Monday 23 May 2022

The Epstein family in Walton: The seeds of a business empire (1896 - 1962) (part one)

In this blog I'm going to look at the Liverpool locations connected to the ancestors of the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, all of which are found in the Anfield, Kirkdale, and Walton areas of the city. As we shall see, there is also a little-known location connected to Paul McCartney.

80-82 Walton Road, L4 4AG

Brian Epstein’s grandfather, Isaac Epstein was born in 1877 in Konstantinovo, a small town in what is today Lithuania but was then part of a discriminatory and economically backward Russian Empire. 

Isaac was part of the first wave of mass emigration from Lithuania that took place between 1865 and 1915. Some 700,000 left during this era and whilst the majority of the first emigrants were Catholic Lithuanians, there were sizeable minority groups of Jews, Poles and Germans. 

Their reasons for leaving varied.  Lithuanians were heavily persecuted under Russian rule. The Lithuanian language was banned, young men faced being conscripted into the Russian army for up to twelve years and there were few non-agricultural jobs because of Russia’s decision not to create industry in the country. Most Lithuanians were forced to live a serf-like existence labouring for the local nobles. With the abolition of serfdom in 1861, Lithuanians gained freedom of movement but there was no accompanying land reform entitling them to a piece of land. This remained in the hands of the mostly non-Lithuanian nobles. 

Although the social standing of many of the ethnic minority groups was typically above that of many Lithuanians in that they were never serfs, they were still subject to many forms of persecution. At that time, a person was defined by their ethnicity, language, and religion rather than their birthplace. Their citizenship was Russian yet no community within Lithuania identified with it except for those who were ethnic Russians.  Ethnic minorities, and especially the Jews, had less of an attachment to a country that was as culturally alien to them as the United States, which is ultimately where nearly 350,000 Lithuanians made their home, primarily on the East Coast.  

Another 330,000 travelled to other cities within the Russian Empire, 100,000 went to what is now Latvia and around 20,000 went to the main cities of the UK, Canada, Brazil and Argentina.

The son of Samuel and Sarah Epstein, Isaac arrived in Britain around 1896, aged eighteen or nineteen and speaking only Yiddish, a product of a pre-WW1 Lithuania when minorities typically did not speak Lithuanian or know Lithuanian culture and lived very separate and different lives from the ethnic Lithuanian majority.  

His personal reason for emigrating is unknown but is likely to have been as a consequence of persecution, an inability to earn money in his own country because he had no land, or to escape conscription. 

We do not know whether Isaac had intended to make a new life for himself in America or if one of the main UK cities had always been part of his plan but within months of his arrival Isaac found work in a Manchester drapery. 

The business was owned by Joseph and Esther Hyman who had emigrated from Poland to Britain between 1871 and 1872. By the time that Isaac Epstein married their daughter Dinah in early 1900 he was running his own furniture dealership at 80 Walton Road, Liverpool.[1]

The previous owners of Epstein’s furniture business were Nicolas and Johanna Freudenstein. [2] Interestingly they were also ‘Russian’ Jews so it may be that they were known to the Epstein family back in Lithuania and acted as their Yiddish-speaking contacts in Liverpool.

In the 1891 census Nicolas Freudenstein gives his occupation as a ‘draper’, living at 49 Walton Road, a five-minute walk from his shop. Two years later an article which appeared in the Liverpool Mercury dated 4 July 1893 described him as a ‘furniture dealer’.

By 1901 his business had diversified again, and he is now a ‘China and Earthenware Merchant’, having moved away from Kirkdale to 7 Seymour Street, close to the shops on London Road in the city centre. Around 1898 Isaac Epstein had taken over the Frudenstein’s drapery and furniture business, and their vacant premises at 80 Walton Road, which he renamed ‘Epstein’s’.

An early advertisement in the Echo for a French Polisher at the Epstein’s store.

Following their marriage Isaac and Dinah lived for the first few years above the shop, and at the time of the 1901 census Rachael Epstein – Isaac’s sister – was living with them. 

