An Early History of the Jews in Darlington
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The Hebrew community of Darlington in county Durham is interesting for various reasons. First, the most important, is that despite being small it has survived and continues to flourish. It is one of the few surviving Jewish communities in north-east England, while other, larger communities – such as Middlesbrough and Sunderland - have gone. Secondly, in the late 20th century it changed, almost overnight, from being an Orthodox congregation to one of Reform.
Yet not a great deal is known of its history. Lewis Olsover, the historian of the Jews of the area, had something to say, as I indicate below, and there is material in the Darlington Hebrew Community’s website.(i)
I wish to look at the early history of the community, hoping to put it on a more solid basis than hitherto.
We can start with Lewis Olsover, who, in his book, The Jewish Communities of North-East England, 1981, page 316, said:
‘Jews have lived in Darlington for the past 100 years, but little is known of them until 1884. In that year a minyon of ten adult males over 13 years of age was formed in the Livingstone Buildings, Northgate. The founder was Mr. Solomon Abrahams …’.
Apparently this was based on an item in the Darlington and Stockton Times of 29 June 1889, which refers to ‘Mr. S. Abrahams, who established the Hebrew congregation five years ago …’. and his role was confirmed by a later item which referred to the commemoration of his death. The Northern Echo of 27 October 1894 reported that at the Jewish cemetery, Stockton, a tombstone was erected in memory of the late Solomon Abrahams of Darlington who died 4 February 1890. He had, it said, come to Darlington 25 years ago, being the first Jewish family there. In 1880, it said, he inaugurated the Darlington Hebrew congregation and was its president until his death. In fact the first child born to him in England was in 1872 in West Hartlepool and the first in Darlington was in 1874. And apparently his residence in Darlington was not continuous as two sons were born in Hull in 1876 and 1877 before further children were born in Darlington.
That a newspaper report speaks of an event happening ‘five years ago’ may not be precise, given the other errors in the account, but in the absence of other evidence we have to accept it. However, we do know that there was an organized community at least in November 1885, because Rev Mark L. Harris of Sunderland was paid as Visiting Minister to Darlington from that month.(ii)
Another error is that his was not the first Jewish family there. As is not uncommon in Anglo-Jewish provincial history there is evidence of earlier Jewish presences in Darlington, even if of a transient nature. Four travelling jewellers (hawkers) were there in the Census of 1841, marked as born in ‘Foreign Parts’. They were Lewis Davis, Henry Simmons, Gerson Asher, and Peter Maspero [unclear]. Soon afterwards, according to the Marriage Index, two men named Woolfe and Woolf Abrahams were married in Darlington, in 1848 and 1851 respectively. They were in fact the same man, the father in both cases being Abraham Abrahams, in 1848 described as a stuff merchant and in 1851 as a wool merchant. Both grooms were hawkers and in 1851 he was described as a widower, so clearly the bride of 1848 (Hannah Brown) had died – but no death appears to have been recorded for her. The 1848 marriage was a civil one, in a register office. The 1851 marriage was in the parish church, Darlington, and a boy, Joseph, was born in 1857. They were living at Northgate and the father, Woolf, was a licensed hawker. He signed the birth certificate using a mark, just as he and his bride did on the marriage certificate. Nothing more is known of them in Darlington.
We may dismiss the suggestion, made once, that the Darlington community began in 1865 and so far I have been unable to find any Jews living there at that period.(iii) Even if the Abrahams were still there, they would not have constituted a community. In the 1871 Census three families and two single men were recorded in Darlington. One was headed by Jacob Breski/Briski, a jewellery pedlar with a wife and two children. They had all been born in Russia and as the youngest was aged only 9 months they had clearly immigrated straight to Darlington, too late for 1865. The father gets the first mentions in the Jewish Chronicle about Darlington, listing him in 1871 and 1872 as contributing to the synagogue building funds in West Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.(iv) In addition his son, born in 1872, was the first Jewish child to be born in the town.
Another family was that of Isaac Wilks, a glazier, who with his wife and three children had been born in Russia Poland. The youngest child was aged 5 in 1871, so they arrived after 1865. The third family was headed by 24-year old Louis Sonnifield, a picture dealer with a wife and a brother, who travelled for the picture dealer. They were also born in Russia Poland. There were, too, two young single men, aged 19 and 23, who boarded with non-Jewish families and both were jewellery hawkers.
Like previous Jewish residents they were all transients and had gone by the time of the next Census and I was able to trace only one of them in the next Census. This was Jacob Breskie/Briskie whose stay in Darlington was short. He and his family went to Manchester where a son was born as early as 1874.
