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The Freedsons in Oxford

by Harold Pollins


Originally published in Oxford Menorah issue no.202, March 2012

In a letter to the Jewish Chronicle in 1910, Louis Freedson mentioned that he had lived in Oxford for 5 years. This would have been the year when he married Millie; the 1911 Census form that he completed stated they had been married for six years. (Strange that I cannot find a record of the wedding.) In any case their arrival in Oxford provided a welcome addition to the tiny resident (non-student) Jewish community, even though Louis gets merely a brief mention in David Lewis‘s The Jews of Oxford (1992).

He was, it seems, born in Pinsk, as a request in 1921, in the Jewish Chronicle’s frequent column entitled ‘Enquiries for Relatives’, from ‘L. Freedson, Riga, brother’, asked for information about the location of ’Leibush Freedson, of Pinsk, who lived for some years in London, and whose last known address was 43, Hythe Bridge Street, Oxford’. Leibush Freedson was our Louis Freedson, that Oxford address being his in a couple of letters he had written to the JC and also at the 1911 Census.

He had certainly lived in London, in the East End, before coming to Oxford. He first appeared in any record I have found - in the JC - twice in 1897, both in the month of July. He was a watchmaker and attended a meeting of the Watchmakers’ Union, a new organisation, apparently largely if not entirely composed of Jews. He was elected its secretary. Later that month he wrote to the JC with a kind of welcome to the new Zionist movement. It was addressed from 35 Turner Street, Commercial Road, E., and in the 1901 Census he was living at number 36 in that street (the Census street number was likely to be correct and the newspaper one was probably a misprint.) In 1901 he was in a household of six, headed by his uncle, Moses Bregman, an official of the London Board of Shechita. Freedson, his nephew, was aged 29, an employed watchmaker. One of the six was a 16-year old domestic servant, named Julia Berman, born in Russia, whom I take to have been Jewish; there were quite a number of Jewish house servants in Britain at the time.

The resident Jewish community of Oxford was tiny, a mere handful of families, and when Rabbi Moses H. Segal left in 1909 there was an intensive discussion, mainly among the undergraduates, about the need for some sort of spiritual leadership. Freedson joined in the discussion, which took place mainly in the letters section of the JC, by hoping that the two sections of the community, residents and undergraduates, would be able to co-operate. The matter was settled, in effect, by the appointment in 1914 of Herbert Loewe to an academic post in Oxford with the task of organising Jewish life.

In 1913 Freedson gave a lecture, under the auspices of the British Socialist Party, on ‘The Jewish Problem of Russia’. The newspaper report does not say any more about it, such as the location of the lecture, nor the nature of the audience.

During the First World War a Pte Freedson was reported as conducting religious services for soldiers but it is unknown if this was Louis Freedson. The 1911 Census admittedly only shows up one male Freedson, our Oxford man, but there were several men called Friedson in that Census, and it may have been one of them.

Louis Freedson was elected secretary for the resident Jewish section of Oxford in 1919 and it was probably in that capacity that in 1921 a notice in the JC (14 October 1921) advertised the fact that kosher meat was now available in Oxford for students and residents. Inquiries were to be made to Louis Freedson, at his new address, 20 Richmond Road. But it it was his wife who probably made the greater impact thereafter. She provided kosher meals at 20 Richmond Road. At a meeting, in December 1930, of the B’nai Brith, First Lodge of England, there was a report of a visit to Oxford to investigate ’the arrangements made there by Mrs. L. Freedson, of 20, Richmond Road, for providing kasher meals for Jewish students’. They were found to be satisfactory and it was decided to make a further grant towards Mrs Freedson’s expenses. Raphael Loewe, a son of Herbert Loewe, who in the 1930s had moved to Cambridge, noted in an interesting article of 1975, ‘Jewish student feeding arrangements in Oxford and Cambridge’ , that ‘in 1932, as a schoolboy living away from home … I used to eat’ at the Freedsons on Sabbaths.

He was the first elected Marriage Secretary for Oxford and was in that role up to May 1939 when he resigned through ill-health. During his occupancy there were only four marriages under his auspices; he was succeeded by the formidable Walter Ettinghausen.

Louis Freedson died in 1943 aged 74. His wife, Millie, died in 1953 aged 87. A last memory was by Professor Judah Benzion Segal, a son of Rabbi Segal, who was in school at Oxford in the late 1920s (he was born in 1918) while his parents had moved to Jerusalem. ‘I lived for a short while’, he wrote’, at the house of an elderly Jewish couple in Richmond Road … Mr. Freedson was a watchmaker, his wife a dressmaker. I remember her kindness, for she was one of the several unsung Jewish heroines who for a pittance, in provincial towns up and down Britain, provided kosher meals for stray Jews. I last saw Mrs. Freedson, widowed and blind, in the geriatric hospital in Cowley Road; the community had deserted her’.
 

 

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