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)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (47) 14 July 2023

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork, is set back from Summerhill North on top of a grassy bank (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (9 July 2023). The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today gives thanks for the life and work of John Keble, Priest, Tractarian, Poet (1866).

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Scenes inside Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork (Photographs: Trinity Presbyterian Church)

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Little William Street, Cork:

Trinity Presbyterian Church in Cork is on Little William Street, Summerhill North. The church is set back from Summerhill North on top of a grassy bank. Reputedly the site was once used as grazing grounds by drovers, staying at the Grosvenor Inn in MacCurtain Street and bringing cattle to the docks.

The first Presbyterian congregation in Cork dated back to 1675 when a meeting house was built in Prince’s Street. This was rebuilt in 1717, and for many years it has been Cork Unitarian Church.

The Prince’s Street congregation split in the 1840s, between the ‘New Light’ or Non-Subscribing Presbyterians and the ‘Old Light’ or Trinitarian and Calvinist Presbyterians, who formed a new congregation.

A new Presbyterian church was commissioned by the new congregation and was designed by John Tarring (1806-1875), the architect of many non-conformist church buildings in England. The builder was Richardson of London, and the work was completed in 1861.

The church is the only known work in Ireland by Tarring, who has been styled ‘the Gilbert Scott of the Dissenters.’ Tarring was born at Holbeton, near Plymouth, and worked as a carpenter and a plasterer before studying to become an architect. He worked principally in London, where his practice was known variously as ‘John Tarring, Esq,’ ‘Tarring & Jones’ and ‘J Tarring & Son.’

Tarring was the first architect to design a spire for a nonconformist church in London, and this is thought to have influenced the Baptists and Congregationalists to begin building churches in the Gothic style.

Most of his commissions were nonconformist churches, although he had one remodelling commission for an Anglican chapel. He rebuilt George Whitefield’s chapel in Tottenham Court Road in 1856 after fire destroyed the previous chapel. Tarring’s chapel had a dome 38 metres high. It was closed in 1889 due to subsidence and was demolished later.

Tarring’s other churches in London included the Westminster Chapel, Buckingham Gate (1841), and Chelsea Congregational Church (1858-1860). He also restored Combermere Abbey, Cheshire, and Thornton Hall, Buckinghamshire. He built a large mansion block in an Italianate style at Queen’s Gate, Hyde Park, in 1860.

He returned to Devon and died at Torquay on 27 December 1875. He is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London. His son Frederick William Tarring (1847-1925) continued his practice.

Tarring designed Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork, in a Gothic style with a distinctive spire. It was built in 1860-1861 on a cruciform plan with shallow transepts, broach spire, buttresses and large windows.

The interior has a gallery to the rear, where a pipe organ was installed by the Cork firm of Magahy in 1904, and seats for a choir. The rest of the interior, with a central pulpit, no central aisle and no pillars, reflects Tarring’s work on nonconformist churches and chapels in England. Other features include the three stained-glass windows that represent the Trinity.

The spire has a distinctive kink and legend says the workers did this deliberately to spite the architect … or that it was an accident caused by their drunkenness. There is also a gruesome legend that the architect hanged himself in the tower … but this too is pure fiction.

The disused schoolhouse at the church gates is an integral part of the Trinity Church complex. This small, single-storey school was built in 1865, using the same materials and quality of building found in the church.

Most of the original features have been retained, including the cast-iron railings, gates and windows. There are gabled projecting wings, a low copper sheeted spire, limestone walls with cut stone details, gate piers, and small pane leaded windows.

Members of the congregation try to have Trinity Presbyterian Church open for visitors each weekday morning, with guided tours on Wednesday mornings.

The Revd Richie Cronin from Donoughmore, Co Cork, who became the minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork, in 2018, was the first Cork-born person to become the minister of the church since it opened in 1861.

A Trinitarian symbol in a window in Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork (Photograph: Trinity Presbyterian Church)

Mark 10: 16-23 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 16 ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.’

The disused schoolhouse at the gates of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Fighting Climate Change Appeal – Hermani’s story’. This theme was introduced on Sunday.

Find out more HERE.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (14 July 2023) invites us to reflect in this way:

Today we reflect that we cannot leave the care of the planet to the young. May we all do our bit to protect our environment and God’s precious creation.


Father of the eternal Word,
in whose encompassing love
all things in peace and order move:
grant that, as your servant John Keble
adored you in all creation,
so we may have a humble heart of love
for the mysteries of your Church
and know your love to be new every morning,
in Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

God, shepherd of your people,
whose servant John Keble revealed the loving service of Christ
in his ministry as a pastor of your people:
by this eucharist in which we share
awaken within us the love of Christ
and keep us faithful to our Christian calling;
through him who laid down his life for us,
but is alive and reigns with you, now and for ever.

The Unitarian Church at Prince’s Street, Cork … Trinity Presbyterian Church was formed after the Prince’s Street congregation split in the 1840s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org