Henry Aarons (c.1801-1874)
by Lois Kaufman
The inscription on Henry Aarons’ tombstone reads “Erected by the Old Hebrew Congregation to the memory of Henry Aarons, a faithful servant for thirty years”. Henry was the shamash (beadle) of the congregation from approximately 1845 until his death in 1874.
Henry Aarons was born either in Holland or London in about 1801. His father, Solomon Aarons, was an established businessman living in Duke Street, London, in the shadow of the Great Synagogue of which he was a privileged member. His business interests included owning a Hebrew bookshop at 21 Duke Street, and insurance records suggest that at various times he also traded in stationery, china, glass, earthenware and wine. A descendent of Henry Aarons in the USA claims that an ancestor had been a Chief Rabbi of Holland.
Very little is known about Henry’s early life. By 1841, he was living in Liverpool and in the 1841 census his occupation was given as stationer. He married Kate (aka Kitty) Woolf, daughter of Woolf Woolf, in Liverpool in 1843. Kitty was born in Holland in about 1823. During the 1840s Henry and his wife lived in Roscoe Lane, Brownlow Hill and Back Berry Street. In the 1851 census, Henry gave his occupation as “doorkeeper of synagogue”.
The minute books of the Old Hebrew Congregation provide some interesting insights into the life of Henry Aarons, specifically his earnings. In 1845, his annual salary was £31 17s 6d, which is equivalent to £2,473.81 today. Compare this to the salary of Rev MS Oppenheim (chazan and first minister) who earned £170 10s 6d (£13,234.41), Rev R Barnett (shochet and third minister) who earned £79 (£6,131.18), and A Abraham (caretaker of Deane Road Cemetery) whose annual salary was £17 17s (£1,346.53).
In 1848, the minute book states that it was part of Henry’s duties as a doorman to light and attend to the gas and fires. As well as this, it would have been his responsibility to maintain decorum during services and ensure newcomers were received and had sight of the appropriate prayer books.
According to the minute books, in December 1853 a charge of assault was laid by a Simon Hyam against Henry Aarons. The charge was investigated by the Synagogue’s minister, the Rev A Fischel, and Henry was duly reprimanded.
By the 1870s, Henry was living at 64 Russell Street with his wife and many children. Several of these children married at Seel Street Synagogue, but most ultimately moved away from Liverpool, to London or the States. In 1873, Henry was earning £52 per annum (equal to an annual salary of £3,303.37 today).
Kitty died in December 1872 and was buried at Deane Road. On 5 May 1874, while carrying out his duties at Seel Street Synagogue, Henry fell while taking a lamp off a hook on the ceiling of the building, broke his leg and was taken to Liverpool Royal Infirmary. He subsequently contracted erysipelas (a skin condition commonly known as St Anthony’s Fire) and died on 9 September 1874, sadly never to perform the duty of shamash at the congregation’s new and imposing premises on Princes Road. His youngest daughter Rose was 11 at the time.
Upon his death, Henry’s son Jacob Lyon Aarons, aged 23, took on his father’s. According to the financial registers of the Liverpool Old Congregation, in each financial year from 1875 to 1877 the Board of the Children of the late Henry Aarons paid a sum of about £35 annually for the upkeep of the Aarons’ children.
- Jewish Chronicle Archives (available on subscription at www.thejc.com).
- UK and US census data (available on subscription at www.ancestry.com).
- Minute books of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation (held at Liverpool Record Office).
Henry Aarons (c.1801-1874): A 10.27
Kate Aarons (née Woolf, his wife; c.1823-1872): A 09.29
Solomon Aarons (their son; 1843-1846): 54C