09 July 2020

When the Isle of Man
once had ‘the fullest
Jewish life in the world’

The New Synagogue, Berlin … Rabbi Werner van der Zyl, former rabbi at the New Synagogue, was detained in the Isle of Man (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I have been writing in recent days about a teenage holiday on the Isle of Man in 1965, about the connections between the Diocese of Sodor and Man and Irish-born saints or Irish-born and Irish-educated bishops, and about Bishops of Sodor and Man who had connections with Lichfield and Tamworth.

But thinking back on that holiday over the past two days, I recalled hearing stories of internment camps on the island where large numbers of Jews were held during World War I and World War II, and stories even of synagogues inside those camps.

Indeed, the Isle of Man has a small Jewish community, once known as the Isle of Man Hebrew Congregation and now known as Manx Hebrew Congregation. Although there is no synagogue or rabbi, there is a Jewish cemetery at Douglas, the island’s capital and largest town. The history of the Jews on the Isle of Man goes back to at least the early 19th century.

From about 1908, the Jewish Chronicle published regular advertising for Berlin House, an ‘Orthodox Jewish Boarding House,’ at 16 Demesne Road, off Bucks Road, Douglas, It was run by ‘Mrs Rabow & Daughters,’ and offered a ‘liberal table, late dinners, excellent cuisine,’ and ‘terms moderate.’

By 1911, Berlin House was at Palace View Terrace and was run by the Misses Rabow. It was described as a ‘fully-licensed Orthodox Hotel,’ with ‘29 light airy bedrooms,’ a spacious dining-room and comfortable drawing-room, offering ‘table d’hôte.’

By 1914, a Mrs Goldberg was running Vienna House at Fairfield Terrace, Bucks Road, with 20 large bedrooms, and a kosher restaurant with’ excellent cuisine. By then the Rabow sisters’ Berlin House at 3 Palace View Terrace, Central Promenade, was a ‘fully licensed Orthodox hotel,’ with 36 rooms.’ But World War I broke out that summer, and Berlin House became simply ‘Rabows,’ while Mrs Goldberg’s Vienna House became the Continental Hotel.

During World War I, many German and Austro-Hungarian Jews were interned on the Isle of Man under the Aliens Restriction Act as possible ‘Enemy Aliens.’ Across Britain, over 32,000 civilian men were interned for some or all of the war.

After World War, the Jewish Chronicle reported in 1920, that ‘services for the High Festivals were held on the Isle of Man for the first time. They were held at the Continental by the courtesy of Mr and Mrs Goldberg.’

Two years later, the Continental House was being run by Mrs Goldberg at Palace View Terrace, probably having incorporated the Rabow family establishment. It was described as the ‘Oldest established Kasher House in the Island. Charmingly situated, facing sea and Palace, and on Central Promenade.’

The Isle of Man Hebrew Congregation, advertised in 1927 for a single man as shochet, teacher, and to act as reader or chazan (cantor). The post was filled by Mr L Kelman, of Manchester, and services were to be held at the Goldbergs’ Continental Hotel every Friday evening and Saturday morning during the holiday season. ‘All visitors are welcome.’

When the 1928 holiday season began, a Mrs Lyons had opened a third ‘strictly kosher’ guesthouse, the Astoria, at 4 Fort William, Douglas, ‘facing sea and adjoining golf links. Two minutes from boat,’ it boasted, and it even had ‘electric light.’

The Continental and the Astoria continued to advertise in the Jewish Chronicle until a notice on 3 July 1931 said, ‘Mrs Goldberg having disposed of her business in the Isle of Man has opened a private hotel at 108 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin.’ I wondered whether she was related to the Goldberg families in Limerick and Cork, and whether this explained her move to Ireland.

Two years later, the Astoria was also advertised for sale in 1933 by R Lyons who was retiring, and was described as the only Jewish boarding house on the island.

During World War II, between 1,500 and 3,000 German-Jewish civilians were held as internees in camps on the island as ‘enemy aliens.’ Initially, Nazis and Jews from Germany shared internment facilities.

The Jewish Chronicle reported in November 1940: ‘Today the island has what must be the fullest Jewish life in the world. In ordinary camps on a weekday there are more worshippers than in the Great Synagogue, London, on a Sabbath.’

