We have stopped here to mark another step in Jewish migration into the city. As the community expanded in the years between 1880 and 1914, the years of the great westward migration of Jews from Eastern Europe, the Southside of the city became the place of residence for most recent immigrants. Here on the Pleasance, where we turn into the Richmond Street area, we are standing on the threshold to what one resident described in his memoirs as ‘The Happy Land’. The possibility of irony in this designation was not lost on Howard Denton, who was born here in 1914 as Hyman Zoltie. Bustling with people, the soundscape would have largely yielded Yiddish accents, most immigrants hailing from the Lithuanian part of the Russian Empire. For Denton ‘The Happy Land’ largely signified closeness and familiarity, living peacefully side-by-side with the indigenous Scottish population. Richmond Street, St Leonards, Dumbiedykes and the Pleasance was a home in which many adults remained all day, conducting their professional lives close to home, or to which they returned from their train journeys as travelling salesmen. For others, the area around the Pleasance which we now enter was a slum, many residents living in poverty. Henry Littlejohn in his report on the Sanitary conditions of the City described the main street – the Pleasance – as ‘no longer a great thoroughfare, but lined with wretched tenements which accounts for the high death rate’.
In the 1891, 1901 and 1911 Censuses we find the Rudom Family (originally Rudamanskie) at different addresses on the Pleasance. The couple arrived in Scotland from Suvalky around 1890. Suwałki Gubernia (Сувальская Губения) was one of the ten governmental districts of the Russian ‘Kingdom of Poland’. Since World War I, the northern part is in Lithuania, and the southern part in Poland. We shall find that many of the Jews arriving in Edinburgh between 1880 and 1914 came from the area of Suvalky. Jacob worked as a travelling salesman, or a ‘trebbler’, one of the few distinctly Scottish Yiddishisms. Polly Rudom (neé Zavetzkie) gave birth to 9 children between 1891 and 1910, one born in Leven in Fife in 1908. We have records of only one child having died in this family – a better than average survival rate. The commonest causes of death among children were bronchitis and infectious diseases such as whooping cough or scarlet fever.
In the second half of the twentieth century, city planning changed this part of town such that the street layout and the buildings are largely no longer those found here in the early part of the twentieth century.
For more information on the development of the Jewish community in Edinburgh see: https://jewishstudies.div.ed.ac.uk/exhibition/global-conflict/