(To Build you a nice Orangery)
I’m a professional Genealogist and writer, and I make a point of “collecting” interesting names, whether it’s on a commission to draw up a Family Tree, or just to set myself the odd challenge, and keep my Time Detective skills sharp.
A constant source of joy to me is meeting a complete stranger, hearing a name, and within a couple of weeks coming up with their Family Story, hopefully to their delight and amazement.
I have a terrible habit of engaging people to do work on my home, and to the horror of my wife, spend a couple of weeks distracting them from painting the window frames, or building the Orangery with wonderful insights into stories from their tree, that shows how they came to be where they are and who they are, bringing to life the people who gave them both their DNA (genes) and family mythology (memes) in the process.
The latest encounter happened when we bought our house down on the soft and sunny Hampshire coast in the village of Hamble-le-Rice on the peninsula between Southampton and Portsmouth. The old conservatory had seen better days, and after checking out check-a-trade to find a builder with a good reputation in the area, we brought in The Swede brothers from Platinum Windows and Conservatories (there’s a plug for you Dan) to build us an Orangery.
Dan and Mark turned up in the cold December one with a woolly hat, the other with a Russian fur hat and set to work with their varied electricians, plasterers, builders, and floor screed layers (Dan’s father in law as it turned out), and builder’s apprentice Reece.
Hearing the brothers’ really unusual surname of “Swede” and seeing Dan in his Russian hat, on a frosty morning, for all the world looking and the brothers had just got off a Russian widow-maker class nuclear submarine parked at Hamble Quay, got my mind working. My wife spotted this, and I got the usual lecture on “…and don’t you start giving them loads of cups of tea and stopping them from working!” I assured her I wouldn’t, then of course, did the opposite, I am a bloke after all, as soon as she was out the door and off to Pilates class, I put the kettle on, and started asking them about their family.
To cut a long story short, the “Swedes” were from Liverpool, but the name obviously wasn’t so the search began, and I gradually unfolded their forgotten story.
In 1821 the Greek Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Gregory V was summarily executed in Constantinople by the order of the Turkish Ottoman Sultan Mahmud. The Sultan held Gregory responsible for failing to do enough to repress the Greek uprisings that would lead to eventual Greek Independence from Turkey, backed by such notaries as Lord Byron who travelled to Greece and took an active role in the uprising. The execution of Gregory was a typical reaction from an evil despot to a man who had failed to deliver his will.
Gregory was dragged from his Cathedral after celebrating Easter, and along with many Greek residents in Constantinople, and murdered on the Turkish Sultan’s orders. To add insult to injury, and possibly to divert the guilt for what he had done, Sultan Mahmud ordered representatives of the Jewish population in Constantinople to drag the Patriarch’s body through the streets and then throw it into the Bosphorus, which they did albeit under some duress and fear for their own lives.
In retaliation to this the large population of Greeks living in the Southern Russian Port of Odessa in the Crimea rose up and murdered fourteen local Jews, there being few Turks available to be murdered, and the Jews made an easier target. So the murder of Patriarch Gregory falsely identified “Jews” as “enemies” of Orthodox Christians, and the subsequent Odessa riots by local Greeks showed that the Jewish population made an easier and more available target to attack than the few and far between Turks in Russia. Let’s face it, if you’re a bigoted psychopathic religious maniac, you don’t want to be wasting your time searching the docks for Turks, especially when they may be armed seamen capable of fighting back, much better to show your devotion to mother church by killing a few of your placid unarmed neighbours, murder, rape and pillage the easy way.
So, thanks to a psychotic Turkish Sultan, and the frustrated anger of Crimean dwelling Greeks, there began a long tradition of “Pogroms” i.e. murderous riots against Jews in Russia. Further riots happened in Odessa in 1859, but the real series of Pogroms that had a major effect on the Jewish population of Russia started in 1881.
Assassination of Tsar Alexander II
During the late 1800s there was a rise in a pre-communist revolutionary movement in Europe, these Revolutionaries took the title of “Anarchists” and tended to be a mix of educated middle class leaders fired with a sense of social injustice and a desire to devolve society back to an imaginary simpler time of people all living together in happy communes, and the foot soldiers, usually young men, often from middle class families, or from families that had fallen on hard times, sometimes from the real actual oppressed minorities who had genuine grievances, and quite often either atheists or Jewish.