Lectures were delivered on a variety of Jewish topics, and the Jewish community on the island had two kosher boarding houses. By 1941, there were 200 Jewish physicians from London in the Central Camp in Douglas alone. The camps included the Hutchinson Internment Camp in Douglas, known as the ‘artists’ camp’ with its own ‘university’ and newspaper, the Mooragh Internment Camp in Ramsey, whose detainees included Rabbi Werner van der Zyl (1902-1984), former rabbi at the New Synagogue, Berlin (1935-1939) and later founder of Leo Baeck College.

Many detainees in Douglas attended the Central Promenade Camp Synagogue, whose services in English took place in the ballroom of the Lido Dance Hall. Another synagogue was set up in a hut at the Onchan Camp. Women and children internees were mostly housed in the Port Erin and Port St Mary areas, and there was a mixed camp for married couples in Rushen.

One of the most remarkable war-time services took place in the cinema in Port Erin on Rosh Hashanah. Over were 200 people attended, but there was no minyan – almost all the worshippers were women internees who had been separated from their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons.

Eventually, the Jewish prisoners were released and some men given the option of joining the British armed forces, but thousands more were sent to camps in Canada and Australia. There was an unusually high proportion of Jewish and anti-Nazi internees in Hutchinson Camp, which closed in March 1944.

Post-war Jewish residents included Judge Neville Laski (1890-1961), a Judge of Appeal of the Isle of Man (1953-1956) and Recorder of Liverpool (1956-1963), and Samuel James, a London financier, who lived on the island for 20 years until he died in 1956. The Jewish Chronicle reported in 1957 that eight or 10 Jewish families were living on the Isle of Man.

A leading member of the community today, Leonard Singer (77), Deputy Speaker of the House of Keys in the Tynwald since 2012. A retired pharmacist, he was born in Manchester and lived in Portugal and Tenerife before moving to the Isle of Man in 1989.

The Jewish Chronicle reported in 2016 there are about 200 Jews on the island, but most are not religious and are intermarried. This small community has no synagogue or a rabbi, nor is there a place to buy kosher food. The community has organised a Holocaust Memorial Day service since 2001, conducted in English, Hebrew and Manx.

The houses around Hutchinson Square in Douglas were crowded with Jewish internees during World War II (Photograph: Wikipedia, Jamesfranklingresham CC BY-SA)

Four bishops who link
the Isle of Man with
Lichfield and Tamworth

The stall of the Prebendary of Longdon in Lichfield Cathedral … Samuel Rutter was Prebendary of Longdon when he was nominated Bishop of Sodor and Man (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was musing yesterday morning about a holiday on the Isle of Man in 1965, and later in the day about the connections between the Diocese of Sodor and Man and Irish-born saints or Irish-born and Irish-educated bishops.

The Isle of Man, with 15 parishes and 40 churches, is the only component of the Diocese of Sodor and Man, and while the Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom, the diocese is part of the Church of England. But the diocese has a number of links too with both Lichfield and Tamworth through bishops of the past.

Samuel Rutter, the restoration Bishop of Sodor and Man, was Prebendary of Longdon in Lichfield Cathedral when he was nominated Bishop of Sodor and Man in 1660.

Rutter was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford (MA). He was nominated as Archdeacon of Man in 1640. At the time, the Stanley family were feudal lords of the Isle of Man, and during the English Civil War, he was a chaplain to the Royalist James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, and was at the first siege of Lathom House.

By the end of the Civil War, Rutter was the Prebendary of Longdon in Lichfield Cathedral in 1660. But, through the influence of the widowed Countess of Derby, he was nominated as Bishop of Sodor and Man on 5 October 1661, and he was consecrated on 24 March 1661, the last day of the Restoration year.

It was said he was ‘grave and devout, temperate and dignified, and unfortunately was worn out, though not an old man, when he became a bishop.’ He was so ‘worn out’ that he died in the Isle of Man on 30 May 1662.

Rutter was buried in the chancel of Saint German’s Cathedral in Peel Castle, where his grave was marked with a Latin inscription he wrote himself:

In this house which I have borrowed from my brothers the worms
in the hope of the resurrection to life
lie I SAM by divine grace Bishop of this Island.
Stay reader, behold and laugh at the Bishop’s palace.

