Bread, Brotherhood and the Ballot Box: the life and times of Solomon Lever (1895 – 1959), union leader and Mayor of Hackney
Journey of a great-nephew’s research into the life of the late Solomon Lever
The story and images brought together on this website set out a great-nephew’s research into the public and personal life of the late Solomon Lever (1895 - 1959), whose life was tragically cut short in his early sixties.
“Uncle Solly” – as he was known in my family – was a Jewish immigrant to London who who rose to political and community leadership in the first half of the 20th century. He became general secretary of one of the smallest trades unions and had his plenary addresses at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) broadcast to the nation. He also became Mayor of Hackney.
I grew up knowing of his prominent role through my father (Charles Lever), who told me his memories of going to the cinema as a child with Grandpa Manny and seeing his Uncle Solly on the newsreels denouncing the re-armament of Germany from the TUC podium.
Years later, studying for my Master's degree in a dusty corner of a social science library in Oxford, I found a berth next to the TUC annals. After five months, I had an epiphany and looked up my surname in the index. Hey presto, two of Solomon Lever's Congress speeches were found in minutes and photocopied for my family.
Further inspiration came from stumbling across the wonderful, mayoral portraits on the four corridors surrounding the old council chamber in Hackney Town Hall. The Jewish, black and Asian, and male and female, faces surely form the most diverse line up of mayors in the country. And there among them is Uncle Solly, captured in oils.
This article was originally written as an essay for Birkbeck College’s Extra-Mural Certificate in the History of London in 2008. Following further research, I wrote ‘Bread, Brotherhood and the Ballot Box’ as two articles in issues 15 and 16 of The Cable (2011). This is the superb journal of the Jewish East End Celebration Society
There is more research that could be done, for example if I could track down the archives of The Worker’s Circle and the committee papers of Hackney Council, as well as delving into papers held in bodies such as Toynbee Hall and the Whitechapel Gallery.
Meanwhile, this puts what I have found out so far into the broader social, cultural and political currents of the Jewish East End, as well as in the context of national politics and international events from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries.
You can download and read as a full paper, or follow the story chapter-by-chapter. The last chapter lists all the references, which are cited in brackets in each chapter.
In the spirit of web publishing, any corrections or new information will be gratefully received, and acknowledged and incorporated on this website.
My particular thanks are due to the following:
- My late father, Charles Lever, to which this research is dedicated
- My aunt, Greta Gitlin, who provided important corrections and encouragement, as did my cousin, Gerald Lever, via airmail from Melbourne
- Martin Jacobs, my cousin, for the postings he made on JewishGen KehilaLinks
- Andy James, my friend and intrepid genealogist who tracked down Census data
- Jennifer Rockliff in the Information Service at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Christine Coates, Librarian of the TUC Collections (in London Metropolitan University) for helping me find online union related material.
- David Walker of the Jewish East End Celebration Society (JEECS), who greatly improved the articles when editing for publication in The Cable.
- Finally, special thanks to my brother, Dave Shirman, for building this website.