Obituary: Dr Cyril Hershon

Merseyside's Renaissance Man: teacher, historian and French scholar


Noted for his History of the Liverpool Jewish Schools, Dr Cyril Hershon, who has died aged 81, taught in the King David School in Liverpool under its first Head Bernard Fisher, and during the 1970s was involved in the Liverpool Jewish Historical Society, helping set up the Liverpool Jewish Archives.

In 1978 he was appointed Housemaster of Polack’s House, the Jewish house at Clifton College and was the first Head not to be appointed from the Polack family. In later years he published over 40 works on different aspects of French Medieval Provençal scholarship and Jewish history, for which he was honoured by the French government.

Cyril was born in Liverpool to Dora née Davies and Abe Hershon, and was always very proud of his local roots. During the May, 1941 Liverpool Blitz, when he was four, his family home took a direct hit from a German bomber. His grandfather, who had refused to go into the air-raid shelter, had to be dug out of the ruins of the house by his own son who was a Special Constable at the time. This left Cyril with an appreciation of the preciousness and precariousness of family life.

He spent the rest of his childhood in Birkdale, in Southport, attending the University Preparatory School there, followed by King George V School. He retained a huge respect and affection for his Cheder teacher at the Southport Hebrew Congregation, Rev Morris Glazier, and credited him with the foundation of his own Jewish learning and practice. Yet it was a charismatic French teacher at KGV who instilled him with his true passion, French, which he studied at Birmingham University from 1956-1959, followed by his Teaching Certificate. He edited various university publications including the Student Union newspaper, and acted, wrote, scored and performed music for many student theatre productions. His PhD thesis from Sheffield University on the history of the Liverpool Jewish Day Schools, was later published as To Make Them English.

He met his first wife Ruth Norma Addlestone at a cousin’s house in Southport, and she supported him in a highly successful teaching career in the Midlands and on Merseyside. He turned down the offer of the headship of Manchester’s King David School, preferring the classroom to administration. Other teaching posts included St Hilda’s C. E. High School where, in spite of being the only Jewish teacher, and surrounded by an all-female staff, including several nuns, Cyril flourished under the headship of the formidable Sister Mary Grace.

He then became Deputy Head of a tough inner-city comprehensive in Bootle, where his day might start driving around the terraced streets in search of truants. When it proved impossible to teach French to some of the more boisterous classes, he would offer skills, like betting on horses or filling in a Littlewoods pools coupon.

As a teacher Cyril communicated his love for his subject with his dramatic, musical and sporting talents and was fondly remembered and admired by former pupils from all over the U.K.

An active member of Childwall Hebrew Congregation in Liverpool, he took leading roles during the 1970s in the Liverpool Zionist Council and Jewish Historical Society. As Polacks Housemaster at Clifton College, he led weekday and Shabbat services and headed the school’s Modern Languages Department. He remained at Clifton till he retired in the 1990s. During his time there he broadcast on Jewish topics for BBC Radio 4, the World Service and Radio Bristol and published two text books for GCSE Judaism.

After his retirement, he lectured in French at the University of the West of England in Bristol, specialising in medieval Provençal, its troubadours and the history of the medieval Jewish communities of the Languedoc region. In the last 25 years he lectured at the Paris Sorbonne and the Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier; was Associate Fellow of the Hilton-Shepherd Medieval Centre at Birmingham University and a research associate of the Société Archéologique Scientifique et Littéraire de Béziers, the oldest scholarly society in France.

He produced many works for academic institutions and publishers worldwide, including Faith And Controversy, a History of the Jews of Medieval Languedoc in 1999. In 2004 the French Government awarded him the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, the literary equivalent of the Légion d’Honneur, for his services to French scholarship, and in 2014 he was elected to the Association Lou Félibrige, a prestigious body of French Provençal scholars.

Cyril always put his love and devotion to his family first, and retained his sense of humour, a potent mix of his Scouse and Lancastrian Jewish roots.After Ruth’s death in 1989, he married Helen Francis Walker in 2006. She survives him, with his children Larry, Daniel and Judith and four grandsons.


Dr Cyril Hershon: Born March 17,1937; Died January 12 2019

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