The Jewish Community of the South Manchester Suburb of Didsbury - 1891-1914:
a socio-economic comparison with the Northern sector of the city's Jewry
(Originally researched for The Open University DA301 1996)
Last updated August, 2021
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This paper explores the Jewish community of Didsbury, a middle-class suburb five miles south of the city of Manchester, during the period 1891-1914. Socioeconomic comparisons were made between the community and the northern sector of the city’s Jewry researched by Williams (1976). Analyses of the Trade Directories and Census Enumerators' Books for Didsbury, following mostly Armstrong’s classification (Drake and Finnegan, 1994), confirmed the hypothesis that ‘separation of classes affected the Manchester Jewish minority as much as the general population’. Besides the expected North-South class divide, further divisions within the Didsbury community were found between the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews in support of Price’s (1984) findings.
Aims and Strategy
Relation to the work of other researchers
Sources and methods
Primary Source References
Map of Didsbury Jewish households 1891
Map of Didsbury Jewish households 1905
Map of Didsbury Jewish households 1914
The Jewish Community of the South Manchester Suburb of Didsbury 1891-1914:
a socio-economic comparison with the Northern sector of the city's Jewry
This paper is based on my
1996 research project for the Open University DA301, Family and
Community History. I created this particular topic for my final project
because firstly, I wished to research my own locality of Didsbury, where I
have lived for most of my adult life. Secondly, I wanted to address the surprising lack
of published research on the Didsbury Jewry - very surprising because Didsbury
has long been known for its flourishing Jewish community, to the
extent that it became known as “Yidsbury” and Palatine
Road (a major road running through it) as “Palestine Road”. The Didsbury
Jewry, I feel, deserves far more documentation than has so far received
because of the rich and valued cultural diversity it has brought to Didsbury
For the purpose of this study Didsbury will include the neighbouring suburb of Withington since many members of its Jewish community lived on major route ways of Palatine Road and Wilmslow Road, which ran through both areas. Besides the difficulty in determining the boundary line on these roads, it would be frustrating to exclude certain members of historical interest merely because they lived just over the Didsbury border.
1. Aims and Strategy
Following primarily the hypotheses testing strategy, the aim of this study is to identify, with reference to the work of other researchers, socio-economic divisions between the Manchester Jewish communities. By focusing on the Didsbury Jewish community during the period 1891-1914, divisions were expected to be found between the community and the northern sector of the city’s Jewry of which Williams (1976) focused his research.
The hypotheses tested is taken from Englander (1994, p.184), that ‘separation of classes affected the Manchester Jewish minority as much as the general population’ in that:
Due to time factors and word limitations for this study, no attempt was made to distinguish between orthodox and non-orthodox Jews.
2. Relation to the
work of other researchers
Reference to Williams’ book The Making of Manchester Jewry: 1740-1875 (1976) provided valuable statistical data for making quantitative socio-economic comparisons, which will be discussed in Section 3. It was also an excellent source base for information on the origins of the Manchester Jewish community. It shows that the greatest suburbia movement (beginning around 1815) was northward towards Broughton with a small southward movement to areas such as Chorlton-on-Medlock and Rusholme. This is significant to my research since trade directory and census data show that numerous Didsbury Jewish residents began their southward step-migration through these areas. Gustav Behrens (a wealthy Jewish merchant), for example, lived in Plymouth Grove, Chorlton-on-Medlock in 1881-86 before moving to Didsbury. Elizabeth Gaskell (novelist) also lived in Plymouth Grove until her death in 1865 and assimilation into mainstream middle-class society is evident amongst her Jewish neighbours who socialised at her house - it was a ‘social centre’ for ‘Jewish as well as non-Jewish’ (Williams, 1976, p 169).
Waterman and Englander’s research demonstrates similar patterns of Jewish suburbia movement from the central areas of other cities. Waterman’s research of Jewish settlement in Dublin found that this began with clustered segregation and gradually ‘prosperous families filtered out into the surrounding suburbs ... which themselves then became the focus of Jewish institutions and began to attract later immigrants’ (Pryce, 1994, p.166). As my findings will show, this mirrors the development of the Didsbury Jewish community which began around 1871 with only four Jewish households.
