As it was rather a dull day with grey skies and the threat of rain, we decided to do the shopping and have an in-town day, hoping for better things tomorrow. Breakfast at the Glass Works cheered us up and then we tackled Sainsbury’s.
Later we took a bus to Camden Town. Looking towards the BT Tower from the end of Mornington Terrace, you can see how hazy the air was.
Across from where I took the first photo stands the Edinburgh Castle, a mid-19th century pub, Grade II listed. What is a pity is that so often in our cities, and especially in London, street scenes are spoilt by the lazy habit of leaving rubbish bins and plastic bags full of rubbish in plain sight on the public footway in front of the building. There is no excuse for it and it is quite disgusting.
In nearby Delancey Street, at number 54, a blue plaque indicates that Welsh poet and author of Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas, lived here. His sojourn was brief: he entered the house in October 1951 and very soon went to the US where he died in November 1953.
This is Albert Street, where we went next. I was intrigued by this house on the corner because 7 of the 11 windows on this side have been bricked up. Was this done to beat the Window Tax (1696-1851)? Or perhaps 11 windows in one façade is just too many.
In Albert Street is the establishment we had come to visit, the Jewish Museum London. It has a very unassuming entrance with automatic doors. When you enter, you encounter a cloakroom and a security desk, both manned by young men in black suits. At the cloak room, we were required to submit our bags for a search. If that seems extraordinary, we should remember that Jewish monuments, memorials and museums have come under attack. This being so, I did not object to the search.
Also on the ground floor is the museum shop and ticket desk. There is a charge for admission but we were allowed in free with our Art Fund membership cards. (These are good value as they provide free entry to many venues and reduced prices in others.) Photography is allowed as long as flash is not used.
We went straight up to the third floor. This is where the temporary exhibitions are held. The current exhibition is Entertaining the Nation, exploring the Jewish contribution to the entertainment industry in Britain. This is considerable in all fields of endeavour from music and comedy to theatre and film.
Many of Britain’s favourite comedians, musicians and stars of stage, screen and radio have been and are Jewish. Many long-lived institutions, such as the Odeon cinema chain, if no longer Jewish were originally founded by Jewish entrepreneurs.
There is a small cinema on this floor. Walls made of mirrors make it look much bigger than it is. In the subdued lighting this works well and is quite effective. Currently showing was a film, narrated by Maureen Lipman, on the changing representation on Jews in theatre and film.
On the second floor, the permanent exhibition covers Jewish history in Britain from the 11th century, when Jews first came to Britain from Normandy, through many vicissitudes and expulsion in the late 1200s, to modern times.
The horrifying events of the Holocaust are also discussed, made all the more real by the use of personal reminiscences of survivors.
The first-floor exhibition is entitled Judaism: a Living Faith, and is a complex and colourful display of objects and paraphernalia belonging to the Jewish religion and its associated culture.
The display here is very rich, with ornately decorated scrolls, utensils and furnishings, the work of highly skilled makers, all accompanied by descriptions and explanations.
A prize exhibit is this synagogue ark, designed to store scrolls. This one turned up in England though how it came to be here, no one knows for sure. It is beautifully decorated.
We returned down to the ground floor. Like most museums these days, this one has a cafe but as Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, it was closed. This raises the question of how the museum itself can be open. I don’t know that answer to that.
The museum is well organized and well documented, making it easy and pleasant to follow the various themes developed. The interior of the building seems recently renovated because it still smells new. Everything is clean and well lit. You get a good insight into the history and culture of the Jewish community in Britain. While the sufferings of the Jewish people are of course detailed, this is done in an objective and sober manner, without exaggeration or histrionics. Personal contributions lend reality and human interest to the account. I think that the non-Jewish visitor who pays attention to the displays emerges with a better understanding of the Jewish community and a sense of the contributions that it has made to Britain and its culture.
We walked down to Parkway and stopped for coffee at the old Palmer’s Pet Stores.
Palmer’s was once a famous store, on the route to Regent’s Park Zoo, selling all kinds of live animals. Happily that trade has now ceased and the building, Grade II listed, is currently a coffee shop.
We now returned home, content that we had put Saturday to good use and looking forward to a relaxed evening.