“The other thing that comes back to memory is the number of Jewish shops that we had in Edinburgh. We had three butchers, we don’t even have one now and we had four different grocer’s shops. We don’t have any now. And I do remember going with my mother as a small child and one of the assistants, Betty Franklin, used to sit me up on the biscuit box and the highlight was to get a Jacobs Club Biscuit. Of course, across the road from one of the butchers was a chip shop, a Jewish chip shop, and all the kids used to go to get chips for a penny.” Anita Mendelssohn
Over 230 years of Jewish life in Edinburgh is revealed through the topographical recording of the city. Homes and businesses are mapped, revealing changes both in economic status and in profession. Beginning with the earliest documented Jewish settlers living around Canongate, three distinct areas of activity then become apparent: Leith, Dalry and the streets around the University of Edinburgh – the synagogue being the axis for each community. After World War I, the population shift to Edinburgh’s southern suburbs is traced, highlighted by the construction of the new synagogue in Salisbury Road in 1932.
Click here to download full street by street information (1894 – 1969) in a printable pdf format.
Map section showing Calton Hill observatory & Jewish burial grounds. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland. Click on the icon lower right to explore at full resolution.
Alphonse Louis Reis (Liverpool 1860 – . Aberdeen 1940)Like other members of his family, Alphonse was a jeweller, watchmaker and optician. He owned shops in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. By 1894 his businesses in Edinburgh are listed at 8 and 10 Leith Street and 36 South Bridge, the latter address enabling Reis to target a wealthier clientele compared to the Leith businesses. Reis was one of a number of Jews with well-established and successful businesses in Edinburgh, at a time when the city was absorbing significant numbers of migrants, leaving their home countries in response to the recurrent pogroms which began in Russia in 1882. His prosperity can be traced on the map, which reveals the locations of his businesses and homes. In Edinburgh, Reis was a Justice of the Peace. On relocating to London, he became a Freeman of the City of London. He also volunteered as Treasurer for the Edinburgh branch of the Orphan Aid Society, established due to the increasing number of Jewish orphans in the city. In 1860, sixty children were registered, rising by 1911 to over 400 in number.Marian Dugan, Reis’s first wife, converted to Judaism on marriage and had seven children. None followed their father into the family business. Instead they all gained professional qualifications in Edinburgh before leaving the city. This family demonstrates the dramatic change achieved in both education and social status in one generation: from trader to professional, from working in a typically “Jewish business” in locations surrounded by other Jewish-owned businesses to practicing diverse occupations across the world. (Image courtesy of the family of A. Louis Reis.)
The Seftor Family. Seftor was a well-known name in Edinburgh due to their successful furrier business spanning three generations. The original premises were at 9 Gillespie Place where twenty-four year old Bertram Seftor founded the business in 1912. He arrived in Edinburgh from London two years earlier and was employed by the famous Princes Street furriers Russ & Winkler. Forced to close the business at the outbreak of World War I, Bertram re-opened the shop on his return from active service. In 1932 Bertram’s son Arnold, aged sixteen, joined the business which was by then flourishing at 97 and 99 Shandwick Place. After World War II, reflecting the major shift in the Jewish population to the southern suburbs, Arnold moved his premises to Marchmont Crescent, where he was joined by his son Brian in 1964. Both Brian’s wife Moira and mother Renée (pictured 1965) worked in the shop. The business still flourishes in Edinburgh today. (Image courtesy of the Seftor Family.)
Goldberg’s Department Store opened in 1960 at High Riggs Edinburgh. It was a modernist building in design, intended to be the focal point in a new road system for Tollcross, but the redevelopment was not realised. An imposing five floor building, copper sculptures flanked either side of the entrance, whilst the roof garden with restaurant and menagerie seemed to be the highlight of recollections of visits to the store. Goldberg’s finally closed and was demolished in 1996. Bank of Scotland Offices now occupy the site. (Image courtesy of Patricia Scoular)
The first Jewish burial ground in Scotland was located at Braid Place, now Sciennes House Place. Twenty-nine burials took place between 1790-1867. David Daiches records in “The Jew in Scotland” that Glasgow Jews brought their dead to Braid Place for burial until they acquired a burial place of their own. When the cemetery became full land was acquired in Echo Bank Cemetery, now Newington Cemetery. Click on the icon lower right to explore at full resolution.