Prepared for a conference at University College, London,
Page created: 21 February 2004
There were, in 1842, supposed to be 111 families in Coventry.
Synagogue Barras Lane Congregation founded (about) 1850; present synagogue erected 1869. Has seat accommodation for 80 persons: 50 gentleman, 30 ladies. Seat rental - Gentlemen, from £2.12s. to £13 per annum; Ladies from 10s.6d. to £1.11s.6d. per annum
Jewish population about 35
Synagogue, Barras Lane. (Present one founded 1870, but one existed over a century ago.) Seatholders 8. The annual income is about £35.
BOARD OF DEPUTIES RETURNS
The Jews of Coventry were represented in 1809 at the opening of the new Birmingham Synagogue in Severn Street, and the congregation thereafter grew very slowly. Up to the year 1860 members had been content with non resident membership of Singer's Hill Synagogue in Birmingham. That year however saw the decision to split the congregations, and by 1864 the Coventry Hebrew Congregation had begun a separate existence. In that year the congregation, having purchased a plot of land from the town corporation for a cemetery, issued an appeal through the Jewish Chronicle for help in the building of "a more suitable place of worship than the one they now use. The Congregation, though small and very heavily taxed to support their Reader, and to pay other incidental expenses have among themselves subscribed £280 of the two sums mentioned for the Burial Ground and for the synagogue land and they have furthermore subscribed the sum of £160 towards erecting a proper place of worship."
The synagogue was dedicated by the Chief Rabbi in September 1870, and at first the congregation prospered. In 1870 there were said to be fifty men and boys in the congregation, and in 1881 a service was attended by 22 persons. But in 1889 it was reported to be impossible at times to gather together a Minyan, and in that year a correspondent wrote in the Coventry Standard: "time was when Jews were a larger congregation than now, .. Their advent into the City was due to the watch trade, and the date of the introduction of their industry did coincide with the known history of the Jews of Coventry. ... Of late, the watch trade had declined and so has the number of Jews." By 1890 the Jewish Chronicle reported a very black picture:
The Hebrew Congregation of Coventry, by now reduced to six contributing members, who are necessarily heavily taxed in maintaining a Shochet and a new Minister, have resolved to make a strenuous effort to pay off an existing debt of £300 on the building. They have raised among themselves £145, leaving a balance of £155, which they hope will be contributed by some of the benevolent co-religionists who may be willing to help a small congregation.
By 1902 the Year Book gave a population on of 25 seatholders and a nil income, and in that year the congregation was, temporarily, closed.
©Professor Aubrey Newman
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