Through the eyes of a five year old

What forces were shaping Harris Saltman’s world in 1881?[1]

Whereas steel manufacturing was the predominant commercial activity in Sheffield during the last half of the nineteenth century, in Liverpool it was trade.

International trade between Liverpool and the Americas commenced in the mid seventeenth century, but it was not until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that this trade consolidated around a wide range of commodities, in particular cotton.  Liverpool became the leading world market for this crop, supplying the textile mills of Manchester and Lancashire.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Liverpool was among the four greatest ports in the world, conducting one third of the export trade and one quarter of the import trade of the United Kingdom.  The city owned one third of the total shipping of the Kingdom and one seventh of the total registered shipping of the world.

The advent of the steamship was a key catalyst in the expansion of international trade.  No longer having to rely on wind for movement, cargo ships could run to a timetable with a degree of accuracy that had previously been impossible.  In addition to cargo, this period also ushered in the era of the passenger ‘liner’.  In 1840 the first of these vessels, the ‘Britannia’, inaugurated a fortnightly service to New York for the Cunard Company.

The distance between the Edleman’s Gildart Street address and the bustle of the Liverpool docklands was less than two miles.  I wonder whether Harris’ mother took him there of a weekend to watch the movement of cargo and passenger ships, much as Harris’ son would do with his children several decades later at another dock at the tip of Africa?

As commerce expanded, so too did Liverpool’s population.  By the close of the eighteenth century, the town had 80,000 people.  Less than a hundred years later, this figure would multiply more than sevenfold.

Opportunities for a better life drew migrants from England and further afield.  The Great Potato Famine of 1845-49 resulted in the migration of thousands of Irish people to Liverpool, where by mid-century they represented around one quarter of the town’s population.

The first Jewish settlers – hawkers from Eastern Europe – migrated to Liverpool in the mid-eighteenth century.  As commerce and the town expanded, more settlers arrived from Germany and Holland, as well as from other parts of Britain, shifting the centre of Anglo-Jewish population gravity from the market towns and ports of the South to the new industrial and commercial hubs of the Midlands and North.

Between 1875 and 1914, an estimated 120,000 Eastern European Jews settled in Britain.  Liverpool’s main role in this ‘mass migration’ was that of a port of embarkation along the chief route of migration by road, rail and sea stretching from Western Russia, through Berlin, Hamburg, Hull and Liverpool to the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa.  Several of these migrants did, however, remain and by 1875, Liverpool’s Jewish population numbered around 3,000.


Google Maps

Before the 1880s, Liverpool’s Jewish community settled within a radius of some two miles of the earliest synagogues in Princes Road and Hope Place.  The effect of Eastern European settlement was to create a close-knit and readily recognisable ‘Jewish Quarter’ in the cheaper housing around Brownlow Hill, Paddington, Crown Street and Islington[2] – the precinct loosely defined by the line markings on the map above.

New immigrant workers were drawn to petty trade or small-scale industries such as tailoring and cabinet-making, with which they had some prior knowledge in Eastern Europe.  Most newcomers took to a form of peddling, as did the adult members of the Edleman family and their lodgers.

These new arrivals found themselves caught between two cultures.  From Eastern Europe they brought a distinctive way of life based on the strict observance of traditional religious custom and the secular culture embodied in the Yiddish language.  On arrival in Britain, they were immediately exposed to the very different traditions of English working class neighbourhoods and, in the longer term, to all the practices, ideals and activities of a major city.  Thankfulness to England for providing a safe haven combined with practical considerations of survival – encouraged by an older-established Jewish elite which saw the immigrants’ ‘foreign culture’ as a barrier to their acceptance as well as a threat to the community’s reputation  – to set the immigrants firmly on a path to anglicization.

Immigrant children were a particularly vulnerable target for any proselytising forces.  The introduction of compulsory elementary education for all British children in the 1870’s played a significant role in this regard.

In the wake of this reform, a number of Jewish day schools were established in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.  And while it is tempting to speculate that Harris may have attended such a school – immigrant parents were keen to send their children to schools which would reinforce Jewish heritage and culture – it is just as likely that he did not.  The majority of Jewish children attended local state schools and, sometimes, church schools.

If the aim of the education system was to ‘detribalise’ newly arrived children by turning them into proper Englishmen and Englishwomen, then it succeeded.  A 1894 Board of Trade report describes how the children ‘enter the school Russians and Poles, and emerge from it almost indistinguishable from English children’.

At least Harris did not have to contend with being foreign-born, even if his mother and stepfather wore this tag.  To all intents and purposes, he would have looked and sounded like any other Liverpudlian child of his age.