Englander’s study of East London Jews illustrates similar class divisions which he identified from the location of synagogal provision. Three new synagogues were established in the West End as a result of ‘the westward march of the wealthy’ (1994, p. 184). Similarly, new synagogues were founded in South Manchester from 1872 to cater for the growing south-suburbia Jewish middle-classes. By illustration of Mrs Brewer’s article (1892), Englander also points to the predominance of certain working-class ‘immigrant’ trades such as tailoring and cap making within the East End Jewry. Such trades also dominated the Manchester’s Jewry and contrasts with the Didsbury Jewish workers who were predominantly wealthy shipping merchants.
A major question raised in my research was what brought the Jews to
Didsbury? Although there were numerous influential factors, such as cleaner
air and improved transport facilities, educational opportunities were
particularly likely to have drawn them to the area considering it was distinctly
Williams’ research shows that the Jewish community placed stress
on education as ‘an instrument of social change’ (1976, p.89),
particularly for social mobility into the professions. ‘The movement of
Jews into the professions had begun when Jacob Nathan sent his son, Lewis
Henry to Manchester Grammar School ... and on to London to train as a
surgeon’ (Williams, 1976, p.123). This project reveals similar aspirations
of numerous Didsbury Jewish parents for their offspring. Elias Canetti,
Jewish author of
The Tongue Set Free
(1988), for instance, lived in Didsbury as a child and recalls his father’s
response to his wish to become a doctor, ‘You don’t have to become a
businessman like me and the uncles. You will go to the university and you
will be what you want most’ (Canetti, 1988, p.42).
Williams echoes this argument stating that the earliest Jewish settlers to South Manchester moved southwards ‘to distance themselves from their social inferiors’ (1976, p. 313). The issue of snobbery is, however, difficult to establish within this study that is based primarily on quantitative data.
Looking at documentary evidence related to the socio-economic divisions within the Didsbury Jewish community itself, my findings support Price (1984), that such divisions were evident between the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews in that the Sephardim clustered in the prestigious Palatine Road. (1984, p.44)
To compare the socio-economic divisions between the North and South
Manchester Jewish communities, Armstrong (Drake and Finnegan, 1994) and
Rau’s (1984) class indicators have been used which will be discussed under
Table 1 - Sample database of Didsbury Jewish residents in 1905
* Area key: AP - Albert Park; WD - West Didsbury; W - Withington; D - Didsbury
Table 2 - Number of Jewish households identified in the Didsbury area
Observation of Victorian houses shows that those in Didsbury were the most
prestigious compared to those in the neighbouring suburbs from which
numerous Jews had moved. The
Census Enumerators' Books
for 1891 show that the
majority of Didsbury Jews lived in large villas or palatial mansions set
in their own grounds and kept an average of three servants. In sharp
contrast, rows of terraced houses, situated in densely populated areas,
dominated the northern sector of the city’s Jewry. In 1871 over one third
of its occupants lived in the notorious ghetto area of
Red Bank, Cheetham Hill.
The directories show a marked
improvement in transport facilities in Didsbury with the opening in the
early 1880s of railway lines and horse-bus services (with electric trams
from 1902) running from
Didsbury to the city centre. This was likely to have influenced Jewish
settlement in the area as most Jewish residents worked in or near the city
centre. As the map in Appendix 4 shows, a large proportion of Jewish
settlement was in the Albert Park area which was a short walking distance
to the Withington & Albert Park Train Station on Lapwing Lane and the horse-bus terminus on Palatine Road, West Didsbury.
Educational opportunities in
particular appear to have drawn Jewish families to Didsbury. The
directories list a wealth of educational establishments in the area and
surrounding areas, and
Mr and Mrs 'A' stated (1996) that many
local Jewish children attended preparatory schools for entrance into the
local grammar schools. Mr
himself, attended the highly academic and prestigious Manchester Grammar School and his wife attended the
equivalent Withington Girls’ School.
A Biographical register of Old
Mancunians 1888-1951 confirms that numerous Jewish boys from Didsbury
gained entry into the
School. Ephraim Ascoli, a Sephardi shipping merchant of
Wilmslow Road, for example, sent his four sons to the
school during the years 1894-1906. His second eldest son, Francis, became
the managing director of Dunlop Plantations Ltd. (MGS, 1965). Some
Manchester Grammar School pupils, such as Leonard Behrens (son of Gustav)
and Louis Rosenberg moved on to Manchester University (or Owens College as
it was known up to 1903) which was a short tram-ride from Didsbury.