Dinah was ‘with child’ for much of their first few years of marriage. Isaac and Dinah’s children were:


Sarah/Sadie b. 1901

Lazarus/ Leslie b. 25 October 1902

Harry b. 4 May 1904 (Brian Epstein’s father)

Gertrude b. 1908

Isaac became a British citizen on 8 January 1904 when he took the oath of allegiance and received his Naturalization Certificate.

Isaac Epstein’s Oath of allegiance, sworn 8 Jan 1904.[3]

Certificate of Naturalization to an Alien. Isaac Epstein, of 80 Walton Road, Liverpool...alleging that his is a subject of Russia, born at “Chavadan, Konstantinodo” and is the son of Samuel and Sarah Epstein, both subjects of Russia, of the age of twenty-five years; a House Furnisher, is married and has two children underage residing with him, Sarah Epstein aged 2 years, and Lazarus, aged 9 months.


Notwithstanding the ever-present undercurrent of anti-Semitism, Isaac quickly established a reputation among the people of Kirkdale and the surrounding areas for being honest and hard working. His prices reflected the means of those living in the locality of his shop and his business flourished, enabling him to expand his premises with the purchase of the adjacent number 82. 

Epstein was still here when he placed an advert in the Liverpool Echo which appeared on Tuesday 11 May 1915.

It read £50 REWARD. I, Isaac Epstein, House Furnisher, of 80 and 82, Walton-road, Liverpool, Russian-born and for 15 years a naturalised British subject (my wife being British born) – will give the reward of £50 to anyone giving information that will lead to the conviction of any person or persons who have circulated the untrue and slanderous statement that we are Germans.[4]

His notice appeared next to four others, worded along similar lines, on page eight in a column headed ‘Advertisements Received Too Late for Classification on Pages 1,2,3, and 4’.

What had prompted Isaac to place the notice?

As a great seaport, Liverpool had attracted settlers from across the globe. When the First World War broke out in August 1914, pockets of anti-German sentiment developed throughout Britain. This occasionally took the form of rioting and damaging property as people turned on the German members of their own communities.

At the start of World War I, most of the city’s pork butchers, as well as a number of shoemakers, were of German descent. Although some restrictions were imposed, most were permitted to continue trading alongside their Liverpudlian neighbours, many of whom were migrants themselves of Irish, Welsh, Chinese and West Indian origin.  There had always been episodic racism and anti-Semitism but, for the most part, everybody had managed to rub along together. 

This all changed on the evening of 7 May 1915.  The Cunard liner RMS Lusitania was steaming towards Liverpool when she was sunk by a German U-boat 11 miles off the southern Irish coast. 

1,198 of the 1,962 passengers and crew died as the ship sank in just 18 minutes.


Many of the ‘Lusy’s’ crew were from the close-knit Liverpool Irish communities around Vauxhall, Kirkdale, and Everton. Twenty men were lost from the Eldon Street area alone, and there were similar stories throughout the North end of the city. 

Pat O’Mara, in his memoir, ‘The Autobiography of a Liverpool-Irish Slummy’, which was first published in 1934, remembers the immediate aftermath: We walked down Bostock Street, where practically every blind was drawn in token of death. All these little houses were occupied by Irish coal-trimmers and firemen and sailormen on the Lusitania; now, these men, who, barely two weeks ago, had carried their bags jokingly down the street, were gone, never to return... 

The intensity of feeling aroused in Liverpool resulted in several shops owned by Germans in the North End being targeted the morning after the sinking.  Reports indicated that the initial attacks were instigated by the family and friends of the dead seamen, their anguish provoking a simmering anger felt across the city.  

A raging mob ransacked Mr Fischer’s grocery store on Walton Lane, smashing his windows and throwing the food from the shelves into the street. Dimler’s, a store on County Road, was attacked shortly thereafter. Even as police attempted to break up the crowd and make arrests the riot doubled in size and moved on to Spellow Lane, where three more shops were damaged. The front of Deeg’s, a shop on Fountains Road, was torn off and destroyed. That evening, nineteen people were arrested for smashing a pork butcher’s shop on Robson Street but the rioting continued and spread across the city as the weekend wore on. 

