St Albans: who knew it was a crowd puller?

By Jay Grenby, December 30, 2013

A presentation on the history of the Jewish community of St Albans at Verulamium Museum proved so popular that there was standing room only for some members of the nearly 100-strong audience, while others had to be turned away at the door.

The presentation, one of the museum’s monthly lectures on the city’s past, was in response to a request from the Museum of St Albans by an ad hoc “history group” comprising members of the local synagogues, St Albans United and St Albans Masorti, as well as the Liberal Synagogue, Elstree, originally founded in St Albans as the Beds-Herts Liberal Congregation.

The group — and the museum organisers — were stunned by the interest in the event, which attracted not only local historians but also many present and former members of the community, among them World Union for Progressive Judaism chair Michael Grabiner who was brought up in St Albans. Many had contributed documents, photos and memories that were used in the talk. Jewish Chronicle archives also provided a wealth of material.

The group’s research was performed as a labour of love. As Moira Hart, one of the five presenters, stressed: “We are not historians, we are simply members of the Jewish community of St Albans who are interested in our heritage.”

Recent graduate Edward Appleby summarised the Jewish connection with the city from mediaeval times to the end of the 19th century; Helen Singer took the audience on a stroll through the streets of early 20th century St Albans, where Jewish garment workers settled in the vicinity of clothing factories; Jennifer and Rick Taylor talked about the influx of Jews to the city from the early 1930s; while Mrs Hart brought the tale up to date.

“We were overwhelmed at just how much interest this project has aroused,” said group facilitator Jackie Gess.

Last updated: 10:45am, December 30 2013