This class indicator contrasts sharply with the education of the northern sector of the city. By the turn of the century The Jews School in Derby Street had a child population of 2,000 (Williams, 1988, p.63). Unlike the non-Jewish preparatory schools in Didsbury that placed emphasis on academic attainment, The Jews School ‘reflected working-class needs’ (Williams, 1976, p. 330). Girls were encouraged to develop domestic skills and the boys were prepared for apprenticeship schemes.
In contrast to the occupations found in Williams’ research, of which 75% were working-class (Class 111 or IV) ‘immigrant’ trades (33% being tailors), the occupations and lifestyles of the Didsbury Jews indicate that 36% belonged to Class 1, 56% to Class 11 and only 8% to Class 111 of Armstrong’s classification. Only 5% of the Jews in William’s study belonged to Class 1 and 8% to Class 11; as little as 4% kept servants and 33% lived in Cheetham Hill’s ghetto area.
Table 3 - Occupations of the Didsbury Jews -1891-1914
There is also a marked difference between the occupations of the Didsbury Jewish groups. The vast majority of Sephardim were cotton shipping merchants whereas a diversity of occupations, including professions, is evident amongst the Ashkenazim (see Table 3). Although I found no professional status amongst the Didsbury Jews from the directory and census data in 1891, by 1914 there were two physicians, one surgeon, one solicitor, one barrister and two engineers, all of whom were Ashkenazi Jews. Kirsten Beach has confirmed that the one solicitor cited, Frederick Oppenheim, practiced at the law firm Vaudrey, Oppenheim and Mellor on Oxford Street (Slater’s Directories 1903 and 1911) and it seems his father, Siegmund, was also connected to the firm as Justice of the Peace. To the Ashkenazim, it seems the security of professional status would have held more value over business prosperity since it cannot be taken from them through persecution from which their ancestors had previously fled. For those unable to afford the educational qualifications leading to a professional career, various businesses were established besides merchants. Mr 'A’s' father, for instance, built a successful retailing chain of men’s-wear retailers from 1905 which grew to nearly thirty branches nationwide.
Divisions between the Didsbury Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews are most evident in the separate synagogal provision in South Manchester. The Withington Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews (est. 1904) on Mauldeth Road catered for the Sephardi congregation whilst the South Manchester Synagogue (est. 1872) which moved to Wilbraham Road in 1913 from All Saints, catered for the Ashkenazim. Similar segregation patterns were also found in the Jewish cemetery. The Sephardic graves are located at the back of the graveyard whereas the Ashkenazic and Manchester Reform synagogue graves are close to the entrance gates and the prayer chapel.
Data on residential patterns supports Price’s finding (1984) that the Sephardim clustered in the prestigious Palatine Road. This was particularly evident during the years 1910-1914 when an influx of Sephardim settled there. Solomon Arditti, a maternal uncle of Elias Canetti, for instance, moved to ‘The Rossett’ at number 123 during this time where young Canetti lived with him for a short period. House sale transactions were also frequently made between the same group of Jews. Directory data shows that Arditti sold his house at 124 Barlow Moor Road to David Manashee and bought ‘The Rossett’ mansion from Joseph Smouha - all three being Sephardi Jews. Likewise, Ernest Horkheimer sold his ‘Holly Royd’ mansion at 30 Palatine Rd between 1891-95 to Gustav Behrens - both were Ashkenazi Jews. Mr and Mrs 'A' stressed that although they are themselves of a ‘mixed marriage’ (Mr 'A' an Ashkenazi and Mrs 'A' a Sephardi), intermarriage was unusual during their parents’ generation and social divisions between the two groups was marked.
Assimilation into mainstream
middle-class society has shown to be most prominent amongst the affluent
members of the community. Crition Gradisky, for instance,
represented Didsbury Ward in the City Council (Obituary), Israel Sieff,
of Marks and Spencer, donated £5,000 to the
School (Graham and Phythian, 1965, p.86) and Gustav Behrens was chairman
of the Halle Concert’s Society and director of the Chamber of Commerce
Oppenheim also participated on quite a high level in the local community
as a Vice-Consul and Justice of the Peace, Magistrate.