All those who left Darlington were soon replaced by others. Aside from any possible, but unknown, inter-census transients, some six newcomer families were recorded in the 1881 Census. Two were east European glaziers; Isaac Lewis born Russia where his youngest child was born there about 1880, so the family had just arrived; Samuel Gilbert, the other glazier, from Poland via Leeds, with a three-weeks old child born in Darlington. He was also a money lender. He advertised in the local newspaper as follows: ‘If you want a loan you cannot do better than apply to S. Gilbert & Co., 18, Priest-gate, Darlington’.(v)
A third east European, from Poland, was Myer Cohen, a loan broker, ie, moneylender. He arrived before most of the others, as he was already advertising in 1878:
‘£2 to £100 advanced on approved security.- M. COHEN, 12, Russell-street,
The next two were born in different places. Samuel Levi was from Germany and was a tailor, arriving after a short period in Leeds, and with one daughter born in 1880 in Darlington. Samuel Benjamin, was born in Manchester – the first English-born head of household in the Darlington Jewish community – and was a clerk in a wine and spirit merchant’s.(vii)
The most important newcomer in the 1870s was undoubtedly the Solomon Abraham(s) who is reputed to have founded the congregation. He was a general dealer and quite young when he first appears in the records in 1872 when his first child was born in West Hartlepool. He was born in about 1852/3 in Russia Poland and whose first child in Darlington was born in 1874. A daughter was born there in 1879.
Unlike the residents in the 1871 Census, who all rapidly disappeared, five of the 1881 Census families remained at the 1891 Census and were supplemented by four new families. In addition, there were at least two families who were in the town between Censuses. One was Moses Levy whose daughter, Adasah(sic), was born in 1886 but who then went to Newcastle. And there was Rev Moses Reichman described as the chazan of Darlington, who died suddenly in September 1888, leaving a wife and six children. He had been in Darlington a short time. He was buried in Middlesbrough.
There is a slight mystery about the family of Joseph Stones, a draper. In 1885 he was living in Darlington and his marriage to Sarah Gordon of Stockton was the first wedding to take place in Stockton’s new synagogue, in Skinner Street.(viii) He and his family appear in the 1901 Census in Middlesbrough which lists four of his children who were born in Darlington. They were born in 1886, 1891, 1892 and 1895. From that one would conclude that they were in Darlington for the 1891 Census. But I have been unable to locate any such record. In 1911 they are in Manchester.
There was at least one newcomer between censuses in the 1880s, This was S. Schott who, in 1889, was described as a recently-established jeweller in High-row Darlington, which had a fire that year. No more is heard of him. Presumably a relation of Jacob Schott.(ix)
The newcomers in 1891 were Elllius Sliufko (variously spelled and mis-spelled), a draper, with a wife and a one-year old son born in Darlington, accompanied by two brothers, one of whom was a travelling draper. In fact Sliufko was a money lender as his regular advertisements in the Northern Echo newspaper document. Isaac Richardson was also a draper as well as a boot dealer and money lender. His 16-year old son, Abraham, was described as a draper, boot dealer, canvasser and collector (that is, a traveller). There was a wife, Dora, and daughter Sarah. These two families originated in Poland. The third newcomer was Jacob Schott and, unusually, he and his wife Sarah, were from Holland. He was a financial agent. They had six children, aged from 9 to 21, all born in Sunderland. The fourth incomer was Samuel Gordon, Polish-born, who was described as Jewish Minister. Presumably he had succeeded the unfortunate Moses Reichman who had died in 1888. He and his wife Hannah had two children born in Middlesbrough. They were related to the Stones; in the 1911 Census, in Middlesbrough, two Stones daughters are in the household headed by the widow of Samuel Gordon and described as ‘niece’. (The two girls are duplicated, being also listed in the family of Samuel Joseph Stones, in Manchester.)
The community recorded at the 1891 Census had expanded to nine families comprising a population of at least 48 including more than a minyan of adult males. There is no doubt that the small community was up and running and there are notices of activities and of ministers. In 1887 Rev S. Singer was on a tour of inspection of Jewish schools in various provincial towns. ‘On Wednesday he examined the pupils of the small Religion Class at Darlington to which the Rev. H. P. Levy is visiting minister’.(x) Levy’s position was made clearer, the following year, when it was reported that grants were made under the Jewish Provincial Ministers’ Fund for the services of Rev H. P. Levy of the Middlesbrough congregation for the Darlington and Stockton congregations for the purpose of preaching occasionally and giving school instruction.(xi) He visited Darlington 6 September to 6 December 1886 and Stockton and Darlington 6 December 1886 to 6 December 1887. Also to Rev Mark L. Harris of Sunderland for visiting Darlington November 1885 to August 1886. As mentioned later by 1891 there was a resident minister in Darlington.
