Prepared for a conference at University College, London,
Page created: 21 February 2004
Jewish Population 150
1900-1 1 Marriage, 3 deaths. Synagogue, Paradise Lane (founded 1893). Seatholders 40. Chevra Kadisha.
BOARD OF DEPUTIES RETURNS
The study of Victorian provincial Jewish communities raises many interesting and intriguing questions. Besides the general obvious ones of why and how did Jews form a particular community, and by what means did they earn a living, other more particular questions surface. For instance, were those Jews who established these communities different in character from their co-religionists who remained in large communities whatever their circumstances? In a small community, unlike a large one, it was impossible for Jews to remain totally immersed in a familiar environment. Did this mean that the process of acculturisation would proceed quicker in small communities, or did this mean that the more they were exposed to their new surroundings, the more intent they were on keeping their own? Obviously the task of maintaining Judaism was far more arduous in a small community totally engulfed by non-Jewish society. Further, despite the obvious similarities in Jewish communities, how far could the type of town in which they settled fashion their consciousness? To put this point graphically, the Jews in Blackburn were familiar with the sound of that ubiquitous symbol of the textile industry, the knocker up, the sound of clogs on cobbles, the sight and smell (although presumably not the taste) of traditional Lancashire delicacies, tripe and black puddings, and after a while, they would adopt local accents.1 These experiences, exclusive to the Lancashire textile region, would not be shared by Jews elsewhere, who themselves would be exposed to differing life-styles. This suggests that despite the well detailed homogeneity of Jewish communities they may have differed in certain respects, such as class composition and occupational structure.
The type of town in which a Jewish community found itself may well point to the nature and character of that community. Blackburn remains the largest town of north-east Lancashire, and typifies the industrial town which grew in this region as a result of the industrial revolution. From being a small market town in the early nineteenth century, it had grown in the course of a hundred years and by 1909 had a population of over 139,000 people. Its municipal buildings and statues reflect its Victorian prosperity, a factor with an undoubted appeal to the immigrant searching for a living. In addition its importance as a regional centre within easy reach by rail of Manchester would also attract the immigrant. Besides its own large market there were within a ten mile radius two large towns - Preston and Burnley - and several smaller mill towns, each possessing a busy market. Therefore, as a centre of a network of markets, it had appeal for the Jewish "market stander". Further its size and position meant it possessed a large shopping centre and it had become a town with a burgeoning tailoring trade, satisfying the local middle-class demand. Not unnaturally, opportunities were available for the Jewish tailor to exercise his craft. These three factors, a prosperous regional centre, a large market centre in easy reach of smaller markets and a town with ample opportunities for tailors combined to make Blackburn prima-facie an attractive proposition for Jews engaged in tertiary and service industries.
Although isolated Jews might have lived in Blackburn prior to 1880 it is only from that date that one can talk in terms of a community.2 From the local directories, which are incomplete and unreliable, it would appear that a handful of Jewish families settled in Blackburn in the early 1880's. However, the Jewish population grew, so that an appeal for funds to establish a synagogue in Blackburn appears in the Jewish Chronicle in spring 1893.3 This appeal came from Mr. W. Aronsberg, J.P., of Manchester, and included signatures of seventeen Jews living in the Blackburn area. It stated that over twenty families lived in Blackburn and several more in its immediate neighbourhood. These families were "eager to be provided with a place of worship, religious instruction for their children and kosher food".4
From the limited evidence available, and from information given in interviews, the community comprised of families who had previously settled elsewhere either in the provinces or in London. This mobility suggests that these families possessed initiative, resourcefulness, and a strong will to establish their independence. The attractions of Blackburn have been summarised above and it seems that information concerning prospects in a town could travel through a trade or family network. An individual account of the constant movement in search for a living and one which illustrates recruitment to the Blackburn community is contained in City Close Up.5 In the interview with 'Grandma Kramer' the early days of the immigrant prepared to leave London and find his way in the provinces are vividly recollected.6 After struggling desperately, the family moves to Manchester, then Darwen when offered work there by a friend. Similar patterns of movement seem to have been experienced by other families in the community and appear to have been typical.7 As the community grew it was augmented by relatives joining their families sometimes directly from overseas but mainly from other English communities. There is also evidence that policies of dispersion from overcrowded communities were being considered as early as 1886 by the Manchester Board of Guardians.8 The idea was "to select a limited number of families from among Jewish artisans who may be dispersed to migrate to some other towns".9 However, this scheme does not appear to have become operative as no mention of it is made after January 1888. Nevertheless many families who settled in Blackburn did appear to move from the Manchester district. From this evidence, employment opportunities appear to have been the major attraction of Blackburn for the Jewish settlers. Once settled, family links augmented the size of the community. There is no available evidence to support or contradict the view that old friends and neighbours from abroad linked up with families in Blackburn. However the size of the community suggests this would be unlikely although not impossible.