This study has found, through analysis of various class indicators (such as occupations, education and servant-keeping), significant socio-economic divisions between the Manchester Jewish communities of Didsbury and the northern sector of the city’s Jewry. Divisions were also found between the Didsbury Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews. Although there were many wealthy Ashkenazim, it was the Sephardim that held the reputation associated with wealth and elitism. Yet, unlike some prominent Ashkenazim who assimilated into mainstream middle-class society, the Sephardim were more inclined to ‘keep themselves to themselves’ as is evident in their residential clustering patterns and shared occupations as shipping merchants. This study, then, bares out the wider comparative findings of other researchers in confirming the hypotheses that ‘separation of classes affected the Manchester Jewish minority as much as the general population’.
To close on a personal
note, a particularly rewarding aspect of this project has been the ‘hands
on’ experience of using primary sources such as
Books and interviewing surviving relatives. The excitement of tracing missing links
from such sources has made this study a most enjoyable pursuit.
Brewer, Mrs (1892) 'The Jewish
Colony in London - First Paper' in DA301.
Canetti, E. (1988)
Tongue Set Free, London, Pan Books Ltd.
Drake, M. and
Sources and Methods for Family and Community Historians:
A Handbook, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press in association with
The Open University.
Englander, D. (1994) `Jewish
East London, 1850-1950', in Pryce, W.T.R. (ed.)
From family history to
community history, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press in
association with The Open University.
Graham, J.A. and Phythian,
The Manchester Grammar School -1515-1965, Manchester
Price, S.L. (1984) Unpublished
dissertation for Honours degree of BA - The Rise of the Manchester
Jewish Suburbia: a study of intra-urban migration, Department of
Geography University of Nottingham.
Pryce, W.T.R. (ed.) (1994)
From Family History to Community History, Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press in association with The Open University.
Rau, D. (1984) `Who chose
Chalcots? Aspects of family and social structure in 1851', in DA301
Offprints Booklet 1, The Open University.
Williams, B. (1976)
The making of Manchester Jewry 1740-1875,
Manchester, Manchester University Press.
Williams, B. (1988) Manchester Jewry - A Pictorial History 1788-1988, Manchester, Archive Publications.
7. Primary Source References
Census Enumerators' Books,
1891, for Didsbury and
Withington, Manchester Central Library (Local Studies Unit).
Manchester Trade Directories,
1869-1914, of Fallowfield, Withington and Didsbury, Manchester Central
Library (Local Studies Unit).
Manchester Grammar School,
(1965) A Biographical register of Old Mancunians 1888-1951,
Manchester, H. Rawson & Co. Ltd.
Obituaries, Manchester Newspaper Cuttings, Manchester Central Library (Local Studies Unit).
Mr and Mrs 'A' (second generation Jewish immigrants, Director of men’s retail outfitters). Interview not recorded. Interviewed in Manchester by Julia Maine (1996).
Due to the time constraints and word limit of this project it was impossible to include all class indicators. One area that was particularly frustrating to exclude was the social and cultural aspects of the Manchester Jewish communities since culture is as much a class indicator as occupations, education and servant-keeping. Throughout my research I encountered much evidence of the Didsbury Jewish community's active interests in classical music, amateur dramatics, literary and philosophic debating societies. It would have been particularly interesting to have explored the extent to which such interests differed between the Didsbury Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews and between the northern sector of the city’s Jewry. Considering the qualitative nature of such an area, I feel that oral interviews would be the most valuable primary source to pursue, though a later period whereby a greater number of surviving members of the community would be accessible for interviews.
Conducting this research in 1996 as part of my BA (Hons) degree was prior to my internet access days. Locating, accessing, collating and analysing the data manually was therefore extremely time consuming, as well as challenging, particularly as I am non-Jewish and had much to learn about the culture. However, I found the project the most rewarding and enjoyable aspect of my degree ... to the point of revisiting it nine years on and continuing to update it over the years.
Information technology has advanced significantly since 1996. We are now able to access census returns and national indexes online, which should hopefully enable me to fill in many missing links.
This website also enables me to give this paper an online presence, with further opportunities for expansion should any visitors be kind enough to contact me with additional information. Thus far the response has been very encouraging and I warmly thank all who have contacted me with valuable contributions.
I would like to acknowledge, with thanks, the kind support of: