Almost 24 hours after the horrific terror attack in Manchester, on May 23rd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ was broadcast from Albert Square in that city.
The programme included a discussion (from 34:15 here) between presenter Ritula Shah and local interviewees. After one interviewee had described Manchester as a “resilient city”, Shah turned to historian Michala Hulme of MMU (from 38:10). [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Shah: “Michala Hulme: resilient – but every city has its tensions. I imagine that Manchester is no exception.”
Hulme: “Yes; I think if we go back historically there have been tensions within Manchester. However, I don’t want to reiterate what everybody’s already said but Manchester, you know, is a tolerant city. We’re a multi-cultural city…”
Shah [interrupts]: “But, but just remind us of the kind of tensions that have riven the city in the past. I think we’ve seen Jewish riots in the 1940s. There’ve been all sorts of incidents where communities in Manchester – I mean Manchester is no exception – but have pitted one against the other.”
Hulme: “I think in most major big cities if we go back through history, you know, if we go back to the Victorian times for example you have got a lot of different cultures coming together and, you know, and they have to work together and they have to get along and they’ve got different beliefs. And so I think yeah; there has been tensions in the past but we’ve moved on. That was 250 years ago, you know, 200 years ago. So we have moved on since then but, you know, something needs to be done. People are angry.”
If Hulme the historian seems to be somewhat at a loss regarding Shah’s specific claim of “Jewish riots in the 1940s”, that should not come as much of a surprise. We too have been unable to find any record of rioting by Jews in Manchester during that decade.
Records do however show that in early August 1947, during a bank holiday, rioting against Jews took place over a number of days in Manchester, Salford and additional towns and cities. In an article published by the New Statesman, Daniel Trilling described the events:
“On Sunday afternoon the trouble reached Manchester. Small groups of men began breaking the windows of shops in Cheetham Hill, an area just north of the city centre which had been home to a Jewish community since the early 19th century. The pubs closed early that day because there was a shortage of beer, and by the evening the mob’s numbers had swelled to several hundred. Most were on foot but others drove through the area, throwing bricks from moving cars.
Soon the streets were covered in broken glass and stones and the crowd moved on to bigger targets, tearing down the canopy of the Great Synagogue on Cheetham Hill Road and surrounding a Jewish wedding party at the Assembly Hall. They shouted abuse at the terrified guests until one in the morning.
The next day, Lever said, “Cheetham Hill Road looked much as it had looked seven years before, when the German bombers had pounded the city for 12 hours. All premises belonging to Jews for the length of a mile down the street had gaping windows and the pavements were littered with glass.””
As we see, BBC Radio 4’s listeners have been given an inaccurate impression of a seventy year-old event in the history of their own country and a correction clearly needs to be made.
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