Tag Archives: London

Local and Community History Month: the Jewish community in London through the letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians

In this week’s blog post, we mark Local and Community History Month by learning about life in the London Jewish community using the letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians. 

Inside one of the Letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians

Inside one of the letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians

Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor, more commonly known as the Jewish Board of Guardians (JBG), was established in 1859 by representatives of the three main London synagogues – the Great Synagogue, the Hambro’ Synagogue, and the New Synagogue. They were charged to constitute a Board of Guardians for relief of poor Jewish immigrants, referred to as the ‘strange poor’, living in London. Almost immediately after its formation the Board began to extend both its scope and revenues, and soon became the chief source of support for poor Jews in the city. The Board helped to keep Jews away from the English Poor Law, with the burden of maintaining their poor falling almost entirely on the Jewish community.

The primary activity of the Board was the administration of poor relief. Investigating officers, working alongside the Investigating Committee (later the Fixed Allowance and Temporary Allowances Committees), were responsible for investigating each case. Relief was then provided either monetarily, through fix or temporary allowances, or through the distribution of tickets for relief supplies.

The letter books of the secretary consist of eight volumes containing correspondence, reports, press cuttings, financial statements, and other papers relating to the activities of the Board from the early 1880s to the mid-1940s. These materials reflect the transformative nature of the Board, which continually adapted its activities to meet changing conditions and needs. The Board achieved this through a range of committees and sub-committees as well as coordinated efforts with other charitable organisations and institutions.

The letter books of the secretary of the Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor form part of the collection MS 173 Archives of Jewish Care.

Letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians

Letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians

The letter books cover a period where increasing numbers of Eastern European Jews were settling in Great Britain, fleeing economic hardship and increasingly violent anti-Semitic persecution. This was due to the pogroms (“to wreak havoc” in Russian) occurring in the 1880s and early 1900s as a result of the Russian Empire acquiring territories with large Jewish populations from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The territories were labelled “the Pale of Settlement” by the Imperial Russian government, where Jews were permitted to live, and where the pogroms mainly took place. The majority of Jews were forbidden to move to the other parts of the Empire, unless they converted to the Russian Orthodox state religion.

The first wave of pogroms occurred in southern Russia after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, for which some blamed the Jews, due to one of the conspirators being of Jewish origin. Local economic conditions and competing with the business of local Jews is also believed to have caused rioting, as well as Russians spreading their anti-Semitic ideas when moving in and out of major cities following Russia’s industrialisation.

According to a paper in one of the JBG letter books dating 1881, an approximate estimate of the Jewish population in England and Wales compiled by the London Committee of Deputies of the British Jews, was six thousand five hundred and forty-five, excluding the Berkeley Street congregation and the affiliated congregation at Manchester. [MS173/1/11/1/25]

Great Britain received another influx of refugees from Nazi persecution, following Hitler’s implementation of his ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Problem’ in the 1940s.

The letter books provide a window into the struggles of the Jewish community settling into London, and the kinds of cases that the JBG had to deal with.

When Jewish refugees fled abroad, children were often abandoned. In the letter book MS173/1/11/1/8 we follow the story of four Jewish children named Angell who were admitted to the Homerton Workhouse in 1880. The children belonged to parents Edward and Julia Angell, who married in London and had nine children altogether. The father left for America with the JBG assisting the wife and children in London. Previously, in 1868 the family were sent to America on a number of occasions. The mother left for America in 1880, leaving behind four children in the City of London Union. Other children of the family were in London but were not chargeable to the Board. The superintendant of the United Hebrew Charities of the City of New York, H. Hirsch wrote to the President of the Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor, Lionel L. Cohen in February 1881, stating that his organisation was against sending the family of Edward Angel to the United States. This was due to them being sent three times previously, and the father leaving them, therefore becoming a burden on the charitable institutions. In March 1881 Morris and Fanny Angell are recorded in a letter as being removed from the Central London District Schools at Hanwell and being placed with a private family as requested by the JBG. Correspondence dating March 1881 records the United Hebrew Charities of the City of New York deciding that the children of Edward Angel are to be sent from London to New York and then forwarded to Monticello, Florida, to be placed under the care of their father, who was currently residing in the town under the name of E. Engelman. In May 1881 I. S. Isaacs, honorary secretary of the United Hebrew Charities of the City of New York writes to Lionel to say that the children’s mother is living in New York but is unable to care for herself. He further states that the father is reported to be fully able to take care of his children, and it is hoped that “the wanderings of the unfortunate children will cease once they have been forwarded to their father.” [MS173/1/11/1/60-61]. On 9 June 1881 it was reported that the Angel children were sailing on the “Egyptian Monarch” to Florida.

