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Paper first published on JCR-UK: 7 March 2007
Reformatted: 7 April 2016
Latest revision: 17 April 2016

THE JEWS AND CRIME IN SOUTH WALES
BEFORE WORLD WAR I

by Professor Ursula Henriques

This article was originally published in the Journal of Glamorgan History, Volume XXIX 1985, pages 59-73, and we are grateful to Professor Henriques for it being reproduced here.

How many Jews were criminals? What sort of crimes did they commit? Were Jewish immigrants a menace to the society in which they lived? On the whole nineteenth-century anti-semitic stereotypes did not follow this line. Jews had more of a reputation for getting round the law than for breaking it. But this was not universal. For instance Dickens, who was apt to get his plots from Government Blue Books, depicted Fagin in Oliver Twist as the archetypal receiver of stolen goods, organising gangs of young thieves. And it was generally believed that this role was played by Jews in mid-nineteenth-century London. Wales was not London, but this reputation could have followed the provincial community as it developed there.

South Wales in the decades before World War I was a society in an extraordinary state of flux. As the coalfields opened up the population of the county of Glamorgan grew from about 318,000 in 1861 to 1,121,000 in 1911. Cardiff alone in the two decades 1861 to 1881 doubled its population from just under 40,000 to nearly 83,000.1 Although the rate of increase fell thereafter, by 1911 it had reached 182,000. Part of this increase was due to the enormous immigration of Irish which began after the famine of 1846-8, while later in the century came the influx of rural Welsh and English to the industrial valleys, and after 1881 an increasing number of East European Jews. We do not know the total of those who settled in South Wales with any precision. The Jewish Year Books, depending on reports from various towns, are fairly unreliable, and do not attempt such totals. The number of Jews in South Wales has been variously estimated at 6,000 and 4,500 to 5,000 in 1914, the number in Cardiff at 1,250 (from the Year Book, 1904) or 1,500.2 Many were newly arrived, speaking a foreign tongue, penniless, rootless and forced to scratch a living by peddling, hawking or, if settled in one place, working as under-paid tailors, seamstresses, cap-makers or coal miners. They were caught in sweated occupations which must have made crime seem an easy option. But the same was true of the populations of miners, port-workers or sailors among whom they lived. So how did the records compare?

The opportunity to examine this question was afforded by the existence of the very full materials retained in the Glamorgan Archive in Cathays Park, Cardiff, together with a helpful staff of archivists ready to show them to the enquirer. They include a long run of printed calendars of the prisoners held in Cardiff and Swansea gaols (including those bailed) who were tried at the Glamorgan Assizes and Quarter Sessions. The Assizes were usually (although not invariably) held quarterly, in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Well known High Court judges came down from London to preside. The Quarter Sessions Courts were also held quarterly, usually before a bench of three Justices of the Peace. Both courts were located, more or less quarterly, in Swansea and Cardiff Town Halls, although after 1907 those at Cardiff were generally held in the newly-built Cardiff Law Courts. The Cardiff Quarter Sessions cases (their records were not in the Archive but were discovered, after a search, in a cupboard in the new Crown Courts at Penarth Road), once started in 1890, were heard before the Recorder of Cardiff, Benjamin Williams Esq., Q.C. Until that date the Assizes and Quarter Sessions Courts covered the trials of those charged with offences committed in the whole of Glamorgan, from Swansea in the West to Cardiff in the East, and Merthyr Tydfil in the North. For a time the Assizes also dealt with cases from Brecon, Carmarthen and Hereford, although these rural areas produced very few crimes of note. After 1890 crimes committed in Cardiff were heard in the separate Cardiff Quarter Sessions, although the most serious ones still went to the Assizes. The latter dealt with the most important cases of murder, rape, robbery, fraud, forgery, etc; Quarter Sessions dealt with the other cases considered serious enough to require a jury. Below these two tiers the Petty Sessions, courts of summary jurisdiction presided over by J.P.s or a stipendiary magistrate, sat in subdivisions of the county and heard the minor offences. The records of these, including the well known Cardiff Police Court, are in the Glamorgan Archive. They are mostly hand-written notes taken during the trials, and are sketchy, illegible and far too voluminous for systematic coverage by a single researcher. On the other hand, the prison calendars of cases before the Assizes and Quarter Sessions are printed. By 1860 they had settled into a uniform format giving the name of each prisoner, the place and nature of the crime with which he was charged, the authority or person bringing the charge, the verdict of the court, the sentence (if any), and a list of his previous convictions. An index in the front of each calendar gives the names, in alphabetical order, of the prisoners in each of the two prisons, and on bail from them. In the later years each prisoner's degree of education was assessed on a scale, and an analysis of the different types of charge was given, along with the numbers charged.

