The Chuts

Dutch Cigar Makers’ Sabbath meal, C19 • Sandys Row Archive

This fantastic photo, from the Sandys Row Archive, is of a family of Dutch cigar makers celebrating a Sabbath meal in London’s East End in the nineteenth century. From the 1840s onwards nearly a small group of pioneering Dutch Jews (about 50 families), mainly from Amsterdam, settled in an area in West Spitalfields known as the Tenterground, which was named after the open land used by cloth makers who stretched their fabric on wooden frames known as tenters. The Tenterground was developed in the seventeenth century and encompassed the streets of White’s Row, Wentworth Street, Bell Lane and Rose Lane (which no longer exists). Hugeunot silk weavers erected homes and workshops there in the eighteenth century, which became occupied by this small tight-knit Dutch immigrant Jewish community, known as “the Chuts.” These little known of Dutch Jewish settlers pre-date the mass migration of Ashkenazi Jewish migrants who fled persecution in the Pale of Settlements and arrived in their thousands to the area from 1880s onwards. The Dutch immigrants who established Sandys Row Synagogue were economic migrants seeking a better life, rather than refugees fleeing persecution.

‘The Chuts’ had their own practises and customs, which were different to other Ashkenazi Jewish groups. They refused to join any of the existing synagogues, renting instead a small room in a building on Whites Row, which served for a while as a prayer room and meeting place. Most of the newly arrived Dutch Jews were skilled workers, predominately involved in the trades of cigar and cigarette making, diamond cutting and polishing, slipper and cap making. Skills were passed on from generation to generation, making this small community of about a thousand people extremely self sufficient. Many small workshops were opened up in and around the Tenterground area, including the streets of Artillery Passage, Frying Pan Alley and Sandys Row.

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