Occupational Structure of the Community and the Area of Settlement
Between 1881 and 1908 the Jewish community in Blackburn had grown from a handful of families to a community of over 250 souls.10 An analysis of the occupations followed by the community and the area in which it settled will indicate its social aid economic position. Obviously the period under review is one in which the hardworking immigrant is prepared to sweat in return for the opportunity of one day becoming independent or self-employed. In Blackburn the Jews were engaged in the classic trades of the immigrant. From information in the directories, tailoring appears to predominate. In 1900 three Jewish tailors are listed but significantly by 1906 this number is increased to fifteen. These tailors would mainly work for the well-established and large merchant tailors, have private customers or would manage a combination of both. They would work in small workshops employing co-religionists as machiners and pressers, etc.11 Many of these tailors were involved in communal affairs. If tailoring was the major occupation, market traders and general dealers who owned shops and stood on the markets came a very close second. With various markets within easy reach, several families made their living by market trading. They sold optical goods, cheap jewellery, fancy goods, boots and shoes, lacework, textile piece goods, leathers and sponge, in fact the whole range of goods which were the mark of the Jewish trader. In addition there was a small number of cabinet makers, glaziers and picture framers. Two of the foremost Jewish families in Blackburn, Aaron and Rozenson, wore engaged in picture-framing.12 There were also a number of drapers, clothes dealers, boot and shoe dealers and a Jewish grocery. However, the community could not support a kosher butcher's shop. Instead kosher meat was sold on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a non-Jewish butcher's shop situated in the main neighbourhood of Jewish settlement.13 The inability to support a kosher butcher illustrates precisely the point made about the impossibility of Jews in a small community being totally immersed in their own environment and culture.
In addition to the occupations mentioned the local directories show that a small number of Jews were engaged in loan financing (money lending) or managed loan offices. Although few in number this group of people supplied at least three prominent members of the community. Along with the more successful master tailors, picture framers, shopkeepers and market traders, they formed the active kernel of the community. The relative wealth of the loan financiers is best illustrated by the election of Mr. Jacob Cohen, proprietor of the South. African Loan Company, to president of the congregation in 1902.14 As he had witnessed the siege of Kimberley, he was clearly a newcomer to the community and had returned to England "to recruit his health".15 His swift election to president indicated he was a man of some financial substance. This is illustrated when he advanced interest-free the whole sum of money required to construct a mikvah at the Turkish baths in Richmond Terrace, in 1904.16
The occupational structure of the Blackburn community must resemble those found in the "manufacturing districts". It contained no factory proletariat, no member of the professions and certainly no families of long-established wealth. However it did contain the seeds of entrepreneurial desire. Like similar communities, its growing generation would boast of a sprinkling of successful businessmen and members of the liberal professions. However the Victorian community was one in which the struggle to exist precluded the fulfilment of other aspirations. Although certain families succeeded economically and socially in Blackburn, it was never a wealthy community. Indeed there appears to be a constant turnover of families. Names appear and disappear from consecutive directories and new names appear and then disappear from committees.17 Various reasons can be given for this turnover, but the failure to make a living seems often an indisputable one. Within the community status became inextricably linked with economic prosperity. The more prosperous families provided the communal leaders and a demarcation in status persisted between these and those destined to remain wage-earning or struggling in business.
