Page created: 7 November 2005
Latest revision or update: 8 December 2015
City of Wolverhampton
Wolverhampton, with a population of about 240,000, lying to the northeast of Birmingham, became a metropolitan borough in 1974 within the newly created metropolitan county of West Midlands. In 1986, Wolverhampton became a unitary authority, when West Midlands lost its administrative status, becoming purely a ceremonial and geographical county. Until 1974, Wolverhampton was a county borough and part of the county of Staffordshire (and included most of the former borough of Bilston from 1966). Wolverhampton achieved Millennium City Status on 31st January 2001.
Wolverhampton Jewish Community
The history of Judaism in Wolverhampton is not particularly well documented and some of the frequently stated ‘facts’ have been found to be, at best, based on tradition rather than documented evidence. The following is, unfortunately, the best (currently) available record:
The first Synagogue in Wolverhampton was a licensed room in a house in the now demolished St. James’ Square, this is recorded in contemporary (1850/51) Trade Directories which also note that the Rabbi was Isaac Barnett (indeed the Synagogue was in his house). There was also a Jews’ Boys’ and Girls’ School, also in St. James’ Square, presumably also in Rabbi Barnett’s house, with the School Master a Reverend Manasseh Cohen.
Trade Directories also record that the community was already saving for a dedicated Synagogue and had amassed £300. This finally materialised in 1858 on the corner of Long Street/Fryer Street but there are no existent plans of this Synagogue although there are newspaper reports of its opening by the Chief Rabbi Dr. Adler. In 1902 it suffered a major fire and in 1903 the entire building was largely reconstructed in the Ashkenazian style by Wolverhampton architect Frederick Beck (these plans still exist). The Synagogue’s heyday was in the 1930s but after the Second World War the congregation gradually dwindled before transferring to Singers Hill Synagogue in Birmingham in 1999 when a quorum (minyan) could no longer be obtained. The old Synagogue is now a Church but is still recognisable as the former Synagogue.
Associated with both Synagogues was a Jews’ Burial Ground in the Blakenhall area of Wolverhampton. The land for this was provided by the Duke of Sutherland in 1851, this fact is recorded on two dedication plaques and the site is shown on an 1845 map as ‘Slang at Blakemore’ i.e. a long and thin strip of land NB the Slang extended further back than the current Burial Ground. The Burial Ground has high walls and an Ohel; these were added in 1884 and the entire site, with circa 140 headstones and also possibly a number of unmarked burials, is now statutorily grade II listed but not generally open to visitors. The first recorded burial at the site is that of Benjamin Cohen who died on 25th June 1851 in his eighth year (his headstone is partly eroded) and it is said that his death was the reason why the site was originally provided by the Duke. Benjamin Cohen’s Death Certificate records that he was the son of Jacob Cohen, a Pawn Broker of Bilston Street, and that he died of dropsy hydrothorax with his death reported a week later by (Rabbi) Isaac Barnett who was also present at the death.
The Ohel has both a prayer hall, with four fine marble prayer plaques donated by the Hart family in 1906 and manufactured by local monumental mason’s Hopcraft, as well as Bet Tahara side room with the remnants of a pump and a coal fired water heater. The Ohel currently requires restoration. By the mid twentieth century the Burial Ground was almost full and the Ohel was beginning to deteriorate plus access to the secluded site was never easy for visitors.
In 1965 Dr. Leslie Seaton, a well respected Wolverhampton physician, died and left provision for a new Jewish Section at Merridate Cemetery in Jeffcock Road complete with a modern Ohel. Dr. Seaton was the first burial on this site. The ‘new’ burial ground currently contains 60 burials, and has spaces for many more, although the 1960s Ohel was demolished in the 1980s as it had developed major structural problems and was never replaced, hence the large open space at the centre of the Jewish Section.
Research by the All Saints and Blakenhall New Deal for Communities Heritage Project (2005-2011) has (re-)stimulated interest in the history of Judaism in Wolverhampton with considerable research being carried out at the old Burial Ground.
Articles on the Wolverhampton Jewish Community
Wolverhampton from "Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain" - Papers for a conference at University College, London, convened by the Jewish Historical Society of England, prepared by Aubrey Newman - 6th July 1975. Reproduced here with his kind consent.
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