A Century of Wurst: The history of the only
surviving tiled kosher butcher`s shop
in the United Kingdom.
by Rob Ainsworth in History, December 3, 2007
The Origins of Liverpool’s Jewish Heritage
To appreciate the reason why Galkoff`s kosher butcher’s shop is situated in Pembroke Place, an area of Liverpool that today displays very few signs of a Jewish community, it is necessary to review the city’s Jewish heritage links within the London Road and Islington areas of the city. Playing a major part in the history of Anglo-Jewry it was almost certainly the first Jewish community in the north of England.
The arrival of Jews in Liverpool can be dated from the early 1700s although the majority of Jews arrived in the city around 1900 on route to the Americas escaping persecution and the Pogroms that where taking place in Russia and Poland. The first Jewish settlers were German immigrant hawkers who settled in the area around the old Custom House near to Liverpool’s first dock. The exact date of their arrival is uncertain. They became fully established in the town by 1756 as the first Synagogue was situated in a house in Cumberland Street before the 1750s.
In 1775 a larger Synagogue was set up in Turton Court, near the Custom House and in 1789 another was opened at 133 Upper Frederick Street. By 1807 Henry Samuel laid the foundation stone of the first purpose-built Jewish place of worship in Seel Street. It was designed by a local architect Thomas Harrison of Chester and was fronted with an elegant facade of Ionic columns. Following its consecration it became the first synagogue outside London in which sermons were delivered in English. The Seel Street Synagogue became a symbol of the Jewish community’s growing acceptance in Liverpool.
The acquiescence of Jews in Liverpool and the lack of anti-Semitism in the town were noted by the Methodist preacher John Wesley in his diaries. He commented on how well the townspeople of Liverpool get on with the Jewish community. Well before they were allowed to stand for Parliament or as municipal officers, Jews in Liverpool were accepted as members of the Athenaeum, an institution they helped to found in 1797, an indication of the town’s cosmopolitan tolerance. The foundation of the Liverpool Hebrew Philanthropic Society by Moses Samuel in 1811 provided a pioneering model of Jewish charitable and educational institutions elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
As Liverpool expanded physically and economically during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Jewish immigrants were attracted to the town, mainly from Germany and Holland. The population increased from approximately 100 in 1789 to over 400 in 1810 and nearly 1,000 by 1825. Between 1875 and 1914 an estimated 120,000 Eastern European Jews settled in Britain, a Five fold increase in the Anglo-Jewish community and shifting the centre of the provincial Jewish population to the industrial and commercial centres of the North West, the North East, the Midlands, Scotland and South Wales. Most of the newcomers were shopkeepers dealing in jewellery and clothing, but a few developed an interest in banking and trade.
Liverpool’s main role was that of a major port of transmigration on the chief route by road, rail and sea stretching from Western Russia, through Berlin, Hamburg and Hull to the United States, South Africa, Canada, and Australia. The low cost and the efficiency of transport by sea from Liverpool gave it the edge over alternative continental ports and hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans passed through the city on their way westward, often as not, with the aid of Liverpool Jewry’s communal funds and facilities.
In the late 19th century Liverpool’s situation on the main route of migration by rail and sea from Eastern Europe to Canada and the United States was the primary staging post for Jewish refugees fleeing from poverty and persecution in their home countries of Russia, Austria and Romania. The vast majority crossed the Atlantic, but at least 5,000 remained in Liverpool settling around Brownlow Hill, Pembroke Place and Islington near the town centre. The wide intellectual and political horizons of Liverpool’s Jewish leaders led to the foundation in 1867 of the first English branch of the Alliance Israelite Universelle and in later years made Liverpool into what Dr. Issac Lipkin described in 1961 as “the most Zionist community in the country”. Liverpool’s Jewish Community made significant contributions to the economic and social development of Liverpool playing a large part in building libraries, institutions and businesses and several Jews became Lord Mayor. In 1863 Liverpool appointed its first Jewish Mayor, Charles Mozley the then president of the Hebrew Educational Institution. The Jewish community also developed the city’s musical heritage with Brian Epstein’s management of the Beatles and other local musicians and singers including Cilla Black. There were many other Jewish benefactors in Liverpool, for example the Lewis family who were the founders of the Lewis’ store and Harold Cohen who donated funds that enabled the Harold Cohen Library at Liverpool University to be built and equipped.
