The Jews of Burnley, Lancashire
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Many small Jewish communities came into existence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries consequent on the large immigration from eastern Europe. One such was in the cotton town of Burnley; and, as with a number of such provincial communities, it did not last long
Like many of these communities there appear to be no surviving primary, congregational documents. I have relied for much of my information about the community, and individuals who comprised it, from newspapers, notably the national Jewish Chronicle, and also local newspapers, especially the Burnley News and the Burnley Express. In addition I have made use of the Census of England and Wales and the indices of Births, Marriages, and Deaths.(i)
The community begins in the 1890s but, as is often the case, there were a few Jews who were temporarily in the town, caught up in the Census. In 1861 there was Henry Pulsky, a tailor from Poland, and in the same year a man named Kaprousky is recorded, a Polish pattern maker, who may or may not have been a Jew.(ii) Ten years later, in the 1871 Census, we find Benjamin Harris, a 23-year old traveller, the only Jew among 12 travellers (ie hawkers) staying at a lodging-house. He came from Russian Poland and claimed to be a British subject – an unlikely possibility of naturalisation at his age. In 1881 there were Solomon Sabbath (glazier, 23) and Asher Segal (paperhanger, 22). Sabbath was to be associated with Burnley for a number of years.
Three events were later reported in the local newspapers. The first, in 1884, was a report of a court case, and was headed, in the newspaper, ‘Jews at Variance’. It concerned Edward Rome, a picture frame maker and glazier, who brought an action against Solomon Sabbath, of the same occupations, to recover £4.2.9d for wages due. ‘Both parties were Jews’, noted the newspaper. The verdict was for the defendant.(iii).
The second event, in 1889, was headed, in a local newspaper, ‘Alleged Cold-Blooded Murder of a Burnley Tradesman’, although the murdered man was from Manchester and the murder occurred in Bury, but there was a Burnley connection. The deceased was George Gordon, 29, of Manchester, a member of Gordon Furnishing Company which had branches in Bury and Burnley. He had gone to their shop in Bury to see the manager William Dukes. He did not return and as it was Jewish New Year the father and brother went to Bury. Dukes would not give information, so they took him to the police station and demanded the shop be searched. George’s body found in a wardrobe. Dukes was arrested. The company consisted of Samuel Gordon and two sons George and Meyer, living in Exchange Street, Cheetham. The deceased was a widower with three sons. The father and sons had been in business for 5 years and the shops at Bury and Burnley were opened 3 years before the murder. Gordon was buried in Crumpsall Jewish cemetery.(iv)
The third, in 1892, was a minor matter. It concerned a London watchmaker and jeweller, James Barnard who had an address in Nelson at Railway Street. There was a dispute about some goods which had been seized by a Birmingham firm. The rather confused case was heard at Colne County Court, and is noticed here as the claimant, Barnard, ‘took the oath with hat on in accordance with Jewish custom’.(v)
The Development of the Community to 1911
These were isolated individuals and the history of the community begins in the mid-1890s as a report of 1894 makes clear. It stated, ‘During the past twelve months the number of Jewish families in Burnley has been considerably augmented, and it is hoped shortly to establish there a regular congregation’. This followed a newspaper item that, ‘During the Holy days services were held in Burnley for the first time, a suitable room, specially fitted up as a synagogue, having been lent for the occasion by Mr. N. S. Bernstein, dentist. Mr. Ginsberg read both services on the New Year, and all the Day of Atonement services except Mincha.’(vi) Bernstein is undoubtedly a misprint for Nathan Selig Burstein, a dentist, whose son was born in October 1895 at 9 Briercliffe Road, Burnley. Perhaps this was the site of the first, temporary, synagogue.
