22 September 2010

Wales: Jewish history, then and now

Bangor University research has revealed that Jews first settled in north Wales during the building of Edward I's castles, according to a BBC story.

According to the story, Dr. Nathan Abrams and Dr. Sally Baker have put together a touring exhibit of their findings, celebrating regional Jewish history.
Abrams would like to hear from anyone with more information on the Jewish diaspora in Wales.

(Photo: The Wartski family of Llandudno. Their business had a branch in London's Bond Street. See below for more.)

See the exhibit at Bangor University's Main Arts Building, 16-30 October, and in Neuadd Dwyfor, Pwllheli - just don't ask Tracing the Tribe to pronounce that! - 6-20 November.
Previous studies have focused on 19th and 20th century Jewish communities, but there is evidence that Jewish families settled in fortified towns like Caernarfon and Beaumaris back in the 13th century.

“I think because Jews were mainly used for financing at that period, they were there to assist with the castle-building programme,” said Dr Abrams.

“In 1290, the Jews were expelled from England, and a little earlier from Wales. This was right at the height of the building work."So I think once they'd fleeced them, they expelled the Jews and their properties were appropriated.”
The exhibit was funded by a £19,000 grant from Beacon for Wales.

From ancient history, the exhibit then looks at Eastern European immigration in the 1800s. According to Abrams:
“They travelled out from places like Liverpool into the Welsh countryside as peddlers.

“But eventually they set up communities first in Bangor, then in Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, Rhyl and Wrexham.”

Those peddlers moved on to renting small shops, and then owning large stores like Pollecoff's of Pwllheli and Wartski’s of Bangor and Llandudno, which boasted of being 'By Royal Appointment’.
According to the story, Isidore Wartski become the mayor of Bangor, and is believed have been the first Jewish mayor in Wales. The Wartski store even had a branch in London's Bond Street.

The area's Jewish communities have dwindled since the mid-20th century. Although there is no longer a Bangor synagogue, there is a small one in Llandudno run by Manchester's Orthodox community. During the summer, however, Abrams says there are notices in the Orthodox press of Jewish services being held all over Wales.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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