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

This evening is Chinese New Year’s Eve, ushering in the Year of the Rabbit. Charlotte and I pre-empted the New Year’s Eve celebrations last night, having dinner in Gerrard Street in London, and strolling around Chinatown, off Shaftesbury Avenue.

Earlier in the day, we had lunch in Dirty Dicks, a well-known pub on Bishopsgate, close to Liverpool Street Station and on the edge of the East End.

We were meeting Dan Culbertson, an ordinand in the Diocese in Europe who we met a few weeks ago in Budapest when we were visiting Saint Margaret’s Church on behalf of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

After caught a train to High Leigh for a residential weekend with the Eastern Region Ministry Course, we enjoyed a few hours strolling around Spitalfields and this part of the East End, including Brushfield Street, Folgate Street, Brick Lane, Princelet Street, Fournier Street, and the area around Truman’s Brewery.

The area has an eye-catching collection of modern sculptures, including the ‘Herd of Hope’ – a family of 21 life-sized bronze elephants embarking on the journey of a lifetime as they migrate across London – and ‘Together Forever on Wheels’ incorporating two of Gillie and Marc’s most popular sculpture themes, Rabbitwoman and Dogman, Vespas and coffee.

No 18 Folgate Street is an eccentric and fascinating house made over by the artist Dennis Severs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

No 18 Folgate Street is an eccentric and fascinating house made over by the artist Dennis Severs to resemble the home of an 18th century Flemish weaver.

Visitors are invited into a re-creation of the life the Jervis family, Huguenot weavers, and the house is an artwork itself. David Hockney once said that it was like experiencing a great opera.

No 5 Fournier Street an antiques, art and modern ceramics shop opened by Fiona Atkins in a town house in Spitalfields in 2002. The building is part of some of London’s most beautiful Georgian architecture and this too was home to Huguenot silk weavers until about 1820.

No 4 Princelet Street is one of the most photographed houses in Spitalfields (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

No 4 Princelet Street, with its fading pink and red colours, its shabby fa├žade and charming shutters, is probably one of the most photographed houses in Spitalfields. It is regularly rented out for events or as a filming location.

Princelet Street, off Brick Lane, was once known as Princesse Street or Princes Street, and may have been renamed in the 1890s. When No 4 Princelet Street was built 300 years ago in 1723, it was actually numbered No 2 Princes Street. Together with No 1 Princes Street (now No 2 Princelet Street), the pair were the last houses to be built on the street.

The house was once the home of another weaver, Joseph Vaux, and his family. By the late 19th century, Huguenot families had mostly moved on and large numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Russia and Poland began arriving in Spitalfields. One of these was a Polish bootmaker Solomon Franklin and his wife Goulder, who were living there in 1881. A decade later, the house was shared by two families. Polish tailor Solomon Shaw, his wife Rachael, and their eight children, and the Hyams family.

No 6 Princelet Street was once numbered as No 3 Prince’s Street and was home to a 19th century Yiddish theatre.

The synagogue at No 19 Princelet Street closed in 1983. Today, the former synagogue is home to the Museum of Immigration and Diversity, Europe’s first museum of immigration and a unique cultural institution.

The house next door at 17 Princelet Street is the birthplace of Miriam Moses (1886-1965), who became the first woman mayor of Stepney in 1931 and the first Jewish woman mayor in Britain.

Sandy’s Row Synagogue, the oldest surviving Ashkenazi synagogue in London and the last Ashkenazi synagogue still functioning in Spitalfields (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Before arriving back at Liverpool Street Station and bustling Bishopsgate, with its towering glass towers of finance, we stopped at Sandy’s Row Synagogue, the oldest surviving Ashkenazi synagogue in London and the last Ashkenazi synagogue still functioning in Spitalfields.

This is a small, historic Ashkenazi shul on a quiet street, but it is still a thriving synagogue. Unlike other shuls in the old Jewish East End that have been lost due because of a dwindling resident Jewish population, Sandy’s Row synagogue is experiencing an upsurge in membership.

