Created: 27 November 2008
Reformatted: 25 December 2011
Historian discovers first Jew in Gateshead lived in Saltwell Park in 1855
Local history librarians at Gateshead Central Library have helped Manchester University historian Dr Yaakov Wise discover that the first Jew in Gateshead(1) lived on an estate that later became Saltwell Park, Bensham, a popular leisure area for today’s local orthodox Jewish community. Mr. Wise made the discovery in the archives of the London Jewish Chronicle and Hebrew Observer.
In the edition of 31 March 1856 he found an annual subscription of nine shillings attributed to “Mr Joseph of Grove House, Bensham, Gateshead for the year ending 31st December 1855.” Grove House was a well-known, local mansion in its own grounds on East Park Drive that was sold to Gateshead Council in 1920 to extend Saltwell Park. The house no longer exists but old maps of the area place it south east of the bandstand and the main house, Saltwell Towers now the local museum. The was a large Joseph family in nearby Sunderland in the 1850s and Mr Wise surmises that one of them moved to Bensham to be nearer his business in either Gateshead or its twin city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Dr Wise previously thought he had located the first Jewish family in Gateshead when he announced in 2004 that he had antedated the community by twelve years from the generally accepted 1881 back to 1869-70. Most historians of Anglo-Jewry had previously believed that shopkeeper Zechariah Bernstone had founded the Gateshead community in 1881. He ‘walked across the Redheugh bridge from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Gateshead’ looking for a site to found a new orthodox Jewish community due to his disappointment with what he considered to be the unacceptably low standards of Judaism he found in the bigger city.
Whilst researching his illustrated history of the Jewish communities of Prestwich, Whitefield and Bury, Dr Wise found a reference to Jews living in Gateshead as early as 1869, many years before Mr Bernstone’s arrival. In the Manchester Great Synagogue’s Prestwich Jewish cemetery’s burial register Mr Wise discovered: “Gabriel Hirsch father of Mr Elias Gabriel of Gateshead-on-Tyne, buried at Prestwich 8th May 1872. He then found the Gabriel family in the April 1871 census at 35 West Street with a baby born in Gateshead over a year before.
Asked whether he believed he might find an even earlier resident than Mr Joseph, Dr Wise replied that it was highly unlikely. He explained, “the Jewish community in England was relatively small in the mid 1850s comprising mainly Spanish and Portuguese Jews from Holland and central European Jews from Prussia and other German states. There were no more than 27,000 Jews in the whole of the British Isles in 1855. This was the era before the large-scale migration from the Tsarist Russian empire and other territories of eastern Europe. However I shall keep an eye on the Gateshead area for an even earlier Jewish pioneer.”
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We acknowledge our kind thanks to Dr. Yaakov Wise in connection with the above article.
(1) Harold Pollins comments (27 November 2008) that, according to the 1841 Census an Abraham Levi was residing in Gateshead, and that an Edward Zimmerman is shown as residing in Gateshead in the 1861 Census.
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