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Murray Freedman

Places of interest

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Jewelry Shop of Phineas Abrahams - no.15 and 29 Briggate
Site of New Briggate Synagogue - New Briggate / Merrion Street
Site of First Leeds Synagogue - Merrion Centre
Site of first purpose-built Leeds synagogue (1860) - Belgrave Street
Herman Friend's tailoring workshop - Vicar Lane / Lady Lane
Former Jewish Businesses - Lady Lane / Bridge Street
Leylands School building - Bridge Street / Gower Street
Polish Synagogue (1891-1933) - Byron Street
Jewish Tailors' Machinists and Pressers' Union Building - Cross Stamford Street
Sites of Jewish shops - North Street
The Brunswicks
The Leylands - Former Main area of Jewish Settlement
Site of first Jewish marriage in 1842 at no. 21/22 Lower Briggate

1. Jewelry Shop of Phineas Abrahams - no.15 and 29 Briggate

Proceeding up Briggate and at no.15 and 29 Briggate, the jeweller Phineas Abrahams traded in the 1830's. He had come from Portsea where he had been a ship's chandler to the Royal Navy. Before 1867 Boar Lane was very narrow. Gabriel Davis, father of the first bride Abigail, was first leader of the Jewish community and an optician and optical instrument maker, based at 24 Boar Lane. Old yards on either side of Briggate are on the sites of original burgage plots dating from 1207 when the street was originally laid out (some are where arcades are now sited) where a number of Jews lived and traded during latter part of 19th C. (The 800th Anniversary of the setting out of Briggate and the granting of a charter to establish a borough of Leeds was celebrated in 2007.)

Many of the shops on this street (the main shopping street in Leeds) have/had Jewish associations -- not least of which are Marks and Spencer's and Montague Burton, both originally Leeds based businesses. County Arcade, now part of Victoria Quarter, is on the site of a yard called Wood Street, in which David Harrison had a men's outfitters shop. He was the great great grandfather of Rev, Anthony Gilbert, cantor at Etz Chaim Synagogue. At the corner of Briggate and what is now the Headrow, in the 1830's, was another men's outfitter also originally from Portsea - Barnett Joseph. His adverts in the local press always mentioned that his shop was closed during the hours of the Sabbath. The original building still stands and the shop is now occupied by a Japanese firm.

2. Site of New Briggate Synagogue - New Briggate / Merrion Street

The New Briggate Synagogue, the second largest in Leeds, in the early part of the 20th century, was on the site of the mock Tudor building in New Briggate / Merrion Street. It closed in 1927.

3. Site of First Leeds Synagogue - Merrion Centre

Proceeding to the Merrion Centre, a Civic Trust plaque can be seen on the side of a staircase to mark site of first Leeds synagogue, in a converted house, in Back Rockingham Street, 1846.

The plaque was placed at the time of the 150th anniversary of the synagogue in December 1996. In 1851, a religious census revealed that 35 people attended Sabbath morning service on 29th March in that year. 25 marriages are entered in its marriage register from 1846 to 1860, when the congregation moved to Belgrave Street.

4. Site of first purpose-built Leeds synagogue (1860) - Belgrave Street

In Belgrave Street there is a Civic Trust plaque on an office building to mark the site of first custom-built Leeds synagogue 1860. It was rebuilt in 1877/78 and became the 'cathedral' synagogue in Leeds with the grand title of 'Great Synagogue'. It closed in 1983. It was also the site of the establishment of the Jewish Board of Guardians in 1878 (today known as the Jewish Welfare Board.

5. Herman Friend's tailoring workshop - Vicar Lane / Lady Lane

On the corner of Vicar Lane and Lady Lane, is the site of the erstwhile West Yorkshire bus station, but it also marks the earlier site of the Leeds Workhouse later occupied by tailoring workshop owned by Herman Friend, who helped to found the wholesale tailoring industry in Leeds.

He worked as an outworker for John Barran who did not allow Jews to work in his factory. Barran had introduced the band knife for the multiple cutting of cloth and Friend in his workshop adapted the divisional labour system to tailoring -- breaking the process up into various parts that an unskilled worker could quickly learn.

Both these developments coincided with the introduction of the sewing machine in the 1850's and enabled the establishment of the very large mens' tailoring industry in Leeds, in which its Jews were heavily involved. Friend encouraged his fellow Jews in Russia to come to Leeds where there was plenty of work in tailoring.

Many of his employees eventually set up workshops of their own and thus the Jewish contribution to the industry, and the Jewish community, grew. In the 1891 census as many as 72% of the listed occupations of the Jews were in tailoring, with some 60% in the following, 1901, census. Lady Lane marked the southern boundary of the Leylands proper - though many Jews also lived in the adjoining streets. (The old dilapidated building on the north side was once a Wesleyan chapel built in the 1840's on the site of the first Roman Catholic chapel in Leeds.)