Example of the many cases of abandoned children that the Jewish Board of Guardians would receive [MS 173/1/11/4/628]

Example of the many cases of abandoned children that the Jewish Board of Guardians would receive [MS 173/1/11/4/628]

The letter books also reflect the JBG dealing with orphans with disabilities, such as one who was deaf, who was accepted into the Jews’ Hospital and Orphan Asylum in December 1891. Another case example is that of a Jewish boy who was placed in Dr Bernardo’s Home by his mother with his sister, who had been in receipt from the JBG in December 1900. The father abandoned the family in 1896 and was subsequently imprisoned as a result.

In nineteenth-century London there were also a number of vulnerable children the JBG had to deal with. Cases included a girl in 1881 whose guardians refused to give her up. Despite the guardians caring for the girl at a great cost due to the delicacy of her health, the solicitor responsible for the case advised the JBG for the girl to be placed with a respectable family rather than into an institution, due to the manner in which she was treated by the guardians and due to her health. The girl was then obtained by her mother, who mentions her decision to travel to America with her two children, and asks her doctor to influence the Board to provide her with relief. The mother received £15 from the Board of Guardians.

As well as helping to reunite children with their parents, the JBG also helped to find and fund apprenticeships for the children under their care. For instance, a boy was matched with a tailor and clothier in February 1881 to be taught to be a sailor’s cutter and salesman.

When ‘consumption’ (tuberculosis) became rife in London towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the JBG organised local dispensaries, where they would refer new TB cases resident in the area and provide visitors in proportion to the number of Jewish cases attending the dispensary for treatment. The letter books also reveal discussion on where to place tuberculous and pre-tuberculous children currently boarded out with Christian families, and the potential of them being placed in a cottage at Walton on Naze, Essex, under the care of a Jewish woman. Through their local associations the Board of Guardians arranged for the provisions of milk or cod liver oil during the school holidays and weekends. A letter dating 1913 from the JBG to the London County Council requests the number of cases that should be dealt with (which was 100) and whether the children were to be supplied on Saturdays and Sundays, of which it was decided they should. [MS173/1/11/4/701]

During World War Two Jewish communities in London also included the homeless. In the secretary’s letter books can be found correspondence dating 1940-41 revealing discussions on welfare work undertaken by the United Synagogue for people made homeless by air raids, and also the agreement for a church in St Martin-in-the-Fields to provide a portion of money from their BBC Christmas appeal towards the help of Jewish people suffering from air raids and war distress. [MS173/1/11/8/320]

Join us for our third May Local and Community History Month blog post next week, where we will focus on art and theatre in Southampton.




Letting the violin sing: the acoustics of auditoriums

Possibly one of the best known and most widely distributed musical instruments, the violin is honoured on National Violin Day held on 13 December each year. Recognised early for its singing tone, it developed in the Renaissance from earlier bowed instruments, including the medieval fiddle, the lira da braccio and the rebec.

Students at a study day at the Turner Sims Concert Hall, 1994

Students at a study day at the Turner Sims Concert Hall, 1994 [MS1/Phot/19/299]

Creating the perfect acoustics for concert halls or auditoriums, that allow the violin to sing, depends on factors such as reverberation or the avoidance of echo. The stimulus of reverberation had been recognised as far back as ancient Rome, with Horace writing of poets who recited their poems at the Roman baths: “How sweetly the enclosed space responds to the voice”. It was the American physicist Wallace Clement Sabine (1868-1919) who developed Sabine’s law, which stated that the product of the reverberation time multiplied by the total absorptivity of the room is proportional to the volume of the room. He thus created a formula that architects and engineers could use when designing a concert hall to achieve the best reverberation time for their particular venue.