The numbers in Burnley and district were apparently large enough for a congregation to be formed the following year, in 1895, and on 25th August ‘the Jewish inhabitants of Burnley and district consecrated their new synagogue’. The congregation had three officers, the President was Eli Denby, S. Schabbatt of the nearby town of Nelson, was Vice-President, M. Zacharias was Acting Honorary Secretary. The newspaper report continued:(vii)
Afterwards Mr and Mrs Schabbatt entertained some 60 persons, Jews and non-Jews, to a meal at which Mr S. Saks of Blackburn proposed the Royal Toast.(viii)
The subsequent New Year service was observed by a correspondent who described the synagogue in a newspaper article:(ix)
He hoped that his translation of the Hebrew was accurate.
The Jewish Year Book (1896-7) had this to say of Burnley: Jewish population 30, the synagogue, founded 1895, was at 20 Sandygate, and it confirmed that the President was S. Schabbatt, and the Secretary M. Zacharias. It continued: ‘This Synagogue is the private property of the President, and is supported by voluntary contributions.’ And added the useful information that the children attend the Voluntary Sunday School for religious instruction, 6 boys and 4 girls. Perhaps this was at 20 Sandygate.
We can identify some of those named. A Directory of Burnley and Vicinity, conveniently published in 1896, mentions the Brothers Schabbatt, Oil Merchants and Commission Agents and Sergius Schabbatt was also an Auctioneer and Valuer of 22 Market Street, Nelson. One wonders if Solomon Sabbath was the same man as Sergius Schabatt (Schabatt being the transliterated Hebrew equivalent of Sabbath). Eli Denby was a Draper at 19 Oxford Road, Burnley.(x) It is possible that one of the brothers was Bene Schabbatt who was in Salford in 1901 but he does not enter into a history of the Jewish community of Burnley (where he resided from at least 1911) as in 1901 at the age of 31 he was baptised in the parish church of St Philip’s, Salford.(xi) Moreover, he was an Electrician not an Oil Merchant. At the 1911 Census Sergius Schabbat was in Manchester, as an Oil Merchant. M. Zacharias was recorded in a Lancashire Directory of 1895 as living at 10 Westgate, Burnley, his occupation being Picture Frame Maker.(xii) Mr Rosenson of Blackburn was probably David Rozenson, who settled in several places. His numerous children were born from 1879 in Accrington, Manchester, Glasgow, Blackburn, and Burnley. He had two children born in 1892 and 1893 in Blackburn and his next child. (Samuel Rozene in the Census of 1901 and Samuel Rose in 1911 but registered at birth as Simon Rozene), was born in Burnley in 1897. If the 30 Jews counted in the Jewish community in Burnley in 1896-7 included this family then they would have accounted for almost half the total.
Some details of these and other people can be traced in the Censuses of 1891 and 1901, and some from the birth of children in Burnley and other events. The family of Eli Denby was certainly there from at least 1890. In February of that year the engagement of his eldest daughter Leah was announced. One child was born in 1890: Adela Zacharias, daughter of Moriah, manager of a house furnishing business. T. Goldstein was Tobias Goldstein, a 31-year old unmarried ‘Refreshment shopkeeper’ in the 1901 Census, which the Enumerator had amended to ‘Coffee Ho’. He then left as did Moritz Zacharias who went to Liverpool.
One transient family was that headed by Russian-born dentist, Nahum Selig Burstein. He was peripatetic; children were born in Todmorden (1892), in Burnley (1895), and in Manchester (1897). In 1911 the family was in Cardiff. The Burnley child was a boy, Chaim Jerachmiel, who died in 1897 in Manchester.(xiii) As noted his name was usually mis-spelled in the JC, as Bernstein, Burnstein, and perhaps he was the N.S. Goldstein at the consecration in September 1895.
Of marginal interest was the appointment in 1909 of A. M. L. Langdon KC as Recorder of Burnley. He was the first of three Jewish Recorders of the town, the others being Neville Laski KC and Rose Heilbron KC.
Population in Census Years, 1861-1911
The first column in Table I (‘Jewish’) gives a clear indication, from the Census, of the build-up of the community even though it is not complete as it does not include those who were temporarily resident between Censuses. Clearly, the major growth was in the first decade of the century.
