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Chapter Two: Part One

Immigration and Emigration - The Jewish communities of Devon and Cornwall after 1656

Part 1

The composition and growth of Jewish communities in Devon and Cornwall

A small number, perhaps a dozen or so, Marrano [Marranos were crypto-Jews who remained in Spain after 1492, and in Portugal after 1497, when professing Jews were banished.] families settled in England about 1630, retaining their Catholic guise as it was thought that the edict of Edward I banning Jews from England was still in force. In 1656, Oliver Cromwell gave what appears to have been informal permission for Jews to reside and trade in England. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 166.] Gradually, they increased their numbers so that by the end of the seventeenth century there were about a hundred Sephardi [Ibid. p. 173. The term Sephardi is used to describe Jews emanating from Spain and Portugal.] families whose economic importance to England was out of all proportion to their numbers. [Ibid. p. 193.]

By the side of the Sephardi colony there grew up a settlement of Ashkenasi Jews which was eventually to outnumber the original Sephardi settlers. The new immigration was the overspill of German-Polish Jews who settled in Hamburg and Amsterdam and eventually made their way to England. In 1690 there were probably not more than two or three hundred of these Ashkenasi Jews in England, virtually all of them in London. [Ibid. p. 199, n. 1.] Their numbers were greatly swollen by Jewish refugees from persecution in Bohemia (1744-5), the Seven Years' War (1756-63), and the Haidamack massacres of 1768, so that by the end of the eighteenth century there were between 20,000 and 26,000 Jews in England, three-quarters of them in London, the rest mainly in the sea ports. [For a detailed discussion of Anglo-Jewish statistics see V. D. Lipman, 'survey of Anglo-Jewry in 1851', TJHSE, XVII (1953), pp. 171-88. Jews tend to settle in ports. According to the Jew. Year Bk., 1967, pp. 188-90, about half the world's 13 million Jews live in ports. Five-sixths of England's 450,000 Jews live in 50 ports or coastal towns, the remainder, about 80,000, are scattered in another 50 or so inland centres.]

In the next half-century there was a steady increase in the Jewish population in England averaging about 300 per annum, so that there were in all some thirty-five or forty thousand Jews by about 1850, and of these not more than 3,000 were Sephardim. [A. M. Hyamson, The Sephardim of England (1951) (afterwards quoted as Hyamson, Sephardim of England, p. 330.] In the three decades between 1850 and 1880, the Jewish population of Britain increased by about 70 per cent. In part, the increase was due to natural causes, but in the main it was due to an immigration from East Europe which eventually completely changed the composition of Anglo-Jewry. After 1880, prompted by pogroms and vicious discriminatory legislation, there was a mass emigration of more than a million Jews from Russia, Poland, Hungary (mainly Galicia) and Rumania. Of these, 850,000 went to America, 100,000 to Britain and the rest went to Germany and elsewhere. The East European emigration increased the number of Jews in England, estimated in 1880 to be 60,000, to more than 180,000 in 1905. [Roth, Jews in England, pp. 269-70.]

Before discussing the effect of these influxes on the Jewish population of Devon and Cornwall, it is necessary to say a word about Jewish population estimates. It has never been possible to count accurately the number of Jews in England at any particular time, as there are no precise data on which to work. [The decennial census in England has never enumerated religious denomination. Even the 1851 census which made a survey of religious places of worship, only numbered worshippers who actually attended a place of worship on 28-29 March, as well as the average attendance on a Sabbath morning for the previous six months, but did not attempt to number the adherents of any religious body.] Furthermore, there are many definitions of a Jew, based on religious and racial considerations as well as on social and cultural associations. For the purpose of this work, a wide definition has been adopted, that is, those who regarded themselves or who were regarded by others as Jews, irrespective of religious practice or parentage. Although a broad definition has been adopted, in all but a handful of cases the discussion throughout this book relates to Jews who had some contact, even if tenuous, with the synagogal organizations.

The development of the Anglo-Jewish community as a whole in the eighteenth century is reflected in miniature in the South-West of England. There is some reason to suppose that some Marranos settled in the South-West in the sixteenth century, possibly in Exeter, but they certainly had some connections with Plymouth where the London Marranos stationed agents. These agents served a dual purpose. Their primary function was to promote trade for the Marrano mercantile houses which they represented. A secondary function was to inform Marranos who had fled from Spain and Portugal and who wished to practise Judaism openly again whether or not it was safe to proceed to the Low Countries to do so. A well-known example of this procedure is provided by the case of Gracia Mendes, 'the most adored Jewish woman of her age'. In 1536, she was on her way to Antwerp where she intended to revert to her ancestral faith. Her ship put into Plymouth and her firm agents there warned her that the Inquisition was operating in Antwerp. She and her family accordingly broke their journey and stayed in London until it was safe to proceed. [Hyamson, Sephardim of England, p. 4, and Roth, Jews in England, p. 137.]