After dinner in Gerrard Street, we strolled back through Chinatown into Charing Cross Street, and took a diversion into Cecil Court, lined with second-hand bookshops, antique and coin shops and shops displaying theatre posters. The famous Foyles bookshop had its humble beginnings on Cecil Court.

We strolled down to Trafalgar Square and Saint Martin in the Fields, caught a train from Charing Cross to Euston, and we were back in Milton Keynes and Stony Stratford late into the night.

No 5 Fournier Street an antiques, art and modern ceramics shop opened by Fiona Atkins in a town house in Spitalfields in 2002 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Praying through the Week of
Christian Unity and with USPG:
21 January 2023

‘Look, the tears of the oppressed – with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power – with no one to comfort them’ (Ecclesiastes 4: 1) … a child’s painting in Ukrainian Space in Budapest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I have been reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

However, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began earlier this week (18 January 2023), and until next Wednesday my morning reflections look at this year’s readings and prayers.

Churches Together in Milton Keynes continues to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity today with a Mission Fair in the Church of the Servant King, Furzton, from 10 am to 4 pm.

A large number of charities and mission agencies are based in Milton Keynes. They make a huge difference to our communities – and to the wider world. This is an opportunity to meet some of these change-makers and find out how they can be supported in their crucial work. There will be stalls, talks, activities and cake.

The afternoon will finish with a ‘Cost of Living Summit’ at 3 pm that includes speakers from key agencies.

‘The one who has not yet been … has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 4: 3) … ‘Divine Teardrop’ by Peter Cassidy in an exhibition in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Day 4: Look, the tears of the oppressed

Readings:

Ecclesiastes 4: 1-5:

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed – with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power with no one to comfort them.

Matthew 5: 1-8

… Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted …

Reflection:

“Look, the tears of the oppressed.” One can imagine that the writer has witnessed atrocities like this before with sickening regularity. And yet perhaps this is the first time the writer has truly seen the tears of the oppressed, has fully taken in their pain and their subjugation. While there is much to lament, in a new looking and a new seeing there is also a seed of hope: maybe this time this witnessing will lead to change, will make a difference.

A young woman looked and saw the tears of the oppressed. The video she shot on her phone of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 was seen all around the world and unleashed a holy rage as people witnessed, and finally acknowledged, what African Americans have experienced for centuries: undue subjugation by oppressive systems in the midst of privileged blind bystanders. Acknowledging this painful reality has led to a global outpouring of overdue compassion both in the form of prayer and protest for justice.

The progression from simply looking to seeing and understanding gives encouragement for us as actors in this earthly reality: God can remove scales from our eyes to witness things in new and liberating ways. As those scales fall, the Holy Spirit provides insight, and also, conviction to respond in new and unfettered ways. One response the churches and communities made was to establish a prayer tent at George Floyd Square, the place of his murder. In this way, these churches and communities were united in offering comfort to those who mourned and were oppressed.

Christian Unity:

Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes begins with Jesus seeing the crowds. In that crowd he must have seen those who were peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, men and women who mourned, and those who hungered for justice. In the beatitudes, Jesus not only names people’s struggles, he names what they will be: the children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. As Christians we are called to see the holy struggles of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Challenge

How have you engaged with Christian groups addressing oppression in your neighbourhood? How can the churches in your locality come together to better show solidarity with those suffering oppression?

Prayer:

God of justice and grace, remove the scales from our eyes so we can truly see the oppression around us.

We pray in the name of Jesus who saw the crowds and had compassion for them. Amen.

The reredos in the Unitarian Church, Dublin, is inscribed with the Beatitudes, one on each panel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began three days ago (18 January), and the theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is the ‘Week of Prayer For Christian Unity.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a reflection from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us give thanks for the World Council of Churches. May our different Churches unite to confront injustice and oppression in our divided world.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow