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

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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.

Jason Lever
Brighton, England
November 2013.


Chapter 1 - Introducing Solomon Lever and his l...Chapter 2 - The Jewish East EndChapter 3 - A family history of Solomon LeverChapter 4 - A Jewish East End education for Sol...Chapter 5 - Joining East End cultural and commu...Chapter 6 - Solomon as a cabinet makerChapter 7 – From cabinet maker to trade union g...Chapter 8 – Rise of the London Jewish Bakers UnionChapter 9 – Dealing with the challenges of a de...Chapter 10 – Solomon’s journey to Jewish trade ...Chapter 11 – Interlude of anarchism’s appeal to...Chapter 12 – Solomon Lever finds his home in th...Chapter 13 – The Liberal and Conservative partiesChapter 14 – The Labour Party consolidates its ...Chapter 15 – The appeal of East End councils’ s...Chapter 16 – The rise and fall of communist sup...Chapter 17 – Surging Labourism after the warChapter 18 – The Labour Party’s support for Zio...Chapter 19 – Short-lived Labour-Zionist honeymoonChapter 20 – Solomon Lever’s 1947 broadcast spe...Chapter 21 – Solomon Lever’s 1948 speech from t...Chapter 22 – Solomon Lever’s 1954 speech from t...Chapter 23 – Solomon Lever’s final TUC speech i...Chapter 24 – His Worshipful The Mayor and Mayor...Chapter 25 – Family connections in the Mayor’s ...Chapter 26 – Important social issues raised wit...Chapter 27 – The adbuction of Solomon LeverChapter 28 – Discovery of Solomon’s bodyChapter 29 – InquestChapter 30 – The death of Solomon LeverChapter 31 – Solomon’s funeral and obituaryChapter 32 – The death knell of the London Jewi...Chapter 33 – An appraisalChapter 34 – Bibliography