The chapel in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge … James Bowstead was a fellow when he became Bishop of Sodor and Man in 1838 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

James Bowstead (1801-1843), who was a 19th century Bishop of Sodor and Man (1838-1840), later became Bishop of Lichfield (1840-1843). Bowstead was educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (BA 1824, BD and DD 1834), and became a Fellow of Corpus Christi (1824-1838) and a tutor at the college (1832-1838).

The story goes that while he was on a break reading in the north of Scotland he fell in love with a minister’s daughter. But he delayed proposing to her until his return the following year. It was too late, for when he returned, she had married. He was so disappointed he never married.

Bowstead was still in academic life when he was nominated Bishop of Sodor and Man by Queen Victoria on 13 July 1838. He was consecrated by Archbishop William Howley of Canterbury on 22 July 1838. Just 18 months later, he became Bishop of Lichfield on 23 January 1840.

He was a Liberal in his politics, signing a petition for abolition of religious tests for admission to universities, but very Protestant in his religious views and strongly opposed the Tractarians. When Bowstead was leaving the Isle of Man, a deputation of three Methodist ministers and three circuit stewards presented him with an address thanking him for his kindly attitude towards the Methodists.

He was a keen horseman and intended to ride from Liverpool to Lichfield. On the way, his horse – possibly suffering from the sea crossing – stumbled and he was thrown, though at the time with no apparent ill effects. Shortly afterwards, it became clear his spine had been injured, and for virtually all his time at Lichfield he was unable to carry out his duties.

Bowstead suffered a long, painful illness, and he was only 42 and still Bishop of Lichfield when he died in Clifton, Bristol, on 11 October 1843.

Walter Augustus Shirley (1797-1847) … an archdeacon in the Diocese of Lichfield before becoming Bishop of Sodor and Man

Walter Augustus Shirley (1797-1847), who was the Bishop of Sodor and Man in 1846-1847, was born in Westport, Co Mayo. His paternal grandfather was the controversial Walter Shirley (1726-1786), Rector of Loughrea, Co Galway. But Shirley was often absent from his parish in Co Galway, mainly due to his activities as a revivalist preacher, and he was censured by the Bishop of Clonfert and reprimanded by the Archbishop of Dublin.

He, in turn, was the grandson of Robert Shirley (1650-1717), 1st Earl Ferrers, who had also inherited a portion of a large Irish estate of over 26,000 acres in Co Monaghan.

Lord Ferrers was suggested as a parliamentary candidate for Lichfield in 1677. But he preferred a seat in the House of Lords instead, and by sleight of hand and an obscure exercise in genealogy the barony of Ferrers of Chartley was called out of abeyance in his favour.

His family tree is complicated, the inheritance of Tamworth Castle from the Ferrers family and the use of the Ferrers name in the titles is obscure, and the inheritance of family estates and titles is difficult to follow at times. The family tree is complicated, compounded by the claim that this Lord Ferrers was the father of 27 legitimate children and 51 illegitimate children.

The Revd Walter Shirley was a first cousin of Robert Shirley (1692-1714), Lord Tamworth, who had inherited Tamworth Castle from his mother in 1697. But with Lord Tamworth’s death, Tamworth Castle and the family titles were separated and were inherited by different lines of decent.

Because of these complications in the family tree, the Revd Walter Shirley was a nephew of both the 2nd Earl Ferrers, who was known briefly as Lord Tamworth, and the insane 3rd Earl Ferrers, and a younger brother of the fourth, fifth and sixth earls.

Walter Ferrers was educated at University College, Oxford (BA 1746). In early adult life, he was converted to evangelical principles, perhaps by Henry Venn (1725-1797) of the Clapham Sect. He was ordained deacon by Frederick Cornwallis, Bishop of Lichfield, in 1757, and briefly served as a curate in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. He was strongly linked with the Calvinists within Methodism, although he remained an Anglican.

The Shirley family was rocked by one of the great society scandals of the day in 1760, when his eldest brother, Laurence Shirley (1720-1760), the fourth Earl Ferrers, was hanged at Tyburn for murdering his steward. Ferrers was tried by his peers in Westminster Hall, and despite his plea of insanity he was convicted of murder. He was the last peer of the realm to be hanged as a common criminal. As a concession to his rank, the rope used for his hanging was made of silk. His body was then taken to Surgeon’s Hall for public exhibition and dissection.