Table II provides two sorts of information: one can deduce when they arrived in the UK, and also when they arrived in Burnley. In general, many came to Britain soon after their marriage abroad although some had children in their country of birth before emigrating. Notice that three heads of household were born in Britain and they married British-born wives and that three immigrants married British-born Jews.
Of the immigrants most were born in Russia but four came from Romania. Although the Table does not show it, at least two of the families from Romania were related; Solomon Blackston was the son of Aaron Black.(xiv) One wonders of Simon Black, who came from the same town in Romania as that family – Piatra – was also related to them. The second point worth making is that several of the families spent some time moving from place to place before coming to Burnley, one family even going to South Africa for a time.
Arrivals in UK and Burnley according to birthplaces of children
Occupations in the Census 1871-1911
This was a new firm, T. C. Palmer, opened on 23 November 1901 and it needed to build up a labour force. Jews were known as tailors, so it was sensible to advertise for them in a Jewish newspaper. It is likely that this was a ‘pull’ factor in encouraging some Jewish tailors to go to Burnley. It is said that Solomon Blackston, a well-known member of the Burnley Jewish community, began at Palmer’s and, as we shall see, so did Morris Segelman and A. H. Fishman.(xv)
News items, especially in the Jewish press, about a community depended on someone within it having the interest and initiative in supplying divers details. There is very little about Burnley in the period up to the First World War and the first important item was in a local newspaper, the Burnley Express, which in 1906 reported, ‘The Burnley Jewish community have formed a new congregation. The Rev. J. Levin, of Blackburn, is elected minister and teacher to the classes, and Mr. S. Black, president’. The Burnley Gazette added that they would meet for worship in Rectory Road.(xvi)
There are some problems about this new congregation, First, this location would seem to conflict with a statement made much later, in a newspaper in 1968.(xvii)
The premises at 53 Bank Parade were occupied by David Stell, a Master Painter and Decorator, until he died in March 1903, but it seems the business remained there, as an advertisement in the month following his death was for two painters and decorators, at that address. Apparently Mr Stell had premises also at 45 Standish Street and the business was taken over in 1906 by Lord and Sons. It is not clear whether the new owner was involved with the Bank Parade building, and so it is possible that it was used by the Jewish congregation. However, a notice of 1910 sheds a different light. It was headed: ‘Workshop under 53 Bank Parade’ and referred to instructions to sell by auction the plant and machinery of a washing machine manufacturer. One wonders if a location above an engineering works would have been a suitable place for a synagogue.(xviii) A final twist to the story is that at the 1911 Census, 53 Bank Parade was occupied by a Jewish family, headed by Romanian-born Aron Black, a tailor with four children, two of whom were adult tailors.
Second, who was instrumental in forming this new congregation? One version claims that it was Solomon Blackston who ‘brought into being the first Hebrew congregation and synagogue in Burnley’. He was certainly a long-lived and important member of the community. However, the first congregation was in 1895 when Solomon was only 14 years old but he was in Burnley in the first decade of the twentieth century. An advertisement of 1945 Solomon’s clothing business in Burnley claimed it started in 1903. It is known that at the 1901 Census he was with his family in Leeds, new from Romania – the youngest child in the family was Ettie (otherwise Hetty), born in Romania in about 1900. Although Solomon was married in Leeds in 1907, from a Leeds address, he stated in his 1910 application for naturalisation that he had lived at various addresses in Burnley since May 1905 The first mention of Solomon as an officer of the congregation (signing an advertisement for a minister) was only in 1909. It is just possible that he was present in the creation of the second congregation in 1906.(xix)
To continue with the 1906 announcement. The Jewish Year Book, 1906, altered the minister’s initial from J. to I. and said that the Honorary Secretary was J. Simmons. I cannot locate him; the president, Simon Black, was a newcomer to Burnley but not to England. He had been living in Manchester since the late 1880s when his first child was born there.