On the morning of Sunday, 9 May Dimler’s was attacked again as the violence spread to Heyworth Street, Fox Street, Richmond Row, Juvenal Street, and Mile End. On Scotland Road, a pork shop was “entirely looted.” The scenes were witness by Pat O’Mara: “Some of the women, drunk, were laughing — laughing as mad people laugh when the border line had been passed ... On the corner of Scotland Road, ominous gangs were gathering — men and women, very drunk and angry. Something was afoot; we could sense that, and, like good slummy boys, we crowded around, eager to help in any disturbance. 

Suddenly something crashed up the road near Ben Johnson Street; followed in turn by another terrific crash of glass. We ran up the road. A pork butchers had had its front window knocked in with a brick and a crowd of men and women were wrecking the place. A little higher up the same thing was happening – everything suggestive of Germany was being smashed to pieces… Everyone had a brick or a stick or something tucked under his or her coat or apron and there was much pilfering. The police themselves, imbued with bitterness, were the most passive guardians of the law… 

All Public Houses were ordered to close by 6pm. The police arrested another 48 rioters but by now the crowd numbered over 2,000 men, women and children and was beyond their control, even if they had any real appetite to do so. The trouble spread to the South end as a large crowd descended en-masse into the Mill Street neighbourhood and quickly overwhelmed the police presence. On Monday, 10 May, the Echo reported that according to official figures over 50 shops, mostly in the pork trade had been wrecked.

One unfortunate feature of the Lusitania riots was that they quickly morphed from anti-German to anti-foreigner. German pork butcher shops had been the target in the initial days following the tragedy but by Monday any butcher was fair game as well as any business that was owned - or at least assumed to be owned – by German people. 

Consequently, non-German businesses were also caught up in the destruction. This included a house furnishing business on Walton Road, owned by a Russian Jew.

101 Walton Road, on the corner of Tintern Street, 10 May 1915. 


Liverpool Echo, 11 May 1915


On the same evening that Isaac Epstein’s notice appeared, the Liverpool Echo printed photographs on page 5 showing the aftermath of the previous day’s anti-German riot. One of the wrecked shops pictured was at 101 Walton Road, a block along from the Epstein’s premises on the other side of the street and easily visible from their doorway.  

Like Isaac Epstein, the shop keeper Kaddish Abrahams was a Jew[5], and his family were Russian, not German.

It is likely that on the Monday prior to submitting his notice to the Echo, Isaac had witnessed the mob attacking his neighbour’s furniture shop. The question is, did they stop after attacking Abrahams’ store or continue their rampage along Walton Road? 

The answer may be within Isaac’s notice. If we study the wording again, he is clearly offering a reward ‘that will lead to the conviction of any person or persons who have circulated the untrue and slanderous statement that we are Germans.’ Past tense. After the event. It is tempting to conclude that Isaac was writing in response to an attack on his own shop, and he was looking for the ringleader. It should also be pointed out that the £50 reward of offer was an enormous amount of money.[6]

Liverpool Echo, 14 May 1915 – note that several items of furniture are listed among the stolen property.

As the week continued dozens of rioters appeared before the magistrate in Dale Street where they faced charges of looting, the wilful damage to property and the assault of police officers. 

Many of those standing before the magistrate claimed that they were acting out of revenge for the loss of their own people aboard Lusitania. Interestingly not one of those charged had a relative serving on the ship. 

Of those found guilty many were jailed for between seven and 28 days, some with hard labour. Others received a fine. 

Whilst the evidence that any specific individual was charged for attacking Abrahams’ store[7] remains elusive, it is known that the Court took a particularly dim view of anyone who had attacked non-German people, or their property. One man who had stoned a Scandinavian shop was ordered to pay compensation of thirty shillings and called a coward. A woman imprisoned for 28 days for being drunk and violent received a further 58 days for breaking the windows of a Russian run shop (I have not been able to find out which one). 