Another indication of the social and economic standing of the community can be obtained by reference to the area of settlement. The bulk of the community lived close to the town centre on its western side in an area bounded by King Street and Bank Top in the south, Preston New Road to the north, Northgate to the east, and Saunders Road to the west. This area was basically working class although the elevated north section bordering Preston New Road was superior to the southern section around Bank Top. This whole area was divided by Montague Street in which, going from the directories and marriage certificates, various families lived. The Paradise Lane synagogue was located in the south-east corner of the area, the butcher's shop on its southern boundary and the Jewish grocer's shop was also located in the area. However, smaller knots of settlement appear in the St. John's area to the north east of the town centre and also in Lower Audley and Grimshaw Park to the south west. These latter two areas were solidly working class and rather poor. The dividing line between working class and middle class was Preston New Road. To the north of this road the wealthier inhabitants of Blackburn resided. In this period very few Jewish families lived to the north of Preston New Road. Those that did pointed the prospective way from ghetto to suburb.18
The Blackburn Jewish community lived mainly in a neighbourhood of which the major part was working class, but which could also in part he described as lower middle class. Other smaller knots of residence also show that the community lived in solid working class areas. This denotes that the Blackburn community was one in which the struggle for living was never far from the surface.
Religion and the Role of the Minister
It is axiomatic that the place of religion in a community is of utmost importance. Whatever their cultural and social practices, the most immediate distinction between Jews and non-Jews is religion. Indeed when posed with the question when is a Jewish community founded, the most frequent response will be when the synagogue has been consecrated. By 1893 the Jews in Blackburn felt the need to have a synagogue. The appeal published in the Jewish Chronicle is informative, in that it makes plain the struggle faced by a small community wishing to upkeep its religion: "We are twenty five miles from Manchester which is the nearest town where we can find a synagogue. Our hardships and difficulties in our endeavours to cling to our religion when we have no place of worship, no sepharim and no kosher meat are indescribable."19 This cri de coeur places religious observance at the very centre of communal activity and shows why small communities found it hard to expand. With the support of the Chief Rabbi donations amounting to over £76 were collected within a month.20 At this point of time religious services were being held in a private house owned by a Mr. Jacob Barnett and were being conducted by members of the community.21 In May 1893, after a visit by Mr. W. Aronsberg J.P., the community decided to purchase and refit an old Art College in Paradise Lane and convert it into a synagogue. At a meeting held in the Blackburn Royal Exchange Aronsberg for his services was elected honorary life President, Mr. Aaron Pinkus became vice-president and Mr. C. Rozenson Warden. Eventually the synagogue was consecrated in September 1893, although originally it was scheduled to be opened in July.22
The consecration of the synagogue was the first major event in the religious life of the community. Most of the necessary and costly requisites were donated by members or by visitors.23 The inauguration ceremony attracted visitors from several communities including Manchester, Southport, Burton-on-Trent and London. Indeed Mr. S. M. Harris of Southport, who subsequently featured prominently in the affairs of the community, managed the ceremony, admittance to which was by ticket only. A clue to the way the community had maintained its religious practice prior to the opening of the synagogue is contained in a speech given by W. Aronsberg, when he commented that "that synagogue was intended to be a boon not only to Blackburn Jews, but to others who had hitherto been put to great inconvenience by having to journey to Manchester with their families several times a year." 24
With the establishment of a synagogue and the appointment of a minister, Rev. I. Gallant, the Blackburn Jewish community was placed firmly on the map. Yet within a year the synagogue trustees were being threatened with legal action over their inability to pay off outstanding debts. This situation confirms the somewhat precarious financial standing of the community at this point of time. Fortunately Mr. S. M. Harris intervened by bringing the plight of the community to the attention of the Chief Rabbi. In turn he elicited support from influential members of the London community who were able to place the congregation in a sound financial position.25 This action averted the collapse of the congregation and community, which by now consisted of over fifty working class families.26 It also gave the Chief Rabbi an opportunity to remind the congregation "of the importance of imparting religious education to the children".27 Equally importantly, the Chief Rabbi promised to visit Blackburn in his pastoral tour in 1896, an event designed to boost the community morally, spiritually and psychologically. Naturally the Chief Rabbi's visit in May 1896 marked another momentous occasion for the community.
