IN THE beginning of this century Abraham Goldberg bought his first
bale of cloth in Glasgow. He took it home and started making it up into
piece-goods for sale to wholesalers -- the beginning of a multi-million
Loading article content
pound business. Within two generations the retailer A. Goldberg & Sons
plc. was one of Scotland's most successful companies.
Abraham Goldberg was a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe. In 1908
he arrived in Scotland from Dublin, where he had married and where his
first son Ephraim was born. He settled in a room and kitchen in Main
Street, Gorbals. From the small beginnings on the South Side, Goldberg
took premises in Candleriggs in the city centre in the early 1920s and
in a little more than a decade A. Goldberg & Sons was a public company.
Last year Blacks Leisure made an unsuccessful #32m takeover bid for
Goldbergs, which also owns Wrygges, Schuh, and Ted Baker shops.
Nowadays nobody will notice anything specifically Jewish about the
firm, the disc jockey in the Wrygges shop in Argyle Street plays the
same loud pop music which is so much in vogue elsewhere, but the
Goldberg story shows on a larger scale how Jews participated in
Glasgow's business and industry.
From being one of the smallest Jewish communities in Britain only a
century before, Glasgow Jewry grew in size to become the third largest
provincial community on the eve of the Second World War. At its peak the
community consisted of 15,000 persons and many of these Jews had good
reason to come to Glasgow.
Abraham Goldberg had purchased his first cloth from agents, who were
often themselves in the process of building family businesses and
companies, sometimes Jewish too. Glasgow was still one of the main
British wholesale centres, the opportunities for growth seemed
unlimited, and the city was able to attract many newcomers.
Some 90 years ago thousands of Jews came to Britain, fleeing from
persecution in Eastern Europe and looking for a better life, and many
were lured to Glasgow, because of its opportunities and the possibility
to embark here on a transatlantic voyage to America, the intended
destination. Some started in manufacturing and trading, while most
immigrants found employment as hawkers or pedlars or in the tailoring
business. A few did very well -- Max and Edith Morrison from Estonia
opened a gown business, David Cohen from Lithuania established D. and H.
Cohen in Bedford Lane, known for their school caps, and similarly Sir
Isaac Wolfson's Great Universal Stores was started in a Gorbals
Some Glaswegians will remember their Jewish neighbours in the Gorbals,
as John Burrows did in the story of the life and times of boxer Benny
''. . . if you were up early on a Saturday morning and were first to
call at the Jews' houses you could light their housefires . . . and in
their hearths a penny would always be placed for the firelighter . . .
the Jews were easy to spot and at 3 Abbotsford Place it seemed everyone
was Jewish . . . but you never knocked on the door of David Jacobs . . .
for he was the Rabbi and he would wait until sunset when their laws said
the sabbath was over.''
This passage is quoted in a new book called The Second City Jewry: The
Jews of Glasgow in the Age of Expansion, 1790-1919. The publication of
this book, written by Dr Kenneth E. Collins, a prominent member of the
Jewish community in Scotland, marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the
establishment of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council.
In his book Dr Collins traces the presence of Jews in Glasgow back to
1790. In these early days a travelling Jewish salesman or doctor would
occasionally stay in the city. There were some colourful visitors, like
Philip Aron, a native of Copenhagen, who first arrived in Scotland about
1799, where he practiced as a dentist. Aron settled in about 1803 in
Ireland, and travelled about until he was arrested on the charge of
being a French spy during the Napoleonic wars.
The first Jew known to have settled in Glasgow was a hatter called
Isaac Cohen, who has been credited with the introduction of the silk hat
to Scotland. Cohen was admitted as a burgess of the city in September
1812. Others followed, and a dozen Jewish families established a
synagogue in 1837 at the back of the building, reached from 114
Trongate, which had formerly been the Glasgow Post Office and was
subsequently utilised as the offices of the Glasgow Herald.
By 1879 the Jewish community had grown sufficiently, although still
comparatively small in numbers, to open a prestigious purpose-built
synagogue in Garnethill. The consecration of this place of worship also
reflected the successful integration of the Jews into Scottish society.
The leading Jewish merchant at the time was the fruitbroker Michael
Simons and his election to the Council of the Glasgow Corporation in
1883 marked the Jewish progress in the city.
