Annie B’s story

Annie’s parents had emigrated from Russia to London during the later part of the 19th century, escaping from a part of the country that is now in modern-day Poland, and probably driven out by anti-Jewish pogroms. They resettled in the East End of London, in the heart of the Jewish community there, and Annie was perhaps the first of their nine children born in their new country.

Her father worked as a cabinet maker, which not only supported his family but enabled him to place two of his children, Annie and her brother, in a paying school in the 1890s.

Later on, Annie found work as a cigarette maker in the burgeoning tobacco industry in the early 20th century East End. Previously, cigars had been more popular, but by this time cigarettes – which were cheaper and more plentiful – were gaining in popularity.

Cigarette and cigar making was not government controlled in London, and was considered a “food industry”. Many Jewish people in the area became garment workers, boots and shoe makers, and cabinet makers – cigarette and cigar makers were initially a smaller part of Jewish industry but a significant one. At this time, tobacco smoking was still widely believed to have health benefits, a fiction that persisted until the middle of the 20th century. By 1911, East London had 76 factories manufacturing tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, snuff, but equally numerous small household manufacturers too – it’s unclear whether Annie’s work was in a factory, or as a smaller producer – however, her living circumstances point to the latter.

She lived with one of her sisters in a flat above a shop in Spitalfields, helping her sister – an embroiderer and tailoress – to run the shop, and it is likely that her cigarette making was another part of her income. This appears to have been a successful business partnership for many years, and one stable enough to accommodate the raising of two of her younger brother’s children during the Second World War, when they lost their mother.

At the tail end of the war, Annie’s sister married and their business appears to have hit hard times – they gave up the shop to a hat maker, and Annie went back to making cigarettes for a living. She eventually left their flat and moved into lodgings with another family. She kept this lifestyle going until she died in the mid-1950s.

The buildings the family occupied no longer exist, and have been replaced by modern flats.

 

For more information about the tobacco industry at the time, see:

http://eastlondonhistory.com/2014/04/28/cigar-makers-of-the-east-end-of-london/comment-page-1/

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To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

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