One reason for his visit was to appeal for donations to the Blackburn and East Lancs Infirmary. When this appeal was made at the evening service, various representatives of the gentile community, both lay and cleric, including the Mayor and the chairman of the hospital were present. Whilst the Chief Rabbi urged the community "not to confine their charities to their own people and institutions", he also emphatically stressed that they should "train up their children in the knowledge of Hebrew which was their bond as a people and a key to their ancient faith and sacred writings' 28
Within the next three years certain events point to the consolidation of the community. A mikvah for instance was inaugurated in late 1896 although this appeared not to have been maintained, for as previously stated another mikvah was opened in 1904.29 In 1898 the synagogue was closed temporarily whilst it underwent a general beautifying and was reopened in the presence "both of Jews from the surrounding towns and Christian residents including town councillors".30 The desire for- a mikvah and the redecoration of the synagogue strongly suggests that there was little attenuation at this time of orthodoxy, although in his visit the Chief Rabbi had referred to the institution of Sabbath which he felt was "not always prized and honoured as it should be". 31
Another necessity for any Jewish community is a burial plot. The request for such a plot indicates not only the religious nature of a community but also hints at its growth in size and the notion of permanency. In early 1896 a plot was applied for but refused because "the cemetery is rapidly becoming filled and that all the ground will soon be required .... therefore we recommend that it is not advisable to set apart any position of the cemetery for internment in connection with any particular body or sect."32 This decision was a setback and prompted criticism. In the wake of the Chief Rabbi's visit the Blackburn Weekly Standard and Express sympathetically regretted that "the Corporation has not seen its way to grant the Jews a plot for burial purposes" and additionally claimed "there is a sentiment in these matters which it seems almost brutal to consciously outrage".33 Nevertheless the Corporation did promise to reconsider the matter when the burial grounds were extended and, true to their promise, in November 1898 a plot was duly apportioned. A vital role in securing this plot was played by Aaron Pinkus who, with a small committee had been responsible for negotiations with the Corporation.34 Plans were made for the erection of a mortuary and fencing but the funds were never raised. Instead the cemetery was (and is) surrounded by shrubs and at its entrance were erected pillars and an iron gate.35
If the first visit of the Chief Rabbi was an unqualified success and one that made Blackburn aware of its Jewish community, his second visit, unscheduled and unheralded, arose from completely different circumstances. This was the result of an incident which highlighted the turbulent character of a Jewish working community, as yet unsophisticated. From interviews conducted, one impression remains quite clear. In a community such as Blackburn where the immigrant was striving to raise himself and family, the desire to see success reflected in positions within the community gave it a quarrelsome nature. What started at the 1899 annual general meeting as an argument between a retiring member of the executive and other congregation members ended in a fracas principally involving two families. Consequently the meeting "broke up in an uproar owing to the pugilistic tendencies of one or more of the congregation'.36 This situation was hardly that of the unity called for when the synagogue was consecrated, and in all twelve summonses for assault were issued. Naturally this type of incident was one which ran counter to the pressing desire of the immigrant to attain respectability. Indeed letters were sent to the press denying the whole affair.37 However, embarrassment was spared when a prominent member of the community interceded, the summonses were withdrawn and the issue was "amicably settled" 38 It was these circumstances therefore that prompted the unscheduled visit of the Chief Rabbi, who no doubt would have been unhappy with the affair.
