High on the wall, above the Fournier Street entrance to the Brick Lane Mosque is the Latin inscription ‘Umbra Sumus’, which translates to ‘We are Shadows.’ Originally erected in 1743 as a Protestant Chapel called La Neuve Eglise by French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in France, it was briefly acquired in 1809 by the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews, before becoming a Wesleyan Methodists Chapel in 1819 then changing hands yet again in 1897 when it became the ultra orthodox Machzike Hadath Synagogue, also known as The Spitalfields Great Synagogue. In 1976 the building was sold on to the emerging Bangladeshi community and transformed into The Brick Lane Mosque. It now holds up to 4000 worshippers at a time and is as packed on Ramadan today as it once was on Yom Kippur and Easter Sunday.
The complex and rich history of this iconic Spitalfields building with its multiple transitions over time is just one example of the many amazing stories to be uncovered in this unique area, situated just outside the City walls, which has been the first port of call for many different migrant groups arriving to London during the past two-hundred and fifty years.
The Immigrants of Spitalfields Festival 2016 is an initiative between three organisations –
Swadhinata Trust: a volunteer-led secular charity based in Tower Hamlets promoting Bengali culture and heritage.
Sandys Row Synagogue: London’s oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue and home to the last active Jewish community in what was once the very heart of the Jewish East End.
Huguenots of Spitalfields: a heritage and educational charity highlighting the contribution the Huguenots – French Protestants and our first refugees – made to this country after fleeing religious persecution in France. (Charity No. 1151801)
Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs
The Rt. Revd. & Rt. Hon. Richard Chartres KCVO FSA
Rushanara Ali MP
Novelist and Poet Michael Rosen (former Children’s Laureate)