The change of use of the Hanley Synagogue in Birch Terrace to a dance studio made me look into the archives to explore the early Jewish settlement into the area. I came across a very full article in the Sentinel dating from the early 1880s entitled “ Jews in North Staffordshire” written by an unknown correspondent. The writer informs the reader that after Jews were arrived back into the country in the 17th century after being excluded during the Middle Ages some began to move into the new industrial areas looking for commercial opportunities.
The first Jew came to Newcastle under Lyme in around the 1790s from Dublin Abraham Francks an optician. The legend is that Francks arriving at Liverpool and took a coach to Newcastle in the mistaken belief that he was in Geordie land. He quickly became aware of his error the following day when he asked in the town of the way to the docks. It is a good story but probably not true. The Francks family were well known for making optical equipment which was sometimes made for scientific institutions and had been established in Manchester since the 1760s. Abraham's father Isaac lived in Manchester having moved to England from Holland the decade before. The Francks also had business interest in Dublin which might be where the Irish connection might come in. Abraham settled in Newcastle and established in the town. He lived in Hick Street and welcomed any visiting Jews to his home setting out his residence as a place of worship. He lived to a great age dying in 1848 surrounded by his large family.
The first Jew to arrive in the Potteries, the article goes on to say, was George Myers who lived in Shelton in the 1840s. It was his intention to establish a Synagogue in the Potteries an ambition he failed to realise, After his time Joseph Solomon of Hanley was instrumental in establishing a temporary place of worship in Foundary Street before a concerted fund raising attempt by the Solomon and Falk families in 1873 led to the purchase of a former Welsh Chapel in Hanover Street for £700 aided with a contribution of £50 from leading Christians in the community. A school was established on the premises where children of the 200 strong community could be instructed in Hebrew.
The Jewish Chronicle of 24th September 1875 reported
“The new Synagogue at Hanley was consecrated yesterday (Tuesday). The usual dedicatory service was held. The Rev. Prof. D. M. Isaacs, of Manchester, officiated and delivered a sermon. As we have before mentioned, the synagogue has been completed about twelve months since but it was decided to open the building free of debt. In this the executive have not succeeded. It is a small neatly fitted building of unpretentious architectural features. It will accommodate about 100 person on the ground area and about 40 in the ladies gallery. There is a spacious school-room adjoining and a residence for the minister. The congregation is much indebted to Mr. Phillip Falk, who kindly undertook all the arrangements as to the purchase of the building and otherwise lent a helping hand to the young community. Hanley is a thriving place situated in the Potteries district. It would afford scope to Jews of the industrial class who are energetic’.