Thus the printed calendars enable a reasonably systematic study to be made of the more serious criminal cases heard in Glamorgan throughout the period. This can be supplemented by some consideration of the endless lists of drunks, disorderlies, prostitutes, beggars, minor assaults and petty thieves who came before the Petty Sessions. Finally, a great many of these cases were reported in more detail in the Western Mail and other local papers, where further information can be found. The numbers of those charged with crimes at the Quarter Sessions and Assize Courts for Glamorgan in any one year fluctuate so much that they mean very little. To help in identifying trends I have grouped them into totals for six years at a time which fits in with the list of calendars preserved (there is a gap between 1866 and 1873). The results can be seen in Table 1.

It appears that the total number of criminal charges for the whole of Glamorgan remained more or less constant between 1860 and 1890. When Cardiff became a County Borough in 1890 the establishment of the separate Cardiff Quarter Sessions to try crimes committed in the borough increased the total by about 600 (why is not clear), and thereafter it continued to rise, unevenly but surely. After 1908 the numbers rose more rapidly, including those tried at Cardiff Quarter Sessions. In 1891 the Cardiff court had dealt with 98 criminal charges. These, of course, included a fair proportion ending in a verdict of No True Bill, or Not Guilty (which judging by the speed with which the "innocent" person was often again before the court could merely mean exonerated for lack of evidence). The calendars also did not include the results of appeals to higher courts. But they did include the cases of many habitual criminals who appeared before the judges time after time, and thus inflated the statistics.

Glamorgan is not the whole of industrial South Wales. The eastern industrial valleys, which also contained Jewish communities such as those of Newport and Tredegar as well as groups of families in the smaller mining villages, lay in the county of Monmouth. The Monmouth Quarter Sessions were held at Usk, and their calendars are now kept in the Gwent County Hall archive at Cwmbran. Unfortunately many of the earlier records have been lost, and there are many gaps. Even in 1903 only two out of the four Quarter Sessions calendars remain, although from 1904 onward the records are complete. Gwent also has some petty sessions books from the various Monmouthshire divisions, although with much less detail than those for Glamorgan. The Monmouth Assizes which were held three times a year in Monmouth town were part of the Oxford Assize Circuit. Their calendars form part of the Oxford Assize Circuit minute books held at the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane, London. Putting together the Glamorgan Assize and Quarter Sessions calendars, the Monmouth Quarter Sessions records and the Oxford Assize records for Monmouth we have a reasonably comprehensive record (so far as it has survived) of the more serious criminal proceedings in South Wales, at least during the period 1903-1908. Only the westernmost industrial towns and villages such as Llanelli, which contained a Jewish community of about 70, remain outside. The population numbers were small, and it can be presumed that the proportions and nature of the criminal elements were much the same as in the rest of the South Wales industrial area. To this, however, a caution must be added. Although the cases on record increased rapidly towards the end of the nineteenth century and became very numerous after the turn of the century, they were still numbered by hundreds. In fact the numbers were paltry in proportion to those of the exploding population. They cannot represent more than the tip of the iceberg, i.e. the criminals caught and brought to justice (including those found Not Guilty), by no means all the crimes committed. They must reflect the degree of efficiency of the police as much as the extent of crime. But what of the Jews? Here again it is necessary to start with a caution. The Jews accused of crime present big problems of identification. Only a few can be found among the known, locally settled families whose names appear on synagogue subscription lists, marriage registers or the burial books of Jewish cemeteries. Many were wanderers or recent immigrants in South Wales. With the more assimilated, including those appearing in census reports and trade directories, the Names Game, well known to Anglo-Jewish historians, is even more difficult in Wales than east of the Severn. Among the Welsh offenders we encounter many members of those working class families who, in the early nineteenth century, took biblical names. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joseph, Samuel, even Emanuel are as likely to be Welsh as Jewish, though an 's' on the end, e.g. Abrahams, Isaacs, Samuels, does entail a likelihood of Jewish origin. Then there are many non- biblical names common to Jews and non-Jews, e.g. Harris, Marks, Lyons, Phillips. Some immigrants hastened to change foreign-sounding names into a more English idiom. Schwarz became Black, Moses became Moss or Morris. Many a Levy in Wales turned Lewis. Statistically it is even possible that Welsh criminals wrongly identified as Jewish by Old Testament names are partly cancelled out by Jewish criminals overlooked under English or Welsh names. Despite the formulation of statistical tables, and however regrettable it may be, the results of a study of this kind can never produce more than approximations or even guestimates of the actual situation. All the same, such a study is not without interest. In Table 1 an attempt has been made to trace the statistical growth of criminal cases in Glamorgan and to work out the number and proportion of Jewish cases among them. Tables 2, 3 and 4 cover the shorter, if peak period of 1903-08, adding Monmouth (always recollecting that only two out of four of the Monmouth Quarter Sessions calendars for the year 1903 remain). Table 2 shows the percentage of Jews tried to the total tried, Table 3 gives the total tried to the total population, and Table 4 gives an estimate of the percentage of Jews tried to the Jewish population. Another disadvantage on the Jewish side is that the numbers were so small that a variant of even one or two in the figures produces a large variation in the percentages. Allowing for this the results are palpable if not dramatic. We find a very slightly higher proportion of Jews tried for crimes to the Jewish population of South Wales than of total numbers tried to the total population: 0.72% or 0.6% to 0.26%. The proportion of Jews tried for crimes to the total tried for crimes is 1.18% to 0.26%. However, these numbers and proportions are so low that by no stretch of the imagination could the Jewish immigration be seen to produce a large increase in the crime rate or a crime wave in South Wales. Indeed, if the numbers of Jewish names in the calendars are compared with the numbers of Irish names (which as late as the Glamorgan Autumn Assizes for 1908 constituted over 14% of those on the lists) it will be apparent which of these influxes of penniless refugees provided the larger share of criminals. And this impression is reinforced by the long lists of drunk and disorderly Irishmen and women who appeared before the Cardiff Police Court.

What sort of crimes did Jewish criminals commit? Were there any specifically "Jewish" crimes which marked their perpetrators out from the rest of the criminal fraternity? Before considering this question it would be useful to look at the nature of crime in South Wales. The calendars suggest that the majority of the more serious crimes committed were crimes against property. In every list of cases both at Glamorgan Assizes and Quarter Sessions the greatest number of charges were for larceny (theft). These were often divided into simple larceny, larceny from the person i.e. picking pockets, bailee larceny, i.e. the theft or conversion of property being held in trust, usually in a case of bankruptcy, and sometimes larceny by a servant or a post office worker. To these were added housebreaking, shopbreaking, warehouse and counting house breaking, all of which became burglary if done at night. Secondary to these was the receiving of stolen goods. Then there were various kinds of frauds and the obtaining of money or goods by false pretences. The most serious-forgery and counterfeit coining-generally went to Assizes. A combination of offences against property and against the person was the frequent crime of robbery with violence. The serious cases usually went to Assizes, along with murder, manslaughter, rape, malicious wounding, and the infliction of grievous bodily harm. Monmouth Assizes in particular had numerous cases of rape and carnal knowledge of children under the age of sixteen. The less serious cases of wounding, attempted rape or indecent assault, and malicious damage to property valued at more than 5 went to Quarter Sessions. There was an overlap between the cases heard in the two courts, and the principles of division are not altogether clear. Bigamy, a surprisingly common offence, and probably often an attempt to acquire property, was usually heard at Assizes. So was homosexuality, usually described as "gross indecency" and severely punished with imprisonment. Pimps, described along with persistent beggars as "incorrigible rogues", were sent to prison for several months at Quarter Sessions, while their flocks of prostitutes were sentenced to shorter periods at Petty Sessions.

The separation of Cardiff Quarter Sessions from Glamorgan Sessions from 1890 (recollecting that the graver cases still went to Glamorgan Assizes) highlights some differences between the crimes typical of Cardiff and the ports and those typical of the valleys. Each had special circumstances likely to augment its crime figures. Cardiff, a big docks and shopping centre, was haunted by prostitutes, and the arrival of merchant ships was reflected in the calendars by foreign names, usually opposite charges of stabbing or malicious wounding.