Altogether, Liverpool received more than five hundred property damage claims amounting to around £50,000,000[8] the majority from people of German origin, but none received compensation. Instead, the victims of the violence were taken by train to camps in Hawick, Scotland, where most of them spent the rest of the war.[9] 

Thankfully the unpleasant events of May 1915 did not deter Isaac Epstein or his family from remaining in Kirkdale. Over the next decade his business continued to expand along Walton Road, taking over numbers 62 to 66 and eventually adding 70-72 with the purchase of the adjacent Nems business in 1929.   

By the late 1920’s the original shop at 80-82 Walton Road was baby car specialist, contemporary advertisements claiming the store had 200 models in stock. 


The anti-German riots were not restricted to Liverpool. This photo was taken in London.

Whilst researching the riots for his book All Roads Lead to Lennon, author Philip Kirkland made an interesting connection between two families whose third-generation descendants would play an important part in both the personal and later professional life of Beatle John Lennon. 

The day after Isaac Epstein’s announcement in the Echo another one appeared in the same paper which read: 

£50 Reward will be paid for such INFORMATION as will lead to the conviction of anyone making the false and malicious statement that I, WILLIAM HENRY POBJOY, cutler and silversmith, of 7 WALTON ROAD (EVERTON VALLEY) am a German of foreign origin. POBJOY is one of the oldest West of England surnames, and is well-known in Bristol, where I was born in 1862. Proof can be seen at 7 Walton Road; also, old parchments showing that my great-grandfather, WILLIAM POBJOY (son of WILLIAM POBJOY) was an apprentice in the City of Bristol in the year 1775, and that my grandfather, JOHN POBJOY, was a freeman of the CITY OF BRISTOL in 1826. My wife is English, and was born in Kirkdale (maiden name ASHCROFT), and my son, who is not eligible for his Majesty’s Regular Army, is at present a sergeant in the Kirkdale Home Defence Corps.[10]

Kirkland acknowledges that while it is quite possible that both men acted independently, it may be an indication that the Epstein and Pobjoy families were known to each other and had collaborated on their respective notices, especially when one considers the timing of their publication, not to mention the similarity of the wording. Indeed, we know that Isaac’s own notice, and those which accompanied it were submitted too late to make the front page of the Tuesday evening’s Echo so it may be that Pobjoy’s was received after the paper had gone to print and was held over until the following day. As previously noted, the wording of the announcements printed either side of Epstein’s are also strikingly similar, all using variations on the malicious, untrue, or slanderous statement that we are German. 

  • The Pobjoy’s were the forefathers of William Ernest Pobjoy (born 1921) who, from 1956, was John Lennon’s Headmaster at Quarry Bank High School.
  • The Epstein’s were the forefathers of Brian Samuel Epstein (born 1934), who from 1961, was the Beatles’ manager.



A remarkable photo (taken from a tram) showing the premises of W.H. Pobjoy’s store (note the large POBJOY above the first-floor windows) at 7 Walton Road. 

Unlike many of the properties at the Everton Valley end of Walton Road, which sadly includes all the Epstein’s stores, the Pobjoy’s former shop at number 7 is still standing today and is currently a betting shop.

The start of Walton Road with Everton Valley on the right.  Pobjoy’s is the cream-coloured building in the centre of the image on the modern image. Sadly, the Derby Arms pub with its magnificent, tiled frontage has long since disappeared from the junction with Everton Valley (on the right).   

The Derby Arms during demolition. They don’t build them like this anymore.


2 Walton Road, L4

The Derby Arms stood at the bottom of Everton Valley on the corner with Walton Road.  In common with many pubs of the time the lower half of the building was covered in decorative ‘faience’, ceramic tiles, best seen on the photograph above by Frank Lenhan taken in the early 1970s during demolition.  I was quite taken with the image from the moment I first saw it in Frank’s book.[11]         

The interesting thing is that whenever a photo of this pub appears on a local history page, more than one person will mention that the ceramic tiles were bought by none other than Paul McCartney, and transported to his home in Peasmarsh, East Sussex.  I have repeatedly asked those commenting where they first heard about this, and from whom, but none of them could give me an answer. 

