Page created: 9 September 2013
Solomon Moses Mitchel
a Transient in Oxford
by Harold Pollins
Originally published in
Oxford Menorah Magazine, issue 208, September 2013, pages 27-28
I was doing some
research on the history of the modern Oxford Jewish community, part
of which was to compile a list of Jews who had lived in Oxford. The
main task ended in 1939 as the numbers during the Second World War
became too large. I relied to a large extent on the Census,
1841-1911, supplemented by such sources as the Jewish Chronicle.
name caused me trouble. David Lewis, in his history of the Jews of Oxford,
refers to a general meeting of the congregation in December 1892, which decided
to take a lease on the property which was to become and remain the site of the
synagogue. He lists the names of the residents and undergraduates who attended
the meeting; one of the names was that of Mr. S. Mitchell, a new one to me, and
I wished to find out more about him. Since this was very near the 1891 Census I
tried to find such a man in Oxford at that Census. I could not find him; nor was
he living elsewhere.
However, I was able to identify him from some news items in the Jewish
Chronicle. In October 1894 the Chatan Torah at the East London Synagogue was Mr.
S. Mitchel and it described him as ‘formerly of Oxford’. This was clearly the
man despite the different spelling of his name.
He must have been proud of his Oxford connection as at least two notices
of births to his wife say also ‘formerly of Oxford’ (JC 26 February 1897) and
‘late of Oxford’ (JC 8 June 1900).
Eventually I found him to be Solomon Mitchel, in a death notice of his brother
Abraham in 1910. This gave some information about the family, including the
parents’ names – Michael and Menucha Mitchel. In the 1891 Census I found the
family with 4 sons (but no Solomon). The family was living at 17 Buxton Street,
off Brick Lane, and this was the address of Solomon Moses Mitchel on his
marriage certificate of July 1891, the ceremony taking place at the Great
Synagogue. At the 1891 Census the father, Michael Mitchell[sic], was a Teacher
of Hebrew, although a few months later, at Solomon’s wedding, as Mitchel
Mitchel, he was described as a Dealer and, at later Censuses, more specifically
as a Sponge Traveller(1901) or Sponge Dealer: Pedlar (1911). Similarly, at his
wedding, Solomon was a Sponge Merchant.
obtained a copy of Solomon’s 1899 naturalisation file, from The National
Archives at Kew. He was born at Birze, Kovno [sc. Birzai], on 5 July 1867, his
parents being Michael and Minoucher Mitchel. He claimed to have lived in Britain
for 17 years (ie from 1882) and specifically in Oxford from 1883 to 1893, and
afterwards in London.
information created a problem as in the Census of 1891 the family had all been
born in Russia, including the youngest, aged 4, ie born about 1887. They must
have emigrated after that date. If Solomon had arrived in 1882, as he claimed,
was he a ‘pioneer’ emigrant, subsequently followed by the rest of the family?
Moreover, there is a problem about his sojourn in Oxford. He said that he had
lived there from 1883. There exist in the Bodleian Library the minutes of the
general meetings of the Oxford Hebrew Congregation, 1885-1900.
A great friend, Bill Clennell, a retired
librarian of the Bodleian, kindly looked them up for me. Mitchel (usually
spelled Mitchell) appears at many meetings, but the earliest was in 1887, four
years after his claimed arrival in Oxford. Moreover, it was not until 1890 that
he asked to be elected a member of the congregation, and this was approved at 2
shillings per week towards the shochet and an annual seat rent of 21 shillings.
Despite this, in 1891, he was married in London.
Solomon’s wife, Leah Finberg, was the daughter of another Sponge Dealer,
who had immigrated in the 1860s and all of whose children were born in London.
I take it that the trade interest had brought the couple together.
although married in London, took up or resumed residence in Oxford,
and a son, Israel, was born
at 6 Paradise Square, St.
Ebbe, on 10 May 1893, the father, Solomon, still described as
a Sponge Merchant. However the boy died soon afterwards and this may
have been a factor in the family moving back to London.
Paradise Square had been the location of the first Oxford
synagogue, of the late 1840s.
Mitchels’ oldest surviving child, Betsy (sometimes Bessie) was born in London in
the summer of 1894 and, as mentioned, the father was sufficiently well-known to
have been appointed Chatan Torah in the autumn of that year when he was aged
about 27. Incidentally, his Chatan
Bereshith was Sunny Finberg, perhaps a relation of Solomon’s wife especially as
he was also a Sponge Merchant.
Solomon and Leah lived most of their life in the East End and in Hackney. He was
active in synagogue matters, being a member of the Board of Management of the
East London Synagogue and of the Council of the United Synagogue. In 1914 he was
President of the Bethnal Green Great Synagogue, and 5 years later was a Warden
of the South Hackney Synagogue.
wife, Leah, died in Hackney in 1932, aged 64. Solomon also died in that borough
in 1951, aged 84.
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