Jewish immigrants’ lasting legacy in adopted home city 

Michael Frampton hands over to his son Jimmy at H L Brown under the watchful eye of their forfather Harris Leon Brown in November 2001
Michael Frampton hands over to his son Jimmy at H L Brown under the watchful eye of their forfather Harris Leon Brown in November 2001

Sheffield’s history as a haven for immigrants began in the 19th century when Jews fleeing the pogroms in Eastern Europe found shelter here.

From a mere handful of families in 1840, by 1895 there were 400 Jews in the city, and 500 at the turn of the century. Among them were some remarkable personalities. They left a lasting legacy.

Horatio Bright's family at Sharrow Head House

Horatio Bright's family at Sharrow Head House

Harris Brown, a watch-repairer from Warsaw, started a business selling watches to his workmates in a steel factory. In 1861 he opened a shop in the Lower Don Valley.

Determined to blend his heritage with his patriotic love for his new country, he joined the Hallamshire Rifles before he could understand the English words of command.

On Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, he joined the procession down Fargate in his carriage, from where he could admire floating in front of his (new) shop a blue and silver silken banner bearing the words,” God Save the Queen” in Hebrew lettering.

H L Brown has remained in family hands ever since, with Harris’s great-great-grandson now managing director, the fifth generation in the firm.

Sir Montague Burton, pictured in May 1949

Sir Montague Burton, pictured in May 1949

The 15-year old Lithuanian immigrant, Moshe Osinsky, arrived in England with nothing more than ambition and chutzpah. He became a pedlar in Chesterfield, selling door to door, before spotting a gap in the market for cheap clothing for working men.

In 1906 he borrowed £100 to open shops in Mansfield and Sheffield, bought some ready-made suits from a wholesaler, marked up the price by 30%, and sold them on.

He moved to Sheffield, changed his name to Montague Burton and expanded the business. His big break came in 1914 with the outbreak of war, when production changed from civilian mufti to military uniforms.

When Burton died in 1952, his empire covered 600 shops and 14 factories and was estimated to be clothing a quarter of the British male population. Today, the company trades under the name of Arcadia, the largest privately-owned retail operation in the world.

Mrs Denis Brown at H L Brown's

Mrs Denis Brown at H L Brown's

But the most eccentric of these early figures was Horatio Bright, who set up Turton, Bright & Co, which manufactured high quality dies for the Royal Mint.

In 1891, Bright suffered a personal tragedy when both his wife and his only son, Sam, died within the space of five months. Struck down with grief, he refused to allow the Jewish burial society to come near the bodies and insisted on carrying out the last rites himself.

He personally prepared the corpses of his loved ones for burial and interred them in a private stone mausoleum which he had constructed in isolated splendour in woodland he owned at Hollow Meadows, just off the Manchester Road, with ornamental gardens laid out with mosaics overlooking the crags of the dramatic moorland landscape.

He furnished the interior luxuriously and had glass panels inserted into the lead coffins so that he could sit and gaze upon the faces of his loved ones. He had an organ installed and rode out across the moors in a coach and four to spend evenings playing dirges to their remains, while his groom quietly got on with dusting the coffins.

Montague Burton Limited, Tailors, High Street, Sheffield, pictured prior to the Blitz in 1940

Montague Burton Limited, Tailors, High Street, Sheffield, pictured prior to the Blitz in 1940

Bright’s outpourings of grief did not last. Four years later, he remarried a young actress who bore him a son as a 70th birthday present. In 1906, he too was buried in the mausoleum.

This stone building, cordoned off by iron railings, is hidden in a copse of trees, whose dark, intertwined branches give it an added mystery. In the 1980s the coffins were smashed open, probably by thieves who hoped to find buried treasure there.

But Sheffield was no latter-day Valley of the Kings. Only bones and desiccated cloth were waiting amongst the bird droppings and debris. The bodies were re-interred in the present-day Jewish cemetery at Ecclesfield, and Horatio Bright was returned to his faith. The original coffins are still on display at the Kelham Island museum, less than a mile from where Bright’s factory once stood.

Workers in a huge Burton's factory at Hudson Road Mills, Leeds

Workers in a huge Burton's factory at Hudson Road Mills, Leeds