Thinking that the story was perhaps nothing more than an urban myth, I decided to investigate. 

Trawling through back issues of the Liverpool Echo, I came across this, from 31 May 1999. In the ‘On This Day’ column it read: 1974 - Special tiles on the walls of a doomed Everton pub were to be saved after intervention from Paul McCartney. The Beatles had played the Derby Arms on Everton Valley in their early days. 

I’ve never heard any mention of the Beatles playing in an Everton pub, but clearly there was a story about Paul and the Derby Arms as people had said. So, I went back further in the archives, to May 1974.


Liverpool Echo, 30 May 1974

This is the earliest mention of Paul McCartney in connection with the pub, and as people have commented, he does appear to have expressed an interest in saving the ceramic tiles with agents approaching the Corporation Housing Department on his behalf. 

On 30 May the Housing Committee agreed that the best offer they received from anyone wanting to salvage the tiles would be accepted and this was reported in a follow up piece in the Echo the following day. 

This report also mentions that the Beatles played in a hall near the pub in the early days, which is a little different to how it was re-reported in 1999. The nearest known venue where the Beatles appeared was Blair Hall at 162-174 Walton Road, a mile or so from the Epstein’s first store. 

It’s interesting to note that there is absolutely nothing further about this story in subsequent editions of the Echo. If Paul successfully acquired the tiles he did so without fanfare.  

We can only speculate why this pub had some sort of significance for Paul. Perhaps the Beatles went to the Derby Arms for a few drinks before playing Blair Hall or maybe it was a favourite pub of his father, who grew up in the area.  Perhaps he’s just an obsessive collector of industrial ceramic art and no one’s ever thought to ask him about it. We need his version of the story. I can see the headline now: A Knight on the tiles.

Liverpool Echo
, 31 May 1974



[1] Dinah was born about 1879 in Manchester, Lancashire, England. In 1881 she lived with her parents, Joseph Hyman and Esther, at 51 Fernie Street in Cheetham. Dinah's parents were Polish-born and her father worked as a draper. The family had arrived in England around 1872, when Dinah's sister Rebecca was born in Manchester. In 1881 the household included a 60-year-old widow with last name of Emmanuel, born in Poland, and recorded as the head of household. By the 1891 census the family had moved to Stanley Street, Manchester

[2] In the 1891 census they are at 80 Walton Road as Nicolas and Johanna Freudenstein. By 1901 they are the more anglicised Nicholas and Annie Frudenstein, with one less ‘e’ in their surname, and have moved from their former address. Thanks to Philip Kirkland for this. 

[3] UK, Naturalisation Certificates and Declarations, 1870-1916 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

[4] He had lived in the UK for over fifteen years, but the documentation proves he had only been a naturalised British citizen for eleven of them.

[5] Born on 18 March 1844, Kaddish Abrahams was a naturalised British subject. He is buried in the Broad Green Jewish Cemetery on Thomas Drive. 

[6] Around £5,480 today (2022).

[7] And potentially Epstein’s.

[8] In today’s money (2022).

[9] The author’s Paternal Grandmother’s maiden name was Rohrer. Her father was born in Liverpool and joined the British Army during the Great War, even though his parents and all of those before him were German. To escape persecution, the Rohrer’s told their neighbours they were Irish.

[10] The author’s Maternal Grandmother’s maiden name was Ashcroft. I’ve yet to look for a link.

[11] My Liverpool: The Photographs of Frank Lenhan (2007)

(c) Mark Ashworth, 23 May 2022


  1. Brilliant post. Local history, world history and Beatle history wrapped up in one. Thank you very much.

    1. The intention of this blog in a nutshell. Thank you Nicki.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Thanks, once again, for another outstanding piece of research. I always learn lots from your writing.