Bishop Shirley’s father, also the Revd Walter Shirley, fled Ireland in 1798, but found security when he re-established a link with his first cousin, Robert Shirley (1756-1827), 7th Earl Ferrers and formerly known as Lord Tamworth from 1778 to 1787.

In 1815, through this patronage, Walter Shirley was appointed Rector of Shirley (1815-1827), a Derbyshire parish in the Diocese of Lichfield that was in the gift of the family. Later, Walter was the Rector of Woodford, Northamptonshire, and he succeeded his own son as Rector of Brailsford, Derbyshire (1847-1859).

His only son, Walter Augustus Shirley (1797-1847), was born in Westport, Co Mayo, on 30 May 1797. His father’s cousin, Lord Ferrers, supported younger Walter going to school in Winchester. He went on New College Oxford and was ordained in 1820. He acted as Anglican chaplain in Rome in the winter of 1826-1827, was appointed assistant lecturer (curate) at Ashbourne in 1827. That autumn, when he married Maria Waddington in Paris, his father resigned the living of Shirley in his favour, and he moved there in January 1828.

Shirley alienated many of his evangelical friends with his outspoken support for Catholic Emancipation in 1829. In later years, he lost more friends by refusing to support violent measures against the Tractarians.

After nine years, he moved to the parish of Whiston, near Rotherham, but he continued to hold it with Shirley for another two years later, when he was appointed to the incumbency of Brailsford, a parish beside Shirley.

He was appointed Archdeacon of Derby by the Bishop of Lichfield on 21 December 1840 and also became a prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral. He was a Vice-President of the Lichfield Architectural Society, which promoted the insights of the Gothic Revival in church architecture along the lines introduced by AWN Pugin and the Cambridge Camden Society, with close Tractarian affiliations.

In November 1846, he was appointed Bishop of Sodor and Man, an a few weeks later, on 17 December 1846, he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity (DD) from Oxford. However, because of a serious illness he was not consecrated bishop until 10 January 1847.

He had been elected the Bampton Lecturer for that year, but lived only long enough to deliver two of the lectures in Oxford before he died at Bishop’s Court on the Isle of Man on 21 April 1847, just three months after his consecration.

His grandson, Walter Shirley (1864-1937), eventually succeeded as the 11th Earl Ferrers in 1912 on the death of his fourth cousin, Sewallis Edward Shirley (1847-1912), 10th Earl Ferrers. The tenth earl, like many of his predecessors, was also known as Viscount Tamworth before inheriting the family titles and estates.

Tamworth Castle once belonged to the Ferrers family … but its inheritance was separate from the Ferrers and Tamworth titles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A fourth Bishop of Sodor and Man with connections with the Diocese of Lichfield was Vernon Sampson Nicholls (1917-1996), who was bishop in 1974-1983.

He was born in Truro, educated at Durham University, and trained for ordination at Clifton Theological College. He was a curate in Bedminster Down, Bristol, and at Liskeard, Cornwall, an army chaplain and Vicar of Meopham in Kent before coming to the Diocese of Lichfield.

He was the Vicar and Rural Dean of Walsall (1956-1967), chaplain of Walsall General Hospital, and Prebendary of Curborough (1964-1967) in Lichfield Cathedral, before becoming Archdeacon of Birmingham (1967-1974).

He became Bishop of Sodor and Man in 1974. He may be remembered by many people on the island as the bishop who sold Bishopscourt, the episcopal palace, but in 1974 the cost of repairing the roof alone was £60,000. But his crowning glory as bishop was the creation of a cathedral from the parish church of Kirk German, close to the ruins of the former cathedral on Saint Patrick’s Isle. It was consecrated on All Saints’ Day, 1 November 1980. He retired as bishop in 1983.

The stall of the Prebendary of Curborough in Lichfield Cathedral … Bishop Vernon Nicholls was the Prebendary of Curborough in 1964-1967 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Updated: 09.07.2020, to take account of Bishop Vernon Nicholls, and to change the number in the headline.