The mercantile connections established by Marranos in the South-West during the sixteenth century were maintained in the seventeenth and form a direct link with the first known Jewish settlers in the eighteenth. In 1617, a Marrano, Antonio Dacosta Doliveira, was in Plymouth where he acted commercially on behalf of the Spanish Ambassador to London, Count Gondomar. [Count Gondomar's letters from London were published as Documentos ineditos para la Historia de Espana (Madrid, 1936). Mr Edgar Samuel kindly supplied this reference.] It appears that the Marranos in England made little secret of their religious beliefs and further that some of them may have settled in Exeter, as in 1600 the Bishop of Exeter complained of the prevalence of 'Jewism' in his diocese. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 149.] It is possible, however, that the Bishop might have been referring to heterodox beliefs held by some of his flock, and not to the presence of Jews or pseudo-Jews. [See L. I. Newman, Jewish Influence on Christian Reform Movements (New York, 1925), pp. 1-3, for the use of 'Judaizing' and its synonymous forms in this sense.]

There appears to have been a Jewish scholar in Plymouth in 1634, and if so it would further demonstrate the gradual penetration of the country outside London by Jews before their presence in England was officially countenanced. He was a Jno. Lawrenson, a 'Hebrew high Jerman who was mayntayned at the charity of the Town of Plymouth at the Universitye'. [R. N. Worth, Calendar of the Plymouth Municipal Records (Plymouth, 1893), p. 158. The correct entry in the Widey Court Book reads: 'Itm payd Edward Arnold in full discharge of all demands due from Jno. Lawrenson Hebrew high Jerman who was mayntayned att the charity of the Town of Plymouth att the Univ'sity &emdash; ij<^]li xviij<^]s<|]'.] It is not clear what the description 'Hebrew high Jerman' means, perhaps it designated a Jew from Germany proper as opposed to one who came from the Low Countries. Lawrenson is not a typically Jewish name though this alone would not necessarily preclude his Jewish origins. Nor need he have been a practising Jew, he might have been a convert and yet still be called a Jew.

Additional support for the view that Jews in the seventeenth century ranged as far afield as Cornwall is provided by a circumstance which, tragically, has added to the nomenclature of Cornish roads. The lane leading from the village of Herland Cross in the Parish of Breage to Pengilly Farm is called Jews' Lane. In this lane a Jew hanged himself after some outrage done to him by a Squire Sparnon. Soon after the Jew's suicide it was said that the lane was haunted. The Reverend Robert Jago was paid five guineas to exorcise the ghost, which he did by drawing a circle with a whiplash and uttering 'certain formulae'. [H. R. Coulthard, The Story of an Ancient Parish, Breage with Germol (Penzance, 1913), p. 151. The source of this story appears to be S. Rundle's 'Cornubiana' in the Transactions of the Penzance Natural History Society, 1885/6 and quoted in M. A. Courtney, Cornish Feasts and Folklore (Penzance, 1890), p. 93.] No date is given for this incident but it must have been between 1633, when Robert Jago was presented to the Vicarage of Wendron and Helston, and 1685, when he died. [Similarly, the murder of a Jew in the woods at Plymstock, outside Plymouth, led to them being called Jew's Woods and the hill leading to them, Murder Hill.]

After 1656 Jews were free to travel about the country on their lawful business openly as Jews. An important part of their business was the West India trade which was partly conducted through the port of Falmouth. [E. R. Samuel, 'The First Fifty Years', Three Centuries of Anglo-Jewish History (Cambridge, 1961), p. 30 (afterwards quoted as E. R. Samuel, 'The First Fifty Years').] It was through this trade that commercial and social contact was established between Cornishmen and Jews qua Jews for the first time since the Expulsion in 1290. This contact is graphically described in a pamphlet [The full title is of some interest:

An Abstract of all the Statutes made concerning Aliens trading in England, from the first year of King Henry the VII also of the Laws made for securing our Plantation Trade to ourselves, with observations thereon, proving that the Jews (in their practical way of Trade at this time) Break them all, to the great Damage of the King in his Customs, the Merchants in their Trade, the whole Kingdom, and His Majesties Plantations in America in their Staple, together with the Hardships and Difficulties the Author hath already met with, in his endeavoring to find out and Detect the ways and Methods they take to effect it (afterwards quoted as Hayne, An Abstract).]

