THE RISE OF PROVINCIAL JEWRY
(The Early Communities - Section 2 - Canterbury to Edinburgh)
Legend speaks of the Canterbury community as being the second oldest in England, dating back to the seventeenth century. According to the account in the Jewish Chronicle in 1845 the community had been founded 'upwards of a century,' and the statement is repeated in a letter published in The Voice of Jacob on 22nd May 1846. I possess the will of Israel Jacob, apothecary, of that city, dated 1692; but there is every reason to believe that he was not a Jew, and the origins of the community are probably to be looked for some half a century after this date.(i) Definite data are however available only from 1760, in which year, on 3rd March, the 99-year lease of the burial-ground was granted to Solomon Emmanuel. (This document is not preserved, but is referred to in the title-deeds of 1807, preserved in the muniments of the United Synagogue, London). Three years later, a synagogue was constructed, probably taking the place of an earlier extemporised place of worship. The foundation stone is to be seen in the Jewish Museum, London, and bears the Hebrew inscription: And the House which he built unto the Lord was completed in the year 5523.
The anonymous benefactor was probably the Solomon Emanuel or Emmanuel referred to above, the quotation from the account of the building of the Temple in the Book of Kings being a delicately oblique allusion to his name. Subsequently, the proprietary interest passed into the hands of his son(?), Liepman Emanuel, who transmitted it in turn to his son (in-law?) another Solomon Emmanuel, who was the leading member of the community at the beginning of the nineteenth century(ii). The latter was father (-in-law?) of the bookseller Phineas Solomon, who spent his entire life in Canterbury and whose daughter, Miss Hannah Solomon, of Ramsgate, recorded in 1918 that the synagogue had been founded by her great-grandfather, who lived at the house adjoining it. It was situated in St. Dunstan's Street, which has since disappeared.(iii)
The Cemetery adjoined the Friends' Burial Ground at Forty Acres Road--a turning on the north side of Whitstable Road, just beyond St. Dunstan's Church. It contains about 150 graves, the following names being decipherable:--Abraham, Abrahams, Barnett, Beck, Cohen, Davis, Emanuel, Grouse, Harris, Hart, Henry, Hort, Isaacs, Jacobs, Jones, Kahn, Levi,. Lyons, Moses, Nathan, Palache, Ruben, Silver, Simmons, Simon, Solomon, Vockelson, and Weiller; some of these however were not local residents. The records of the community from 1781 are in the Jewish Museum, London, and will deserve closer study: they comprise an historical account written by Jacob Jacobs in the middle of the last century. Among the members of the community may be mentioned Zevi Hirsch of Canterbury, a competent scholar, who patronised the Midrash Phineas academy in London in 1795; and Isaac Nathan, the musician, composer and friend of Byron, who was born there in 1792, his father being the Hazan of the community--probably the same who officiated in 1804 at the Westminster Synagogue in London and received £2 for his pains. Canterbury was also the place of origin of the Solomon family, long prominent in St. Helena and South Africa, of the famous prestidigitator Joseph Jacobs, Known as Jacobs the Wizard (1813-70), and of Nathaniel Isaacs (1808-72), the explorer of Natal, whose mother was Lemie Solomon of Margate. In 1807, as we have seen, a new lease for the cemetery was acquired, the community being represented on this occasion by Emanuel Solomon, Joseph Abrahams, and Joseph Solomon. The Ashkenazi synagogue of Kingston, Jamaica, possessed a pair of silver bells, presented to it by Napthali ben Aaron of Canterbury in 1799. According to D'Hauterive, La Police secrète du premier empire, a Noah Edward Levi(s), born at Canterbury, was living at Berque during the reign of Napoleon I. and was suspected to be an English agent. The Shochet in 1831 was Moritz Sachs, replaced in 1834 by Moses Landau.
