Latest revision or update: 1 January 2012
The Lynn Family of Oxford
by Harold Pollins
Originally published in Oxford Menorah issue no. 164, Summer 2002 (updated December 2006)
Knowing of my interest in the history of Jews in Oxford, Angela Shire, then a member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain, sent me an e-mail containing an extract from a publication by Christopher Hitchens, the journalist. In it he described how, on his father’s deathbed, his grandmother told him that she was Jewish and so had been his mother, who had died some years before. No one had told his father that his wife was Jewish.
He related the story of his family. It began, he wrote, in ‘Breslau. The home of B. Traven and the site of a notorious camp during the Endlossung. Now transferred to Poland and renamed Wroclaw. A certain Mr. Blumenthal had quit this place of ill omen in the late nineteenth century and settled in the English Midlands. In Leicester, he had fathered thirteen children and raised them in a scrupulously Orthodox fashion. In 1893, one of his daughters had married Lionel Levin, of Liverpool. My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Levin, had been born three years later. It appeared that my great-grandparents had moved to Oxford, where they and their successors pursued the professions of dentistry and millinery.’
That would have been interesting enough, another name to add to the list of Oxford Jewish inhabitants. But, he added, ‘By the time of the Kaiser, the Levins had become Lynn.’ That was even more interesting, and for this reason. The (small) Oxford group of the Jewish Genealogical Society had been working on preparing details of Jewish gravestones in the Wolvercote Cemetery. One of the names I had perchance had to list was of Rosetta Gladys Lynn who had been buried, aged three months, in February 1896. She appeared to be of that family.
Fortunately, the 1901 Census had become available in January 2002. I checked the copy of the Census at the Centre for Oxfordshire Studies, and in it, at 123 Walton Street, was the Lynn family. Lionel was the head, aged 28, a dentist, born in Liverpool. His wife was Rachel, 27, born in Leicester. And there were two daughters, both born in Oxford. Dorothy, aged 4 – Hitchens’s grandmother, as he had said – and Mabel, aged 2. Strangely though, the two girls, Dorothy born in fact in 1896 and Maberl Gertrude in 1899, were both registered under the name of Levin.
So far the facts agreed with Hitchens’s account, except for one statement. The name had been changed to Lynn at least two decades before the Great War. In fact Lionel, the father, first appears in the local Oxford Directory in 1896 using the name Lynn and, as we have seen, this was their name in the 1901 Census. They lived at various addresses. In 1896 it was 9 Norrey’s Avenue. In 1901 as mentioned it was in Walton Street. By 1906 it was 33 Polstead Road. That was probably their last address as there was no Lionel Eustace Lynn in the 1911-12 Directory. Only in one other instance can I not confirm Hitchens’s account. While Lionel was a dentist – the second Jewish dentist in Oxford, the first being Baron Joseph Franks who had arrived in the early 1880s - I have not been able to discover any ‘successors’ who were involved with millinery. But perhaps a little more digging might produce them.
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