Yet Merthyr Tydfil and the towns of what is now called the Rhondda, but was always referred to under the names of its two parishes, Ystradyfodwg and Llanwonno, were markedly more prone to violence. The Glamorgan Midsummer Quarter Sessions of June 1899 heard 10 charges of larceny, 2 of shopbreaking, 2 of false pretences, 1 of burglary, 7 of wounding, 1 of assault, 1 grievous bodily harm, 1 of attempted rape, 2 of indecent assault and 1 attempted suicide. The Cardiff County Borough Sessions in June 1899 heard 21 cases of larceny, 6 of housebreaking, 2 of shopbreaking, 1 of burglary, 3 of false pretences, 1 of wounding, 1 of attempted suicide and 1 of showing indecent pictures. Earlier in the nineteenth century the difference was more marked, the cases of violence in the valleys sometimes exceeding those of larceny. The valleys also produced more rural cases, of sheep and fowl stealing, poaching and occasional rick-burning. However, the differences should not be exaggerated. In both areas gangs of young toughs (in Merthyr Tydfil usually colliers) raided any place where food, clothes or valuables were kept. Railway stores and depots (especially coal bunkers) were popular targets. Violent industrial action occurred in Cardiff where at the Easter Quarter Sessions, 1891, four seamen including Havelock Ellis, Secretary of the Seamen's Union, got six weeks for rioting, while four more got two weeks. In the Easter Assizes the same year a bus and a tram driver were sentenced to two months each for unlawful wounding and damage to tramcars during a riotous assembly of 70 or more. In 1910 and 1911, as we know, industrial violence, rioting and looting moved to the valleys. How did the Jewish criminals appear in these records? Both from the stereotypes and from the insecurity and social isolation in which many immigrants and children of immigrants lived, Jewish crime could be expected to follow certain lines. One would expect to find receivers of stolen goods rather than thieves, frauds, forgers and obtainers of goods by false pretences rather than robbers and burglars, fraudulent merchants and petty pilferers among the numerous hawkers and pedlars. And of course they are to be found.

As far back as 1857 John da Costa (usually a Sephardi name), pedlar, was accused in Quarter Sessions of endeavouring to obtain by false pretences one guinea from Elizabeth Rice and one guinea from David Phillips, at Neath. Unfortunately the nature of the false pretences is not revealed, but the prisoner was discharged on sureties. In the Michaelmas Quarter Sessions, October 1875, Kate Isaac, 17, dressmaker, possibly but not certainly a Jewess, pleaded guilty to obtaining 11(?) pounds of butter by false pretences. She was sentenced to 14 days' hard labour and five years in a reformatory. Poor girl; the young were far more heavily punished under the reformatory system than adults. Judging from many police records they often emerged only fit for a life of crime. In Quarter Sessions April 1879 Henry Levy, 34, commission agent, was convicted of receiving stolen oxide of cobalt at Landore and sentenced to eighteen months' hard labour in Swansea gaol. In 1883 Hyman Freedman, a Swansea pawnbroker, was sent by the Assize Court to penal servitude for five years for receiving stolen watches. At the Winter Assize of February 1881, Jean Goldman, 42, commission agent, was charged with fraudulently concealing goods, shares and mortgages at bankruptcy proceedings, to defraud his creditors, but he was found Not Guilty and discharged. This class of case, in which bankrupts were suspected of concealing their assets, or trading on credit while still undischarged, was not uncommon. In December 1889 William David Israel, 25, hawker, was convicted in Quarter Sessions of obtaining from Nathan Ash one clock, three chairs and an iron stand, the property of John Jacob in Llanwonno. Having two previous convictions for horse stealing he went to Cardiff gaol for twelve months, but was soon convicted of false pretences again. In 1893 Henry Phillips, dealer, forged a receipt for money, and, it being his eighth conviction for forgery, was sentenced to penal servitude for four years. In 1904 Jacob Bakalov, 23, was sentenced to six months for embezzling small sums from his employer, Joseph Bogod. In October 1914 Joseph Cohen, draper of Tredegar, received four months at Monmouth Quarter Sessions for selling, not for the first time, his own mineral water in the bottles of Thomas and Evans of Porth. And so it goes on. Occasionally a Jew was found acting as receiver in a mixed gang. In 1908 Benjamin Levinsohn, 19, pawnbroker's assistant, joined with D. Lloyd, haulier, William Bryant, collier, and Price Lloyd, traveller, in breaking and entering the house of Jacob Kransky in Llanwonno, and stealing clothes. Levinsohn and Price Lloyd got twelve months each for receiving the stolen goods. It will be observed that Jews were often the victims of Jewish criminals, not least in breaking and entering cases. The criminal probably knew where the Jewish businesses were, and also how to get into them.

