Life & Culture

Family discovers Jewish roots in BBC's Turn Back Time show

Living history series uncovers East End background


Ian Golding has never really liked asking questions about his family history. He just was not interested.

“My dad tried many times to tell me about it, but like a lot of people from my generation I could never be bothered to listen,” admits Ian, who felt that “from somewhere in Poland” was all he needed to know about his roots.

As it turns out he was wrong about Poland. His ancestors were from Russia and his great-great-grandfather Abraham Weinstein fled the pogroms about 120 years ago to come to Britain. But in order to find this out, Ian had to do more than go to Somerset House. He had to don period costume and travel into the past, with his wife Naomi and their three children, Ciara, nine, Caitie, seven and four-year-old Jack, who all appear in the BBC series Turn Back Time.

The theme of the programme is the evolution of the family over 100 years of British history, but with an added Who Do You Think You Are twist for the participants who get to learn about their genealogy.

“Finding out about my ancestors was a motivation for doing the series as I know one day my children will ask about their Jewish heritage,” explains Ian, who is 39 and runs a customer relations consultancy in Chester.

“I suddenly felt it was important that they find out where I come from. But it was Naomi’s idea to do it.”

“Yes, it was,” confirms Naomi, who is also 39 and an accountant. “I saw a ‘family wanted for TV history show’ notice in the school newsletter and thought it would be an interesting experience. As a child I remember going on school trips in costume to English Heritage properties and it brought history alive for me, and I thought this could do the same for my children.”

But school trips in fancy dress quickly faded into insignificance when the Golding family arrived in Morecambe, Lancashire, where along with two other families — The Meadows and The Taylors — they took up residence in terraced houses that had been turned into historically accurate Edwardian homes.

“The children didn’t really understand at first,” says Ian. “Jack particularly had no idea what was going on, and it took the girls a while to adjust to the idea that they would be living in different periods of history for three weeks.

Edwardian Ian became a clerk for the local council and was encouraged to be a disciplinarian at home. “But life as an Edwardian middle-class father is very dull,” he notes. “I went to work, came home and shouted at everyone. My word was law, but it was still very dull.”

As the Goldings adjusted to their artificial, but authentic life in what felt like The Truman Show meets
Downton Abbey, they also found out about Ian’s family. “There were lots of photographs in our house and I noticed an uncanny similarity between myself and an elderly gentleman in a frame,” says Ian. “They had found a photograph of my great-great-grandfather Abraham — and I had never seen it before. They then told me all about his journey with his wife Kate from Russia to Mile End in London where he worked as a tailor and lived in a room in a flat with 40 other people.”

Unprepared for the information, he broke down on camera. “It was emotional — I knew nothing about Abraham’s journey. But very quickly we got to realise how hard it had been for them and worse still by 1911, Kate had died from exhaustion. She was roughly the same age as Naomi and had led a really difficult life.”

The next stage of the Goldings’ historical journey in the series was the 1930s, where Ian became an estate agent which amused his brother Mark who works for an estate agency in north-west London.
“I think there were a lot of Jewish estate agents in the 1930s,” Ian says. “But the profession was admired then as they were offering new houses which were a big contrast to the oppressive terraced houses in towns. They were selling a dream.”

His estate agent epiphany was quickly overshadowed by news of the Cable Street riots in 1933, which again he had known nothing about. “That my family had escaped from Russia only to face the British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley was a big shock,” he says. “The production company took me to a synagogue in Mile End and then on to Cable Street. I couldn’t believe what had occurred there, but I think you would be surprised at how many young Jewish people don’t know about it. Discovering all this made me realise that I need to know about my Jewish heritage and so do my children. Not being interested is no longer an option. How Jewish people have survived and fought oppression needs to be celebrated.”

During the Goldings’ last week in Morecombe, the Second World War starts and the children are evacuated, Ian is called up and Naomi takes a job, becoming an expert welder.
By appearing on the programme, Ian discovered the circumstances surrounding the family name change from Weinstein to Golding and has come to and understand the sacrifices his forebears made, “so that I can be a Jewish man living my life in Britain today”.

“It was a history lesson and a chance to understand the story of the man I have been with for 18 years, “says Naomi. “We both feel that if families don’t talk, so much history is going to be lost.”
“But our children know now and understand,” says Ian.

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