It was not all straightforward. One family broke down as was indicated by a notice in a local paper.(xii)
‘NOTICE.- I, SIMON LEVI, 9. Tubwell-row, Darlington, hereby give notice that I will not be responsible for any Debts contracted by my Wife, MINNIE LEVI, and Children, after June 16th.’
This was followed by a case at Darlington County Court, entitled Oliver v. Levy(sic). Plaintiff was a newsagent, a temperance innkeeper, and county councilor. It was an application to recover £7 for board and lodging and money advanced to Mrs Simon Levy, wife of a Jewish clothier and moneylender, Tubwell Row, Darlington, and living apart from him. Divorce proceedings were in hand. They had married at Leeds on 25 August 1871, had come to Darlington and lived in Tubwell Row for 7 or 8 years. Seven years ago the husband was proceeded against at the Police Court for assaulting the wife. This was settled by a payment of £25 to enable her to go to Germany to recuperate. He treated her badly on return and she left the house on 18 June. Eventually she went into the workhouse. Oliver then took her in and now wants reimbursement. Judgement was given for the plaintiff, £3.10.6 and costs. At the 1891 Census both were still living in Darlington, in separate houses, the wife with one child, daughter Nora, and the husband with three, Isaac, Ruby, and Rebecca.(xiii)
The fact that this community, despite being small, had a religion class for children, had visiting ministers in the mid 1880s, a resident chazan in the late 1880s and a minister in the early 1890s, suggests that it was quite settled. Indeed, in March 1892 the Board of Deputies considered an application which had been received to certify Rev(sic) Jacob Schott of the Darlington Synagogue as the Secretary for Marriage Registration purposes. The president was authorised to certify him to the Registrar-General.(xiv) The New Year services were conducted by Rev S. Gordon assisted by Mr Morris Davis of Sunderland. The report continued that a special service was held on Tuesday [27th] for consecrating a new Sepher Torah purchased by the congregation which was completed on Sunday at the home of the president Mr J. Schott.(xv) The minister conducting the Day of Atonement services was Rev S. Gordon assisted by Mr Morris Davis, chairman of the Sunderland Congregation.(xvi)
These reports suggest at the very least a continuing and even expanding congregation but this changed almost overnight. For two years later there is a dispiritng report that at the Board of Deputies it was stated that the application of the Marriage Register had been cancelled ‘owing to the decay of the congregation’.(xvii) Two months later, a special service was held in Middlesbrough synagogue for receiving two scrolls of the law from Darlington.(xviii) A fortnight later there was a laconic report from the Board of Deputies: ‘A reply from the Registrar-General as to the custody of the Marriage Register Book of the extinct congregation at Darlington was also read’.(xix)
It is unlikely that these developments were associated with the fact that four men were adjudicated to be bankrupt, beginning with Joseph Stones in 1887, Samuel Gilbert in 1890, Jacob Schott in 1894 and Solomon Abraham(sic) in 1897 (three years before he died.) Samuel Gilbert was also declared in 1900.(xx) In fact they appear to have resumed their trade afterwards.
It is true that several families left Darlington in the 1890s They were Sarah Abrahams, off to Newcastle upon Tyne after her husband died (but her son, Samuel, remained), Samuel Gordon, the minister, to Middlesbrough, and now a teacher of languages, Jacob Schott to Stockton, and Ellius Sliufko to Middlesbrough. (But he returned soon afterwards.) And perhaps one ought to include the otherwise unlocatable Joseph Stones who had four daughters born in Darlington between 1886 and 1895, and then left for Middlesbrough. But equally there remained in Darlington in 1901, Simon Levi and his estranged wife Minnie, in separate establishments, Samuel Gilbert, Isaac Richardson as well as Samuel Abrahams. They were accompanied by three English-born newcomers: Jacob Babriskie, a slipper-maker, born in Middlesbrough; Lipman Hush, a pawnbroker, born in Tynemouth, and Solomon Lyon Barnard , a china and glass shopkeeper who had been born in Dover.
There were a couple of curiosities affecting the family headed by Samuel Gilbert, a glazier. His wife Rebecca died in 1898 aged 39, and in the 1901 Census Samuel is duly recorded as a widower. Yet that Census also lists as his sons twin boys born in 1900. However, the birth certificate of David (presumably it would be the same for Reuben) gives the mother as ‘Jane Gilbert late Cohen formerly Livingstone.’ She is not recorded in the family in either the 1901 or the 1911 Censuses but in 1911 Samuel Gilbert is shown as married.