But any outer semblace of being English was destined to be short-lived.

[1]              Information in this post is drawn variously from Ramsay Muir ‘A history of Liverpool’ 2nd edition, 1907;;; and

[2]               Islington was the area in which the Edleman family – and my grandfather – resided between 1878 and 1881.

An absence explained?

By the time of the 1881 Census, the Edleman family along with my grandfather had moved to 17 Gildart Street, a distance of less than 120 feet (37 metres) from their previous address at 63 Blandford Street.

More than 100 years later, Sarah’s great-granddaughter would move house from one end of a suburban Sydney street to the other – a distance of 350 metres – causing a few smiles among the removalists.

Returning to nineteenth century Liverpool, the tell-tale court layout and notes on the above map confirm that the family exchanged one back to back dwelling for another.  According to Harvey Kaplan, rented apartments were “passed around” as families expanded and contracted, so the Gildart Street premises may have been larger than those at Blandford Street. IMG_3051

And the above Latter Day Saints transcript of the 1881 English Census gives a hint as to why.  It shows that eight persons were living at 17 Gildart Street: Sarah and her two young children, her father, sister and young child, and two boarders.

The riddle of Sarah’s missing husband, however, remained.  Where was Harris Edleman at the time of the 1881 Census?

Another blogger has suggested that around 10% of population is missing from British Census counts.  I don’t doubt that this is true and for some time felt that this must have been Harris’ fate.

However, evidence I recently uncovered via the Latter Day Saints Community Trees database tells a different story.


According to Saul Marks, who has separately been undertaking research for me on the Edleman family’s life in England and South Africa, the notes to the entry above are taken from the inscription on Harris’ gravestone in Edinburgh.

They confirm that between 1878 and 1911, his primary address was in South Africa.

We know that he was in Liverpool in December 1878 on the occasion of his  marriage to my great-grandmother.  He must also have spent some time in the company of his new wife in the early part of 1879 in order for her to have fallen pregnant.

But after that, I feel that Harris Edleman most likely returned to South Africa.

He was not necessarily present at the time of his first son’s birth in December 1879.  There is only one mark on Joseph Edleman’s birth certificate and it is Sarah’s.  This contrasts with my grandfather’s birth certificate on which his father’s signature is inscribed.

By the time of the 1881 English Census, he would have been in South Africa.

Between early 1879 and 1881, Harris Edleman appears to have been a most itinerant husband, father and step father.

Football and other memories

On 28 June 1914, a young Bosnian Serb aged seventeen changed the course of history forever.  Gavrilo Princip was a member of the Black Hand Society, a nationalist movement that supported the union of Balkan states.  His act of assassinating the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife Sophie, while on a visit to Sarajevo was the catalyst for starting World War 1.  Exactly one month later, the first shots of combat were fired.

I remember this event with clarity as it was one of those many facts chiselled into memory by my school history teacher.

My father claimed to have recalled the outbreak of World War 1.  The family was living in Johannesburg at the time and no doubt this news would have travelled quickly to a colony of the Crown.  I did a quick calculation and realised that he would have been twenty-one months old.

My earliest memory is of being at my brother’s barmitzvah, a Jewish boy’s ritual coming of age.  In the company of my nanny, Mabel, I watched from an upper tier of Cape Town’s Great Synagogue as the small figure below performed his set piece.  I was a little more than two years old at the time.

At what age does long-term memory kick in?  Depending on who you believe, this can be anywhere from 17-21 months, at two years, after two years or not before the age of three and a half.

Our early memories tend to be of events that have significance for us personally; things that make a lasting impression on us, be they good or bad, happy or sad.  They do not necessarily have to have far-reaching or life changing implications, although sometimes they do.

Assuming some patrilineal tendency to recall events from an early age, I expect that Harris would have remembered the occasion of his mother’s second marriage, an event that occurred when he was four months short of his third birthday.

But would this have been his earliest memory?

Sport runs deep in our family.  My father played competition level water polo at university and my mother was a swim coach whose stable included a handful of national champions.  My older siblings were national swim champions in their day, and I have had some success in both the pool and the ocean.

Sport wasn’t confined to active participation; there were memberships at two turf clubs – for some reason betting on horse racing was deemed acceptable in gambling intolerant South Africa – and season tickets at the local rugby and football grounds.

Watching football was possibly my father’s greatest sporting passion, kindled during his student days in England.  The Gunners had acquired a life long fan, complete with red and white scarf.

Back in South Africa, following English football was limited to coverage in the print media and the occasional radio broadcast.  We had no TV before 1975.