Despite these examples there is no evidence that Jews acted as receivers or forgers or embezzlers or obtained money by false pretences any more often than their non-Jewish associates. There was a steady trickle of receivers who acted as the necessary disposers of stolen goods, and the Jews were a small minority among them. There is no evidence that they organised permanent gangs. The same is true of fraud, embezzlement and false pretences, all of them common crimes. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence of Jews indulging in simple larceny and house or shopbreaking. Perhaps it is hardly fair to count Louis Slivensky, 10, who with other children and two adults was convicted at Cardiff Quarter Sessions for July 1900 of stealing coal from the Taff Vale Railway Company. The children got one day and the adults two months. As early as 1861 Moses Levy, 24, cab-driver, was convicted with two others of breaking and entering the house of Hezekiah Hughes, Llanwonno, and stealing 4, a silver teaspoon and a sugar tongs, and sentenced to two years in Swansea gaol. He was obviously one of a gang. In an unusual case, William Bernstein, 51, fitter, was bound over at Cardiff Quarter Sessions, Michaelmas 1909, for breaking and entering a warehouse of the Cardiff Dry Dock Company and stealing a stop valve cover, a spindle and nut, and other objects peculiar to his trade. In the 1890s there were one or two Jewish horse stealers, but by 1899 Samuel Gottleib, 18, watchmaker of Cardiff, was stealing bicycles. Cases of stealing and of breaking and entering can be multiplied ad nauseum. They reinforce the impression that in crimes against property Jewish criminals were a part, not especially conspicuous, of the local criminal scene. This was true also of the considerable proportion of them who were pedlars, hawkers or travellers. There were many Irish pedlars and hawkers too, some indulging in dishonest activities.

Jews are not noted for sexual crimes, but there were a few Jewish names among those charged with this type of offence. In 1862 David Solomon, 56, was found not guilty of unlawfully knowing a girl aged 10, but in 1894 Morris Jacobs, 36, tailor, received seven years' penal servitude, a very stiff sentence, at the Assizes in Swansea for a similar offence, as did Hyman Rosenthal at Monmouth Assizes in 1904. When in 1872 Samuel Marks, tobacconist, was charged with indecently assaulting a girl under thirteen she said he asked for a kiss and then behaved indecently. He said he just asked for a kiss. The case was dismissed for lack of evidence, but, according to the Western Mail the magistrate said to the defendant, "Get out, you nasty old beast."3 An unusual case occurred in 1888 when Simon Freedman, 20, an employee of Isaac Kantorovich, was accused of taking Rachel Kantorovich aged 13 out of the custody of her mother. Freedman claimed that he was rescuing the girl from her parents who beat her, and also claimed that her father had offered to sell her to him if he waited a year.4 Although the girl would not support him in the witness box he was found not guilty. When the long lists of unlawful knowing, and even more the gang rapes which appeared before the Assize courts are considered, the Jewish record in this field was not a disgraceful one. Nor were Jewish offenders often violent, although there were exceptions. There were one or two cases of robbery with violence, usually as part of a gang. In 1854 Moses Lewis (who may or may not have been Jewish) was sentenced at the Assizes to one week for striking Jean Huet on the head with a stone. In 1880 two young pawnbrokers, Jacob and Nathan Tanchan, 15 and 18, were accused of two assaults in one week. The older was fined twenty shillings with costs. Next year they were again in trouble, Jacob being fined at Bridgend Police Court for damaging a pair of boots pledged with him and then charging more than the legal interest upon them. The following month both were fined for trying to collect a debt, which the debtor had refused to pay on the grounds that the interest was exorbitant, by entering his house, with the bailiff, through a window which they damaged.5