And in March 1902 Henry Gilbert enlisted in the militia for the 3rd battalion the Durham Light Infantry, from an address in Newcastle upon Tyne. His trade was given as labourer and his religion was Presbyterian yet he was the son of Samuel Gilbert who is listed as his next of kin, of 18 Priest Gate, Darlington, the address in the 1901 Census of the Polish-born glazier was also a picture frame maker. His service was uneventful and he was discharged in 1908 having completed the terms of his engagement.(xxi)
After the decay of the 1890s the first report of communal activities was in 1903 when at the High Festivals services were held in the Reading Room of the Central Hall, conducted by Mr Berman of Jerusalem, Mr Levisohn of Durham, and Mr A. Richardson of Darlington. Mr Jacobs officiated as Baal Tokeach and gave an address. The following year there was enough enthusiasm for a congregation to be formed. In September the Jewish Chronicle announced its formation and told of the elected officers. The President was E. Sliufko, presumably back from Middlesbrough, and three ‘oldsters’: the Treasurer was S. Levi, the Hon Sec was S. Abrahams, who was also a member of the Committee, along with A. Richardson. The third member of the Committee was a newcomer, A. Kaufman.(xxii) They were organized enough to have Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereshith.(xxiii)
Two years later the JC announced that the 30 families in Darlington had no minister and application was being made to the Jewish Ministers’ Fund, presumably for a visiting minister. And in 1907, at last, they advertised for such a person.
WANTED, at once, a CHAZAN, Shochet and Teacher. Salary
£65 per annum and extras.
Very rapidly they found someone. Mr D. Moss of Manchester was elected Chazan, Shochet and Teacher at Darlington.(xxiv)
In the meantime the population was growing. In December 1906 the Dispersion Committee in London received letters from Dewsbury, Reading and Darlington offering employment to workmen. And four years later the Secretary of the Dispersion Committee, Mr J. E. Blank, stated that among the 14 communities which had received ‘our families’ was Darlington.(xxv)
Perhaps there were such newcomers to Darlington but, if so, they did not last long. In an appeal for funds in 1913 for a new synagogue the President stated that a number of workers who were offered employment have refused because of uncertainty of establishing ‘a proper congregation’.(xxvi)
Or, possibly like Mr D. Kossick of South Shields who in 1907 was presented, at the Synagogue Chambers in that town, with a silver mounted umbrella as he was leaving for Darlington. He was also presented with an antique snuff box and a signed painting by Van Dyck. (He had been President and Vice-President on several occasions.) However,, at the 1911 Census he was either back in South Shields or had never left.(xxvii) More generally, there were several newcomer families in Darlington at the 1911 Census but none came from London. However, immediately after the 1911 Census the JC reported that the Dispersion Committee stated that there were vacancies for tailors at Hanley, Nottingham and Darlington. ‘In the latter case a large factory has just been opened by a well-known firm of clothiers, who wanted six, and perhaps more skilled Jewish workmen.’ There were no further reports in the JC of this possibility.(xxviii)
However, the population certainly increased in the first decade of the twentieth century but the heads of households were invariably small businessmen. There were workers among them but many were employed by their fathers. At the 1911 Census two ‘oldsters’ had left: Minnie Levi and Samuel Gilbert. Two single men of 1901 also had gone, Samuel Lyon Barnard had died in 1910 and Jacob Babiskie had left. In their place were seven new families and two returning families (those of Ellius Sliufko and Hyman Abrahams) as well as a single man, Fred Rachkind, a travelling credit draper, who was to play an important part in the life of the congregation.
Three of the new families were closely related, those of Abraham Raphael (a moneylender) and Samuel Raphael (travelling draper) and Natan(sic) Cohen (a traveller with incandescent mantles). We know this because of four children listed (as nephews and nieces) in Abraham Raphael’s household two are also listed in Samuel Raphael’s and two in Natan Cohen’s. One complication is that the birthplace of one of the children (Maurice Cohen is recorded as Poland in Abraham’s household but (wrongly) as Darlington in Natan’s.
The seven other new families were those of Max Raphal(sic), probably related to the two Raphael families as he was a dealer in gas mantles (see Natan Cohen, above); Solomon Cohen, a financial agent (money lender), John Barnett, (a general dealer), 24-year old Leah Greenbaum (head of household), a draper, accompanied by her 42-year old brother, Lewis Greeenbaum, a travelling draper. There were Barnet Moss, described as ‘Rabbi’, with a wife and two children, Lewis Steinberg, tailor, with a wife and six children, Rose Silverstone, a tailoress with eight children, three of them working, as a tailoress, an incandescent mantle traveller, and errand boy. There was also a single woman who was a travelling draper.