It is not known why it was thought necessary to create a new structure for the congregation, apart from the fact that there was a slightly bigger growth of the community, as can be seen from the 1911 Census. At least sixteen new families and two single men arrived in Burnley and one in Nelson in the first decade of the century. The latter was Bernard Levy, born in Plymouth, but whose first two children were born in South Africa. He was a House Furniture Dealer. Among the sixteen families in Burnley were 25 in the tailoring trade, including the two single men and nine children and boarders.
One activity that came into the news was Cohen’s Penny Bazaar when in 1907 three people were charged with pilfering there. It was still there in 1916 and the owner was one J. Cohen of Manchester, the Burnley premises at 94 St James’s Street being run by a manager.(xx)
News about the congregation was limited to its ministers. Rev J. (or I.) Levin appears to have stayed for a few years but an advertisement appeared in April 1909 for a Shochet and Teacher at £1 per week. Application was to be made to S. Blackston, already an officer. In July and October 1911 there were further advertisements, the salary increased to 25 shillings a week plus a house. They were signed by A. Cowen. In both cases the address given was their private address and not congregational offices, so it is not known what congregation premises existed.
The advertisement of October 1911 must have been successful in that Rev Abraham Kraut came to Burnley, appearing at a meeting in January 1912 when he advocated setting up a Hebrew and Jewish History Class, to the unanimous approval of those present. Kraut had been in Britain a short time and was recruited from Pontypridd. He did not stay long in Burnley and in July 1912 left for Blackburn.(xxi)
In the meantime, in January 1912, ‘the newly-formed Hebrew congregation held its first consecration service. ’ Does this mean another restructuring? The consecration was at an evening service at which, it was reported ‘Rev. A. Krout(sic) (resident Shochet)’ conducted the service and the juvenile choir which he is training ‘was a very useful adjunct’. At a reception the President, Mr A. Cowen (supported by the Vice-president, Mr S. Blackston and the Secretary, Mr J. D. Fink) spoke.(xxii)
Fink was a newcomer and he did not last long, moving to Manchester in 1913.
The newspapers reported a number of events that year affecting the congregation and some individuals within it. In April 1912 there was an enigmatic statement in a local newspaper: ‘The Burnley Education Committee has refused the use of a room for the teaching of Hebrew to Jewish children’. Whatever the context of this decision it clearly implies that there was no building then in use for Hebrew Classes. I take it that whatever building had been in use for that purpose was no longer available.
Two other congregational matters, in 1912, were the collection for charity of 11 shillings by the children of the congregation, and the annual meeting at which a satisfactory financial position was announced and the following were elected; President, S. Blackston; Vice-president, Fine; I. Franks, Hon Secretary (a newcomer), and A. Lever, Treasurer (a newcomer); and a Committee of 5.(xxiii)
Otherwise the local papers reported two court cases involving Jews. Among several people charged with stealing and receiving railway tickets were Joseph David Fink (38), tailor, Nelson Square, and his wife Annie (30). J. D. Fink was fined £8 and five guineas costs.(xxiv)
Towards the end of 1912 there was published the first of Solomon Blackston’s frequent advertisements. This one celebrated the opening of his long-lived establishment in St James’ Street.(xxv)
'S. Blackston. High Class Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Tailor
Soon afterwards appeared the first of many advertisements by another Jewish tailor, but one who was resident in Manchester.(xxvi) I take it that the Burnley shop was run by a manager. The business was advertised frequently from March 1913 until July 1930:
For the next few years there are small items of news. In 1914 Solomon Blackston was in the papers for being fined 2s 6d for driving a motor cycle with the rear registration number not visible. Other Jews in trouble with the law were Morris Class for driving a motor car at a danger to the public, and Simon Black, for travelling first-class on a train with a third-class ticket.(xxvii)