If not often violent Jews were sometimes caught up in militant industrial action. In 1892 Henry Hyman, 30, a painter, was found guilty with five others of intimidating three workmen at Cadoxton near Barry to make them abstain from working for their employer. The Tanchan brothers' debt-collecting activities had attracted a mob, with evident implications for arousing anti-semitism. The Cadoxton case suggests that in industrial action as in most crimes, Jews were merely assimilated into the activities and mores of their non-Jewish neighbours. The South Wales towns and valleys were always haunted by professional thieves and petty criminals who preyed on society. At any one time one or two of these could be of Jewish origin. In the 1860s Merthyr Tydfil was pestered by a pickpocket, Leah Lewis. She appears first in the Glamorgan Michaelmas Quarter Sessions for 1864. She was found not guilty of stealing money and a scarf, but in January 1865 she was convicted of stealing a watch from one William Coleman. In Michaelmas 1866 she was sentenced to two years' hard labour for stealing a purse. Between 1879 and 1885 Henry Singer, a bagman or rag collector, evidently with a horse and cart, stole 30lbs of iron and I 00lbs of coal at Maesteg, for which he served five months in gaol. He was lucky to be cleared in 1882 of robbing a warehouse of half a ton of rags.

In the 1890s William David Israel, hawker (already mentioned), haunted the Valleys stealing watches and obtaining articles of clothing by false pretences. But the principal pest in the last two decades of the nineteenth century was Joseph Abraham (or Abrahams). This man, plainly one of nature's inadequates, started his career at the age of sixteen, stealing a pair of boots, for which he received twelve strokes of the birch and fourteen days from Chepstow Petty Sessions. Between 1881 and 1908 he accumulated eighteen convictions in various South Wales towns, almost all for petty thefts of clothing, as well as twenty-three summary convictions for drunkenness and assaults. Yet Abraham was in no way exceptional. The calendars are full of similar cases with similar records, most of them beginning in early youth with a birching and/or sentence to reformatory custody for stealing apples or boots or some small sum of money. Any advocate of the birch or of reform schools (at least as they were conducted in the late nineteenth century) has only to look at these cases to experience doubts about the efficacy of draconian punishment in preventing crime. Moreover, as the nineteenth century wore on the proportion of criminals with long police records rose steadily until the single or occasional offence appeared to be exceptional. Once again the persistent criminal of Jewish origin, whether with an unconquerable addiction to pairs of boots and overcoats or to watches and jewellery was part of a kind of criminal fraternity or subculture. This was no "respectable" mafia, but a sad throng of recidivists. The persistent petty thief had probably lost his (or her) religious and communal attachment, just as the more frequent Irish criminal had abandoned the discipline of his church. In all the circumstances, and especially in view of the large numbers exposed to the temptations of the hawkers' and pedlars' trades, it is perhaps surprising that there were not more.

In these sorry records of crime and punishment a few special categories of criminal stand out. One is the exceptional offender in an otherwise known and prosperous family. The Tanchan brothers have already been mentioned. In 1861 Nelson Marks, 26, watchmaker (not the convert who became a water-rate collector, but probably a son of Samuel Marks the dyer who had a shop in St. Mary Street, Cardiff), was sentenced to two years in Swansea gaol for embezzling 6s. 6d. from his master, Bryant Briggs. It was a harsh sentence, but judges were hard on servants who were felt to have betrayed their trust. Four years later he was charged with a similar offence (evidently Briggs had taken him back) but found Not Guilty. Albert Heitzman, from a well established immigrant family of watchmakers, became a forger and was found in possession of a die. But the family may have been German but not Jewish.

Another and even rarer category is the frankly dotty, always on the edge of prison or asylum, but not certifiable under the M'Naghten rules.6 Hyam Jacobs, an elderly jeweller, was in repeated trouble with the law.7 He was accused of passing false cheques, got two months for lashing out with a stick at some boys who were teasing him, thought he was being spied on, and was apt to commit assaults when drunk. He even tried to pay for a drink with a pork sausage (which he wouldn't eat himself), and having run out of money, told the barman that he "wanted to pawn his face". "That", said the judge, "is a primitive source of barter introduced by your ancestors".8 Anti-semitic remarks were not uncommon in the lower courts.