The population was now 81 of whom 70 were newcomers (excluding duplicates but including ‘returnees’). I do not discount the possibility of there being some ‘invisible’ Jews who were members of the community but are not mentioned in community reports or do not have any of the signs of country of birth, name, or occupation.
In its early years the congregation had no fixed location for its synagogue. In an appeal in 1912 for funds to erect a synagogue the advertisement stated that ‘The present congregation has been in existence since 1904, during which period we have had to remove our quarters several times’. In fact the only documented reference to the location of the synagogue refers to just one move after the original location in 1904 at Skinnergate; that was in 1911 at 74 Northgate (the road where the earliest synagogue of 1884 had been located.) I should say that the evidence for the 1904 and 1911 places is not based on secure source foundations. It is contained in the website of the Darlington Hebrew Congregation and is included in a section that states: ‘Historical Information from a Poster found in the synagogue to which the newspaper clipping cited below was pasted. (Possibly written 1967 or 1968)’.(xxix)
The 1912 appeal explained that they had received notice to quit the premises they currently rented as a synagogue and classrooms and they now wished to erect a permanent place of worship. ‘They have only one room in which to hold services and give religious instruction to children, and there is no accommodation whatsoever for ladies who desire to attend services.’ The congregation consisted of over twenty families and there was ‘a considerable number of children receiving religious instruction, which is free to all’. Several of the residents are too poor to pay towards the expense of the congregation but they have been able to purchase a site and have been promised donations of £80 by the members which with the balance of the Levin Fund brings the total to £130. This is insufficient and they therefore appeal to the general community for help.(xxx)
The appeal was repeated in November 1913 in a letter to the JC from Ellius Sliufko, President of the congregation and chairman of the Building Committee. On the advice of the late Chief Rabbi a beginning had been made to form a permanent congregation and to raise money for building a proper synagogue and classrooms. The congregation now consisted of 30 families and a number of single, young men. A shochet was employed and he was also Hebrew teacher. Between 20 and 30 children received instruction.
Some progress had been made in fund-raising. So far the Jews of Darlington have raised £350 – themselves £150, Stockton £10, Middlesbrough £55, Hartlepool £4, Sunderland £12, Newcastle £25, Hull £6, Durham £3, The Levene Trust £53, Liverpool £7, A. H. Jessel KC £2, C. G. Montefiore £5.5.0, L. L. Cohen £3.3.0, the late N. L. Cohen £5. Of the £340 so far £150 had been spent on a freehold site. Now they appealed for £300 which together with the £200 would allow building to begin. The saving of rent and annual surpluses (about £10 per year) would be enough to meet additional costs over and above the £500. It was expected that the synagogue would cost £850.(xxxi)
Despite these efforts nothing seems to have come from them. The congregation apparently continued to use a variety of buildings for their services. The congregation’s minutes, which survive from 1910, contain reports of meetings which considered the use of rooms. In November 1916 it was reported that a room had been seen which might be suitable for a synagogue but there were other rooms to be viewed. The next month that he had seen rooms occupied by Mr Beal which could be had for £12 per annum. Notice had been given to the landlord of the present room as from the 1st January. In August 1917 arrangements were again made with the Liberal Club for the use of their premises for the High Festivals. Finally, in 1920, the annual general meeting decided to recommend to the Building Committee to dispose of the land in Conniscliffe Road, which I take had been bought for the proposed new synagogue.(xxxii) But there was continuity in the spiritual leadership. Rev Bernard Hyams was appointed minister in 1914 and was in post until he retired in 1932.
We end with the First World War in which at least two Darlington Jews served. One who joined very early in the war was Philip Silverstone (son of Rose who, with her family was in Darlington at the 1911 Census). He enlisted on 24 September 1914 in the Royal Field Artillery but was not yet 18 years of age. His trade was auctioneer’s clerk. He embarked for France on 21 January 1917 but before that was in hospital with gonorrhoea and later was hospitalised several times with various ailments. He was demobilised on 18 February with flat feet and was said to be a traveller.(xxxiii)
Henry, the eldest son of Salomon Abraham(s) who was born in West Hartlepool in 1872, served in the Merchant Navy as an interpreter. He was discharged in 1921 so must have served during the First World War.(xxxiv)
Too young to serve in the war, Reuben, one of the 1900 Gilbert twins, joined the army. That was in 1919 when he attested in Glasgow for the Royal Tank Corps. In fact Henry, with an address in Edinburgh, was noted as his brother. It was an inglorious service. In 1920 he was declared a deserter.(xxxv)
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