October 1, 2015

Stamford Hill: A Unique Corner of Spiritual Tradition

In the borough of Hackney lies one of London’s most uniquely characterful quarters. Stamford Hill, primarily known for its synagogues, kosher supermarkets and private Jewish schools, is often referred to as the ‘square mile of piety’.  Spend any time in the bustle of Dunsmure Road and you’ll see Jewish men shuttling between worship, study and work dressed in striking eighteenth-century frock coats and black hats, while new mothers push their prams wearing dark coats, traditional skirts and sheitels (wigs or half-wigs).

Stamford Hill is home to the largest Hasidic Jewish community in Europe, with a thriving population of over 30,000, more than 70 synagogues and 30-plus Orthodox schools. The Jewish community here dates back to the 1700s when a number of notable wealthy Jewish families settled. The community grew substantially before the Second World War as Stamford Hill provided refuge to Jewish families fleeing persecution.


A family-oriented community


There is a lot more to Stamford Hill than its visible religious expression, though: it is home to a surprising diversity of residents with roots stretching from Turkey and Africa to the Caribbean. It is a mutually supportive, family-orientated community with deeply rooted values and an old-world charm. Just six miles from central London, stepping into Stamford Hill is almost like stepping back to another time, or into a parallel universe that has resisted the rampant influence of pop culture and modern distractions.


The neighbourhood is an extremely close-knit one, particularly the Jewish community, with a Schomrim (‘guardians’) neighbourhood patrol and a number of voluntary organisations providing support to residents. One independent body gives advice to Stamford Hill Haredi on welfare, employment and immigration issues. Crime rates in Stamford Hill are surprisingly low. Instances of violent crime are practically nil, and the area has its own volunteer ambulance service with trained paramedics (Hatzolah).


Uniquely distinctive


Given its distinctive character, it’s no surprise that the neighbourhood has featured in a number of TV documentaries and dramas. Kosher markets and Jewish bakeries are in abundance. On Egerton Road you’ll find Stamford Hill’s largest place of worship, the New Synagogue, a magnificent Edwardian replica of the City of London’s nineteenth century’s Great St Helen’s Synagogue, now demolished.


The population of Stamford Hill continues to grow quickly, and robust demand for housing has seen property prices increase by a massive 31% in the last year. Residents are understandably reluctant to take the proceeds of a sale and relocate – there really is no other place in the world quite like Stamford Hill.

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