A Jewish Hospital for Leeds

Credit: Leeds Teaching Hospitals

We are working with the Yorkshire Jewish Medical Health Professionals Archive to share the stories of the local Jewish community and their contribution to health and medicine.

In this second blog post, we will take a look at the story of Leeds’s Jewish hospital.

From behind the doors of this unremarkable Chapeltown house, Leeds’s Jewish community received dedicated healthcare for over half a century.

From a population that numbered in the hundreds in the mid-nineteenth century, refugees fleeing the violence of Russian imperial oppression swelled the Leeds Jewish community to over 10,000 by the turn of the twentieth. This rapidly expanding community cared for its own. The harsh Victorian Poor Laws led in 1878 to the formation of the Jewish Board of Guardians (later renamed the Jewish Welfare Board) with the express intention that “no Jew should see the inside of the workhouse”.

The Herzl Moser Hospital was established in 1905 on a similar principle of care from within the community. Leasing Hope Villa, a house on Leopold Street, the hospital committee converted the building into three wards with a total of eight beds, a surgery and a dispensary.

This committee was the product of a partnership between two local Jewish immigrants: Jacob Moser, a German wool merchant and philanthropist who became a prominent figure in the civic and political life of his adopted home of Bradford, and Moses Umanski, one of the very first Jewish doctors in Leeds. The two men bonded over support for an independent Jewish state of Israel and their hospital was named for the prominent Jewish activist Theodor Herzl, who had recently died.

Umanski, who came from Ekaterinoslav (the modern city of Dnipro in Ukraine), had only recently arrived in Leeds. His radical outlook was not always shared by the more established, anglicised Jewish community of the city. When plans for the Herzl Moser Hospital were put forward, several local Jewish residents denounced it, claiming that a specifically Jewish hospital would only serve to isolate Leeds Jews from the rest of the population.

Dr. Julius Friend was a notable voice objecting to the hospital. Friend was one of the only other Victorian Jewish doctors in Leeds, but unlike Umanski he was a second-generation immigrant. His father Herman Friend had lived in Leeds since the 1840s. A master tailor, Herman had been integral in establishing the relationship between Leeds textile businesses and the growing influx of Jewish migrants. It had made him rich, allowed his son to become a doctor, and prompted the Friend family to argue for Leeds Jews to become more assimilated within the wider population of the city. In Julius Friend’s view, Jewish patients were already well taken care of by Leeds General Infirmary.

Nevertheless, once the Herzl Moser Hospital opened on 15th November 1905, Friend took on a role there as an honorary physician. Umanski became the hospital’s medical superintendent and remained in the job until 1926, during which time his daughter Augusta was the first woman to graduate from Leeds Medical School.

The hospital was supported by annual or weekly subscriptions from members of the Leeds Jewish community and by 1920 had earned enough to buy Hope Villa outright, followed by the building next door. Over time the hospital expanded into other buildings on Leopold Street until there were beds for around forty patients.

The hospital operating theatre following renovations in 1951 (Credit: Leeds Teaching Hospitals)

Umanski’s successor in charge of the hospital was Dr. Samuel Samuel: the first Jewish person to be awarded a Doctorate in Medicine by the University of Leeds and one of the larger-than-life characters in the story of medicine in the city.

As well as supervising the Herzl Moser Hospital, Samuel was an old-fashioned, hands-on family doctor. With an operating theatre in his Chapeltown Road home, he once locked himself in and performed abdominal surgery on himself, not trusting anyone else to perform the procedure.

A die-hard Leeds United fan, Samuel was a fixture at Elland Road, serving as an unofficial team doctor on top of all his other responsibilities.

His time at the Herzl Moser saw it become part of the newly formed National Health Service in 1948, after which the hospital was opened up to non-Jewish patients.

Preparing kosher food in the hospital kitchen, 1950s (Credit: Leeds Teaching Hospitals)

There had been plans to move the hospital to a new purpose-built site further north on Chapeltown Road. The former Newton Green Hall estate was acquired for the purpose in 1936. The war put an end to the scheme. The land was turned over for allotments as the populace were encouraged to “Dig for Victory”. Post-war it too became part of the NHS, eventually becoming the Newton Green Wing of Chapel Allerton Hospital.

Samuel continued working as a physician and surgeon right up until his death, in a bed at the Herzl Moser Hospital, in 1957.

The hospital itself continued to operate until 1970 when its services were absorbed into the expanding St. James’s Hospital. A plaque can still be seen in the entrance to Chancellor Wing at St. James’s honouring its history and the people like Dr. Samuel who made it possible.

If you have any stories, memories or family history relating to the Herzl Moser Hospital, its staff and patients, then the Yorkshire Jewish Medical Health Professionals Archive would love to hear more from you via Arnold Zermansky (email: [email protected], phone: 0113 268 3802).