Despite the amicable settlement, the upshot of this incident was the formation of a new congregation, namely the New Hebrew Congregation.39 The presence of long-standing quarrels, arguments and bickerings within the community was hinted at in the inaugural speech given by the president of the new congregation, Mr. Lewis Gordon. With prescience, he deplored the break, but nonetheless felt "glad to say that the unfortunate quarrel at the synagogue and separation had served to put an end to petty quarrels and bickering.40 This breakaway congregation formed its own Burial Board, which was associated with the Manchester New Synagogue Burial Board, and a Zionist Society. However, within a smallish community its existence could not have been anything but fragile and it dissolved in July 1900.41 For a brief spell after reunification, the officers and executive of the synagogue were changed quarterly, a procedure showing a conciliatory grace and signally allowing a liberal and satisfactory spread of office.42 However, four years after the reunification of the congregation, yet another split occurred.43 Whereas the reasons for the first breakaway are well catalogued, those for the second breakaway remain at present conjectural rather than concrete, through lack of evidence. The growth of the community after 1900 may have been a factor in the formation of this second congregation, the Freckleton Street Congregation, and as early as 1901 claims were being made that the Paradise Lane synagogue was beginning to be too small for the increasing population.44 Curiously, those families who broke away in 1899 now seemed to remain faithful, and those who remained faithful in 1899 now seemed to form a part of the breakaway. This could suggest that there were still two factions within the community and that certain families were at loggerheads. A possible clue to the origins of the second secession might be found in the resignation of Mr. B. Fraser in July 1904, from treasurer of the old congregation.45 In 1899 this family had remained in the original congregation, but it now became active in the now one. In addition, three members of the new congregation's committee were formerly committee members at Paradise Lane.46 The Freckleton St.. Congregation lasted three years and originally had its own minister, Rev. A. Light.47 Like the New Hebrew Congregation, on its dissolution its members rejoined the original congregation. Appropriately, at a special service to celebrate the return, the minister Rev. E. Matthews preached a sermon entitled "Forgiveness and Peace".48 By splitting the communal leadership, the original congregation appears to have weakened, as in 1906 it is run by a committee, because the members were reluctant to take office.49 As some consolation, its balance sheet showed an improvement.
From the events discussed, the Blackburn Jewish Community seemed prone to fragmentation and internal division the consequences of which were the two secessions. The relatively short existence of the breakaways seems to confirm that the community was never large or wealthy enough to support two congregations. Further, the quarrelling and the heated form it took reflected the comparatively hard life still being experienced as well as the rawness of the community. Yet, in another light, the constant argument characterised the vigour, energy and assertiveness from which the immigrants derived the impetus to succeed however challenging the circumstances.
The Minister in the Small Community
In such a community the role of the minister was crucial. His duties were all-embracing, demanding not only religious devotions, but leadership and spokesmanship. A community like Blackburn, therefore, could prove a harsh and unremitting apprenticeship for a minister. However, if he could cope and indeed inspire, a small community could act as a stepping stone to more prestigious congregations. Life for a minister in a small community demanded dedication akin to missionary zeal, as it could not provide the richness of culture and learning generally found in large communities. Further, the salary. offered would be related directly to the affluence of his congregation, which in the case of Blackburn was modest. Given these qualifications and constraints, it is not surprising to find that between 1893 and 1898 no less than four ministers - Revs. I. Gallant, L. Muscat, H. Cohen and A. Chassen were appointed and left. This rapid turnover ceased however, with the appointment in May 1898 of Rev. A. Newman of Leeds, who remained at Paradise Lane synagogue until the end of 1904, when he departed for Leicester.50 Although he witnessed the two seceding congregations, his admirable leadership and qualities did much to stabilise growing community. Indeed, he was unanimously elected minister and shochet after officiating once, this a positive indication of his merit in a community of divided opinions.51 His reputation must have grown, for in 1903 he was offered the post of minister to the Plymouth congregation.52 But such was the admiration of his own congregation that it was decided to augment his salary by £20 per annum, and he remained, albeit temporarily, in Blackburn.53 One of his undoubted attractions were his aptly chosen sermons. In 1902 at a service for the restoration of King Edward's health, he exhorted the children of the community "to try and grow up useful citizens", whilst a year later he can be found advising his congregants to be careful in their conduct "for being the cynosure of the world their actions were closely watched and criticized".54 Not only were his sermons inspirational, but also his cheder teaching was admired.55
