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Brick Lane switches on Christmas lights with ghosts from East End’s Jewish heritage

PUBLISHED: 10:16 13 December 2017 | UPDATED: 10:40 13 December 2017

Times past... Artist Karen Crosby’s archive images of Brick Lane projected onto Old Truman Brewery. Picture: Jeremy Freedman

Times past... Artist Karen Crosby’s archive images of Brick Lane projected onto Old Truman Brewery. Picture: Jeremy Freedman

© Jeremy Freedman 2017

The festive lights have been switched on along Brick Lane reflecting former Jewish and Yiddish-language culture of London’s East End with ghostly figures in doorways from the 1920s.

Shopkeeper Eva Levinsky is pictured outside her newsagent�s in the 1920s, projected onto the very same shop-front surviving today. Picture: Jeremy FreedmanShopkeeper Eva Levinsky is pictured outside her newsagent�s in the 1920s, projected onto the very same shop-front surviving today. Picture: Jeremy Freedman

Artist Karen Crosby’s ‘Traces of Brick Lane’ collection of archive images were projected onto walls and shop-fronts along the historic thoroughfare, more famous nowadays as London’s Asian ‘curry mile’.

Her collection showing the cultural changes in Brick Lane’s street life were taken from old postcards, photographs and newspaper cuttings.

Shopkeeper Eva Levinsky is pictured outside her newsagent’s in the 1920s with its news-vending placards in Yiddish and English, projected onto the surface of the very same shop that she managed which survives today.

Mayor John Biggs meeting shopkeeper Eva Levinsky outside her newsagent�s in the 1920s projected onto the very same shop-front where she lived 90 years ago. Picture: Jeremy FreedmanMayor John Biggs meeting shopkeeper Eva Levinsky outside her newsagent�s in the 1920s projected onto the very same shop-front where she lived 90 years ago. Picture: Jeremy Freedman

Mrs Levinsky ran her newsagent’s in the early 20th century when Brick Lane and much of Spitalfields and Whitechapel were home to a thriving Jewish culture.

It was one of the largest concentrations of Yiddish culture in western Europe, with its own Yiddish language press, in much to same as the Bengali culture has now taken over in an ever-changing scene that has been Brick Lane’s history for hundreds of years.

The images were a link between today’s people and the ghostly monochrome figures of the past, projected onto the same buildings that survived the decades since.

Fairy queens float through Brick Lane... or perhaps they are on stilts. Picture: Jeremy FreedmanFairy queens float through Brick Lane... or perhaps they are on stilts. Picture: Jeremy Freedman

Christmas revellers were able to interact with the folk from the past—even John Biggs, today’s Mayor of Tower Hamlets which took over from the old Stepney borough council half-a-century ago, stopped outside Mrs Levinsky’s shop where she once stood for that black-and-white photograph, as if to get his copy of the 1920s’ East London Advertiser.

It was all part of the festivities when the mayor threw the switch on Sunday to light up the street, in a display stretching from the corner of Old Montague Street by the famous Brick Lane arch almost as far as the Old Truman brewery.

The crowds were entertained by ‘fairy queens’ floating along the narrow thoroughfare like magic, meeting and greeting passers-by.

One reveller looks up to the Fairy queens floating through Brick Lane. Picture: Jeremy FreedmanPicture: Jeremy FreedmanOne reveller looks up to the Fairy queens floating through Brick Lane. Picture: Jeremy FreedmanPicture: Jeremy Freedman

Or perhaps they were stilt-walkers in colourfully illuminated costumes, but certainly a hit with the revellers.

Carols were performed on a specially-erected stage near the Brick Lane arch by the East End’s own ‘Young and Talented’ troupe.

Revellers enjoyed mince pies, mulled wine and festive craft beers while listening to the mayor’s speech when he threw the switch.

The ‘Young and Talented’ troupe perform carols on stage. Picture: Jeremy FreedmanThe ‘Young and Talented’ troupe perform carols on stage. Picture: Jeremy Freedman

Artist Karen was asked by Brick Lane town centre manager Rachel Jenman to stage a Christmas spectacular that would shine a light on its history and culture.

She did just that, with projections onto old buildings that still exist today, like Mrs Levinsky’s newsagent’s and sweetshop.

The Jewish era was one of many in Brick Lane where waves of immigrants have settled in Spitalfields down the centuries, from the French Huguenots in the 18th century onwards, including the Irish dockers in the 19th.

Ghostly shadow from the past projected onto the same building in Brick Lane today. Picture: Jeremy FreedmanGhostly shadow from the past projected onto the same building in Brick Lane today. Picture: Jeremy Freedman

The former Mazik A’Dath synagogue on the corner of Fournier Street, for example, began as a Huguenot church and later became a Methodist chapel, now today’s Jamme Masjit mosque, reflecting the shifting sands of Brick Lane.

The archive images recreated visual street life from a bygone era, making a link across 100 years between Brick Lane’s present and its past with ghostly monochrome figures peering into the 21st century from doorways along a thoroughfare where only the people change—not the buildings.

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