London's East End Synagogues, cemeteries and more......

My personal journey through the Jewish East End of London

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By Michael Swerdlow : Liverpool : April 2014


You may be interested to hear of the connections a Liverpudlian has with your various stories about the East End of London.

Before WW2 my parents did their courting at Harold House Jewish Youth Club in Liverpool. It was the Liverpool Jewish Community's first purpose built social building, located close to the city centre and where all the immigrant Jews lived similar to those in London's East End.  It was primarily built as the HQ of the Liverpool Battalion of the JLB but after the war became a youth club for Jewish boys and girls.  My parents encouraged me to join in 1955 when I was twelve. It was in the same year that the club took as its youth leader a 25 year old Londoner called Teddy Gold. Teddy was probably one of the country's first trained and fully qualified Jewish youth workers from a background at Jewish Youth movements in the East End of London and came highly recommended by Sir Basil Henriques and Mick Goldstein of the Association of Jewish Youth (AJY).

Teddy Gold with some of the Liverpool boys

Teddy Gold with some of the Liverpool boys, late 1950s

Teddy introduced a wide, exciting and far reaching programme to all the age groups of the club against a revolutionary structure of self-help and involvement by its members. Parents got involved as managers and helpers and the older club members became role models befriending the youngsters like myself. We were encouraged to form our own committees and take part in character building programmes. Dozens of life long friendships were forged and Harold House accounted for many marriages in the community.

With Teddy's London connections, he received regular invitations to bring parties of club members to visit clubs like The Brady and The Oxford and St George and the Bernhard Baron Settlement in Berner Street, later Henriques Street.  For some of us, the five hour journey by steam train to London was our first experience of travel away from home without our parents.  It was exciting travelling on the tube to Aldgate East and walking along Commercial Road where we were put up over night at the settlement. We took part in activities and our first experience of Petticoat Lane on the Sunday morning was an eye opener.

The junior members always looked forward each year to joining the London clubs at their under canvass camp at Highdown Hill near Goring on Sea.

Goring by Sea

Goring by Sea petrol station

For several years the camp was run by a man they all affectionately called Sos. I'm assuming that his resemblance to Jon Sopel the BBCTV news reporter explains a connection. Another leader was Sharkey Rosen who delighted us all with his repertoire from the O.St.G songbook including, "We're the D Day Dodgers" and  "You can go anywhere for fourpence on the Piccadilly Line."  These were our formative years and the skills we learned and the fun and comradeship at these summer camps was immeasurable. One year there was a violent thunderstorm and a huge tree was blown down into the dining marquee. A replacement was hastily ordered which was delivered the next day. You can imagine the satisfaction on the faces of the Harold House boys as the lorry drove up the hill bearing the name of the tent supplier, J. Langdon Co of Liverpool.

Highdown Camp, Goring by Sea, late 1950s

Highdown Camp, Goring by Sea, late 1950s

Friendships continued among the members of Harold House and the various London Clubs which now included the Victoria Club in Stamford Hill. I had just learned to drive and a gang of us didn't give a second thought to jumping in the back of my Austin MiniVan early in the morning as I drove to spend the day with our friends in London, attend a party in the evening then drive back to Liverpool in the early hours of the following morning.

Teddy encouraged me to sit on the northern members council of the AJY which had strong ties with its counterpart in the south. In due course I became its chairman and during my term of office I organised a national AJY Conference which took place on Sunday 4th April 1965 at Stepney Jewish Club & Settlement, Beaumont Grove, London E1.  Vaguely following the title of the popular television programme at that time, I called the conference 'Not so much a Conference, more a look at Youth,' which was very well attended. We listened to speakers including Reverend Robert Skillern the religious advisor to the National Association of Boys Clubs and Ray Gosling, the controversial youth leader and journalist, talking about his recent book on the youth service, "Lady Albermarle's Boys.' My conference co-chairman was Roger Siskin and other speakers included colleague Barry Epstein.

I notice in the write up about Basil Henriques in the London's Jewish East End website, it mentions that each night at the end of club sessions, members would come together to share thoughts and a prayer in the form of the last two lines of Adon Olom - (Into your hands we entrust our spirits etc etc).  Teddy Gold conducted this very ritual when he was the leader of Harold House and we all thought it was a marvellous part of club life. For many years in my youth I never realised where Teddy got these lines from until I eventually saw it in the siddur translation. And now, reading about Henriques, I can see where Teddy got it from.  I am one of hundreds of old Harold House members who owe a lot to Teddy, and it is clear to see that in turn we owe a lot to Sir Basil Henriques.

Portrait of Sir Basil Henriques in his office in Berner Street

Portrait of Sir Basil Henriques in his office in Berner Street

All of which certainly motivated me to give something back to my own community. I eventually served for four years as the Chairman of Harold House Youth Club followed by a six year term as Chairman of the Liverpool Jewish Youth and Community Centre which incorporated Harold House. My own children have grown up through Harold House and to this day I continue to serve our community in one way or another.

Sadly the Liverpool Jewish Community has shrunk from around 12,000 when Harold House was first built to around 2000 today and, along with one or two other communal organisations, our community centre and Harold House has had to close down. The community neither needs nor can afford the upkeep of large buildings, but its salvation came a few years ago when our Jewish School King David was selected by the government to be part of a new build scheme. The architects included a suite of rooms in the new school to be used by the community and they now share the school's facilites. But gone are the days of hundreds of Jewish children busily taking part in activities in every corner of a thriving building. Gone are the philanthropists and gone are the days of dozens of committees and teams of volunteers organising and fund raising for every known aspect of the community's activities. It's a different world.

In my retirement I put my hobby to work and produced a documentary video called 'Chicken Soup and Scouse' which charts the history and contribution of the Liverpool Jewish Community from the 1700s to the present day. I am now working on a new documentary on the fascinating history of Harold House going back to the early 1900s.

Written by
Michael Swerdlow, 213 The Colonnades, Albert Dock, Liverpool L3 4AB
Email : [email protected]

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