Far the most important special category is that of the pawnbrokers.9 Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Jews had a virtual monopoly of pawnbroking in South Wales. They formed an economically important and indeed wealthy group of considerable social influence. But they probably became more entangled in criminal and civil law than any other category of people in South Wales. If any businessman was beset with temptation to become a receiver of stolen goods it was the pawnbroker. And occasionally he yielded. Greenbone Jacobs, pawnbroker of Swansea, was accused in 1858 Midsummer Quarter Sessions of receiving stolen rope; but the case was dismissed. Hyman Freedman who in 1883 was sentenced to five years' penal servitude for receiving three gold watches has already been mentioned. Most accusations of receiving, however, concerned minor articles of second-hand clothing and cheap jewellery. It was customary for petty thieves immediately to take their loot to a pawnshop where they could get hard cash. When Mary Perryman in 1883 was charged with extensive thefts from her employers a number of Cardiff pawnbrokers were cautioned by the court for accepting articles without question. They included Fanny Freydburg of System Street, Morris Fine of Clifton Street, Abraham Shibko and Montague Barnett, all well established traders. The pawnbrokers soon became alert to the dangers to themselves and their businesses from the reputation of receiving, especially as thieves frequently stole from one pawnshop and tried to pledge the goods at another, or even the same one. Although a broker-or more probably his inexperienced assistant-sometimes accepted a stolen pledge, more often, as soon as his suspicion was aroused he sent for the police. Many a thief was caught in this way. Otherwise the pawnbrokers were brought to court-usually to Petty Sessions-either for causing an obstruction on the pavement, or for accepting a pledge from a child under thirteen, forbidden by the Act of 1872. This Act was a trap since it was very difficult to know whether a child was thirteen or not, and parents sent their children along with their pledges. Nor could the pawnbrokers expect much sympathy from the magistrates, who punished them if they swindled a client but were apt to tell them it was their own fault if they were swindled by a customer.

This leads to the most striking feature emerging from this survey - that Jews were far more often the victims than the perpetrators of crime.

The impression gained from the records is that for one theft or robbery committed by a Jew there were four or five committed against one. Jewish businesses, both in Cardiff and in the valleys, were often of the sort most likely to attract shopbreakers. Pawnbroking was usually associated with the sale of jewellery or clothing or both. Pawnbrokers' shops and houses as well as ordinary jewellers and clothing stores were raided again and again. Sometimes a petty thief like Joseph Abraham filched single articles, and sometimes the shop was cleaned out by professional thieves. Coleman Follick of 40 and 41 Bridge Street, Cardiff, was raided at least nine times between 1890 and 1906. Louis Barnett, a wealthy man with six pawnshops in Cardiff and other towns, suffered depredations on at least seven separate occasions, and there were other records not far short. Of course non-Jewish businesses suffered too. In 1902 William Hamill, 27, engineer, was convicted of stealing three gold pins from H. B. Crouch the goldsmiths, as well as two pairs of gold sleeve links from Julius Hettich, pawnbroker. Some of these robberies were very serious. In 1914 Charles Frederick Lamb, 31, described as labourer, but from his long record a professional criminal, broke and entered the shop of Abraham Shibko, stealing 50 gold watches, 18 watch chains, 25 rings and other articles. Twenty-seven years earlier G. A. Phillips had suffered a similar raid on his jewellery shop in the Wyndham Arcade, which helped to account for his bankruptcy the following year.

This survey of the court calendars produces no very dramatic conclusion. The impression is left of a rather lawless society, in which the work of the law courts was only part of the story. On this stage Jewish criminals played a part, but not a specially prominent one. Nor did they monopolise any special category of crime. Here, as in more constructive activities, they quickly assimilated to the society in which they lived and moved.

The Author: Professor Henriques was a member of the History Department at University College, Cardiff, for twenty years. She has published several books, as well as many articles. Following her retirement she devoted her time to research into the history of the Jewish communities of South Wales and in 1993 published "The Jews of South Wales" (of which a later edition was published in 2013).

Footnotes ( returns to main text)

  1. Census of England and Wales, 1911. Preliminary report.

  2. Maurice Dennis, "The Cardiff Jewish Community, Part I: The Earliest Days", Cajex, April 1951, Part I no. 3. Dennis gives the number of Jews resident in Cardiff at the turn of the century as 1,250, a number taken from thee Jewish Year Book, and the total number in South Wales as 6,000. Geoffrey Alderman, "Into the Vortex: South Wales Jewry before 1914", in Provincial Jewry in Victorian England. Report of the Jewish Historical Society of England Conference, 6th July, 1975, puts the number of Jews in Cardiff in 1900 at 1,500 and in 1914 at 2,000, and estimates South Wales Jewry in 1914 at 4,500-5,000. The Year Book was not particularly accurate, and both sets of figures would appear to be "guestimates". If either relied on synagogue lists these never included all the Jewish population. Few of the criminal element can have paid synagogue dues.

