2021: Year In Review

Inventor Adolph Zalkin Germains • The National Archives / Jewish Gilroes

Introducing this week’s Hidden Treasures session at Limmud (the Jewish learning Festival that takes place over Christmas each year) I reflected – with some pride – on how far we’ve come since the beginning of the project.

In December 2019, Hidden Treasures was but a twinkle in my eye. I was slightly nervous about whether anyone would turn up to my session at Limmud 2019 which was held in a hotel in Birmingham. It was scheduled for 9 o’clock in the morning (a bit early for those who had been socialising the evening before) and archives are boring, dusty, things aren’t they? Probably no one would be interested. Wrong. The room was packed and the informed and engaged audience acted as a kind of focus-group, sharing their knowledge and experience as they suggested archives that hold material telling the story of Jews in Britain. I came away quite cheered. Maybe we were on to something. It sounded like there could be as many as 20 or so archives in Britain to involve in a Hidden Treasures network.

In December 2020, and the next Limmud, we were in lock-down so no-one was going anywhere. I gave an on-line presentation of some of my favourite images of women from the archives. I chose the imposing 1874 portrait of Abigail Behrens, a Jewish woman who had been involved in the foundation of the Manchester High School for Girls, and two charming photographs. One from a collection held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service showed young women workers from the Burton factory in Leeds, enjoying a perk of the job – the company sun-room – which was one of the many benefits enjoyed by the employees of the Jewish clothing manufacturer and retailer Montague Burton in the 1930s. The other showed a group of teenage Jewish girls, sipping Coke, at the Brady Club in the East End in the 1960s – a photo from the terrific Brady Photographic Archive, now at the Bishopsgate Institute. The images represented Manchester, Leeds and London – three of the largest Jewish communities in Britain – and three of the 40 or so archives we had recruited by then to the Hidden Treasures network – each one telling the story of Jews in this country.

During 2021, we held events online – a popular Jewish Heirlooms Roadshow (a sort of heimische Antiques Roadshow with our very own Fiona Bruce in the form of Board of Deputies Chief Executive Gillian Merron) and a Voices from the Archives event – featuring songs, singers and oral histories. I gave any number of zoom talks to synagogue and other groups, sharing treasures from the archives and we broadened and expanded our followers on social media with blogs about aspects of Jewish history and culture and researching family history. We recruited more, particularly local archives, to the project – Plymouth, Hull, Sheffield, Tyne and Wear, Birmingham, Liverpool, Dorset and London Boroughs aplenty, telling the stories of Jews in every part of the country.

This December, I wanted to let the archivists speak for themselves at Limmud. By December 2021 I had over 60 archives to call on and I invited Jill Hyams of the Surrey History Centre and Carol Cambers of the Jewish Gilroes project in Leicester – both areas where the Jewish story is less well-known – to present stories from their archives. Jill told marvellous tales about Leopold Salamons who bought Box Hill and gave it to the Nation and the Stoatley Ruffians (the German Jewish children who attended Stoatley Rough School in Haslemere in the 1930s and 40s) while Carol talked about Millie Dove, the matron of the first Jewish convalescent home in Britain and Adolph Zalkin Germains, the inventor and adventurer with two graves, only one of them in Leicester. You can see the only known photo of Germains illustrating this post.

And next year? School archives, perhaps? Whatever the topic, we’ll be back at Limmud in 2022 with more Hidden Treasures; celebrating Jewish archives in Britain.

– Dawn Waterman


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Hidden Treasures: Celebrating the documents, photos and artefacts in British archives that tell the story of Jews in Britain