The Russians are Coming!

(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. wp_20161126_11_57_20_pro 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.platlogo

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 brother’s 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, put 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.


Seizing of Patriarch Gregory of Constantinople By Nikiphoros Lytras

Gregory was dragged from his Cathedral after celebrating Easter, and along with many Greek residents in Constantinople, murdered by the Turks.  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.


Gregory Thrown into the Bosphorus by Peter Hess

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!” a threw a bomb at the feet of the Tsar.  The Tsar looked down in disbelief before the bomb exploded mortally wounding him and 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 assassination of Alexander II, drawing by G. Broling, 1881

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.


Jewish Refugees in Liverpool


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 hisscotlandroad 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”!

nathanswedecourtThis 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

There are no records of this part of the family being in the armed forces, which is strange as Joseph and Asher were of the right age to have served

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.


Golda, Iris, and Violet Swede

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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This is a summary version of a Family Story researched by Time Detectives. You can have your own Family Tree fully researched, just drop me a line at and I can trace yours for you.  Prices start from £300 for a single surname tree with historical notes.



The Redknapp Family History Part 2; Blackwall Taverns, Smugglers, and Jewish Ancestry?

Joseph Edward Redknap  1816 – 1850? –  Sarah Pressman 1813 to 1882

270px-Harry_Redknapp_2011_(cropped)Given That Harry Redknapp has been a very popular Manager of London football team Tottenham Hotspur, who have a high London Jewish following, so much so that they are affectionately know to the fan base (both Jewish and Gentile) as “The Yids” (an epithet that has caused much controversy, given its anti-Semitic roots outside of the club), it is interesting that Harry may have some direct Jewish ancestry.  So let’s delve into those roots.

At the outset it is necessary to say that there is no unequivocal written evidence that Harry Redknapp had Jewish ancestry, but there is quite a lot of circumstantial evidence in support of the theory, and I have had some correspondence on this subject with Professor David Newman of Ben Gurion University Israel (and a Tottenham season ticket holder) who wrote an article referring to Time Detectives research on the subject for the Jerusalem Post.

So, here we go; This part of the story starts with Harry Redknapp’s Great Great Great Grandmother Sarah Pressman, it seems quite likely that the Pressman’s were descended from Jewish Ancestry.  If  this is correct then her ancestors would have been one of the  Jewish Families from Germany and the Netherlands who came to England from the time of Cromwell’s Republic and through the Georgian Period (1700s), there being perhaps more than 30,000 Jewish people in England by 1800, of whom maybe a third to hlf of the population in and around London.  The Pressman name is extremely rare in England before the late 19th Century when there was a large influx of people with German/Russian Jewish descent from Europe.   Before that the rareness of the name does tend to point towards a foreign origin rather than a corruption of an English name, such as “Priestman” or similar.

Sarah Pressman’s Father Reuben Pressman was  a Thames Lighterman from Poplar, he also was the Landlord of The Gun Pub at Blackwall.  The Pressman’s had been Thames Watermen and Lightermen since at least 1707 around Rotherhithe on the Southbank of the Thames, just six years after the Beavis Marks Synagogue was built in London, still standing, and indeed the oldest Synagogue in England.  It is possible that the Pressmans belonged to a group of working class Jewish families that had integrated with other Jewish Families and local gentiles in similar trades, many had lapsed from practicing their original religion, and found it easier to get baptisms and burials performed at the local Church of England Churches, than risk the opprobrium of the more orthodox middleclass Jewish community at the local synagogue, much in the same way that most working class Christians would not bother with the church other than for baptisms, weddings, and burials.

The other factor was that in the 1700s no Jew could become a Freeman of the City of London, which meant that it would be hard for them to work as Watermen, perhaps it was worth a not too religious family paying lip service to Christian ceremony in order to stay inside of the world of river borne commerce.  And the example had been set by Benjamin D’Israeli, elected to Parliament in 1837, who had converted to Christianity to support his parliamentary career.  Why not follow the example?

