14 July 2023

The public lives of leading
members of the Jewish
community in Coventry

Several leading figures in Jewish life in Coventry were involved in the development of the bicycle and motorcycle industry … an image in Coffee#1 in Friargate, Coventry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

I was recalling in a posting yesterday (13 July 2023) that Jacob Epstein’s sculpture of the Archangel Michael is one of Coventry’s best-known sculptures and works of public art.

When Sir Basil Spence was designing Coventry Cathedral, built in 1957-1962, he commissioned some of the greatest names in contemporary art to contribute to the new cathedral, including Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), whose sculpture is a triumphant bronze figure.

Epstein is now seen as one of the foremost figures in early 20th century British sculpture. His major public commissions include: Christ in Majesty in Llandaff Cathedral (1954); Oscar Wilde’s tomb; the façade of the London Electric Railway headquarters; the façade of the British Medical Association in the Strand, London, now Zimbabwe House; and the bronze sculpture of Bishop Edward Sydney Woods in Lichfield Cathedral.

But in his early career, Epstein was a controversial figure. When Spence commissioned Epstein to work in Coventry Cathedral, some members of the rebuilding committee objected, saying some of his earlier works were controversial. Although Coventry was at the centre of post-war reconciliation, some even objected, saying Epstein was a Jew.

To this, Basil Spence retorted: ‘So was Jesus Christ.’

But, Jacob Epstein apart, Coventry has had many important Jewish residents and citizens who have contributed immensely to the civic, cultural, social, business and political life of the city. They include mayors, MPs, writers, prominent campaigners against antisemitism, and key figures in the growth of the bicycle and motorcycle industry in Coventry.

Nahum Salomon (1828-1900), a chemist by training, was the first entrepreneur to establish a plant for manufacturing bicycles in Coventry, at the time when the invention of the spider-wheel was leading the way in the development of the modern bicycle and tricycle.

He was chair of the Coventry Machinists Company, which pioneered the mass manufacture of bicycles in Coventry. Coventry became the world centre for the production of bikes, and Nahum Salomon wrote the first book on the modern bicycle.

The ‘penny farthing’ bicycle, known as the ‘Matchless,’ was made between 1881 and 1886 by George Singer, of Coventry, for Nahun Salomon of the Bicycle & Tricycle Supply Co, High Holborn, London. It was said to have been one of the finest high wheel bicycles of the day, with a rubber suspension system patented by Nahum Salomon. It is said no bicycle suspension methods could match the Matchless until the 1960s, when Dr Alex Moulton designed and made the Moulton bicycle.

Salomon was also a pioneer in the British trade in sewing-machines. He introduced from America into England the ‘Howe,’ the pioneer sewing machine.

Siegfried Bettmann (1863-1951) was forced to step down as Mayor of Coventry because of his German birth and childhood (Image: The Public Catalogue Foundation)

Siegfried Bettmann (1863-1951) was a leading figure in the manufacture of bicycles in Coventry and later in the development of Triumph motorbikes and cars. Triumph became one of the most famous motorcycle trade-names in the world. He was also Mayor of Coventry in 1913-1914, but his German birth and upbringing forced him to step down as Mayor at the outbreak of World War I.

Siegfried Bettmann was born in Nuremberg on 18 April 1863. He moved to Britain in 1885, and would later settle in Coventry. He began working with Kelly & Co, compiling foreign directories for their publications. He then to the White Sewing Machine Co as a translator and was the company’s sales representative in northern Europe.

He was fluent in several languages, he perfected his English, and married Annie (Millie) Meyrick from Coventry.

Bettmann founded S Bettmann & Co and started selling bicycles with the ‘Triumph’ name from premises in London. The company became the Triumph Cycle Company in 1886, and a year later became the New Triumph Co Ltd, with funding from the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company.

Bettmann was joined by Johann Moritz Schulte from Papenburg as a partner. He encouraged Bettmann to transform Triumph into a manufacturing company, and in 1888 Bettmann bought a site in Coventry. The company produced the first Triumph-branded bicycles in 1889. Triumph set up a German subsidiary, Orial TWN, in 1896 to produce bicycles in his native city.

The company diversified into making motorcycles at the Much Park Street works in 1902. The first Triumph motorcycle was a strengthened bicycle with a 2.25 bhp Minerva engine. The business grew, Triumph started making its own engines, and in 1907 the company expanded into a new factory in a former mill in Priory Street.

At the beginning of World War I, the War Office called a meeting of Coventry industrialists and asked them to put their resources at the disposal of the military. Two weeks after the war began, Captain CV Holdsworth called Bettmann with an order for 100 Triumph motorcycles for the British forces about to go to France. Bettmann and his staff worked non-stop from Saturday morning to meet the order, and by Sunday evening the motorcycles were delivered to Coventry railway station in time for the evening train.