The History of Galkoff `s
Pembroke Place in Liverpool city centre is a wide busy road runs parallel with the road that was the main route to London via Prescot. Two hundred yards up the hill from Monument Place where the town’s gallows were originally situated lies Galkoff`s kosher butchers shop, the sole reminder of the once thriving Liverpool Jewish community in that area. Galkoff`s is the sole surviving property reflecting Liverpool’s Jewish and émigré links in the London Road, Islington and Mount Pleasant areas of the city that existed in Liverpool for more than Two Hundred and Fifty years.
The majority of Jewish families who settled in Liverpool travelled to the UK across the English Channel arriving in Liverpool by train intending to travel on over the Atlantic. Although many did complete their journey to America and Canada, significant numbers decided to stay in Liverpool. They originally settled in the Brownlow Hill, Coppras Hill, Pembroke Place areas as these were the neighbourhoods behind Lime Street Station where they arrived.
The property at 29 Pembroke Place was built around 1820 originally as a dwelling house later becoming furniture manufacturers and a hardware shop. It was originally situated in the middle of a Georgian terrace of properties consisting of five three-storey houses next to St.. Silas` Church. In 1994 numbers 25 and 27 were demolished for redevelopment leaving only 29 and 31 standing to this day. The property changed hands, until the author purchased the property in 1990 because the building appeared to be at risk of being demolished as it was badly vandalised and open to the elements.
The original intention was to refurbish the property and bring the building back into use as a catering business with living accommodation above the shop. Following planning permission being granted, the negotiations began with Liverpool City Council for the removal of a covenant restricting the property’s use to residential only. The building work began in 1991, but in April on that year the London Road area became a regeneration initiative zone and discussions concerning the removal of the covenant passed to the London Road Development Agency (Inner City Enterprises plc), the organisation controlling the initiative and responsible for creating considerable delays and many other avoidable problems for five years which were compounded by the demolition of 25 and 27 Pembroke Place and contributing to the postponement of the property’s redevelopment. As refurbishment work on Galkoff`s was about to recommence, the LRDA gave notification of the proposed demolition of 31 Pembroke Place. This resulted in works stopping yet again until the proposed demolition of the building was resolved. The City Council’s Property Department intervened in the matter and it was fortunately not carried out. The LRDA then arranged for City Challenge grant assistance to be refused for Galkoff`s and this was later followed by the granting of a compulsory purchase order on number 29. The CPO was not enforced, but it did result in considerable problems and further delays until the resolution lapsed Five years later.
Percy was born in Schertz in Poland in 1879, his family name was Gelkopf, but an immigration official entered the name Galkoff on his immigration visa.
At the turn of the 19th Century, Poland was annexed by Russia and Percy Galkoff was subsequently conscripted into the Russian Army serving as a drummer boy during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05. As the survival rate of drummer boys was particularly low because they were required to lead the vanguard of troops into battle, Percy decided to make an escape bid for freedom along with seven other boy soldiers. One of them was eventually caught and executed by firing squad.
Percy somehow managed to get on a ship bound for England. Penniless, unable to read or speak English and with only an uncle’s address in Birmingham he landed by ship in Hull in 1904, eventually finding his way to his uncle’s home in the Midlands. Within a short period he moved to Liverpool where he met his future wife, Bertha Grossman, who had also emigrated from Poland. He opened his first kosher butcher’s shop in Brownlow Hill in 1905.
Number 29 Pembroke Place became a kosher butchers in 1907 when Percy purchased a 75 year lease on the property for £625 from May Decima Stevenson transferring his business from the smaller premises in nearby Brownlow Hill to the thriving and well established Jewish émigré community in the London Rd area.
At Pembroke Place, Percy and Bertha had six children and brought up their three sons and three daughters over the shop.
Sydney,born in 1909,was the eldest child and followed his father into the business although he intended a career in accountancy for which he had a natural flair. But due to his father’s strong religious beliefs (an accountant, in those days very often had to work on Saturday mornings) he was not allowed to attend Liverpool University in order to follow his chosen career and was told by his father that, as the eldest son his duty was to go into the family business.
Cyril Galkoff, the second son of Percy and Bertha, was one of the youngest undergraduates at Liverpool University and become a successful dentist working from his Rodney Street surgery for more than Thirty years before retiring to Bournemouth. His claim to fame was that he was asked by Brian Epstein to undertake the dental work of the Beatles and Cilla Black to name but a few of Mr Epstein’s stable of young stars. At the outbreak of World War Two he joined the Royal Air force and became a Squadron Leader Surgical Specialist, mainly involved with the facial reconstruction of injured pilots and flight crew. As with many Jewish veterans he had to change his name in case of capture. Following his retirement to Bournemouth he became an accomplished amateur sculpture, Cyril Galkoff died in 2006. Leon the youngest songraduated with honours in Law from Cambridge University.