In 1880 Anarchists had made an attempted to assassinate Tsar Alexander II of Russia, which was a pity as he was one of the few Tsars in the whole of Russia’s history who had actually tried to bring about some reforms of the harsh Russian economic system that kept millions of peasants on the borderline of starvation. The 1880 attempt was unsuccessful, and the Government took precautions to protect their head of state.
In 1881, in St Petersburg, an anarchist, a young man named Nikolai Rysakov, a member of the Narodnaya Volya (Peoples’ Will) Movement, threw a bomb under the carriage of the Tsar, it exploded killing one of his cossack outriders and injuring a number of bystanders. The Tsar was fortunate to be travelling in a bullet proof carriage, a present from the Emperor Napoleon III of France, and was to all intents and purposes unhurt. The carriage had done what it was meant to, and completely protected him from harm.
The Tsar’s guards rushed in, captured Rysakov, and at that point the Emperor made the mistake of stepping out of his carriage to inspect the place where the explosion had happened. As Rysakov was being dragged away he saw one of his fellow terrorists in the crowd, Ignacy Hryniewiecki , and called out to him. Hryniewiecki shouted “it is too early to thank God!” and threw a bomb at the feet of the Tsar. The Tsar looked down in disbelief before the bomb exploded mortally wounding him, also killing and maiming twenty other bystanders and members of his retinue. An eye witness described the white of the snow covered street littered with pieces of clothing, severed limbs, broken sabres from the Tsar’s guard, and bloody lumps of human flesh.
The Tsar died the same day. This assassination brought a wave of repression from the authorities, police brutality, ironically held in check by Tsar Alexander, was now used as a tool of state, and thousands of political activists and peasant leaders were rounded up and imprisoned, exiled, executed, or simply “disappeared”.
One of the Anarchist conspirators, who hadn’t actually taken part in the assassination happened to be Jewish, and despite the fact that all the others were atheists, the Newspapers whipped up anti-Jewish feeling. Opportunists grasped on this to use it as a weapon to take down the businesses of their business rivals, and this quickly turned into an all out anti-Jewish pogrom, most notably in the South and Western provinces of the Russian Empire.
The Swede Family
The Swede family described themselves in the records as coming from Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, which was a hot bed of anti-Jewish feeling. They also claimed to have travelled from St Petersburg where Tsar Alexander was assassinated. Given these locations and the fact that they arrived in the UK sometime between 1881 and 1891, the Swede Family were fleeing the anti-Jewish violence of the Pogroms. So a bomb thrown on a winter’s day in St Petersburg gave rise to a mass exodus of Jewish citizens from the Russian Empire, some to Germany, some to the USA, and many to the UK. A pair of terrorists set in motion a chain of events that would kick-off one of the greatest peacetime diasporas in modern history, for it is estimated that up to 2 million people, fled the pogroms in Russia from 1881 onwards.
Escape to Paradise – Liverpool!
During the 19th century, Liverpool was a magnet for migrants from Europe, and indeed Liverpool accounted for more migrants passing through to leave Europe than all other ports in the UK combined. The largest number were Irish fleeing famine, followed by Jews from the Russian Empire fleeing the pogroms.
The Swede family arrived in Liverpool with little more than the clothes they stood up in. Their original name may have been different from “Swede” but many Jewish families shortened or changed their surnames to fit in more easily with the native British population. They had the additional complication of not speaking any English, but were lucky in as much as the local Jewish population in Great Britain could at least converse with them in Hebrew, or more likely the “Yiddish” dialect of Hebrew.
Most of the Jewish immigrants to Liverpool transferred almost straight away to American ships and headed for the USA. The Swedes decided to stay in Liverpool. The reasons for this are not known, but there was a huge philanthropic movement backed by the already present and prosperous Jewish community in Great Britain, and it may have been that the Swedes decided that given the help they had been given on arrival by the local Jewish community, Great Britain was a surer bet than a long transatlantic journey for an uncertain future in America.
So, The Swede Family consisting of Reuben the Father and Bertha the Mother along with their four children Annie, Martha, Samuel also called Nathan, and Israel Asher, all born in St Petersburg or possibly Poland depending on which records we are to believe, between 1869 and 1881, settled for a life in England.
Determination and Business sense
Reuben was obviously a very resourceful man, as by 1891, from a penniless position on a Liverpool Dockside in the 1880s with a wife and four children in tow, he sets himself up as a Draper and General Dealer , living with his family in Gregson Street Everton. Reuben and Bertha are in their fifties, eldest daughter Annie twenty two was working as a tailoress, and eldest son Nathan, fifteen, was working as a Hawker most likely selling his father’s drapery output.
