Manchester Jewish Museum
Richard Cavendish discovers the riches and Diaspora and beyond in the Manchester Jewish museum.
Manchester has the largest Jewish community in the country, outside London, and the museum, which is ten years old this year, is the only one in Britain in a synagogue. It is probably also the only one which is the direct outcome of the writing of a book.
The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, resplendent in red- brick Victorian Moorish in Cheetham Hill Road, was opened in 1874. The architect, Edward Salomon, was the son of a Manchester cotton merchant. Services were held in Hebrew, led by the cantor and choir. The Cheetham Hill area was home to many prosperous Jewish families and the synagogue's leading founder, Isaac David Belisha, traced his descend back to Muslim Spain.
Things were very different a hundred years later. By the 1970s Jewish families had left the area and it was becoming impossible to find a quorum for the services. Before the whole episode vanished without trace, a book on the history of Manchester's Jews was commissioned from Bill Williams, a historian at the Polytechnic. It proved to be a classic, The making of Manchester Jewry, 1740- 1875, and the research for it revealed that a considerable quantity of material was still about the place but in imminent danger of being thrown away or destroyed.