Minnie, the first wife of Eli Rosenbloom, committed suicide in 1916. But there was some congregational news, although with little context. There is a reference to the Rev M. Levy leaving Burnley for Wallasey in 1915 and a Rev S. Levy being at Burnley in 1916, but he could not have lasted long as there was an advertisement for a Shochet and Teacher in 1917. In the meantime the congregation began raising money for the relief of Jews suffering from the war in Russia. The first news of an interest in Zionism came in 1920 when there was a collection for the Palestine Restoration Fund.(xxviii)
The New Synagogue
There is some uncertainty about the location of the place of worship and the Hebrew Classes. Thus a bar mitzvah was advertised in January 1921 as being held in Burnley synagogue, but at the celebration of the bar mitzvah there was a discussion about the establishment of a synagogue. In a court case in February 1921, about a robbery in a confectioner’s shop, it was mentioned that the top of the premises was occupied by the M. Ordman and his wife, minister of the Hebrew congregation and his wife, obviously not owned by the congregation. Later in 1921 there was a collection for the ‘Building Fund’, presumably for a synagogue. At the same time a Chanucah service was held in a private house, conducted by the minister and a choir. In 1922, what was described as the first Jewish wedding in Burnley, was held at the New Assembly Rooms in Hebrew Road. (Burnley Jews were normally married in synagogues in other towns.)(xxix) Perhaps that was the location of the synagogue. The Hebrew Classes certainly continued. In 1923 they were examined by Rev J. A. Abelson who was satisfied with them; they were conducted by Rev Mr Nemeth.(xxx)
As though in anticipation of new events there was an announcement that someone living at 14 Nelson Square was leaving town, to be followed three months later with ‘New Synagogue for Burnley’. The newspaper announced that the community had set out to raise £500 for a synagogue, they were to organise a concert and cinema show for that purpose, and they had bought 14 Nelson Square.(xxxi)
Unfortunately, there are no published reports of the use of the synagogue and the only reference to a service in Burnley was in September 1928 when Rev E. Slotki was to give a sermon at a location in the appropriately-named Hebrew Road. Two months later the house in Nelson Square was put on sale and application to purchase it was to be made to 108 Colne Road. That was the address of Solomon Blackston. Presumably he was acting for the congregation and this means that the synagogue at Nelson Square lasted at most some 5 years.(xxxii)
The Final Years
When did the congregation come to an end? The closing of the synagogue presaged the end of the congregation but some communal activities continued. The Jewish Year Book for 1931 included reference to the honorary officers (including A. H. Fishman).
In 1929 the Manchester Joint Education Board announced that new shochet-teachers had been engaged by the Burnley, Bolton, and Barrow Hebrew Congregations and were now under regular supervision.
A year later grants had been made to several congregations – Oldham, Bolton, Chester, Wrexham, Barrow, as well as to Burnley. But eighteen months after that, at the same Education Board, 'In reporting on the Bolton and Burnley Congregations, the Rev. I .W. Slotki said that for many years Burnley had carried on an uphill struggle. It had been difficult to get a teacher for the small remuneration they could offer and they had suffered through frequent changes of teachers, the children often being compelled to remain for various periods without any Hebrew instruction.’
However, Slotki continued, that, ’Bolton had been faced with the necessity of reducing the salary of the Shochet. It was pleasing to report that, thanks to the efforts of the Board, the two congregations had combined and that the Central Committee had consented to raise a grant’.(xxxiii)
At first the combination of Hebrew and religious teaching seemed to work well. At a regular meeting of the Manchester Joint Jewish Education Board, ‘Mr. S. Isaacson, president of the Bolton Congregation, expressed thanks to the Area Committee for its successful efforts in connection with the scheme of co-operation between the Bolton and Burnley Hebrew Congregations’. But three months later, ‘The Rev. I. W. Slotki, M.A., said that the scheme of co-operation between the Bolton and Burnley Congregations in connection with a sharing of the services of a Shochet Teacher had ceased owing to migrations from Burnley and the reduction of the number of pupils to teach’. As Thomas and Cowell point out, ‘one is compelled to wonder how practical it was for a teacher to travel between the two towns, approximately nineteen miles apart, or even for children to travel from Burnley to Bolton for lessons'.(xxxiv)
