Myer Silverman arrived in Liverpool from Romania aged 16 in about 1883 and with help from friends and relatives of his father had started a business selling clothes and boots door-to-door in the working-class districts of the city. With unemployment high and wages low Myer made his living by selling his clothes on credit, collecting a little at a time each week, and was eventually able to open a shop. In 1894 he married Blanche Stern and on 8th October 1895 their first child was born, named Samuel Sydney but always known as Sydney. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records that he was born at 33 Elizabeth Street L3 but with one exception records show that from his early years until he married in 1933 the Silverman family home was at 46 Hardwicke Street L7, a small 3-bedroom terraced house (both addresses have long since been demolished for the Royal Hospital and University buildings). In the 1901 census the family were living at 13 Leopold Road L7 but records show them soon back at Hardwicke Street.
Sidney Silverman attended Vine Street elementary school and then won a full scholarship to the Liverpool Institute. Academically gifted he won scholarships for both Liverpool and Oxford Universities, choosing his home city as he appreciated the impossibility of his father finding the funds for him to live away from home. He was 19 when the First World War began and much influenced by the writings of Bertrand Russell he took a pacifist stance. Conscription was introduced in 1916 and early in 1917, a tribunal having refused him exemption from service, he was sentenced to two years hard labour. He served a total of two years and three months in Preston, Wormwood Scrubs and Belfast. He was able to resume his studies and obtained his degree in 1921. Unable to find a post as a teacher (conscientious objectors were highly unpopular) he eventually took a post teaching English Literature at the University of Helsinki. He stayed there four years and on returning to Liverpool decided to study law, gaining a law degree with first class honours in 1927. He started his legal career at the beginning of 1928 from an office at 81 Dale Street (later moving to 155).
By this time he had become involved with the Labour Party and became friends with Bessie Braddock. She recounts in her autobiography that the member of the Silverman she found the most interesting was his younger brother Ernest, a very handsome man and a accomplished orator, expected to rise to great heights in the political world. However, Ernest was, like his brother, to spend a good deal of his time in the law courts though in his case it was as the accused. Prone to acts of theft and embezzlement he would be in and out of prison all his life, eventually to die in Parkhurst Prison while serving a long sentence. Bessie Braddock also revealed that Ernest Silverman had proposed to her, an offer she politely refused.
Sidney Silverman was elected to Liverpool City Council in 1932 and gaining a reputation for political commitment and astuteness throughout the north west he gained the nomination for the parliamentary constituency of Nelson and Colne. He won the seat in 1935 and held it until his death in 1968. When Labour returned to power in 1945 many expected Silverman’s experience and ability would see him given a role in Government. This did not materialise and thereafter his opposition to a succession of party policies ensured that he remained on the back benches.
Silverman championed many causes in Parliament, notably the rights of Jewish refugees to be resettled and opposition to nuclear arms. Undoubtedly, the campaign with which he will be particularly remembered will be that for the abolition of capital punishment. He first put forward proposals for abolition in Parliament in 1948 and other private members bills followed. It was not until the return of a Labour Government in 1964 that a real opportunity came for him to succeed and this time his bill passed both the Commons and the Lords resulting in a five year suspension of capital punishment. He was to die before the suspension expired and thus did not see his aims achieve permanent status.
Sidney Silverman married Nancy Rubinstein, a musician, in 1933 and they had three children. Initially the couple lived at 12A Greenbank Drive L17 moving in 1935 to a substantial semi-detached Allerton home at 19 Ballantrae Road L18.
The Silverman home at the time of the 1901 census.
Sidney and Nancy Silverman's first home after their marriage in 1933
The Silverman home from 1935 until he moved to London in the 1940's.
There is a comprehensive biography of Silverman on the UK Parliament website which has numerous links to Hansard debates in which he spoke. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry is worth a read. His friend and fellow-M.P. Emrys Hughes wrote a very readable and affectionate biography entitled Sidney Silverman: Rebel in Parliament [pub. Charles Skilton, 1979]. Bessie Braddock makes mention of him in the autobiography written jointly with her husband Jack [The Braddocks. Jack and Bessie Braddock pub. Macdonald. 1963]. There is a short essay on Silverman by Joe Woolwich in A Century of Liverpool Lawyers [Liverpool Law Society 2002].
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