  3. Western Mail, 27 January 1872.

  4. Western Mail, 27 November, 20 December 1888.

  5. Western Mail, 13 June, 4 July 1881.

  6. In 1871, 1,471 pedlars' licences were granted by the police in Glamorgan, and in 1872, 947 were granted. We do not know how many went to Jews, but by this time peddling was becoming an immigrant trade. See "Return to the House of Commons, March 20th 1872", Parliamentary papers 1872 (291) L, 663. It was said that in 1840 an honest pedlar could average 20% on his outlay, while a dishonest one could make 80-200%, by false pretences rather than theft. The profit may have declined as shops became more numerous, and by the end of the nineteenth century the numbers were declining, although there were still Jewish pedlars in South Wales. cf Freda Maxfield, "The Jewish Pedlar in Ninteenth-century Britain", M.A. course paper in Victorian Studies, Keele University, 1983. 1 am obliged to Ms. Maxfield for the loan of this paper.

  7. The rules laid down by the judges following the M'Naghten case in 1843 to distinguish the sane from the insane perpetrator of a criminal act attributed criminal responsibility to any person who (a) knew what he was doing and (b) knew that it was wrong.

  8. Western Mail, 24 August, 6 September, 21 September, 11 November 1882, 7 February, 20 February, 4 July, 12 July 1883.

  9. For pawnbroking see Kenneth Hudson, Pawnbroking: an Aspect of British Social History (London, 1982) and Melanie Tebbutt, Making Ends Meet: Pawnbroking and Working Class Credit (Leicester, 1983), passim. In these two excellent accounts the South Wales pawnbrokers are barely mentioned, no doubt because for some unaccountable reason they scarcely appear in the government enquiries on which the books are based.

 

APPENDIX

Table 1

The Growth of Crime in Glamorgan from 1861 to 1908

 

VALLEYS

CARDIFF

GLAMORGAN

 

No. tried

Probable Jews

%

No. tried

Probable Jews

%

No. tried

Probable Jews

%

1861-66

 

1849

11

0.59

1873-78

 

1748

12

0.68

1879-84

 

1534

17

1.11

1885-90

1813

10

0.55

50*

  1 

2.00

1863

11

0.59

1891-96

1832

20

1.09

671

  8

2503

28

1.11

1897-1902

1658

23

1.38

448

14

3.12

2106

37

1.75

1903-08

2056

20

0.97

738

  9

1.22

2794

29

1.04

 

 

*1890 only.

 

 

Table 2

Proportion of Jews Tried to Total Numbers Tried on Criminal Charges in South Wales, 1903-1908

 

VALLEYS

CARDIFF

GLAMORGAN

 

No. tried

Probable Jews

%

No. tried

Probable Jews

%

No. tried

Probable Jews

%

 

2056

20

0.97

738 

9

1.22

2794

29

1.04

 

 

MONMOUTHSHIRE

S. WALES

 

 

 

No. tried

Probable Jews

%

No. tried

Probable Jews

%

Q.S.*

138

3

 

Ass.

108

4

 

 

246

7

2.84

3040

36

1.1

*Two out of four in 1903.

 

Table 3

Proportion of Persons Tried on Criminal Charges to Total Population of South Wales, 1903-1908

 

POPULATION (1901)

NUMBERS TRIED

%

Glamorgan

860,000

2794

0.32

Monmouthshire

298,000

246

0.08

South Wales

1,158,000

3040

0.26

 

Table 4

Proportion of Jews Tried on Criminal Charges to Estimated Jewish Population of South Wales, 1903-1908

 

JEWISH
POPULATION

PROBABLE
JEWS TRIED

%

Cardiff

either 1500
or 1250

9

0.6
or 0.72

South Wales

either 5000
or 6000

36

0.72
or 0.06

Jewish Communities in Wales home page

 

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Reformatted by David Shulman 

 
 


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