published in London in 1685 by Samuel Hayne, Customs Officer, who alleged that the Jews conspired with Sir Peter Killigrew and Brian Rogers, a Falmouth merchant, to defraud the Customs. Their method, he claimed, was to send Dutch cargo to Falmouth in an English vessel so that it could be sent on to Barbados as an English export, thus avoiding the duty that Dutch goods would have attracted. [E. R. Samuel, 'The First Fifty Years', p. 37.] The local Cornish population was well disposed towards the Jewish merchants and at the trial of Gomasero and Losado, two London Jews, the jury found against Hayne's allegations, as he put it, 'because it was about the time that Ignoramus Juries were in fashion'. [Hayne, An Abstract, p. 27.] The real reasons why the Cornish favoured the Jews' case are apparent from Hayne's pamphlet. The first, discreditable if true, was that the Jews bribed the jurymen and their families. [Ibid. p. 28.] The second and more important was that the Cornish merchants were anxious about the effects of driving away Jewish capital and trade. Whenever Hayne attempted to tighten the administration of the Customs he was met, in his own words, with this objection:

The Jews are a very Rich sort of People, their trade is very great, they employ many ships etc. and should that be cut off, abundance of people, both here and in the Plantations, would feel the want of them. Moreover, the King would be much lessened in the Customs by the breaking off of their trade. [E. R. Samuel, 'The First Fifty Years', p. 37.]

As a natural consequence of this Sephardi trade with the South-West some Sephardim settled in Devon in the first half of the eighteenth century. In 1729 the public the public was advised that 'Jacob Monis, a learned Jew born at Padua' taught Hebrew, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese 'speaking, reading, and writing grammatically' and could be contacted at Brices Printing House, Exeter. [The Exeter Post-Master or The Loyal Mercury, 25 September 1729. I am indebted to Mr Frank Gent for this reference.] He was followed by Gabriel Treves who settled in Exeter with his family and opened a snuff shop there about 1733. [Ottolenghe, An Answer, p. 5. For the full title of Ottolenghe's book, ~see Additional Note 2, infra, p. 262.] Treves brought over his nephew, Joseph Ottolenghe, from Leghorn in 1734, [Ibid. p. 17.] and the family quarrels between them flared up into a minor cause célèbre. [Roth, Magna Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica (1937), p. 258 (afterwards quoted as Roth, Magna Bibliotheca). See also L. D. Barnett, Bevis Marks Records (Oxford, 1949), p. 82, nos. 517, 519; Lucien Woolf, The Treves family in England (1896), pp. 3, 5.] There was apparently a Gubby family in Axminster, and one Benjamin Gubby was apprenticed to a barber in Tiverton in 1738. [TJHSE, XXII (1970), p. 149. His name indicates that he was a Sephardi.]

From the beginning of the eighteenth century Ashkenasi Jews also made their way from London down to Cornwall, probably peddling. It was possibly two such as these who suffered some reversal of fortune and were given charity by the Borough of St. Ives in 1703. [J. H. Mathews, A History of St. Ives, Leland... (Elliot Stock, ?Cornwall, 1892), p. 296.] A number of Ashkenasi Jews were lodging in a public house in Exeter in the early 1730's. They were established there on a sufficiently permanent basis to hire Ottolenghe to slaughter fowls ritually for their food. [Ottolenghe, An Answer, p. 17. See also L. P. Gartner, 'Urban History and the Pattern of Provincial Jewish Settlement in Victorian England', Jewish Journal of Sociology, 23 (1981), p. 37.] Within a few years people with Ashkenasi names settled in Exeter. There was a Simon Nathan who was declared bankrupt in 1741, [The London Gazette, 24 October 1741. He was in Southgate Prison, 11 November 1742. His name is typically Jewish, otherwise there is no evidence to show he was a Jew.] and a Mrs Sarah Abrahams and Abraham Ezekiel who paid 1 1/2d. and 2d. respectively each week to Exeter's Poor Rate from 1752. [Exeter Poor Rate Book, 1752-6, pp. 1, 125.] About this time there was the nucleus of a community as Ezekiel obtained a lease for a Jewish cemetery in 1757, [Exeter City Council Act Book, XIV, p. 232.] and it is hardly likely that Ezekiel and his fellow Jews would have interred Jews there unless the community was established on a permanent basis. [Jewish law forbids exhumation except in very restricted circumstances.] It may therefore be surmised that in the early 1750's there were some twenty or thirty Ashkenasi families in Exeter.