The army placed large orders for the Triumph 550 cc Model H, and by 1918 Triumph was Britain’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. Holdsworth later became Triumph’s managing director.

Bettmann diversified into car production in 1921 and bought the Dawson Car Company. It became the Triumph Motor Company in 1930, producing the Triumph Southern Cross and Gloria ranges. The Triumph bicycle and motorcycle businesses were bought in 1936 by Ariel Motorcycles and became Triumph Engineering Co Ltd.

Bettmann was President of the Coventry Liberal Association, a founder member of Coventry Chamber of Commerce, and a Justice of the Peace. He became Mayor of Coventry in 1913, the first non-Briton to hold the post. Bettmann was a naturalised British citizen, but his German origins resulted in him being ousted as Mayor of Coventry on the beginning of World War I.

The Triumph Motorcycle Company became one of the world’s most famous motorcycle marques and Bettmann retained an association with the company until he died on 23 September 1951. The Coventry Society placed a Blue Plaque on his home in 2015.

Maurice Edelman (1911-1975) was a Labour MP for several Coventry constituencies for over 30 years

Maurice Edelman (1911-1975) was a Labour MP for several Coventry constituencies for over 30 years. A novelist and the biographer of Ben Gurion, he was also president of the Anglo-Jewish Association.

Israel Maurice Edelman was born in Cardiff in 1911. His parents came to Wales in 1905, escaping the pogroms in Tsarist Russia. His father was a photographer. He was educated at Cardiff High School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied French, German and later Russian. He joined the plywood industry in 1931, and at the outbreak of World War II, he was engaged in research into the application of plywood and plastic materials to aircraft construction.

During World War II, he worked for Picture Post as a war correspondent in North Africa and Italy.

Edelman was elected the Labour MP for Coventry West in 1945 and won the new seat of Coventry North in 1950.

He later recalled: ‘I am a politician. Oh yes, I know that sounds like a confession, but when at the end of the War I went into politics, it was because, like many other men in their 30s at the time, I wanted to take an active part in building a society which would be civilized and just. I went into Parliament, and by 1950, I was an experienced legislator sitting on innumerable committees.’

He was a vice-chairman of the British Council, chairman of the Franco-British Parliamentary Relations Committee, and a founder member of the Council of Europe in 1949, president of the Anglo-Jewish Association, and an active member of the Friends of the Hebrew University. A lifelong Francophile, he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1954 and was appointed an Officier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1960.

Maurice Edelman was a prolific journalist and the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction. His novels include A Trial of Love (1951), Who Goes Home? (1953), A Dream of Treason (1954), The Happy Ones (1957), A Call on Kuprim (1959), The Minister (1961), The Fratricides (1963), The Prime Minister’s Daughter (1964), All on a Summer’s Night (1969), Disraeli In Love (1972) and Disraeli Rising (1975).

His non-fiction works include France: The Birth of the Fourth Republic, and a biography of David Ben Gurion. He appeared on the live television panel show What’s My Line? from New York in 1962. He also produced television screenplays in the 1960s and 1970s.

After boundary changes in 1974, Edelman was the MP for Coventry North West until he died on 14 December 1975 at the age of 64.

Keith M Landy (1950-2017), who was born in Coventry, was a Canadian lawyer and former national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress and Governor of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews.

Keith Landy was born in Coventry, where his father, the Revd David Louis Landy (1915-1987), was the minister of the Coventry Hebrew Congregation at Barras Lane Synagogue. David Landy became the minister of the Oudtshoorn Synagogue in Western Cape, South Africa, and later a congregational rabbi in Toronto, Canada, where he died in 1987.

Keith Landy moved with his parents to South Africa and then to Canada, where he studied law at the University of Windsor. He was the senior partner and founding partner of the Toronto law firm of Landy, Marr, Kats.

Landy was national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress from 2001 to 2004, and also served as a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress and chair of the CJC’s War Crimes Committee (2008).

As chair of CJC Ontario, Landy successfully lobbied for the Holocaust Memorial Day – Yom Hashoah – Act in Ontario. He was a delegate to the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia in Durban, and he was a member of the Canadian delegation to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference on antisemitism in 2004.

Landy received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002. The Law Society of Upper Canada awarded him the Lincoln Alexander Award in 2005 for his commitment to public and community service and his work for human rights and religious tolerance. He died in 2017.

Shabbas Shallom

The Revd David Louis Landy (1915-1987) was the minister at the Barras Lane Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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