Back to search results

Irene Silver

Irene Silver recalls being brought up in Bradford and her son Jonathan's connection with artist David Hockney and his role in the founding of the Hockney Gallery at Salt Mills. The cover photo shows Irene with a painting of Jonathan by Hockney.

How did you come to Bradford and why Bradford?

I was born in Bradford because that was where my parents were living. My mother came from Russia when she was twelve and my father was actually born here in Leeds. I grew up in Bradford, I went to school in Bradford, I got married in Bradford, and my children were born in Bradford. My mother was brought to England by her eldest sister; they had distant relatives in Leeds and as usual as Jews they migrated to somewhere where they had some of their own people or relatives. They came to Bradford because a family called Laznik took my mother in as one of their own; they had two daughters, and a fruit and vegetable shop in Bradford, and my mother went to live with them as a family and to work with them. They were very, very good to her. They subsequently emigrated to Australia. My father met my mother, I have no idea how, but probably through relatives in Leeds as my father was born in Leeds. This was just prior to World War I. They were married, (in a civil ceremony because no one knew if they would come back alive,) and my father was straight away in the army, and he was one of the few Jewish boys to be honoured with a medal, as a war hero, he was shot through the leg which left him lame for the rest of his life. He came back after the war, and at least he was alive, and they got married in the synagogue.

Jewish community in Bradford, how has it changed from then?

For me, as a child, growing up in Bradford it was a wonderful community. It was quite large due to the influx of a lot of refugees from World War II from Nazi Europe; it was an extremely friendly community. There were some people who were well off, and some were middle class and a few who were poor, but not poverty stricken; but everyone embraced each other, that is something that I will never forget; community spirit is what I think you might call it. The Reform and Orthodox synagogues are very close, and I am a member of the Orthodox, but we don't have services very often now. When my two sons Jonathan and Robin were smaller we had a thriving Cheder on a Sunday morning, which my husband happened to be in charge of, and we had 70 children. Today there are no children in the congregation.

Tell me about your family background.

I think my husband would have been of great interest to you. He was born in Hull and both parents died when he was six years old. They were three brothers and he was the middle one. In those days there must have been a reasonable sum of money left by the parents, they died at 40 or perhaps a little younger. This enabled him and his younger brother to be educated in Belgium at a Jewish boarding school. Why in Belgium you might ask? There were three sets of guardians left for the little boys and they each had big families of their own and they didn't want to take on two other little boys, it's as simple as that. Of course I never met my husband's family; aunts and uncles yes but not the parents. That enabled my husband to have an absolutely brilliant education, he spoke many languages and in 1934 he went to Israel, Palestine as it was in those days, as a die-hard Zionist. In those days the only way you could go to Israel was to go to Agricultural College, that was Mikve Yisrael, (lot of detail of his life in Israel - and looking at photos.)

I met my husband in 1946 when he came over to England for a visit (again a lot of details of her brother and his life in Israel with her husband, and her mother etc), and we met in the March and got married on New Years Day in January 1947, in the synagogue in Bradford. So we got married and lived in Bradford in my mother's house, because we couldn't afford a house of our own. .........she kept a boarding house for refugees from Nazi Europe......... (again a lot of details) .......and about twelve years later we got a house of our own in Shipley........(again a lot of details) husband sold out his business to Stroud Riley when he had to retire when he was 60 or so, because he was ill and we moved to Spain because it was better for his health, and we lived in Marbayo and became very active in the Jewish congregation there, ........(again a lot of details) My husband chaired the Hebrew education class and we got many of the teachers from Israeli students at Leeds university who were always short of money and there were 70 or so children. ........(again a lot of details) now she is in Leeds.

Both my boys went to Bradford Grammar School ........(again a lot of details) Jonathan went into Textiles and designed clothes shops and he had about 14 shops, and he sold out when he was about 30 and ........(again a lot of details) then opened an art furniture, which was what he really loved ........(again an endless lot of details)....... Then he went round the world with his family and then ........(again a lot of details) and he bought Salts Mills, to put in it the Hockney gallery and the rest of the land was housing to pay for the arts area, ........(again a lot of details) He had met David Hockney before at the Wimpy bar in Bradford and he had organised for him to do the cover for the school magazine. ........(again a lot of details) Robin my other son did a degree in Social Anthropology and then he went to Israel to make aliyah, but Jonathan called him and asked him to come back and join him in the clothing business he had, then later he set up his own business ........(again a lot of details) then she talks about the grandchildren again.............

How did you find living in Bradford at the time?

I went to Grange Grammar School in Bradford, I was the only Jewish girl in the school, and I never, ever met any anti Semitism or anything; both boys went to Bradford Grammar, Robin never had any unpleasant experiences in that way, Jonathan did ........(again a lot of details) .

oxford heritage trail logo the spiro ark logo