In 1842, the congregation was reckoned to consist of fourteen full members representing about thirty families; the Wardens were Nathaniel Lazarus and Joseph Barnett, and the Secretary J. Jacobs. When the railway was constructed in 1846, the synagogue in St. Dunstan's was expropriated in order to make the approach to the new station. Since it was held on lease only, the compensation obtained amounted to only about one-quarter of the expenditure required to replace it, and a public subscription list was opened. Sir Moses Montefiore, whose seat at Ramsgate made him take a special interest, gave a liberal donation, and subscription lists were published in the Jewish press at the time. The new synagogue, in a quasi-Egyptian style, on the site in King Street of the former Hospice of the Knights Templar, was dedicated on 19th September 1848 by Dr. Nathan Marcus Adler.
This, like all old communities in market-towns in the Provinces, decayed in the second half of the nineteenth century, though services were again regularly held, thanks to the exertions of a local resident named Coplans, during the War of 1914-18, when the present writer, stationed near by, attended regularly for some weeks. In 1931, some of the appurtenances, including two Scrolls of the law and two pointers (one presented by a Benjamin (b. Daniel) Levy to the Canterbury community in 1824) were deposited in the Oxford synagogue, with due ceremony. The synagogue was sold in 1937, but is still standing and devoted to secular purposes.
A few lines will be devoted to the early history of this community in the section on Swansea (below, p.104).
At the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition of 1887--that epoch-making occasion in Anglo-Jewish studies--there was exhibited a sketch of the original Chatham synagogue, which was said to have been constructed about the year 1760; while the Jewish Chronicle articles so frequently referred to in this study indicate that the congregation had been in existence 'more than ninety years' before 1841--that is, since about 1750. Similarly, when the new synagogue was dedicated, on the same site, in 1870, it was reported that the old one which it replaced had been in existence upwards of a century. Hence, though the date at present assigned for the establishment of the community is about 1780, there is good reason for anticipating it by some thirty years. As in other seaport towns, it is possible to reconstruct the composition of the community at the time of the Napoleonic Wars from the lists of licensed Navy Agents. The following unmistakeable names figure in that of 1816:-- Lyon Aaron and Abraham Aaron (High Street), Asher Cohen, Lewis Cohen, and Solomon Lucas. The Great Synagogue records of the period provide the name of Isaac Chatham, probably known in secular life as Isaac Abrahams, who subsequently settled in Sheerness. Another local worthy of the eighteenth century was Levi Simon, grandfather of Serjeant Sir John Simon, who is said to have been buried here. Frederick Benjamin Barlin, one of the earliest Anglo-Jewish artists, who was active from 1802 onwards, was the son of one Berliner, the Reader of the Chatham synagogue, the first local functionary known to us by name.
I have not been able to inspect the title-deeds of the Cemetery, which lies at the rear of the Synagogue, but it is clear that this goes back to the eighteenth century. The earliest inscription that I have been able to decipher is on the tomb-stone of Judah Leib ben Benjamin Wolf, who died in 1797 at the age of twenty; then comes that of Yomtob (?) son of Moses Azriel Levi, 1726-1802. A particularly interesting tombstone with a curious, long and erudite Hebrew inscription marks the last resting-place of Abraham Judah ben Asher (=Abraham Lyon(?) Benjamin), Parnas of the community, who died in 1826 at the age of sixty-three after an operation for removing a gall-stone, which was buried with him! His widow, Hannah, daughter of Jacob (Mrs. Hannah Benjamin), survived him by eighteen years, and is described as a benefactress of the Synagogue and Orphanage: her bequests were administered by the Great Synagogue in London. Other interesting tombstones are those of Solomon ben Mordecai, 1730-1816 (presumably father of or identical with the Mordecai Solomon Rochester whose name with date 1782 is in a copy of the Sepher haHayim in the Jews' College Library): Benjamin ben Abraham, obit 1816: Samuel Lazarus (in Hebrew Samuel ben Jekutiel), 1790-1834: and Joseph Joseph, grandson of J. Millingham, 1833-1840 (I noted, owing to shortness of time, only the inscriptions in Hebrew, which I presumed to be the oldest). More than one of those buried in the cemetery (Lewis, son of Isaac Isaacs, 1841-1860: Ella, daughter of Berman Issachar and Hannah Barnard, d. 1840) are recorded to have been drowned in the Medway. There is in the Synagogue also an old commemoration book, including the names of the Chief Rabbis of England. Between those of Saul Berlin (obit 1794) and Moses Myers (obit 1814) is interpolated that of Rabbi Eliezer ben Rabbi Elhanan, the first Rabbi of the New Synagogue in London.