When London hosted the 1966 World Cup and England made it through to the final for the 12th time, we tuned into a radio broadcast that spluttered and popped like a pan of too hot oil.  One can only imagine what it must have been like to watch Geoff Hurst pot first one, then two goals in overtime, delivering England victory over Germany and its first and only World Cup title to date.

It was, of course, possible to watch football live in South Africa.  A small national league had formed which included two Cape Town teams, each with its home ground, and numbering among their players fading stars of British and European football leagues.  This is where you would have found us on winter Friday nights; my father watching the game, my mother chatting to the person next to her, and me wanting desperately to be somewhere else.

The city of Liverpool has a proud tradition as the most successful footballing city in England.  Football is its most popular sport and the city is home to two clubs, Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs.


Everton, the older of the two clubs, has its roots in the St Domingo Methodist Church Sunday School which opened in May 1870.

Eight years later the football team, using the St Domingo name, played its first match in the south-east corner of Stanley Park, establishing a commencement date of 1878 for what would soon become the Everton Football Club.   St Domingo’s Football Club quickly established a local reputation for itself and in November 1879 acquired the Everton name.

Everton’s early home ground was about a 45 minute walk from 63 Blandford Street.

I don’t know that my grandfather played sport, but I would like to think that the formation of one of Liverpool’s pre-eminent football clubs may have made a mark on his memory.

He would have been around two at the time.

The riddle of the missing street

My next task was to find Joseph’s birth certificate.  That would show me in which part of Liverpool Sarah and Harris Edellman had made their home.

IMG_3046The transcript told me that Joseph had been born either in the first quarter of 1880 or in the one immediately prior.


The birth certificate confirms Joseph’s date of birth as 3 December, 1879, making him about three years and seven months younger than my grandfather.  The family surname had been anglicised to Edleman and, in the Ashkenazi tradition of naming a new-born after a deceased relative, Joseph had taken his name from his late paternal grandfather.  As witnessed by her mark on the birth certificate, Sarah had not yet acquired any proficiency in English.

The family was living at 63 Blandford Street, Sarah’s address at the time of her marriage to Harris.  The street that seemed to have disappeared without trace…

Well…had it?

A chance web search led me to a book titled The Liverpool Underworld: Crime in the City, 1750-1900.

The book singles out Blandford Street for its “brothel that catered for old men with a taste in young girls”.  Charming.

The density of brothels featured prominently in the book.  At one stage, the surrounding area apparently housed 235 brothels and 460 sex workers, living in “tightly packed court housing”.  By 1890, the Blandford Street district had become Liverpool’s “capital of debauchery”.

In 1894, Blandford Street was renamed Kempston Street, no doubt in an attempt to erase all evidence of its colourful past.

The riddle of the disappearing street had been solved.

Mention of “tightly packed court housing” had aroused my interest.  Had my great-grandmother – and my grandfather – substituted a life in such housing in Sheffield for something similar in Liverpool?

I had no photos to rely upon.  But there were maps covering the period.

From Google Maps, I knew that 63 Blandford Street was on the northern side of the street, close to its intersection with Gildart Street.

The above extract from the 1864 Liverpool Town Plan clearly shows the existence of court housing in that part of Blandford Street which was, at that time, called Finch Street.

A 1891 Liverpool Town Plan shows no change to the land use and housing layout.  The courts are clearly visible – and marked as such – on the northern side of the street.

The housing has not survived into the twenty-first century.  What stands in its place today – a nondescript late twentieth century industrial building – provides no clues about the area’s colourful past or the lives of ordinary citizens who inhabited the area over a hundred years ago.

For that I would have to look elsewhere.

What’s in a name?

I felt certain that I would find a record of Sarah Saltman’s marriage to Harris Edleman.  As a widow with a child, it seemed logical that Sarah would have come to her second marriage using the surname of her first husband.

Now that I knew her second husband’s name, it seemed that finding a record in either his or her name should have been an open and shut case.  The facts of their names were established.  All I had to do was put them into Find my Past and hit “search”.  Right?


Despite my confidence, there was no record of a marriage in England for persons bearing these names.

I tried variants on their surnames.  That didn’t work either.

All that I had left was to search on Sarah’s maiden name (Marks), illogical as this seemed.  If I was breaking any cardinal rules of genealogical research, I was also past caring.IMG_3047   As it turned out, I was right on the money.

I was left in no doubt that I’d found my targets.  The marriage had taken place within the preferred window of 1876-1880 and in Liverpool.   A copy of their marriage certificate would tell me much more.

