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Page created: 8 March 2013
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Phillip Cohen, 1791-1877
someone new in Oxford Jewish history

by Harold Pollins
 

Originally published in Oxford Menorah Magazine, issue 206, March 2013, page 28

It is generally recognised that a Jewish congregation in Oxford was established around 1841 but it is also known that a handful of individual Jews lived there before that date. A few names have been recorded and no doubt others will turn up in due course. This will happen mainly by chance as happened to me when I was looking at the Internet, in particular at the Census, which can be accessed for those that were taken every ten years between 1841 and 1911. From that of 1851 the birthplace of each individual is stated.

I was doing some research on Jews in Kent in the nineteenth century and in the 1871 Census up popped one Phillip Cohen, aged 80, living in Sheerness, but – and this is the point – it stated that he was born in Oxford. I was immediately interested and set aside my Kentish research to see what else I could find about this man, someone new to add to what is known about the pre-1841 history of the Jews in Oxford.

So far I have been unable to find his parents. The only early Cohens in Oxford whom I have found were Isaac Jacob Cohen and his wife Sarah. But he was born about 1818 and they were clearly unconnected with Phillip.

Although Phillip was born in Oxford he and his wife, Sarah, must have moved away quite soon after they married. The first documentation about them that I have found is in the 1841 Census, living in South London, the entries consisting of Phillip and Sarah Cohen, followed by Caroline, Rachel, Zakel, and Henry Cohen. That Census does not state what were the family relationships but the 1851 Census gives Caroline and Rachel as their children, Zakel and Henry having left home. Caroline, the eldest, was born in Lambeth in the second decade of the century - in the various sources her ages suggest 1815-1818 as her years of birth. Lambeth was to be the family’s base.

Phillip Cohen’s occupation, in the 1841 Census, was as Bottle Merchant, as was Zakel Cohen‘s. That was to be Phillip’s occupation for the next two Census whereas Zakel (now named Zechariah, and married to Flora Levy in 1842) was in that position up to 1861 but was a commercial traveller in 1871 and a general merchant in 1881. He died in 1890.

Phillip’s wife, Sarah, died in the 1850s in the same decade that their daughter Caroline married Asher Jacobs, of Sheerness. He was active in the Jewish community there and in 1855, a year after he married Caroline Cohen, he was thanked at the annual meeting of the Sheerness community for his services as the ‘amateur’ reader during the recent Holidays. (JC 26 October 1855). Their son Henry also married, in 1858, under the auspices of the New Synagogue.

As mentioned earlier I had found Phillip Cohen in Sheerness in the 1871 Census where he was living with his widowed daughter, Caroline Jacobs, her husband Asher having died in 1867. She was described as ‘Pawnbroker’s Widow’ and, surprisingly, Phillip was recorded as ‘Pawnbroker. Retired’.

He died in 1877. And that is all that I found about Phillip and his family. It does not amount to much, but at least it’s a start and perhaps someone in the future can find out more. What about the rest of his family? Were they Oxford residents or merely transients when he was born? What were their occupations? While they are at it perhaps they might look at a man named Levy, born in Banbury in the 1770s, who can be found in the 1841, 1851 and 1861 Censuses, and called variously as Edward, Emanuel and Lewis. I think they refer to the same man who lived in Manchester in those years. He lived to the age of 97, dying in 1870. I’m sure he was Jewish, and it was not unusual for the odd Jew to live in an isolated place.


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