On Mile End
This is a small plaque but you can feel the energy of the boxer depicted. He is Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836), born in Whitechapel, to a Sephardic Jewish family about a century after Jews were allowed to live officially in England. (Judaism was banned from 1290-1657). Many Jews moved here from Holland, including Mendoza’s father. They had fled from Spain to escape the Inquisition.
Although they were now tolerated in England, they still encountered anti-Semitism. Mendoza was pugilist and fought in boxing matches all over the country. He studied boxing and introduced new techniques that are still used today, like putting your arms up to protect your head as we see in the plaque. He was admired by the English. The Prince of Wales had shaken his hand after a victory. His life was very rough with lots of ups and downs but his victories raised the kudos of Jews at the time. He was appreciated by them as a result. In 2008 this plaque by Louise Soloway was unveiled by the hugely popular British and European heavyweight champion boxer, Henry Cooper (1934-2011),
Mendoza had been buried in the Novo Sephardi cemetery. Soon after arriving in England the Sephardim acquired an orchard off the Mile End Road where they built a cemetery. It became known as the Velho or Old Cemetery and it still exists.
By 1733 it was full and more land was bought to create the Novo or New Cemetery. The Novo Cemetery became part of the campus of Queen Mary College, University of London in 1974.
Much of the Novo cemetery has been cleared, the remains of 7,000 people, including Mendoza were moved to college owned land in Brentwood to create Brentwood Jewish Cemetery. A small section remains inside the campus because the people here were more recently deceased and might have living relatives.
There are two Askenazi cemeteries nearby, the oldest is Alderney Road dating from 1697 and Bancroft Road opened 1810.
1737 land near the Sephardic cemetery was bought by the Drapers Livery Company, with the legacy left by Francis Bancroft (1667-1728) to build almshouses and a school for 100 poor boys in a well to district.
1839 the New Philosophic Institute was set up nearby on Mile End Road by the Beaumont Trust to educate working men. The district was becoming an overcrowded working class area.
By 1880’s Mile End was not a healthy place for children and the Drapers decided to move the school out of London. Bancroft was sold in 1884 to the Beaumont Trust who built The People’s Palace to use for education, entertainment with lectures and music, and for meetings.
1887 People’s Palace opened by Queen Victoria. At the same time she laid the foundation stone for the East London Technical College used mainly for evening classes. It became Queen Marys College, part of London University in 1934 and the main building and clock tower were built.
Inside the campus is a statue by Frank Forster of Clement Atlee who was Prime Minister of the Labour government after WWII. He was also MP for Limehouse and the statue stood outside the library there. It had been unveiled in 1988 by Harold Wilson (1916-95). Since then the library has closed and the statue had been vandalised. Queen Mary University rescued it, found a place for it in the grounds and paid for it to be restored.
Read More about Mile End Road on this blog – Trinity Green Almshouses – GAIL JONES (gailtouristguide.com)