However religiously inspiring he was, his own moral courage as a spokesman for the community was equally notable. On two occasions this courage manifested itself when he responded to press articles which were particularly offensive to the Jewish community. The first of these articles entitled 'Butcher and Priest' was supposed to be an eye-witness account of Rev. A. Newman performing shechita.56 As the title suggests, this article was full of misconceptions, misunderstandings and seems to have been written to confirm preconceived ideas. In reply Newman pointed to these errors of judgement and defended shechita, citing medical evidence in his riposte.57 The second occasion was in response to an archetypical piece of anti-Jewish immigrant propaganda, entitled 'Jewish Undesirables:- Alien Immigration and the Provinces'.58 Abounding in slurs, smears, half-truths and ridicule, its classic attack provoked an equally classic defence: "The tone of these contributions is such as to impress one with the false idea that the Jews as a body are stigmatised as a criminal, filthy, immoral and undesirable class of miserable pariahs .... descending on these shores like locusts."59 This, he claimed was a complete distortion and in fact pointed out that the Jews were both law-abiding and sober.60 These two instances of moral courage, his admirable teaching and preaching abilities and his general leadership must have been a boon to the community. Finally, when he departed to Leicester, he eloquently touched upon the relationship that had grown between the congregation and himself which "was one of mutual respect and confidence".61 He was of course grieved to see "that some members had seceded from the congregation" and added "It would be the amplest reward of his labours to hear that peace and harmony were restored in their midst".62 This minister measured up to the demands of office in a small community, as leader, teacher, preacher and spokesman. Although he could not keep a discordant community unified his presence in Blackburn must have added to its distinction. His successor, the Rev. E. Matthews, also remained five years.
Charities and Societies within the Community
The religious ethos of a Jewish community makes it incumbent for its members to indulge in works of charity. The formation of societies specifically for these duties points to the community's religious orthodoxy and its social and economic standing. A Chevra Kadisha appears to be one of the earlier institutions formed and a society for the Study of Rabbinical Literature was established in 1901 by leading communal figures.63 Whilst religious orthodox initiated these early societies, there is also evidence of secular activity. A Jewish Friendly and Benefit Society whose committees and executive were drawn from the loading members of the community was thriving by 1903, displaying how the Victorian ideal of self-help appealed to those to whom thrift and perseverance was common.64 However, not all the community could afford to save. in 1905 a Benevolent Society was formed "in consequence of the numerous calls made on individual members of the congregation".65 This indicates that part of the community was prospering whilst part still could fall on hard times. Towards the end of the period under review, the prosperity and social standing of part of the community was reflected by the formation of a branch of the Grand Order of Israel, the Sir Moses Montefiore Lodge, (38).66 The presence of such a Lodge in Blackburn denotes measure of prosperity amongst its Jewish community. The formation of the Lodge provided much interest in Blackburn and was an occasion in which all the families of the community were represented. Again this event attracted visitors from other towns - Hanley, London, Hull and Manchester. The lodge started life with a membership of between 45 and 50, its membership drawn from the communally active. A Literary Society was quickly formed within the Lodge and the first lecture given by H. Glotzer was the firm and tried favourite 'Israel among the Nations'.67 Undoubtedly by 1907 the community was approaching its peak, yet there are indications that there had been discontinuity in the maintenance of some societies, for in 1907 the Rev, Eli Matthews was pointing out to his congregation the necessity of founding a Chevra Kadisha and a Bikkur Cholim.68
In addition to the above religious and charitable societies, there was no neglect of the social side of life. In 1902 a Jewish Working Lien's Club was opened in response to an increase in population.69 This club provided for the leisure activities of the community. Concerts were given and cards and billiards were played. However, the club, despite its title, was opened to non-Jews and the most important annual social event, the dance, was always attended by non-Jewish friends of the members.70 As in most Jewish communities, there was no lack of musical and comic talent, to which the concerts held in the club bear testimony.71
The Impact of Zionism