A similar picture of a community comprised of Ashkenasi Jews emerges in Plymouth, but this time the evidence points to a Congregation organized about a decade earlier than the one in Exeter. Joseph Jacob Sherrenbeck and his wife Sarah were settled in Plymouth by 1744 when Sarah bought a piece of land on the Hoe. [A copy of lease and release dated 27 and 28 March 1760 quotes an agreement made between Sarah and John Cummings. The lease is listed in Ply. Syn. Cat. 3, 6.] But there must have been at least a dozen or more Jewish families in Plymouth in 1745 because services with readings from the Torah, which can only be done in the presence of ten male Jews aged 13 or over, took place then. This may be inferred from an inscription on a silver pointer still in use at the Plymouth Synagogue. The inscription reads (in translation):

This pointer belongs to Joseph ben Judah Jacob from Sherrenbeck, PH Plymouth, in the year 5505 [= 1745].

The two Hebrew letters PH may represent the Hebrew word po which means 'here', and this would not be out of place in such an inscription. There is, however, a mark over the letters PH which elsewhere on the pointer is used to indicate an abbreviation, and although it is not a standard one, PH might well stand for Parnas HaKahal, President of the Congregation. If so, the inscription on this pointer is evidence of an early transitional stage when the community had gelled but its permanence was not yet assured, Sherrenbeck therefore retaining possession of the pointer and not presenting it at that time to the nascent Congregation. This inference from the inscription on the pointer is confirmed by the nineteenth-century Plymouth historian Worth who apparently had evidence that Jews held small but organized services in a rented room in Broad Hoe Lane in the early 1740's. [R. N. Worth, The History of Plymouth (Plymouth, 2nd Edition 1873), p. 170.]

It is worth noting that evidence of a few Jews settled in a town, however, is like an iceberg &emdash; a little shows above the water whilst the major part is concealed. In Plymouth, for example, extra-synagogal sources reveal the presence of only five Jews in the town before 1760. [They were Joseph Cohen, bankrupt in 1749 (Gent. Mag. 1749, p. 430); Solomon Abraham and Jacob Myer Sherrenbeck who were on the conduit water system from 1755 and 1757 respectively (Plymouth Town Rental, 1755, 1757); Sarah and Joseph Jacob Sherrenbeck, who are mentioned in a lease dated 1744 (now in the possession of the Plymouth Congregation).] There were, however, many more, as the inscription on the silver pointer indicates, and the fortunate discovery of a synagogue account book [In the author's collection.] reveals 52 male members in 1759. One more example may be given. In Barnstaple, the only known Jews were Abraham Ralph and his family. Yet, apparently, regular 'Synagogue assemblies were always held in his house' &emdash; implying again the quorum of ten adult male Jews &emdash; for an unknown number of years before Ralph's death in 1805. [Gent. Mag. 1805, p. 1176.]

The influx of Jews to Cornwall came somewhat later and to a lesser extent than to Devon, and once again the Jews were Ashkenasim. It is not likely that there were sufficient male Jews to organize services on a regular basis until at least the late 1760's, and even then only in Falmouth. For in that period Alexander Moses, or Zender Falmouth as he is otherwise known, subsidized young Jews enabling them to act as pedlars around the neighborhood of Falmouth on condition that they returned in time to form a quorum for Sabbath services. [I. Solomon, Records of my Family (New York, 1887) (afterwards quoted as Solomon, Records), pp. 5-7. For a similar situation in Liverpool, see Margoliouth, Jews in Great Britain, III, 110-11.] Had a congregation been functioning at that time it is unlikely that he would have been obliged to make such a condition. There must have been a quorum of ten adult male Jews, residents or visitors, in Falmouth in 1763 as the marriage of Eleazer Hart, father of Lemon Hart the famous rum merchant, took place in Falmouth in December 1763. [Photostat of Hart family bible in Roth collection.] By 1766, however, there was a sufficient number of Jewish settlers to buy a house on the sea-front, to be used as a synagogue. [TJHSE, XVII (1951), p. 66.] So far as Penzance is concerned, other than Margoliouth's unsubstantiated statement, there is no evidence of any Jew there before 1781, when the name of Lemon Hart appears on a clock face, apparently sold by him. [A photo of the clock face appeared in The Illustrated London News, 27 February 1971.]

Of course, Jews settled throughout the South-West, but in Exeter, Plymouth, Falmouth and Penzance they settled in sufficient numbers to form viable communities. The minor settlement elsewhere in Devon and Cornwall will be described in detail below. [Infra, pp. 76-80.]