Jews in Scotland never seemed to have encountered the anti-Semitism
that prevailed elsewhere. Scottish society proved tolerant towards
newcomers and Isaac Cohen, for example, was accepted as a burgess in
1812 without having to take the Christian oath, which was normally
required. This is not to say that no prejudices existed. Simons
contested in 1883 against a Protestant clergyman who campaigned on a
''no Jews and no Jesuits'' ticket, but the fact that Simons won the seat
with a substantial majority showed that the anti-Jewish attitude was not
Simons's victory led to a long career of public service, which in part
was also a result of the more general Scottish tendency to mark
accomplishments in society with a public office, a tendency from which
more Jews would benefit.
Shortly after this election thousands of immigrants like Abraham
Goldberg started to arrive in the city and their settlement, initially
in overcrowded conditions in the Gorbals, caused some friction in the
non-Jewish environment -- complaints were filed against Jews trading on
a Sunday, Jews were occasionally regarded as bad tenants, and it was
believed that some of the notorious practices in the sweatshops of the
tailoring trade were due to the influx of immigrant labour.
But again these settlers grew accustomed to Scottish ways, they found
their place in the city, and added their own contributions to society.
Their children were able to climb the social ladder, older sons moved
into fathers' businesses and the younger ones benefited from the
Scottish education system. In later years many professional Jewish
people would move to the southern suburbs of the city.
This process of integration was well underway in 1919. Collins
describes in great detail how it was simulated by the leaders of the
Garnethill congregation, like Michael Simons, despite some differences
between the older settlers and the new arrivals, and how a network of
Jewish institutions and organisations was founded to stimulate Jewish
life in Glasgow and to help immigrants to participate in the general
economy and industry.
Small Jewish businessmen could, for example, receive a loan from the
Glasgow Hebrew Benevolent Loan Society to help them along. Naturally,
not all the immigrants were successful and a large Jewish labour force
remained in the Gorbals until the Second World War. The Jewish workers
produced their own trade union leaders, of which Lord Emanuel Shinwell
is probably the best known. Next to unions, Jewish friendly societies
and the Jewish Board of Guardians looked after the unsuccessful.
In general the Jewish immigrants were hard-working people. Manny
Shinwell remembered in later life how he was sent out as an errand boy
of 12 to California, a village near Falkirk, to deliver goods and
collect payment. Collins writes that the sending of children on distant
messages was not without dangers and one young Jewish girl, also aged 12
years, was murdered in Whiteinch in 1922 for the #2 she had just
By 1919 the leading role of the older Jewish merchants in the
relations with the wider society was taken over by the Glasgow Jewish
Representative Council, which celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary.
The council unites all the different Jewish organisations in the city.
One of the relatively newcomers among these is the Scottish Jewish
Archives. Three years ago it opened a centre in Garnethill Synagogue,
which is still in use today, on the initiative of some who felt that the
heritage of Jewish history in Scotland should be preserved. The centre
collects documents, photographs, and artifacts and forms the nucleus of
a future Jewish Museum in Glasgow.
The representative council was originally established to act as a
go-between, but at present it effectively presides over all the
different aspects of Jewish life in Glasgow. There are still numerous
Jewish organisations in the city, although the numbers are dwindling
because of immigration from Glasgow as the city has lost many of its
opportunities of the past.
The Goldbergs stayed. Abraham's grandson, Mark Goldberg, is chairman
of the firm and one of the leaders of the Jewish community. His firm,
however, has decided to move. As a result of a #4.5m loss in the
half-year to last September, due to the downturn in high street
spending, A. Goldberg & Sons will be cut back to a smaller higher-margin
fashion chain, development plans for the site of the shop in Candleriggs
have been looked at, and it has been reported that Goldbergs'
headquarters will move from Scotland to London. Mr Goldberg told me,
however, that he has no plans to leave Glasgow: ''Some of our
administrative offices, like the buying team, will move to London, but I
will stay here.''
Second City Jewry is published by the Scottish Jewish Archives. The
Archives Centre in Garnethill Synagogue, 127-129 Hill Street, with
displays on Jewish history in Scotland, is opened to the public on every
second Sunday of the month, from 2 to 4pm.