Indeed the level of integration into British Society amongst the working class Jewish community at this time was widespread.  During the Napoleonic Wars Jewish Londoners joined up en masse for the East London Volunteer Regiments, to the point where they were such an important resource that the Royal Family visited Beavis Marks Synagogue to give thanks and to be entertained by the chief Rabbi, who had given dispensation to the volunteers, in order to be able to fight in the army, to swear the Protestant oath of allegiance and on the Bible, but cleverly on the Book of Leviticus rather than the New Testament.  Unfortunately some prejudice still existed, and the visit was lampooned by caricaturists.synagogue

The Pressmans married with the Argent and the Carvallo Families (originally Carvalho, probably from Portugal) and kept their Biblically Jewish first names, with Reubens and Hannahs, Josephs and Marys, along with Levis and Solomans.  If the Pressmans had arrived in the 19th century, then we could say that they were most likely from Russia, but at the early date that they were plying the Thames it seems much more likely that they were from the Hanoverian holdings in Germany, or possibly The Netherlands, this may well explain why we find them on the River, if they had arrived from the main cities that provided Jewish immigration into Britain in the restoration and Hanoverian periods, then that would have meant Hamburg and Amsterdam, both famous for their canals and port traffic, which would have meant that the Pressmans could have arrived already skilled as Watermen and Lightermen.  Their early date of arrival would also explain their intermarriage with the early arriving Sephardic Jewish Families from Spain and Portugal.

Interestingly it was these typically Sephardic Jewish Families like the Carvalhos that gave Cockney Culture its trademark Fish and Chips developed from Iberian Salt Cod, and the Catholic habit of eating fish on Fridays, which would increase the habit for Fish and Chips when the Catholic Irish started arriving in numbers to London and living alongside the Jewish community there.

The Gun Tavern, Smugglers, and Lord Nelson

But the Pressmans come into the Redknap story before Harry’s Great Great Great Grandfather Joseph married Sarah Pressman.  A young girl named Hannah Argent had married Reuben Pressman in 1804 in St Mary’s Church Stratford in the East End.  They had five children between 1806 and 1817,

blackwall2The interesting thing about Reuben Pressman was that he was the Landlord of The Gun Tavern at Blackwall, right by the Naval gun foundries.  The Tavern was just down the road from “Nelson’s House” at the docks, the Tavern is still there, and it is said by the owners that Lord Nelson had assignations with his mistress Lady Hamilton in the River Room of The Gun.  This may also explain why it was rumoured that the Tavern was a centre of the smuggling trade on the River, perhaps the association with their beloved Lord Nelson ensured that the local naval crews helped turn “Nelson’s Eye” (a blind eye) to the activities of Reuben Pressman, and helped keep the revenue men at bay?  The secret passageway under the Pub would have helped as well.

There would obviously have been a good living from both the Tavern in a crowded Naval and Dockside area, by the tax avoidance measures of the Landlord as a Thames Lighterman. and as a potential dropping off point for contraband.  But it would seem that all good things would end, and by 1819 Reuben had died, leaving The Tavern to his wife, Hannah (Argent) with future income going to his children after his wife’s death.

Running such an establishment, and the side operations, was not something to be undertaken lightly in a violent war torn age, and within a year Hannah had married Enos Redknap, a Lighterman and no doubt an associate of the Pressmans on the River.  Bear in mind that the Redknaps were champion scullers, some of the fastest men on the river without a sail, and had the royal warrant so had friends in high places.  Enos was fourteen years her junior, but no doubt could see the appeal of a Pub owning widow with both a legitimate business and possibly a lucrative side line (albeit with five children in tow, the eldest being only eleven years younger than Enos).  But Reuben Pressman had been clever and even in death looked out for his wife, as his will specifically stated that should she remarry, no future husband would have any claim over the property and income he had left her.  So Enos could enjoy the benefits of The Gun Tavern, without enjoying its ownership.

Whatever the love interest was between Enos and Hannah, it was strong enough that almost exactly nine months later Arabella Amelia was born to the couple. Unfortunately Hannah’s luck with men was not great and eight years after their marriage Enos had also died at just 33 years of age.  Undaunted Hannah married for a third time, Thomas Melvin, down river at Greenwich in 1834, although by now she was in her fifties, but within six years he had died and left her living under the protection of Thomas Argent one of her relations,  Now Joseph Edward Redknap was the second cousin of Enos, and would have been a contemporary with Reuben Pressman, being related by marriage, of a similar age and both Thames Lightermen, perhaps the Redknaps also rallied round to support Hannah and her children after Enos’s untimely death.

