Jews' Free School

The Jews' Free School (J.F.S.) started life in 1732 in Spitalfields as a Talmud Torah (religious school) attached to the Great Synagogue. Eighty-five years later, on 13 April 1817, a boys' school was opened in Ebenezer Square near Brick Lane, at the heart of a poverty-stricken district with a growing Jewish population. On the first day 102 pupils enrolled, aged from seven years upwards.

For more than 100 years, most pupils arrived at J.F.S. unable to speak English. The school provided them with a refuge, educated them in both secular and religious studies, anglicised them, and sent them out into the wider community.

Pupil numbers rapidly increased, and pressure grew for J.F.S. to admit girls, so in 1822 it moved to larger premises in nearby Bell Lane. By 1900, the school roll had increased to 4,250: it was the largest school in Europe, and probably the largest in the world.

During the Second World War, the pupils and staff were evacuated to Ely, in Cambridgeshire; and Mousehole, in Cornwall. In 1941, the school buildings, then occupied by the fire service, were severely damaged by bombing. By the end of the war, most of the East End's Jewish population had left the area and would not return.

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