In a community prone to dispute amongst its active members political Zionism seems to have attracted support, although whether this was completely shared throughout its various levels is conjectural. Evidence of Zionist activity appears in Blackburn towards the end of 1898 when, in a meeting held at Paradise Lane synagogue, support for the movement was expressed.72 This support must, have been fairly strong, for immediately after the first breakaway, the New Hebrew Congregation formed a Zionist Society.73 Indeed, despite the breakaway, Zionism appears as a cohesive force, for the two congregations consulted over forming a Zionist society and by November members of both congregations were present at the New Hebrew Congregation to hear Mr. J. Halpern of Manchester.74 The Blackburn delegate to the 1899 Zionist Conference was no less a luminary than Herbert Bentwich.75 From the evidence after 1900 there appears to have been other Zionist societies formed. For instance, prior to the second break in 1904, a Zionist Society pledging loyalty to the English Zionist Federation was founded at a meeting in the Working Men's Club. A year later, after the split, members of the Paradise Lane congregation were resolving to start yet another Zionist society.76 Whether these societies were formed because of intra-communal splits or differences amongst its supporters remains unclear at present. In addition to this interest in political Zionism the Blackburn Zionist Association played host in 1901 to Rev. L. Levin of Liverpool, who was authorised to collect for yeshivot in Jerusalem, thereby reminding the community of the religious aspect of Zionism.77 From the evidence available, many leading members of the community supported the Zionist cause. Many active in synagogue affairs also appear active as officers in the Zionist Associations. There is no evidence to show that at the turn of the century there was a comparable interest in socialism. Given the size of the community and its occupational structure, it is hardly likely that there were any Jewish trade unionists. However, there were families who often remained peripheral, inclined to non-practice, secularism or socialism.78
In Blackburn there seems to have been sound relationships between the Jews and non-Jews. There is no evidence to suggest the occurrence of any form of organised antisemitism. Jewish children however, did not escape the usual taunts from their peers and from evidence given in various interviews, occasional clashes occurred in and around the playgrounds. With the strong religious tradition in Blackburn, of free and established church, it is not surprising to find that the Jewish children attended local church schools, St. Peters C. of E. being a popular choice, as was Princess Street Methodist. This latter school, in deference to its Jewish pupils, even changed its annual picnic day from Saturday to Friday.79 The children of the more affluent members of the community went on to Blakey Moor Secondary School. On all the special occasions in the life of the community such as the Chief Rabbi's scheduled visit or the reopening of the synagogue after redecoration in 1898, non-Jewish dignitaries were present. Throughout the period the community donated to the local Infirmary, holding special services attended by non-Jews to promote the cause. Other causes were not overlooked. A special collection was made for the Lord Mayor's (Boer) War Fund, whilst a letter of sympathy was sent to Gladstone's widow and one of congratulation to the Emperor of Austria on his Jubilee in 1898 from former inhabitants of his Empire.80 These charitable contacts with the non-Jewish world did not pass unnoticed. A leading figure and a founder of the community, Israel Aaron, "was owing to his kind and liberal disposition, very popular both among Jews and Christians".81 The small children of the Aaron family were cared for on Yom Kippur by a non-Jewish lady.82 In addition to these charitable pursuits, the Jews in Blackburn were prepared to encourage friendship with their non-Jewish neighbours. This is best exemplified by non-Jews using the Jewish Working Men's Club. Obviously relationships were not encouraged to the extent that intermarriage would result, but even this, however rare, could not be avoided. Up to 1907 there is one recorded marriage where a partner became converted.83
The lack of antisemitism in a place like Blackburn can be attributed basically to the relatively small size and occupational structure of the Jewish community. Unlike the Irish immigrants, the Jews could not threaten the employment opportunities, wage levels, or livelihood of the local working population. However, the community did attract the attention of the Society for the Promotion of Christianity amongst Jews, who seemed to be active in those churches located in the areas of Jewish settlement. 84
By 1907 there is ample evidence to suggest that the Blackburn Jewish community was prospering, although not yet prosperous. Its possibilities as a town for Jewish settlement had not gone unnoticed. In his evidence given to the Royal Commission on Aliens (1903) Sir Samuel Montagu inferred that Blackburn had been one of the provincial towns to which Jews from the metropolis had been dispersed.85 Certainly by this time it possessed most of the necessary communal organs both mandatory and voluntary which augured well for its permanency.
