Troubador The Northern Line

Released: 28/01/2021

ISBN: 9781800460928

eISBN: 9781800468115

Format: Paperback/eBook

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The Northern Line

The History of a Provincial Jewish Family

by

Judy Simons thought to leave her grandchildren a legacy of reminiscences about her Jewish upbringing in 1950s Sheffield. But when her mother died shortly before her hundredth birthday, Judy discovered a treasure chest of papers hidden at the back of the wardrobe. Reading them, she realised she had unearthed a gripping family saga. It transformed her mission and left her wanting to know more. The resulting research took her into immigrant ships from the Pale of Settlement, Manchester sweatshops, Victorian lunatic asylums, and the horrors of the concentration camps. This was the unseen backdrop to her suburban childhood.

The Northern Line throws fresh light on a forgotten part of Sheffield history, the early days of its Jewish community and its role as a sanctuary for refugees fleeing from the pogroms in the 1880s and from Nazi persecution in the 1930s. It evokes the gas-lamps of Paradise Square and the Hebrew classes where lads lay in wait each evening to throw stones at “the Jewboys”.  

Writing about the past is like trying to do a jigsaw when half the pieces are missing. This book explores the challenge of how we can fill in the gaps. Drawing on diaries, letters, photographs and family heirlooms, it forms a conversation between generations that exposes poverty, injustice, fear, courage and triumph. It blends memory and social history to create a compelling narrative that recaptures the voices of the dead. What started out as a memoir becomes a powerful piece of storytelling about difference and survival.

Great four page feature on The Northern Line in the Sheffield Star on 6 February with lots of photographs and again on 13 February. Features were also published in the Yorkshire Post, the Leeds Jewish Telegraph and the Manchester Jewish Telegraph. I shall be speaking about the book at the MiliM festival of words on 19 April.

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Jewish Chronicle

The Yorkshire Post

Derbyshire Times

A detailed and well-written look at the history of a jewish family that put down roots in the UK.

The tale starts off in the Pale and ends up in Sheffield. The family is indeed fortunate to be in England.

We read about their customs and experiences with violence and the people escaping the Nazi regime.

As the years roll by, the story unfolds with many characters such as the sweet-toothed Auntie Rita,, clothing

housing,, the advent of television and a secret marriage,

The book is original and gives an enjoyable insight into past lives.

by NetGalley review


"Perhaps all family histories are made up of secrets and lies. Why should mine be any different?" "Lies and secrets. Secrets and lies." So many sentences and thoughts in this book captured me but this...this in my opinion is the essence of this book, along with triumphs as well. My notes for this book are so numerous...how can one sum up such power and fascinating history and people in one little review?! Judy Simons starts out in the late 1800s and ends up in current times. We follow her amazing and poignant story told in such a way it feels like having tea with a friend.

Kudos to the author for taking her family history to the next level to preserve it for her family and strangers, readers like me who are keen to learn more about history through ordinary (extraordinary, really) people. The information here is absolutely riveting. The author discovers diaries and other documents and keepsakes which cause her to delve deeply into her past, learning so much, yet leaving unanswered questions. The more you learn, the more you wish to learn! I have read so many books about Jews' lives over the past two centuries and every single time discover things previously unknown to me, such as buffer girls.

Judy Simons gives us the outlay of the land, geographically and socially, in the Victorian era and includes information on pogroms, her Jewish family's horrors as some are left to fend for themselves at a young age, placed into asylums, die as babies, face scandals, are killed in camps, live in loneliness. My heart aches reading this as these are real people. Simons' father's life especially is full of tragedy and pain. A few of my personal favourite stories (there are so many!) include the hidden diamonds, the secret marriage certificate and the vintage dinner service. As a cook it's always interesting to read about food...and there are many descriptions here, even in times of extreme poverty, stretching every single shred of food into meals.

I hadn't heard of the skating tragedy. The concentration camp stories are horrendous, of course, but I was really rooting for Harry's survival. Such sadness and heartache throughout the book. I like the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. Very apt. Ill treatment as children, losing family members, moving from place to place affected most of them so badly. A few were able to go on to live "normal" lives but many ended badly.

If you have any interest in learning more about Jewish history over the last 125 or so years written in a very personal and well-researched way, please read this sobering yet essential book. Photographs really added an intimate feel. It encourages reflection and introspection and considering our families, secrets, lies and misunderstandings in a non-judgmental way.

by NetGalley review


Judy Simons began writing her memoirs to give her grandchildren an insight into her childhood & the 1950's world she grew up in, but along the way it turned into so much more.
From bits of paper, faded photographs & envelopes containing documents tucked away in the back of her mother's cupboards, Judy started to reflect on her parents lives, her grandparents lives, and those of other family members, and found herself drawn into their stories and wanting to know more about their lives.

"Perhaps all family histories are made up of secrets and lies. Why should mine be any different?"

Overall this was a fascinating insight into one family's history over the last 125 years, and the easy to read, chatty style made it flow easily. The family anecdotes have been supplemented with extensive research, the stories behind the photographs have been uncovered and together they all blend to provide us with a fascinating & very personal insight into Jewish history that is as relevant to those outside the family & the Jewish community as within it.

by NetGalley review


This was a fascinating dive into the family tree of Judy Simons. She traces her ancestors as their Jewish faith sees them persecuted in Russia and Eastern Europe and they converge in Britain, creating new lives for themselves and building history and family here. Simons picks up most of the threads in the late 1800's and brings us, in the last chapter, into her life and times. This reminded me of a written version of the television series, A House in Time. It has that anecdotal quality, that fascinating glimpse into the many lives that go to make up the life of the woman who writes. It's a celebration and an exploration. I loved it.

by NetGalley review


This is a social history which preserves important legacies beyond the family to which it directly relates. All histories touching on the Holocaust are important and seeing the impact over generations serves as a useful insight into how such experiences shape the lives of others. I loved the details.

by NetGalley review


As the title tells us, this is the story of a provincial Jewish family. As the author began to think about her family history she began to discover more and more and realised that their story would be of interest not only within the family but to the outside world as well. The result is a wonderful chronicle of the various and varied stories that make up her family’s often difficult and troubled past. It’s a fascinating account and makes for some great reading.

by NetGalley review


I loved this book. Brilliant story - intrigue, madness, suicide, romance and history - all the essentials needed for an excellent read. I found it moving, funny and unputdownable in equal parts. Highly recommend.

by Vix M


I loved this book. Brilliant story - intrigue, madness, suicide, romance and history - all the essentials needed for an excellent read. I found it moving, funny and unputdownable in equal parts. Highly recommend.

by Vix M


Judy Simons

Judy Simons was born and brought up in Sheffield and is former editor of Sheffield Jewish Journal. She studied English at Manchester University and is Professor Emeritus at De Montfort University. Leicester. She has published ten books on nineteenth and twentieth-century literature, specialising in women's writing and in life-writing. Judy is a trustee of the Girls Day School Trust and Chair of Buxton Opera House. The Northern Line is her first work of literary non-fiction.


Judy Simons
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