6. Former Jewish Businesses - Lady Lane / Bridge Street

Lady Lane and Bridge Street was the location of many Jewish shops and small synagogues. Bridge Street was the main thoroughfare of the Leylands. This part of the street was the site of anti-Jewish riots in 1917. Bridge Street was so called as it led from Lady Bridge over Lady Beck. The road bridge over Bridge Street carrying New York Road was only built in 1910/11. Proceeding up Bridge Street on the left is Templar Street which was overwhelmingly Jewish (in the 1901 census more than 500 Jews lived in this street alone) and then we come to Trafalgar Street which was once roped off from Bridge Street so that hawkers and tradesmen would not disturb the peace of the rather more upmarket inhabitants of the somewhat larger dwellings situated along the street.

7. Leylands School building - Bridge Street / Gower Street

At Bridge Street and Gower Street is the former Leylands School building - it now houses a Chinese restaurant. Built in 1875 as one of the new Board Schools, it gradually became an all Jewish school with national record attendances and its Headmaster was James Watson.

It housed a Hebrew school which met on the premises after normal school hours with headmaster Rev. Moses Abrahams, minister of the Great Synagogue, Belgrave Street. The imposition of the 1905 Aliens Act affected Jewish immigration, and together with slum clearance of the southern part of the Leylands in 1907 school rolls were reduced, which eventually enforced closure of the school in 1919.

There were three other such schools (all since demolished) which became completely Jewish in the Leylands. Darley Street, Cross Stamford Street and Lovell Road. The latter became the most famous for its enlightened and pro-Jewish headmaster, Thomas Bentley, and the tremendous scholastic achievements of its pupils. Built in 1901 it was also the first in Leeds to be lit by electricity.

At one time this and the other 'Jewish' schools contributed a quarter of all the scholarships to high schools awarded, even though the Jewish community numbered less than 5% of the total population of the city. On the other side of Bridge Street with Nile Street (originally Back Nile Street) where the Salvation Army chapel now stands, there was the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue (1908-1936). Just above it in Lower Brunswick Street/Melbourne Street was the Talmud Torah (the communal Hebrew school).


8. Polish Synagogue (1891-1933) - Byron Street

Proceeding up Bridge Street on to Byron Street, is to be found the site of another important synagogue, the Polish Synagogue (1891-1933).


9. Jewish Tailors' Machinists and Pressers' Union Building - Cross Stamford Street

Also going up Leylands Road (a new road constructed as late as the 1950's) to Skinner Lane (marking the northern boundary of the Leylands) beyond the roundabout, to Cross Stamford Street is another building erected in 1910 for the Jewish Tailors' Machinists and Pressers' Union. Not a very distinguished edifice but perhaps unique as a specifically Jewish union building, which also housed Jewish social events and gatherings. The union was established in 1893 and became probably the largest Jewish union in the country. Only five years after the building was opened it merged with the National Garment Workers' Union.

10. Sites of Jewish shops - North Street

Proceeding along Skinner Lane to North Street, North Street at one time was lined by mostly Jewish shops up to the 1940's and marked the western border of the Leylands proper - which although it comprised hardly more than 50 acres housed some 5,000 Jews by 1891 and more than 6,000 ten years later - an indication of the overcrowding which was rife at the time.

11. The Brunswicks

Proceeding along North Street back to City Centre: on the right is the North Street Recreation Ground (originally the site of the Leeds cattle market) - the 'green lung' of the Leylands. Just beyond were streets (the Brunswicks) of quite large terrace houses where some of the better-off Jews lived. Often they housed tailoring workshops as well as living accommodation. One of the houses was transformed into a popular Jewish hotel, Addlemans, which lasted until the 1960's. Opposite, in North Street at the corner with Trafalgar Street in the 1920's, was a kosher restaurant, Bloomfields.

12. The Leylands - Former Main area of Jewish Settlement

The Leylands was almost completely swept away in 1936/37, but by then the vast majority of its Jews had left for more salubrious northern areas. Perhaps the last buildings to survive - workshops and factories in Concord Street -- were demolished only a few weeks prior to the writing of these notes. One of those buildings housed the original factory of Montague Burton from 1915 to 1922.

(c) Murray Freedman May 2003

13. Site of first Jewish marriage in 1842 at no. 21/22 Lower Briggate

The Commercial Court entrance at 21/22 Lower Briggate, was the site of first Jewish marriage in 1842, at no. 21/22. Underneath where the railway bridge is now (built 1869) was no. 9 Briggate - the site of the Leeds branch of Hyam and Co. a national chain of Jewish owned men's outfitters. It opened in 1840 and the first Jewish bridegroom, James Cohen Pirani, was manager. The store later moved to no. 42 Briggate. The couple moved to Birmingham some years later to manage the Hyam branch there, and in 1857/8 they emigrated (with six children) to Australia where they and their descendants prospered and there are members of the family still in Australia today.

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