Joseph Edward Redknap, the Great Great Great Grandfather of Harry Redknapp was Sarah Pressman’s husband.  He was born as the Napoleonic Wars ended, a time of celebration.  He was a Lighterman, so transported goods rather than people on the Thames.  He was following in the profession of his family working on the mighty Thames.  Although born in Twickenham, he moved down river to Hammersmith and Poplar, this was a wise move, as with the growth of Empire a legacy of the gains made from the French and Spanish during the Napoleonic Wars, meant that imports flooded into London, and manufactured goods started to flood out.  The new wealth caused London to grow massively, bringing a demand for building material, food from the Thames side market gardens, and coal for fires. The need now, was for goods transport and this had started to overtake passenger transport on the Thames as a means of earning a living.

Joseph a strapping lad of 17 built up by years of rowing and racing on the Thames, would have cut a strong figure, and the attention of a slightly older girl of 21 was no doubt quite flattering to the young man, both had lost their Father, and the loss of Enos was shared by both, as Joseph’s second cousin, and Sarah’s stepfather.  In any case the attraction was strong enough that their first child, Sarah Elizabeth Hannah Redknap (named after her mother and both paternal and maternal grandmothers) was born just 8 months after their marriage.  No doubt the wedding hadn’t been exactly planned, but Joseph’s eldest sister Georgiana and her husband supported the young couple and acted as witnesses at the wedding.

The couple were blessed with seven children, but it would seem that they both had to work to make ends meet, and this is evidenced by the fact that Sarah, their eldest daughter spends some time staying with her Grandmother, now Hannah Melvin, and the Argents.  Unfortunately Cholera and other waterborne diseases were ravaging the people of London, especially along the Thames, and the family lost two children; Joseph and Reuben in 1839.

Joseph Edward turns out to be another disappearing Redknap, there is no obvious death record for him, but he is out of Sarah’s life sometime between 1851 and 1857.  By 1851 Sarah is living with her surviving children and some of the Argent Family in Poplar, she is shown as Married rather than widowed, but there is no Joseph present, and she is living in the same household as her mother Hannah Melvin.  No doubt encouraged by her three times married mother, she remarries in 1857 to Levi Hill, and sets up home with him and her surviving children.  Levi was a Railway Labourer, and the couple lived together and occasionally with Georgiana the daughter of Sarah and Joseph Redknap, Georgiana had married William Hudson, who eventually became a Publican and had his in-laws living with him and the family.   Sarah died in 1882, in her sixties.  Descendants of Hills and Argents would live in the same road as the local Synagogue, be treated in The London Jewish Hospital, and buried in Jewish cemeteries, more compelling evidence for good strong Cockney Jewish Fish and Chip eating roots in the family.

These snippets of evidence; likely foreign origin of the Pressman name, the fact that the vast majority of Pressman’s in later years were German/Russian Jews, and the fact that the Pressmans in the Redknap family intermarried with Jewish Families and carried Jewish first names, all point towards the likely Jewish origin of this part of the Redknap Family.  Personally I think the case is too strong to be ignored.

The marriages of Enos and Joseph Redknap into the tight knit Cockney-Jewish community of the Argents, Pressmans, Carvallos, and indeed Hills, supported the family through Cholera child deaths, and multiple dead breadwinners, all held together by the strength of Hannah Argent and her daughter Sarah Pressman through thick and thin and mutual family support.  By the middle of the 19th century Jewish emancipation was well under way, and indeed by 1868 Benjamin D’Israeli, a Jew converted to Christianity for career reasons, was Prime Minister.

The most striking effect of the joining of the Redknap and Pressman families was that it moved he centre of gravity of the family from the West of London, where it had been for two hundred years, to the East of London. where it would be for another two hundred years.

And if you’re interested in sitting in the Gun Tavern at Blackwall, where Hannah and Enos plied their trade, the sailors turning Nelson’s eye to the barrels rolling by, and perhaps Nelson himself drinking a Claret or taking other pleasures in the upstairs room, then you can visit it for a pint or two at: DDTheGun-c71_medium

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