Zelda Jacobs is one of the last original members of Newport’s once-thriving Jewish congregation. For the first time, she speaks to TOMOS POVEY of her life and offers an interesting anecdote on her ancestors’ experiences in the horrific Tredegar Riots.

NINETY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD Zelda Jacobs is one of the last people on earth who has a direct link to the infamous Tredegar Riots.

Mrs Jacobs was born in Cwmfelinfach, Caerphilly in 1924 to a businessman and piano-playing mother.

Both her parents were born and raised in Tredegar. By 1911 the vicinity had flourished economically, largely from an abundance of coal and iron ore reserves. Realising the vast economic potentials, Mrs Jacobs’ maternal grandparents and mother wanted to grasp those opportunities and set up a store.

South Wales Argus:

(Zelda Jacobs (left) with her sister)

She recalled: “My parents, who were called Lena and Monty Fine, enjoyed their time in Tredegar. They met there, too.

“My mum was a pianist and well-known in that area - she even played for silent films.

“Back then, Tredegar had a sizeable Jewish population - this was the same for other areas of Gwent.”

But soon a dark and twisted chapter in the area’s history would soon emerge.

A wave of discontent, fuelled by economic hardship among the population, rapidly spread across South Wales culminating in riots and, what many historians argue to be, a pogrom - a riot aimed at a specific ethnic or religious group.

South Wales Argus:

(Lena Fine outside her store in Tredegar.)

A group consisting of 250 disgruntled and inebriated miners left a pub on August 19, 1911, and decided to unleash their anger on Jewish properties.

Roughly 20 Jewish premises were ransacked.

But what happened to Mrs Jacobs’ family in the riots is certainly an intriguing twist in the tale.

She recalled: “My mum told me that the riots targeted the Jewish businesses and homes. They were badly damaged.

“The miners apparently thought that the Jewish business owners were overcharging people.

“But when the rioters came to my mum’s place, where she had been living with her parents, they bypassed them. They did that because my family were well thought of.

“My mum only ever spoke about it once. She told me that everything was fine for her and her parents. My family were lucky that they were not targeted.

“This is certainly an interesting aspect to the pogrom.”


South Wales Argus:

(Zelda Jacobs' grandfather, who had a store in Tredegar.)

The-then home secretary Winston Churchill, who described the ordeal as a “pogrom”, despatched the army to quash the unrest. But before troops reached the area, the rioters had already disbursed.

Mrs Jacobs could not remember for certain why her parents later moved to Cwmfelinfach.

But once they had settled in their new surroundings, they soon started a family of their own.

She added: “My sister and I had lovely childhoods.

"Similar to Tredegar, Cwmfelinfach was a good place to live if you were Jewish.

“My parents were orthodox Jews. I recall when I was young that every Friday night we would light the candle for the Sabbath. And as soon as the candles were lit we wouldn’t do anything. We would have people come in to put the lights and kettle on. We were not allowed to do anything manually.”

South Wales Argus:

(Zelda Jacobs with her family)

Following an education, Mrs Jacobs worked for Northern Aluminium and later moved to Newport, having married a local man, Joseph.

The couple went on to run a jeweller store in Newport.

She said: “We ran the store in Lower Dock Street. It was called Jacob’s Jewellers. It was a family business and had been there for generations.

“Our daughter later took it on, and it has since been renamed. We faced difficulties after the steel works closed. It has now been named Assets Jewellery.”

Newport once boasted a large Jewish community, largely due to the economic opportunities provided by the then newly built Newport Docks in the 1850s.

However, as members of the community began to drift to other cities and countries, the group’s size began to fall.

As a result, the congregation moved their synagogue from Queen’s Hill to Risca Road, with the latter ceasing to hold services in 2015.

Mrs Jacobs remains undeterred, however, and vowed to maintain as many Jewish customs as she can.

She said: “There’s only a handful of us left from the original congregation.

“The Jewish communities in Wales are dying out. Manchester and London are the main areas in the UK to still have big Jewish communities.

“It is difficult, but I do my best to keep up Jewish customs in Newport.”