Construction of Turner Sims Concert Hall [MS373 A3048/3[

Construction of Turner Sims Concert Hall [MS373 A3048/4/1]

The Turner Sims Concert Hall at the University is much valued for recording due to its fine acoustics. In 1967, Miss Margaret Grassam Sims had left the University a bequest which enabled the building of a concert hall to be named Turner Sims in honour of her father. The Concert Hall that opened in 1974, after many revisions to the project, was, according to Professor Peter Evans of Music, “a most effective and attractive auditorium for music”. The acoustics of this hall were the work of the Institute of Sound and Vibration at the University with Professor Philip Ellis Doak acting as a consultant.

The Special Collections holds a small collection of material for Professor Doak (MS373) that relates to his work as consultant on the Turner Sims Concert Hall, including questionnaires relating to tests for the reverberation times of the hall.

Questionnaire from reverberation test on Turner Sims Concert Hall [MS373 A3048/3]

Questionnaire from reverberation test at Turner Sims Concert Hall, c.1974 [MS373 A3048/3]

The Special Collections holds further archive collections relating to acoustics: (MS337) Dr Raymond Stephens and British Acoustical Society; (MS339) Peter Parkin who had a long career in an advisory role at the British Research Establishment; (MS340) the architectural theorist and acoustician (Philip) Hope Edward Bagenal (1888–1979), amongst whose important acoustic projects was the Royal Festival Hall, London; (MS341) Hugh Creighton, who acted as consultant on a range of acoustic projects in the UK, including for the Barbican Centre, London; and (MS342) Keith Rose, who was a consultant for the BBC.

So the next time that you attend a concert or a lecture in an auditorium, spare a thought to those hardworking individuals who have contributed to the perfection of the acoustics.

“Dear Diary…”

Tomorrow, 22 September, is #DearDiaryDay.  Do you keep a daily diary?  Have you ever tried?  Apparently, it can be great for your mental health!  Studies have shown that expressing our thoughts in a written form on a daily basis reduces anxiety and stress.

Photograph of S.M.Rich "in sports coat" taken in 1902 or 1903 [MS 168 AJ217/1 p. 34 (Friday 3 February)]

Photograph of S.M.Rich “in sports coat” taken in 1902 or 1903 [MS 168 AJ217/1 p. 34 (Friday 3 February)]

The Special Collections holds a variety of diaries and journals, some providing exhilarating accounts by Arctic explorers and of expeditions to the Nile.  However, a more everyday – but incredibly charming – record comes from Samuel Morris Rich.  We have in our strongroom an impressive 45 of his diaries dating from 1904 until his death in 1945: we like to think of him as our own twentieth-century Samuel Peyps (without the scandalous bits!).  Samuel was born in 1877 and for 40 years worked as a teacher at the Jews’ Free School in London; he was also heavily involved in the South London Liberal Jewish Synagogue.  He was married to Amy (nee Samuel) and they had two children, Connie and Sidney.

Photograph of Samuel's wife Amy. [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Photograph of Samuel’s wife Amy [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Samuel includes a photograph of  Amy at the beginning of his first volume (1905) and notes:

This portrait of Amy taken in the summer of 1898 makes a fitting frontispiece to the whole series of diaries. The dress & hat she wore on the first occasion I “took her out” – to the Crystal Palace – we met at Kennington Gate.

People have different objectives when starting a daily journal: they can be useful in resolving issues and achieving goals.  One of Samuel’s aims, it seems, was to improve his reading habits.  On New Year’s Eve 1904 he wrote this preface to his diary for the coming year:

I started a journal on Nov 26th of this year which I hope to continue until that day on which I join the great majority. The practice is useful for many reasons chief among which is the check it puts upon the method of spending one’s days.

The next day, 1 January, he expanded on his intentions:

On the last day of every month I will make a list of all books, essays or pamphlets read during the month: this will serve as an excellent check on my reading and I will be able to examine whether I have neglected to ready any good book whatever during the month.

A glance through various volumes indicates that Samuel didn’t stick to this initial intention; despite this lapse, it is hard to be critical of such a diligent diarist.

Photograph of Samuel and Amy Rich, 1901 [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Photograph of Samuel and Amy Rich, 1901 [MS 168 AJ217/1]

Samuel’s diaries provide a fascinating record of everyday life in the first half of the nineteenth century.  The timespan covers several world changing events including two world wars. On 28 July 1914 – the official date for the outbreak of the First World War – he records that he and his wife caught the 160 bus to Reigate and had “a good steak”.  He does, however, include a newspaper clipping which records that war had been declared by Austria-Hungary: he includes several of these during this period. The end of the War, 100 years ago in November this year, is recorded with great relief and celebration.

