Wednesday, 13 July 2016

London: Visiting 19 Princelet Street

The timing of my visit to 19 Princelet Street felt very appropriate. On the last day of Refugee Week and two days after a certain referendum result, this unassuming building in Spitalfields held one of its rare openings and I am so glad that I tore out a page in the previous week's Time Out as a "something to do on a Sunday afternoon".

19 princelet street museum
The building is currently scaffolding clad as it undergoes repairs but here's what it looks like
 Behind the (currently scaffolding-clad) fa├žade on a quiet side street off of Spitalfields Market is Europe's oldest museum on immigration. The building was once a synagogue and despite it now being in a bad state of repair and needing major renovations it is still beautiful. The museum charts the history of immigrants to the Spitalfields area from the Huguenots in the 16th century to Bangladeshi immigrants in the 1950s and to the present day. The displays make use of historical artefacts and a project by the children of a local school who reflect London's current diversity to show how immigration has shaped this city and made it what it is today.

22 Princelet Street
The museum staff are on hand to explain the exhibits more fully and everyone I spoke to was so passionate about the museum and its work - the very building itself is testament to how London has changed and adapted itself to its changing communities. Entry is free but donations are encouraged - all of the staff are volunteers and extensive work is required to protect the fragile building and preserve it for future generations. Photographs inside are not allowed but that only makes the experience of passing through the dimly lit rooms, hearing the whispers of fellow visitors and feeling all the memories that this building holds, all the more special.

Immigration and the reactions to it are not new issues - London has always been a city that people from all over the world have come to for a whole range of reasons, where they have made homes and built lives. Even the earliest immigrants faced hostility for taking jobs and driving down the cost of labour. Nothing is new.

19 Princelet Street is next open on Sundays 4th and 11th September. I would recommend arriving early to queue and to spare some change on the donation, £3 is the minimum suggested but you can give whatever you can afford. The Facebook page is updated more frequently than the website and you can also follow the museum on Twitter for updates.



  1. I hope this place gets enough donation for its maintenance! Looks beautiful <3

  2. And this is why I love London. Always something new to discover. I've walked down Princelet St a million times and never knew that was there!
    Charlie, Distracted


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