In the coming years Reuben would become a Draper’s Hawker perhaps a downturn in his business, or maybe just an easier way to use his skills to make a living. The girls Annie and Martha marry Jewish immigrant men and settle in the Liverpool area. Bertha Swede died in 1895, leaving her husband Reuben to live with his younger daughter Martha and her husband and son Israel Asher Swede at 103 Scotland Road Liverpool, known locally as (Scottie Road). Israel Asher becomes a shopkeeper, a Grocer, but after 1901 drops out of the records, and it’s not clear if he died or emigrated. Which brings us to our Builder’s line with Samuel/Nathan.
Brush with the Law
Nathan Swede married Leah Rose (actually anglicised from Rosenblum) the daughter of Jewish immigrants to Liverpool from Poland in 1894, and in 1895 their first child Joseph was born in Liverpool, Joseph would be their only son, and would be followed by four sisters. Times were hard, and Nathan in desperation is caught stealing some cloth from his employer’s shop, and receives a month in prison for his crime. The clip from the Liverpool Mercury of 22nd February 1895 sums it up. Interestingly the reporter mistakenly mishears Nathan’s accent when he gives his address as “Scotland” rather than “Scotland Road”!
This would have meant lost wages and a struggle for employment once he was released, and in order to find a job he was forced to leave Liverpool, change his name to Samuel, and travel to Birmingham with his family where he finds employment as a Hawker of Hardware. Two of Nathan/Samuel’s children, Lillian and Iris, were born in Birmingham in 1899 and 1904.
The Great War
Since originally writing this article, I was contacted by Joseph’s Granddaughter Carol, who let me know that Joseph had won the Military Medal and Bar, so I’ve started to look further into this. Sure enough Joseph is listed as a Sergeant in the Royal Garrison Artillery, and was a recipient of the Military Medal, not only that, but in 1939 he re-enlisted when in his forties to serve in the Royal Garrison Artillery in the Second World War.
It seems that the War had other implications for the Swede Family. Golda met a “Doughboy” (an American Soldier) and fell in love. Alexander Emanual Lovold, the son of Norwegian immigrant farmers, settlers in the Wild West of South Dakota, her very own Cowboy Doughboy. Alexander had tried to avoid joining up when War started as he was a Seven Day Adventist, and didn’t join until 1918, but was awarded a Purple Heart Medal so received an injury during his time in the Army. Golda was young, only 16 when Alexander shipped back to the States, but they corresponded after the war ended and she went by ship to join him in 1922 when she was over 18. Golda shipped out on her own, quite a trip for the young working class daughter of Russian immigrants to Liverpool. Off the ship in Philadelphia she married her Doughboy, .Alexander.
It’s quite possible that their love story was frowned upon by Golda’s Family, perhaps she had run away to marry Alex without her parent’s permission, the tickets bought for her by Alex. In any case the couple settled in Sioux City Iowa, where Alexander worked in the bustling railway goods yard. They would live together relatively quietly, Golda made a number of trips back on her own to Liverpool to visit the Family, between 1925 and 1937 but always alone, maybe it was the cost that stopped Alex accompanying her or maybe her parents hadn’t forgiven him for taking their daughter away from them? She would stay for 3 months at a time before heading back to the states.
After the war ended Golda visited again in 1948, and for a last time after Alexander’s death in 1956.
The Family Grows
From a humble start the Swedes grow in size as a family. Nathan and his wife Leah have seven children between 1895 and 1919, only one child was a boy, Joseph, the eldest born in 1895. He married a local girl Ivy Ledsham, and like his siblings, it is this post First World War Generation that marries out of the Jewish Faith and into the local English working class Liverpool “Scousers”. The upheaval of the Great War had given people a different perspective on life, and old barriers were breaking down. Joseph and Ivy had ten children between 1925 and 1946, giving rise to a large extended family in the Liverpool area. In 1927 Ronald James Swede was born, he was my builders’ Grandfather.
Ancestors Brought back to life
The brought us back to modern times and a Liverpool family with deep Russian roots, and a family adventure born of persecution and hardship that had culminated in success and a Happy British Family.
Dan and Mark were surprised and happy with their new found Family History, and I was happy with my Orangery! And perhaps just as importantly, some brave but persecuted ancestors had had their stories brought back to life so that their descendants can have pride in their struggle, and a sense of achievement in how far the family had come from penniless refugees on the Dockside in Liverpool. Every family deserves to know and honour their ancestors, we wouldn’t be here with out them!
Oh, and the Orangery looks a treat as well.
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