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

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.