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Naomi Jacob                                                             

 

Naomi Jacob was a well-known novelist in the 1930’s. Christened Naomi Eleanor Claire Jacob, she was born in Ripon, Yorkshire in 1884.

 

Her father, Samuel Jacob, was brought up in Towcester. Born in Marlborough, Wiltshire, he was the son of a Jewish refugee, Simon Jacob. Simon had fled from a pogrom in his native Prussia which had killed both his parents. Brought up in a Yiddish speaking home, his father was a cantor in the local synagogue.

 

Simon came to England in the 1840’s, and married an English girl, Clarissa Saunders, in Marlborough, Wiltshire. He moved to Towcester in about 1857, and rented the shop on the corner of Bakers Lane (now an estate agents). The couple had 7 known children. Simon continued to maintain Jewish traditions, but allowed his wife to have the children baptised in the Anglican church. He lived in Towcester until after 1901 (later moving to the other side of the High Street), and moved south to the Edmonton area of London before his death in 1912. In the 1891 Census, he is a widower, with Naomi’s cousin Clarissa Jacob visiting him. It is interesting to speculate what Towcester made of a Jewish tailor who spoke Yiddish.

 

Naomi’s father, Samuel (Simon’s second son), rejected his Jewish ancestry, and taught at Ripon Cathedral Choir School, where he married Nina Collinson, daughter of the owner of the Unicorn Hotel in the town. He appears to have been a violent and promiscuous man, and the marriage broke up. Naomi was sent to stay with her grandfather in Towcester for a while.  The family later scattered. Naomi went to Middlesborough, as a student teacher, her father went to Leeds, and her mother and sister headed south.

 

Naomi, in an era of anti-semitism, proudly drew attention to her Jewishness. She appears to have been very attached to her Yiddish-speaking grandfather, and drew on what she knew of his experiences in her novel Barren Metal. Her Jewishness was not the only thing she was open about. She often dressed in trousers, and lived an openly lesbian lifestyle in an age where this was still a criminal offence.

 

Having contracted TB, she lived for many years in Italy, returning to the UK during the Second World War to join up, even though over age. She wrote more than 40 novels, many of which depict courageous heroines struggling against hard-drinking, miserly husbands, a reflection on her father. She died in Italy in 1964.