Naturally, not all families shared the growing prosperity and both the turnover in membership and the need for a Benevolent Society testify that certain families struggled or fell on hard times. Those families that prospered tended to produce the communal leaders and activists, and a clear social demarcation developed between the relatively prosperous and the poor.86 However, the size of the community operated against a complete divorce of these extremes.
The community was orthodox in its religious practice. It comprised a generation whose roots were European and whose religion had yet to be diluted by the process of acculturisation. Besides importing religious orthodoxy, its members brought with them the predisposition to argue and dispute, a characteristic of Jewish life now part and parcel of its folklore. Nevertheless, within a small community, cohesive forces could operate. Although inter-family disputes caused friction, its marriage patterns are instructive when searching for explanations for a community's survival. In a small community it would have needed only a few intra-communal marriages for it to take the shape of one large family. Blackburn was too large a community for this phenomenon to occur, but marriage within a community could be a strong integrative force. It is possible to measure the extent of intra-communal marriage from the local marriage certificates. From 1896 to 1908 fourteen marriages were recorded, ten of which were between Jewish residents of Blackburn. 87 This kind of pattern could explain the continuity of small communities when the obvious conditions for their survival seemed to have disappeared.
Like all Jewish working communities and despite its internal quarrelling, the Blackburn community exuded typical Jewish warmth. Many people were known by Yiddish first-names and many of its members had nicknames. Its hospitality was extended to fellow Jews who passed through Blackburn, the market traders, pedlars, families on the move, and "theatricals". A temporary visitor from India, a Mr. Myers, came to learn about the cotton weaving trade and stayed with the Aaron family, whilst from somewhere nearer came a certain Mr. Ephraim Marks who sold, inter alia, carded buttons on the market.88
From the evidence adduced, the Blackburn Jewish community emerges as a hard-working one whose members are intent on succeeding through their own efforts. The most pertinent feature of the Blackburn community and one which goes a long way in explaining its character is that it was comprised of families who had tried to make a living elsewhere. This suggests that it possessed initiative, vigour and abundant resource, features which could have been common to many small provincial communities. Certainly there appears evidence to suggest that those who chose to live in the smaller communities did not lack initiative. At the inaugural conference of the Jewish Congregational Union, the delegate from Stroud, when discussing overcrowding in London, remarked:
Such a condition of affairs could not possibly come into existence in the provinces because in a provincial town if a man was unable to find work he went to the next town and if he could not get it there, he went to the next town further on. In the East End of London it was quite different. If the immigrant could not get work in one street, he went to the next street and if he could not get work there he went to the Board of Guardians or to one of the philanthropic members of the Jewish community, but he did not stir out of Whitechapel.89
If this contemporaneous impression is correct, it will help explain the nature and formation of small Jewish provincial communities at the beginning of the present century. Certainly these remarks are applicable to the way Blackburn recruited its Jewish community. Without being too close a parallel, there seems to be a passing similarity between those Jews willing to move around until they could find satisfactory work, and the 'Tramping Artisan'. Instead of the latter's network of clubs, the Jewish artisans or craftsmen could use a network of hospitable communities in which he could find work and an opportunity to establish roots.
Although the demise of the Blackburn community falls chronologically outside this study, the pressures operating against the long-term survival of the smaller communities seem universal. Jews wished to maintain their religious and hence cultural identity, preferring integration to assimilation. Smaller communities could not provide a sustained and satisfactory 'Jewish life' religiously, socially or culturally. To avert a drift into assimilation by intermarriage families were forced to move into the larger communities. In the case of Blackburn this movement was compounded by the economic collapse of the area in the inter-war years.
This website is
owned by JewishGen and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain. All
material found herein is owned by or licensed to us. You may view, download, and
print material from this site only for your own personal use. You may not post
material from this site on another website without our consent. You may not
transmit or distribute material from this website to others. You may not use
this website or information found at this site for any commercial purpose.
Copyright © 2002 - 2014 JCR-UK. All Rights Reserved