24 March 2023

The Jewish community in
Wolverton and Haversham
during World War II

An evacuee war-time Jewish community in Wolverton and Haversham used a Nissan hut on Wolverton Road, Haversham, in the 1940s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Over the past year, I have become very familiar with the Milton Keynes and District Reform Synagogue. But 80 years ago, at the height of World War II, Jewish evacuees from London, formed an earlier community in the Milton Keynes area.

The Wolverton United Synagogue Membership Group was sometimes known as the Haversham Jewish Community. Although they never built a synagogue in the area, the congregation first met at Bradwell Council School on Saint James’ Street, off Newport Road, New Bradwell.

Later, a Nissan hut was erected in a field close to the homes of the members of the community and served as makeshift war-time synagogue for a few year.

The congregation was founded in 1941 by Jewish war-time evacuees, mainly from London, who were living in Wolverton, Haversham, Bradwell, Stony Stratford and the surrounding districts.

The community was formed on the initiative of the Revd S Rapoport, who served as its minister from 1941 until at least 1942. This evacuee community became a United Synagogue Membership Group in 1941.

Among the founders of the community were members of the Aaronberg family – the brothers Sam, Lou and Bert. Bert Aaronberg, later Bert Alston, had been asked by the British Government to set up a factory in a ‘safe’ location in the vicinity of Wolverton to make uniforms for the armed forces. He decided that in order to run the factory efficiently and still keep his main factory operating in Mare Street, Hackney, London.

The three brothers, a brother-in-law and three sisters all moved between the two factories, one in the East End and one in Wolverton.

By 1944, the Aaronberg family was living at 5 Haversham Fields Wolverton. The address of the community in 1945 was 3 Wolverton Road, Haversham, near Wolverton, Buckinghamshire. However, it is uncertain whether this was the Nissan hut used by the community or the address of a community member.

Other members of the community in the 1940s included members of the Bloom, Feigenbaum, Gould and Weinbaum families, who filled offices such president, warden and treasurer.

The Revd S Rapaport was succeeded in Wolverton and Haversham 1942 as the community minister by the Revd Jacob Goldstein (1907-1993), later known as the Revd Jack Grant. He served as the minister and secretary of the evacuee community from around March 1942 until about 1946, when the community closed.

The Revd Jack Grant (1907-1993), who was born Jacob Goldstein, was educated at the Jews’ Free School and at the Etz Chaim Yeshiva, London. He served as minister and secretary of the evacuee community, Wolverton United Synagogue Membership Group, until about 1946.

Later he was the chazan-shochet to the Swansea Hebrew Congregation, followed by a similar post at Bristol. He then served the Kingsbury District Synagogue, London, as reader for almost 25 years before retiring in 1973. He died on 3 March 1993.

Shabbat Shalom

An evacuee war-time Jewish congregation in Wolverton and Haversham initially met at Bradwell Council School in New Bradwell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A journey through Lent 2023
with Samuel Johnson (31)

‘I purpose to approach the altar again tomorrow’ … the altar in the chapel in Dr Milley’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I got back to Stony Stratford late last night after two days in Dublin, mainly in the Representative Church Body Library in Rathgar, researching a chapter commissioned for a book planned for later this year.

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

Johnson led a deeply sacramental life. In Lent 1762, thinking back on his previous reception of Holy Communion, and looking forward to receiving Communion the following morning, he wrote on 21 April:

My indolence, since my last reception of the Sacrament, has sunk into grosser sluggishness, and my dissipation spread into wilder negligence. My thoughts have been clouded with sensuality, and, except that from the beginning of this year I have in some measure forborne excess of strong drink, my appetites have predominated over my reason. A kind of strange oblivion has overspread me, so that I know not what has become of the last year, and perceive that incidents and intelligence pass over me without leaving any impression.

This is not the life to which Heaven is promised. I purpose to approach the altar again tomorrow. Grant, O Lord, that I may receive the Sacrament with such resolutions of a better life as may by thy grace be effectual, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow