From Rags to Riches…an epic even Catherine Cookson would have been proud of.

Earlier this year we had a call to offer the museum the golden balls sign from Zermansky’s pawnbrokers and we jumped at the chance. These have been donated to the museum by Stewart and Michael Manning, the sons of the late Pearl and Cyril Manning who ran Zermansky’s on North Street, Leeds, for many years until it closed 1981. The balls are currently being refurbished and will be installed above the pawnbroker’s shop display at Abbey House Museum in the autumn.

Following on from this, Stewart Manning has also donated a fascinating collection of objects, photographs and documents relating to the shop and the Zermansky family. This collection has been catalogued and researched by Helen Shelley, a student placement from Leeds Trinity University College:

The arrival of the patriarch, Harris and his wife Shaina (Jane) in 1902 marked the beginning of the Zermansky family’s presence in Leeds.


From humble beginnings in the then less than salubrious Burmantofts area, Harris and Jane embarked on a journey of expansion that would first see the ownership of a small grocers shop in 1902 to be followed by the opening of a bakery in 1915. However, it was not until 1920, with the opening of a pawnbroker business, that the family made their mark and become one of the prominent names amongst the Jewish community.


I had the pleasure of handling many items that were of interest to me but for the purpose of this blog I will limit these to the various wedding photographs included within the collection.

The donor’s maternal grandparents on their wedding day in 1923.



The donor’s parents on their wedding day in 1948. 



The donor’s wedding photograph of 1978. 

I have chosen to highlight these three photographs as it was through these that I was able to see not only the changing fashions and the influence affluence had with donor family, but also a change in the social constraints society placed on individuals. The very strict and sombre early photographs were in complete contrast to the relaxed and informal photograph of the donor’s wedding.



Enhancing the very Jewish nature of the collection were items such as a bar mitzvah scrapbook which included the donor’s speech and congratulatory telegrams, bar mitzvah invitations and several ‘Grace Before Meals’ booklets. This is a very definitive Jewish tradition which also occurs at weddings and the presence of both a bar mitzvah and a wedding booklet amongst the collection, will provide historical evidence to the different focus and importance of prayer at these major religious events.

Posted by Kitty Ross, curator of Leeds History, and Helen Shelley, from Leeds Trinity University College www.leedstrinity.ac.uk/

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