It is interesting to consider who Samuel was writing for; was it solely for his own benefit? Perhaps he wished to leave a record of his life for his children and grandchildren? His diaries are now packaged in acid-free boxes and stored in our climate-controlled strongroon: what would he made of that?! Could he ever have imagined that his diaries  would one day be preserved indefinately as a public record?

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 30 (22 – 28 September 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

22 September 1855 The fall of Sebastopol
The Black Sea port of Sebastopol, on the south-west coast of the Crimea, was the main naval base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The capture or destruction of this stronghold became the main military object of the allied armies opposing Russia during the Crimean War. Sebastopol endured an 11-month siege before finally capitulating on 9 September 1855. The loss of Sebastopol was a factor in Russia ceding peace the following year.

“It appears that a month or three weeks ago the Emperor of Russia wrote to the King of Prussia that Nakchamoff [Vice Admiral Nakhimov] reported he would defend Sebastopol as long as the Czar chose. The account of its capture therefore came by surprize upon them… If we can keep a larger force in the Crimea during the winter than the Russians can and I think this must be so, the Russian army will retreat from fear of being cut off…”

MS 62 PP/GC/RU/492 Letter from Lord John Russell to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, 22 September 1855

22 September 1918 The Allied Balkan victory
In September 1918, the Allies (France, Montenegro, Russia and Serbia) succeeded in breaking through on the Macedonian front. Despite being stopped by the Bulgarian force at Dojran, Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria was forced to sue for peace. Bulgaria capitulated and Serbia was liberated.

“Isn’t the news wonderful from this front! I wonder how far our advance will have gone by the time this reaches you. I have it straight from the Staff that that main Turkish force in Palestine has been hopelessly cut up, and it is doubtful whether they will be able to make another stand!”

MS 116/8 AJ 14 Volume of typescript ‘excerpts’ from letters from H.D. Myer, 22 September 1918

23 September 1940  The King and Queen visit the East End
George VI and his wife had resolved to stay in London, despite German bombing raids and, on 13 September, they narrowly avoided death when two German bombs exploded in a courtyard at Buckingham Palace.  In defiance, the Queen famously declared: “I am glad we have been bombed. It makes me feel we can look the East End in the face”. Throughout the war, the King and Queen provided morale-boosting visits throughout the United Kingdom including to bomb sites and munitions factories.

The following extract is from Miss Edith Ramsey’s autobiographical reflections on life in Stepney during the War.  Ramsey had lived in Stepney since 1920 and describes it as the “point of arrival” for Jews in England; prior to the war she worked as the Principal of an evening institute arranging classes for teenagers and adults.

“On 23 September, 1940, King George VI and the Queen, now the beloved Queen Mother, visited Stepney and talked to air raid victims in the wards of the London Hospital.  That day was the 200th anniversary of the meeting in a city tavern, when ‘seven gentlemen foregathered and subscribed 100 Guineas to be used for an intended new infirmary’ – the foundation of the London Hospital.”

MS 116/82 AJ 221 Typescript of “Life in Stepney during World War II, 1939-45” by Edith Ramsey

24 September 1939
Death of Sigmund Freud

“Sigmund Freud died just before midnight last night – one of the great men of all time! The Germans destroyed his works, & stole his property – immortal shame!”

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 24 September 1939

27 September 1810 Battle of Busaco
As part of his plan for the defence of Portugal, Wellington ordered the construction of a series of impenetrable defensive positions in the region around Madrid, known as the Lines of Torres Vedras. Work began in the autumn of 1809 with the first line completed one year later. Following the third French invasion of Portugal in 1810, Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese army, occupying the heights at Busaco, were able to beat of the French forces on 27 September. Following the battle, Marshal André Masséna found a way round Wellington’s northern flank, forcing the Allied forces to fall back behind the lines. However, Wellington’s scorched earth policy meant that the French army would soon be brought to a standstill in a barren land. As indicated in the below passage, the real threat facing the invading French force would be starvation.

“We have been engaged with the enemy for the last three days, and I think we shall be attacked again to-morrow; as I understand they must carry our position, on which, however, they have as yet made no impression, or starve.”

WP1/312/310 Copy of a letter from Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley, first Viscount Wellington, Convent of Busaco, to Charles Stuart, British envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Portugal, 27 September 1810