Whitechapel Shops

Whitechapel Shops by Joseph Pennell (1857-1926). 1899. Illustration for Walter Besant's East London (London: Chatto & Windus, 1901), p. 190.

This is one of Pennell's illustrations for Chapter VII ("The Alien") of Besant's book. It reflects Besant's particular interest in the Jewish community, which was concentrated in the Whitechapel Road area of the East End, and was expanding with the flow of new immigrants from Russia, Poland and Germany.

In general, Besant is proud of London's ability to absorb its ever-increasing influx of foreigners; he is pleased, too, with the general acceptance of the Jewish immigrants, putting their success down to "trained intellect" (as a result of proper religious education), and their keen eye for openings and possibilities: "These faculties [the Jewish person] brings into the market; with them he contends against the dull mind, untrained and simple, of the English craftsman" (194). Besant is also fascinated by their different culture, its vibrancy, its "Oriental note" (200) and its impressive religious observances. However, he looks askance at the close ties that keep them from being assimilated into the community as a whole, and recognises, too, the prejudice that contribute to the problem: "There should be no feeling as of necessary separation between Jew and Christian. We ought to live in amity beside each other, if not with each other," he says (195).

Pennell shows Jewish names on two of the shops here (Isaacs and B. Nathan) and enhances the exotic atmosphere by parading some rather stereotypically Jewish-looking passers-by in the foreground. Whitechapel Road is still a colourful neighbourhood with a lively multicultural market.

Scanned image and text by Jacqueline Banerjee [This image may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Besant, Walter. East London. London: Chatto & Windus, 1901.

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Last modified 21 April 2008