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People, organisations and aims

The Oldham group emerged out of J. H. Oldham’s efforts to carry forward the ideas of the 1937 Oxford ecumenical conference on ‘Church, Community and State’, one of the most important international gatherings of Christian clergy and lay thinkers in the twentieth century. Though wracked by disputes, the conference issued a clear call for Christians to respond to the political, cultural and social threats of the age, particularly totalitarianism. The organisations and projects that composed the Oldham group – the ‘Council on the Christian Faith and the Common Life’, the ‘Christian Frontier Council’, the Christian News-Letter and the discussion group known as ‘the Moot’ – are introduced along with the eight-member ‘inner circle’ on whom the book focuses: J. H. Oldham, Karl Mannheim, T. S. Eliot, John Middleton Murry, John Baillie, Alec Vidler, H. A. Hodges and Kathleen Bliss. The Oldham group foresaw the need for a ‘revolution from above’ among the British political and cultural establishment, as well as a broader effort to use media and established Christian organisations to create a Christian cultural ‘leaven’ that would enable new forms of ‘community’.

in This is your hour
Egalitarianism and elitism

The Oldham group had ambivalent views about social inequality. Britain was seen as an unfair ‘plutocracy’ that betrayed the nation’s Christian traditions, and breaking the power of ‘privilege’ and reducing disparities in wealth and educational opportunity were seen as prerequisites for a more Christian society. But ‘mass’ society was also seen to threaten principles of excellence and moral and cultural standards. These tensions between egalitarianism and elitism were apparent in discussions about the need for a culturally guiding elite in a new planned society and about educational reform. The discussions around a Christian ‘elite’ or ‘clerisy’ remained inconclusive, but the group’s thinking influenced discussions about educational reform. Some group members were involved in consultations with minister of education R. A. Butler during the drafting of what became the 1944 Education Act, and played prominent roles in early post-war debates about university education policy.

in This is your hour
Nationalism, universalism and Europe

The group’s participants preferred the attachments of ‘nationality’ to an allegedly ‘rootless’ internationalism, but nationalism was seen as an idolatrous form of national identity that was most visible in (though hardly limited to) Fascism and National Socialism. The middle way here was a ‘Christian patriotism’ combining positive commitments to national traditions with an emphasis on universalism, national humility and an ‘ethic of service’ towards other nations. What were seen as distinctively British (or, often, ‘English’) traditions of liberty and localism were believed to be crucial resources for a better world (particularly after the Dunkirk evacuation and through the ‘Battle of Britain’); indeed, Britain was deemed to have a national ‘mission’ to reshape the post-war world. It was also considered how British identity might be embedded in larger imagined communities, such as Christian ‘universalism’, ‘Christendom’, ‘Federal Union’, ‘Europe’ and ‘the West’. Notably, however, interest in European unification subsided in the post-war period, as the alternative contexts of the Commonwealth and global Christianity took precedence.

in This is your hour
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Christian intellectuals in Britain and the crisis of Europe, 1937–1949

From the late 1930s to the end of the 1940s a high-profile group of mostly Christian intellectuals met to discuss the related crises of totalitarianism, war and cultural decline in the democratic West. Brought together by the leading missionary and ecumenist Joseph H. Oldham, the group included prominent writers, thinkers, activists and scholars, among them T. S. Eliot, John Middleton Murry, Karl Mannheim, John Baillie, Alec Vidler, H. A. Hodges, Christopher Dawson, Kathleen Bliss and Michael Polanyi. Among its wider circle of correspondents and supporters were the era’s most influential Christian authors and thinkers – such as Reinhold Niebuhr, William Temple, Jacques Maritain, Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis. The participants in the Oldham group saw faith as a uniquely powerful resource for cultural and social renewal, and they sought to integrate diverse Christian viewpoints, reconcile faith and secular society, and reshape post-war British society. In an ‘age of extremes’ they pursued a variety of ‘middle ways’ with regard to topics such as the social relevance of faith, the relationship of Christianity to secularity, the legitimacy of capitalism, the role of State planning, the value of patriotism, the meaning of freedom and the value of egalitarianism.

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Leisure and sporting activities

This chapter explodes the myth that while Jews were active in culture and the arts, they were uninterested in sporting pursuits. A comprehensive review is provided of Jewish activity in a range of sports. For football there was important activity in the ownership of Leeds United and in rugby league in the sport’s administration. Leeds Jews achieved proficiency at county or even national level in golf, athletics, tennis and boxing. In amateur dramatics there was a distinguished history through the Proscenium Players (which launched many acting careers) and Limelight.

in Leeds and its Jewish Community
Integration and separation

This chapter explains how the concept of identity is a complex one and not a unitary condition. Where Jews were forcibly contained within designated areas of the Pale, they conceived themselves as a unitary entity. Though they were also concentrated in the Leylands, they now lived among their new host society and so the single identity fragmented as people had to decide how Jewish to be if they wished to pursue integration. The example of the Jewish Lads Brigade is cited as a means of preserving Jewish identity while inculcating British values. The Scouts had a similar role for those who wanted a more rapid integration.

in Leeds and its Jewish Community

The final chapter falls into two parts, a survey of developments in the second half of the twentieth century and some final thoughts analysing the key themes of the book as a whole. Social mobility, economic success and residential concentration are notable characteristics of the modern community. Divisions persisted and one of the aims of the Jewish Representative Council was to speak for the diverse range of opinion, from the liberal Sinai Synagogue to the ultra-orthodox Lubavitch supporters. Much is made of the achievement of integration without assimilation and the penetration of the professions is highlighted. The case of Arnold Ziff is cited as a prime example of a major contribution to the economic and social life of Leeds, including benefactions to a range of causes, while retaining a committed Jewish identity.

in Leeds and its Jewish Community
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The Jewish population of Leeds – how many Jews?

The chapter attempts the difficult task of estimating the changing Jewish population of Leeds, without reliable census data. Before the present century, the census did not record religious affiliation. Surrogate demographic data has to be used based on place of birth; for the 1881, 1891 and 1901 census, if the place of birth was stated as Russia it has been used to form the basis of population estimates. The name COHEN is used as an additional indicator, as well as birth and death rates. The Jewish Year Book estimates are listed.

in Leeds and its Jewish Community

This chapter examines the Jewish community in Edwardian Leeds, by which time it was not just an immigrant community. The Aliens Act limited further mass migration and so the community grew naturally. It is shown how local institutions developed, such as synagogues and friendly societies. The chapter takes issue with the widespread belief, which underlay the 1917 anti-Semitic riots, that Jews were not contributing to the war effort. Numbers are provided of those Jews who served and died in the First World War. The importance of war memorials is stressed.

in Leeds and its Jewish Community

In this chapter the importance of mutual aid and philanthropic endeavour are stressed as a means of community cohesion and as a counter to the fragmentation so characteristic of the Leeds community. As with many other activities, the fellowship bodies were often associated with place of origin, later replaced by national bodies, such as B’nai Brith. The 140-year history of the Board of Guardians, later the Welfare Board, is traced with stress on the desire of Leeds Jewry to look after its own poor. The changing role of charities is explained by reference to the increase in state welfare in the twentieth century

in Leeds and its Jewish Community