The beginning of the 19th century found England at the peak of industrialism and all that went with it. Wealth and poverty, sweat and strife, ignorance and intemperance and slovenliness. Nevertheless it offered scope to those with initiative, discrimination, determination, brains, ambition, and the indomitable will to "get on" and succeed materially. For such gifts no better people could be found than the Jews. They possess an inherent aptitude for trading which is undeniable.
News good and bad spreads quickly on enchanted wings and did so even in those days of slow transit and communication, and the prosperity of England soon spread abroad, affecting the Jews of Russia and Poland principally.
Roaming is in the Jewish blood, it is a heritage from Biblical days. The patriarch Abraham was a nomad. The long sojourn in the desert under Moses, the constant flight from country to country, through bitter oppression and persecution, have made them wanderers and natural emigrants. Emigration to a foreign land is a great hazard requiring fortitude and courage, which they had in plenty. They reached here unconversant with the language, strange to its ways; could neither read nor write and started off with nothing!
So were they drawn to these shores. Some came to the north and reached Middlesbrough, a small but rapidly rising town then in its infancy, developing, growing and stretching its limbs due in ameasure to the ironstone discovered in the Cleveland Hills; its close proximity to the Durham and Northumberland coalfields and its river.
Blast-furnaces and Iron Works sprang up and the night sky glowed with their activities. So it yeas to these hospitable shores they came, some in flight from persecution, some to shelter from oppression, some seeking peace and fortune, and all with high hopes and great aspirations in their breasts for a brighter and happier future. Many heading for this locality landed by vessel at Old Hartlepool, completing the journey to their destination the best way they could.
Travelling then was not so easy as it is now! Many women brought with them their silver candlesticks and other cherished household possessions, such as brass-ware, silver spoons and forks and feather-beds, so their luggage must have been cumbersome - but to have left many of such articles behind would have been to them sheer sacrilege. The journey from their home town was long and hazardous in those days, and if desperately uncomfortable and perilous for the women and children, no doubt the passage to this new Eldorado was thrilling and exciting!
However, here they arrived safe and sound with few mishaps and settled down.
All started from the lowest rung of the ladder. Those possessed of more brains, business acumen, initiative and ambition reached the top; the few with less remained at the bottom, which is a natural corollary.
These early pioneer men-folk were strong and sturdy, of excellent stock, good physique and personality. The majority were of the more refined type, many coming from the better class families of their home town. In the latter respect the same might be said of the women-folk. Many had charm and grace. The progeny of such a stock naturally would be expected to be unique. Their daughters were beautiful specimens of woman-hood, and indeed the Middlesbro' Jewish girls of those days were considered the most refined, handsome and attractive in the British Isles, which is no idle boast.
A hundred years ago the state of affairs in this country was far different from that prevailing to day. There was no Welfare State with its concomitant benefits such as: medical health services, maternity and children's allowances, retirement and old age pensions, unemployment benefits, workmen's compensations, council houses and whatnot. Then, it was: “Everyone for oneself and the devil take the hindmost". If one fell by the way - and thousands in that struggle did - it was: "Good-bye brother, you've had it!"
Workers toiled and sweated for long hours each day under appalling conditions for a mere pittance. The pawnshop or the moneylender were their only refuge, and the gin palace their only comfort, where they drank themselves to death. They lived in slums amidst squalor, and their delapidated cottages were vermin-ridden, insanitary and reeked with foulness. All this is practically non-existent today and thank goodness!
Reverting to the small Jewish Congregation of those early days; it consisted of a mere handful of members who had trickled into the town in ones and twos, but by 1880 it had a complement of about 40 or 50 members.
The Synagogue in Brentnall Street was already established and the building still stands, its facade unaltered. Its seating capacity for gentlemen on the ground floor would hold about 100. The Ladies Gallery had a similar seating capacity and behind the centre gallery ran a long oblong room, used both as a Committee Room and School Room prior to the erection of the School and Hall adjoining. Since the whole was acquired by Binns Ltd in 1918 the interiors have been dismantled andboth the Synagogue and adjoining Hall are converted into workshops.
These early members were devout, religious and orthodox. Those in business observed the Sabbath, attended Divine Worship regularly and closed their premises on this day and holy days. There were few exceptions. A transgressor was looked down on and denounced as a "Shabbos Goy" - "Sabbath Breaker". Not so today! The wheel has turned full circle!
These Old Standards were an easy going set – happy, care-free, naïve, fraternizing, friendly.