Culture Magazine

Spitalfields Cigars

By Carolineld @carolineld
The 1891 census showed that Fashion Street was suitably full of tailors, dressmakers and furriers. There were also more intriguing occupations, too: a nudel sorter did indeed sort nudels! (If anybody knows exactly what that meant, I'd love to know.)
A large number of the street's residents were cigar makers. The raw material, tobacco, was imported from the USA and brought into bonded warehouses at Pennington Street alongside Tobacco Dock before being made into snuff, pipe tobacco, cigarettes or cigars. The area around Spitalfields and Whitechapel was the centre of cigar-making, with several companies based close to Fashion Street.
The cigar makers worked eleven-hour days, and wages were not high. Many were Jewish immigrants from the Netherlands (known as chuts) - a pattern apparent in Fashion Street, although a number of workers recorded their place of birth as Spitalfields and a few were Russian.
One young Dutch woman had a rather brief career in the London industry before returning to Holland, as this extract from her Old Bailey prosecution explains:
William Cappin: I am in the employment of Phineas Cohen, cigar maker, of 24, Hanbury Street—the prisoner has been his apprentice, and would be out of her time in about two months—I identify these twelve cigars as the property of my firm, by the tobacco we make, and the peculiar construction—I have no doubt about them being our make—we did not sell them, because these cigars could never have been purchased retail; we don't sell retail, and they could not have been purchased wholesale in this condition, because these are all sorts of colours, and they have not been packed or put in a box—the value of them is 1s. 6d.—I have seen the prisoner's mother this morning—she has come over from Holland, and says she would take her daughter back with her, and we don't wish to push the matter any further.
She was acquitted, and presumably did indeed return home with her mother.
While other local industries are remembered, cigar-making appears to have left little trace. Nonetheless, it was a significant form of Victorian East End industry which perhaps deserves more of our attention.

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