Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Date first listed:
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Tower Hamlets (London Borough)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 33959 81431


788/0/10224 WHITECHAPEL HIGH STREET 16-MAY-07 88

II Shop of 1950s, with two signs of 1934-5 by Arthur Szyk, in early C19 building.

The special interest of 88 Whitechapel High Street is limited to the two Arthur Szyk signs, one on the exterior and the other above the first floor lift shaft.

SIGNS: The external decorative sign is situated over the entrance of the shop and is a metal relief, painted gold and fixed to the wall. The design is a Magen David, or Star of David, supported by two lions of Judah rampant and wielding sabres. Beneath is a pair of medallions, decorated with Menorot or seven-branched candelabra. The clawed feet of the lions rest on a thin turned base which is fixed to the wall.

The most striking interior feature is a second sign, similar to that on the shop front, above the lift entrance on the first floor, depicting traditional Jewish symbolism often found on Torah Arks. The relief is painted in thick white paint. The design is two Lions of Judah holding the Luhot (the Tablets of the Law) inscribed with the first Hebrew letters of each of the Ten Commandments, topped by a Crown (the Keter Torah or Crown of the Law). At the base is a Magen David, with a heart at its centre. The clawed feet of the lions rest on a frieze of volutes and swirls. Originally, there were signs on each floor, and all but this one were destroyed in a fire in the second half of the C20.

EXTERIOR: 88 Whitechapel High Street is a typical stock brick building of the C19, stuccoed to the front, which is not of special architectural interest. It is of four storeys and three window bays, and the roof is concealed behind a parapet. The shop front, which is of some interest, is faced in polished granite and the door and the window surrounds are brass. There are two display windows, one to Whitechapel High Street, the second on the return to the alley. Each has a single, wide aperture between a fascia and stall riser, both of veined marble. Above the marble fascia is an eight-light aperture with brass surrounds in an Egyptian-inspired shape with battered sides. This mirrors the profile of the opening to the alley, creating the impression of symmetry. Viewing the elevation as a symmetrical composition draws out the prominence of the sign, situated in the centre of the two openings to the window and the alley. There is white mosaic above the granite facing.

INTERIOR: Inside, the shop retains a number of features from its C20 refurbishment which are of some interest. These include dark wood panelling, largely concealed behind the modern free standing shelves, a staircase leading to the basement with a plain square newel post and a prominent dentil cornice. The interior of the rest of the building, excepting the second sign, is not of special interest.

HISTORY: 88 Whitechapel High Street dates from the early C19, though the shop front, windows and sections of the interior have been refurbished on two occasions in the mid C20. The first was by H P Sanders in 1934-5 for the Jewish Daily Post, a short-lived successor to the Jewish Express, as recorded in the Drainage Files at Tower Hamlets Local Studies Library. This involved the refurbishment of the upper storey offices and the erection of several signs, depicting Jewish emblems, two of which survive (one externally and one internally). Having been established in 1926, the Jewish Daily Post ceased circulation in August 1935 shortly after the refurbishment. The second reconfiguration dates from the 1950s when the ground floor shop was refurbished for Alberts Menswear who moved there in 1942, after their premises nearby was damaged in an air raid. In recognition of the building's continuing Jewish connections (Alberts were part of the Jewish rag trade), this refurbishment incorporated the older sign into the design of the shop front. The shop front design is in the fashion of the 1930s, as seen in the Egyptian-inspired Art Deco lights and the use of red neon, which continued in many commercial premises after the war.

The signs at 88 Whitechapel High Street were designed by Arthur Szyk (1894-1951), a noted artist of Polish-Jewish origin. Szyk's authorship was ascertained by his biographer, Joseph Ansell, and further enquiries have revealed that Szyk's daughter remembers the artist working on the commission which she recalls was instigated by a Mr Solomon. Leaving London in 1940, Szyk became one of America's leading political artists by producing anti-Nazi cartoons during World War II. He was also a celebrated illustrator who created many works in the tradition of illuminated manuscripts. One such work was his Haggadah (the Passover story) published in London in 1940, after publishers in Poland and Czechoslovakia were reluctant to support the anti-Nazi work. For this reason, Szyk was in London sporadically from the early 1930s until 1940 when he toured Canada and the United States and eventually settled in the US after WWII. Szyk's work has recently been the subject of exhibitions at the Library of Congress and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, both in Washington DC. The signs are related to Szyk's other work, for example the design of the internal sign is also used in the title page for the Haggadah which Szyk created shortly after Germany annexed Austria in 1938, although it did not appear in the final version. This is, however, the only composition by him executed in sculptural form.

The area around Whitechapel was the home of the majority of Jewish émigrés in the C19 and early C20 following the Pogroms of the 1880s in Eastern Europe, and is an area of great significance to the history of the Jewish people in Britain nationally as well as locally. Near to 88 Whitechapel High Street, the synagogue at 19 Princlet Street, the Jewish soup kitchen on Brune Street and the Jewish memorial to Edward VII on Whitechapel High Street (all Grade II) are testimony to the distinctively Jewish character of the area in the late C19 and early C20.The 1930s were a particularly significant decade in the area as evidenced by the anti-fascist demonstrations at Cable Street in 1936, which initially took place at Aldgate just metres from 88 Whitechapel High Street.

SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: The two Szyk signs are of considerable special interest. Firstly, the elegant designs are unique and by an artist who is of considerable importance in the Jewish history of the C20. Szyk is not known to have designed any other relief panels and this is his only work in any medium in the UK. Secondly, the signs at 88 Whitechapel High Street are thought to be one example of a very small number of historic Jewish commercial signs in the country. The signs at 88 Whitechapel High Street use recognisable and distinctive Jewish emblems or language to announce the identity of the proprietors and are a prominent advertisement of ethnicity, suggestive of the proprietors' confidence that the design would be well-received in what was a distinctively Jewish area. This is of special historic interest in the context of the 1930s, when persecution of Jews increased in Europe and tensions in the East End of London resulted in clashes. The early C19 building at 88 Whitechapel High Street is by no means special in a national context, and the shop front, while interesting, is not remarkable.

SOURCES: Joseph Ansell, Arthur Szyk: Artist, Jew, Pole (2004), 88. Post Office Directories, 1933-1945. Information from Kathryn Morrison, Sharman Kadish and Charles O' Brien. N. Pevsner, B. Cherry and C. O'Brien, Buildings of England: London East (2005). K. Morrison, English Shops and Shopping (2003) 60-61, 207. S. Kadish, Jewish Heritage in England (2006), 16-17.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Ansell, J, Arthur Szyk Artist Jew Pole, (2004), 88
Kadish, S, Jewish Heritage in England, an Architectural Guide, (2006), 16-17
Morrison, K, English Shops and Shopping An Architectural History, (2003), 207
Pevsner, N, Cherry, B, O'Brien, C, The Buildings of England: London 5 East, (2005)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

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