Despite the apparent impending demise of the congregation, Jews continued to live in Burnley. M. Segelman opened a tailoring shop in 1928, having been at T. C. Palmer’s for ten years, Benjamin Fagleman began his off-work career as an entertainer at various Burnley celebrations and dinners, as well as a Freemason, the Blackston family continued, as we shall see. Others, though left. In 1929 the long-established Cohen tailoring business was up for sale.(xxxv)
In that year a valedictory was published on the Burnley congregation in the Jewish Chronicle. It was written by ‘A Special Correspondent’ on ‘A Lancashire Journey’:(xxxvi)
Not the end
Although the formal congregation no longer existed, it was not the end of Jewish residence in Burnley. Apart from the continued residence of some old-established families, there were newcomers. Some were refugees from Nazism or who established new businesses in the town. An advertisement of 1939 was a sign of the times: ‘GERMAN Jewish Refugee seeks domestic post. Write Box 68, Express office’. The Lancashire Wheel Grinding firm was established in 1937 at Padiham by K. P. and J. P. Rosenberg, the son and nephew of Louis Rosenberg who came to Burnley a year later. He was partner in a wheel-grinding factory in Frankfurt. which was confiscated.(xxxvii) There were temporary residents during the war, notably children evacuated from Manchester, one of whom - Jack Rosenthal - was to be famous as a writer post-war. His play The Evacuees (1975) was based on his experiences as an evacuee in Colne. A notice in 1941 referred to the feeding arrangements of the Jewish evacuees:
Also in 1937 the Lancashire Handbag Company, run by the Krengel family, whose original factory was in Oldham, established a branch unit in Burnley at a former cotton mill, the Hargher Clough Mill. This employed several hundred workers and members of the Krengel family lived in Burnley and took part in the life of the town. The local papers reported their participating in bridge drives, in 1945, in aid of the Mayor’s Ex-Forces’ Victory Centre Fund, a staff dance at the Lancashire Handbag Company resulted in a cheque for £66. Mr A. Krengel came from Southport with a personal gift of £25, thus totalling £91. Miss Frances Krengel sponsored the event. And Mr B. F. Krengel won a billiards competition and also played cricket.(xxxix)
The war affected Jews resident in Burnley through service in the armed forces. Benjamin Fogleman was a Sergeant in the Home Guard and two brothers, Monty and Ellis Blackston served in the Army and Royal Navy respectively, sons of Solomon Blackston who was now living in Southport. Monty’s wife served in the WRNS. Monty had been a tailor in Burnley and Ellis had been a painter and decorator. The newspaper reported that they had had a reunion in Brussels, not having seen each other since the start of the war. A third brother, Sidney, served in the RAF.(xl)
After the war life returned to normal and a few Jews continued to live in the town either continuing their businesses, or starting new ones. At the end of 1945 the recently-demobilised Ellis Blackston opened as a High-Class Painter and Decorator and his brother Sidney, now out of the RAF, opened as a Ladies’ and Gents’ Tailor. Morris Class re-opened as a Men’s Outfitter’s but apparently gave up very quickly, as one A. Simon advertised as being ‘successor to Morris Class’.
Most of the remaining information concerns the Blackston family, in particular Gordon and Sidney. First a new company was incorporated on 17 January 1947 as Leather Garments (Burnley) Ltd, with Gordon as Managing Director. But Gordon and Sidney were equally important in the general life of Burnley. Both served on the Council, Gordon for 13 years and Sidney for 8. Gordon was a JP and also vice-president of the Burnley Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association. He was a member of Southport Hebrew Congregation. His brother Sidney was President of the local British Legion and of Burnley Chamber of Trade.(xli)
In the great scheme of things the Burnley Jewish community was a minor tale. It was small and did not last very long, yet it managed to pursue a communal life including being able to employ a minister from time to time. It did this without providing a synagogue for much of the time – but it is possible to have Jewish religious services in any building. People left Burnley for a variety of reasons. One was because of marriage to someone living elsewhere and the couple settling there. Another no doubt was the depression that hit the cotton industry and the fact that the population of the town declined in the inter-war period. That a handful of Jews continued to live there is no more than an interesting footnote.
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