Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Sheffield Jewish Archives Cataloguing Project

Acquisition by the City Archives and The Jane Goodman Charitable Trust

In 2021 the Sheffield Jewish Congregation and Centre and United Synagogue deposited the papers it housed at the Kingfield Centre with the City Archives, to be catalogued and made available to the public for research.

In July 2023, the Jane Goodman Charitable Trust began funding the project to catalogue these papers. This cataloguing project involves: producing a catalogue of the material for the City Archives online catalogue; conserving and digitising some of the papers in the collection; exhibiting and publishing material; and holding events relating to the material. The project is also encouraging further accruals of material from the Jewish Community in Sheffield, should people wish to donate relevant material to the Archive.

As has recently been discussed in The Tribune, the practising Jewish Community in Sheffield has decreased in the last half a century. In light of this, the importance of preserving Sheffield’s Jewish heritage before it is forgotten or becomes unknown is heightened.

From as early as the 1980s, a concerted effort was made by members of the United Sheffield Hebrew Congregation, instigated by David Brown, to ensure the safety of the Community’s records. Papers of the orthodox synagogues, other Jewish organisations and individuals were housed in a room in the Kingfield Centre (next to the present-day United Synagogue) at Brincliffe Cresent. As members of the Community passed away or left Sheffield, other papers including more personal family papers were also added to the Archive at Kingfield for safe keeping. Sometimes records of Jewish people were deposited by a neighbour or friend after someone’s death. John Samuels, the honorary archivist, looked after the material at Kingfield and made efforts to list it, until 2021.

What’s in the Archive?

The papers can be broken into three parts:

Congregation Papers – relating to Jewish faith congregations and their synagogues (Fig Tree Lane, West Bar Green, 93 Brunswick Street, Campo Lane, North Church Street, Wilson Road, Brincliffe Cresent etc.). It includes papers of Sheffield Hebrew Congregation; Sheffield Central Hebrew Congregation; United Sheffield Hebrew Congregation; and the Seven Hills Shul Sheffield & District Reform Congregation.


Sheffield Hebrew Congregation Minute Book Oct 1849 - Jul 1887 [JCA/1/3/1/1]

Jewish Organisations and Societies – including the Talmud Torah (Sheffield Hebrew Education Board); Representative Council of Sheffield and District Jews; Chevra Kadisha (Burial Association); Maccabi Association; Board of Guardians; Women’s International Zionist Association; the Zionist Association; Sheffield Jewish Journal; Jewish Library; Group 62; Jewish Forum; Friendship Club; Students Association; Blind Society; Hillel Association; and Ladies Benevolent Society among others.

Programmes of concerts arranged by Jewish Charities, 1928 and the Jewish Literary and Philharmonic Society, 1897

Collected Papers of the Jewish Community – includes small bundles of papers belonging to Jewish individuals and families such as photographs, letters, films, research papers, programmes, speeches, prayer books and notebooks.

Photograph of a Jewish wedding from the Collected Papers of the Sheffield Jewish Community, c. 1930

The whole collection brings to light some of the sites of significance in the history of Jewish Sheffield, including the West Bar area, Ecclesall, Ecclesfield Cemetery and the sites of the many synagogues. As well as sites of religious significance, the records make reference to Jewish shops, factories, legal practices, tailors, kindergartens and clubs. For example, in the 1950s, three separate grocers on Ecclesall Road, were selling Kosher dairy products, none of which is evident if you walk down Eccy Road today.

Secretary's correspondence file for the United Sheffield Hebrew Congregation, with letters detailing grocers stocking Kosher supplies in Sheffield, 1955 [JCA/1/2/3/1/2]

But why does it matter? What’s the point of knowing how things were? Sheffield is a city that is ever-changing. When physical markers (shops, signs, buildings, street furniture etc.) no longer exist, and as the people who remember and can pass on stories of places begin to disappear, archives can help reveal some of what was. 

This Archive is a reminder that things are always changing and have not always been the same.  Our own lifetimes are small threads in a richer tapestry of this city that already has so many woven into it. Knowing about Sheffield’s Jewish history makes clearer just one section of the tapestry of Sheffield. And maybe seeing the tapestry will inform how we move around, think about and interact with each other in this city for the short time that it’s ours.

Get involved

In May 2024, there will be an event in the Central library, supported by the Jane Goodman Charitable Trust in collaboration with the Wiener Holocaust Library and University of Sheffield Jewish Studies Research Network to explore Sheffield’s Jewish history. Sign up to the Libraries newsletter for updates.

If you have material you’d like to consider donating, please contact the Project Archivist.


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