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The streets of Whitechapel resonate with sounds of song as Victorian protest takes place

Academics from Queen Mary University of London have led a series of workshops with year seven students from five east London schools exploring how Victorian Londoners protested against their pay and working conditions.

Workshop organisers, Dr Vivi Lachs and Dr Nadia Valman from Queen Mary’s School of English and Drama, drew upon their research on the musical and political culture of nineteenth century Jewish immigrants to the East End. Students learned Victorian protest songs, made placards expressing demands and wrote their own political speeches and chants.

On Tuesday 25 September the students paraded along the streets of Whitechapel with professional musicians from the Great Yiddish Parade marching band. The parade followed the same route where east Londoners protested in the Victorian period, drawing upon the wave of strikes that spread across East London in 1889.

The songs of the parade were sung in Yiddish, the language spoken by the Jewish immigrant population, who made up the majority of poorly paid workers in Victorian east London.

After parading up Whitechapel Road, the students finished with performances in Altab Ali Park. The aim of the workshop and parade was to promote awareness of the local heritage of protest to enable students to articulate their own versions of protest through writing, design and song.

“Singing songs helped raise the morale of Victorian workers who were enduring terrible conditions in factories and workshops, and brought messages of hope that collective action could bring about change,” said Dr Lachs.

“We hope that this project will give students a glimpse into east London’s rich local history of protest,” added Dr Valman.

More information

The workshop, Protest in Victorian Whitechapel, was led by Dr Vivi Lachs and Dr Nadia Valman from Queen Mary’s School of English and Drama. Five schools from London’s East End participated:

– Central Foundation School for Girls

– Mulberry School for Girls

– Oaklands School

– Duke’s Aldridge Academy

– Issac Newton Academy

Photos by Paul Jordan

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