Captain Lazarus Simon Magnus, of the 4th Kent Volunteer Artillery (which he had raised), and Mayor of Queenborough in 1858, died in January 1865 in his fortieth year. In his memory, his father Simon Magnus (son of Lazarus Magnus, and grandson of Abraham and Elizabeth Moses) replaced the old synagogue, said to have been in existence for upwards of a century, by the present Chatham Memorial Synagogue, on the same site, dedicated in 1870.*
There does not seem to be any mention of Jews in Cheltenham until 1800, when Ephraim Alex, founder of the Jewish Board of Guardians, was born here*. Originally, the local Jews had been attached to the more ancient community at Gloucester (later on, when this decayed, the attachment was to be reversed). According to the official accounts, a congregation was at length established in 1824 through the exertions of Messrs. Lewis Isaacs, Elias Migs and Isaiah Alexander ( = Alex?). The Prayer for the Royal Family written for the Synagogue in 1826 is now in the Jewish Museum, London. The earliest recorded officiant was Jacob Koppel Hyman, who received his authorisation as Shochet from Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell in the spring of 1825; while from 1842 to 1849 (when he was sent to organise the nascent community in Cape Town) the Rev. Isaac Pulver officiated as Minister.
The present synagogue in St. James's Square, erected at a cost of £1,500, was opened in 1839 (it was restored in 1864). The congregation appears to have been fairly well-to-do; on October 3rd 1841 the Synagogue was broken into and various ritual appurtenances stolen, including two silver pointers, one with a gold ring set with turquoise. About this time, the Community published its regulations ('Laws of the Hebrew Congregation of Cheltenham. Revised and Enacted 23rd Nisan, A.M. 5600.' Cheltenham, L. Dight, Printer and Stationer, 1840), based however on an earlier code. They reflect a devout, charitable, and eager communal life: the authority assigned to the Chief Rabbinate, and to the practises of the Great Synagogue in London, is noteworthy. The cemetery, in Elm Street, dates from 1844. In A. I. Myers' Jewish Directory of 1874, the community is shewn in a flourishing condition, with Sabbath school and representation at the Board of Deputies. In the course of the next generation, it declined, until in 1903 the Synagogue was closed. Religious life was, however, revived in the autumn of 1939, when the old Synagogue was reopened.
A few lines will be devoted to the early history of this community in the section on Dublin (below, p.57).
My earliest reference of Jewish interest in Coventry relates, not to Jews by birth, but to proselytes. According to the eminent Ezra Styles, President of Yale, whose Diary is replete with material of American Jewish interest, there was a family from this city who became converted to Judaism in London, thereafter being more strict in their observance than Jews by birth. This would suggest that there were Jews in the city at that time, say about 1750. The first settlers may, however, be traced only from 1775. In B. Poole's History of Coventry (1852) reference is made to the death on December 13th 1835 of Isaac Cohen, a Jew, aged 108. He had been an inhabitant of Coventry about sixty years, and his wife had predeceased him in 1833 at the age of 101 (cf. also the obituaries in the Gentleman's Magazine). When in 1809 the foundation stone of the new Synagogue in Birmingham was laid, it is recorded that 'many ladies and gentlemen of their persuasion, from Coventry and other towns ' were present. One of the most important local Jewish families was that of Harris, to which Sir George Jessel's mother belonged; and it was here that Henry Harris, one of the earliest Anglo-Jewish Attorneys-at-law whose name is on record, was born in the second half of the eighteenth century(i).
In 1800, or thereabouts, there was a little nucleus of Jews in the city, and it is to this period that the congregation traces its origin. The Isaac Cohen mentioned above was the founder. According to a series of articles on the dissenting places of worship in the city, published in the Coventry Standard in 1889, services according to the Jewish tradition were held at his house, in Trinity Passage, from approximately the beginning of the century. It was under the Presidency of his son(?), Phillip Cohen, that the present Synagogue was dedicated in 1870. The earliest records date back to 1868 only, but there is no reason to doubt the report that organised services had been held long before(ii).
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