In 1928 Percy expanded the business to Wallasey and Sydney took over the running of the shop in 1931 living there with his bride Celia, until the shop and their home in Liscard Road were bombed in 1940. Sydney took early retirement from the butcher business in 1963 and joined his wife at Peter Hamilton Fashions in Lord Street, Southport until they both finally retired in 1973. Percy retired to Melling Road, Southport. The freehold of the premises was sold shortly afterwards by Liverpool city council and the new owner began converting the property into a single dwelling.
Percy Galkoff made a variety of kosher foods on the premises, such as smoked wurst and also kept chickens in the rear yard. The chickens were delivered daily from local farms then sent to the local slaughterhouse in Islington to be killed by the Shochet (The person who performs the killing)and then later returned to the shop for sale. The under croft area at the rear of the basement has two sandstone steps leading up to the yard. The freshly dispatched chickens were hung from two iron rails to be bled, subsequently the sandstone steps absorbed the blood over the Seventy years and today still secrete chicken blood on wet days.
The high quality products sold attracted much business not only from Jews but also the local non-Jewish communities, especially the fresh chickens no doubt.
The basement was equipped for the manufacture of wurst and cooked meats.
Galkoffs also had the exclusive mandate to supply kosher foods to the passenger ships of the White Star Line, Cunard and other well-known shipping companies that sailed between Liverpool and America, transporting Jewish immigrants from Europe to the New World.
Galkoff`s was not the only kosher butcher serving the community but it had a number of innovative features such as being the first domestic butcher shop in the city to install a walk-in cold room, some indication of the business success. It was cooled using large blocks of ice, supplied daily by the Liverpool Ice Company situated in Queens Square. The original refrigerator has long since gone. The Distinctive tiled shop facade was supplied and fitted by Tomkinson’s a long established Liverpool firm of builders responsible for constructing several Liverpool buildings including St Georges Hall. Tomkinsons did not usually undertake small contracts but carried out the work on the facade for Percy Galkoff as he was a friend of Mr Tomkinson and his wife so it was done as a special favour to him.
John Stubbs and Sons the marble company of Crown Street Liverpool, supplied the 3in thick white Italian marble butcher’s slabs in the shop that are still in situ. The company also supplied the marble fittings to transatlantic liners and also provided much of the finishing’s and monuments of the Mersey Road Tunnel, Queensway.
The unique green tiled façade dates from the 1930’s and is of particular architectural and cultural importance as it is one of the last remaining buildings in the city to bear witness to a once thriving community in this neighbourhood. Incidentally Liverpool’s last kosher butchers sadly closed its doors in 2007 and customers now have to travel to Manchester and Leeds for their kosher meats.
The premises remained in the ownership of the Galkoff`s family for Seventy Two years until the lease was sold back to Liverpool City Council in 1979 for £100 following Sydney’s retirement to Southport and the subsequent closure of the business.
Note: In the Jewish community birds and mammals that are to be eaten are slaughtered according to Jewish law (Deut. 12:21). Jews may not eat animals that died of natural causes (Deut. 14:21) or eat animals killed by other animals. No flaws or diseases must be present in the animals. These restrictions do not apply to fish; only to the flocks and herds (Num. 11:22).
This article is dedicated to the memory of my late friends Mr Cyril Galkoff and Dr Cecil Moss to whom I will always be grateful for their kind assistance, encouragement and support in my efforts to retain Galkoff`s for future generations to appreciate.
Table (a) Jewish Population Data
- 1750 – Earliest Jewish Community in Liverpool
- 1895 – 5,000 (The Jewish Year Book 1896)
- 1934 – 7,000 (The Jewish Year Book 1935)
- 1945 – 7,500 (The Jewish Year Book 1946)
- 1965- 7,500 (The Jewish Year Book 1956)
- 1976 – 6,500 (The Jewish Year Book 1977)
- 1980 – 5,950 (The Jewish Year Book 1981)
- 1990 – 5,000 (The Jewish Year Book 1991)
- 1992 – 4,000 (The Jewish Year Book 1993)
- 1998 – 3,000 (The Jewish Year Book 1999)
- 2004 – 2,698 (The Jewish Year Book 2005)
I hope you were not only educated but also entertained by this fascinating historical article. :)
The original can be found at ~ Percy Galkoff: A Liverpool Kosher Butcher