IMG_4828This showed that Sarah and Harris had married at the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation, also known as the Princes Road Synagogue – Liverpool’s oldest.  They had chosen to get married on Christmas Day, 1878, coincidentally the day on which Louis Joseph Chevrolet – founder of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company – was born.

Both parties, including Sarah’s father, gave Liverpool addresses.  Marks senior was now calling himself by his Hebrew name, Mordecai.  According to Harvey Kaplan, the practice of using other names in England – he had variously used the first names Marcus and Samuel – was not uncommon. 

The marriage was solemnised “…according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the German and Polish Jews”.

The German background would most likely have belonged to the groom and while it is possible that the Marks family had originated in Poland, they may also have come from Russia – cited as the country of their birth at the 1881 Census – or Lithuania, which bordered Poland.

The affixing of marks instead of signatures on the marriage certificate does not automatically infer that the newlyweds were illiterate.   Sarah and Harris Edellman would have been fluent in Yiddish and may also have known Russian, Polish, Hebrew and German.  But they would not yet have become proficient in written English.

Sarah’s age is given as 25.  This is quite possible seeing as her age at the time of her first marriage in July 1875 was stated as 21.  Her second husband was – like her first – a hawker.

The residential addresses of the parties at their marriage were about a mile apart, although Blandford Street – Sarah’s and her father’s address at the time of the marriage – appears to have ceased to exist quite some time ago if this is anything to go by.  Needless to say, the housing they would have once occupied has also long since disappeared.

So what’s in a name?

Something…..or nothing.  Or perhaps whatever you need to make of it in order to find what you’re looking for.

I could now date my grandfather’s existence in Liverpool back to at least the end of 1878.

Using future events to inform the past

After Israel’s death, my only way of tracking Harris’ movements through childhood, adolescence and into early adulthood would be through his association with the Edleman family.

The 1881 English Census had listed Harris, together with his mother (Sarah), her father, a newly acquired half-brother (Joseph), and a host of relatives and boarders, as living in Liverpool.  Sarah’s second husband and Harris’ stepfather, Mr Edleman, was not present at that time.

The Census took place in April 1881.  It also told me that Joseph was one year old and had been born in Liverpool.  From that, it appeared that the family had been living in Liverpool at least since early 1880.

But a comment my father had made to Avrom continued to distract me.  This was that “(after her first husband’s death)….Sarah later married a man called Edelman (sic).  They went to Edinburgh and had at least four sons.”

The sequence of events implied by the second sentence seemed incontrovertible.  They went to Edinburgh and had at least four sons.  In that order.  But when?

I set about scouring Scotland’s People for evidence of the Edleman family after 1881.  I had discounted the possibility of their having moved to Edinburgh before then with no basis for doing so other than a hunch.  I was breaking a cardinal rule of genealogical research.

I found no evidence of the Edelmans in the 1891 Scottish Census nor in a random trawl of other databases on Scotland’s People.  My patience with the Edelmans’ Scottish phase – if it indeed had existed – ran out as my credits expired.  I abandoned the search.

From Scotland’s People, I had drifted to the Edinburgh City Archives in search of further clues – they had none – and this in turn led me to the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre and its principal researcher, Harvey Kaplan.

My luck had turned.  Harvey had information from my great grandmother’s death certificate which helped tie up a few loose ends.

Sarah had died at the age of 67 in 1924.  Her husband was Harris Edelman, retired feather dealer.  Her usual place of residence was 22 Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh.

So my father had been correct: the Edelman family had indeed moved to Edinburgh at some point.  On rereading that second sentence (“…they went to Edinburgh and had at least four sons”), I realised that the addition of four more sons had not necessarily occurred after the family’s move to Edinburgh.

With hindsight, that my father had not mentioned Liverpool in recollections of his father’s early life should have sounded a warning bell to me when I embarked on my “Scottish campaign”.  He must not have known about the Liverpool years.  If I’d appreciated this earlier, my research could have taken a completely different turn.  But then I would not have found Harvey Kaplan.  Chasing Scottish leads had thus not been in vain.

Harvey advised me to check for a birth certificate for Joseph Edelman or his brothers, which would lead me to details of when and where his mother may have married Harris Edelman.  Unfortunately, I had no names for other children, so that particular investigation would have to keep for the time being.

But I could confirm birth details for Joseph and marriage details for his parents.  In respect of the latter, all I had to do was put “Sarah Saltman” and “Joseph Edelman” (or Edleman) into Find My Past and a transcript of their marriage record would pop up.  This would list the year and quarter of registration, volume and page number; enough information for me to order a copy of their marriage certificate which would show details of where they had married and were living at the time.

It would be as easy as that.

Or so I thought.