From whence did these Ashkenasim come? In the main they came from Central Europe, from Germany and from what is now Czechoslovakia. The synagogal ritual, so far as it has survived in the Plymouth Congregation, conforms to the German liturgical pattern rather than the Polish or Russian. [Cf. infra, p. 247.] An additional pointer to a Central rather than an East European provenance of these Jews is provided by the type of Yiddish used in the Plymouth Congregation's minutes of 1779-1830, which is predominantly Central European in character. Furthermore, the place of origin of some of the 'founding fathers' is known. Joseph Jacob derived his surname Sherrenbeck from his town of origin in Germany. [There are several Sherrenbecks in Germany: it has not been possible to narrow down the field.] Eleazer Hart records in his family bible in 1763 on his marriage in Falmouth that he came from Weinheim in Germany. [Photostat in the Roth Collection.] The progenitor of the Joseph family of Cornwall was a Joseph Joseph who left Mulhous, Alsace, for England in the early eighteenth century. [Wm. Schonfield, 'The Josephs of Cornwall', p. 2.] Of the 58 Jewish aliens in Plymouth in 1798-1803, eleven came from the Margravate of Ansbach, ten from in or near Mannheim, and a further twenty-seven from other places in Germany and Bohemia. [Lipman, 'The Plymouth Aliens List', TJHSE, VI (1962) (afterwards quoted as Lipman, 'Aliens List'), passim.]

The great incentive to emigration was clearly the persecution of the Jews in her dominions by the Empress Maria Theresa and the Seven Years' War with its resulting devastation in Central Europe. This may be seen from an analysis of the Plymouth Aliens List which records the names and date of arrival in England of the 55 Jewish aliens who were in Plymouth in 1799. It is convenient to tabulate the arrival figures in eleven year periods, as is shown in Table 3.


Table 3: Arrival in England, 1745-99, of Jewish immigrants

present in Plymouth in 1799 Year of arrival Number of immigrants 1745 - 1755 6 1756 - 1766 19 1767 - 1777 11 1778 - 1788 12 1789 - 1799 7 -- Total 55 ==

(Source: Lipman, 'Aliens List'.)


It should be noted that the number of immigrants given in Table 3 was not the number who actually arrived in Plymouth in any particular period. The figure represents only the number of immigrants who happened to be in Plymouth in 1799. But it does throw some light on the pattern of arrival, although it must be borne in mind that a certain number who arrived in the 1745-55 period would have died or left Plymouth by 1799. The large increase in the 1756-66 period is reflected in the rapid expansion of the Plymouth Congregation where more than 40 families joined the Congregation between 1756 and 1760. [PHC A/c. 1759.]

The immigration of Jews into the South-West followed a discernible pattern. Immigrants tended to travel with relatives or friends from the same area, and when they were once settled they attracted further friends and relatives from their former localities. In the Plymouth Aliens List, 1798-1803, for example, it is possible to identify at least seven, and possibly eight, sets of brothers, representing sixteen or eighteen heads of families. [They are:

David, Levy and Mordecai Abrahams (5, 52, 51);

Emanuel Cohen and David Jacob Coppel (58, 9);

Eleazer, Moses and Solomon Emdin (4, 15, 6);

Aaron and Levi Jacobs (12, 13);

Israel Jacobs (38) and a Nathan Jacobs of Dartmouth;

Joseph and Mordecai Levy (16, 4);

Abraham and Jacob Simon (1, 27);

and possibly Simon and Solomon Nathan (54, 44).]

Of the 53 Jewish families in Plymouth in 1821, at least 34 were inter-related, and eight men came from one town, Mannheim. [See PHC A/c. 1815, nos. 36, 83; idem, 1821, pp. 16, 21, 28; Lipman, 'Aliens List', nos. 11, 42; PHC Bk. of Records, p. 1.] A further indication that the immigration was prompted by family or friendly connections is that a large proportion of immigrants made their way straight to Devon and Cornwall from their place of embarkation. Of the 58 names on the Plymouth Aliens List, 15 went to unknown destinations after landing. Of the remaining 43, 20 went straight to Devon and Cornwall and another 5 had arrived there within one year, 11 stayed in London for varying lengths of time, between 2 and 20 years, and 7 went straight to other towns. It is unlikely that the 25 who went directly or almost directly to the South-West after landing at Harwich, London, Dover and Gravesend, would have done so unless there was a special reason, and that can hardly be any other than the presence of relatives and friends who had offered to help them. A further indication of this trend is that most immigrants to Plymouth after 1771 went directly there, whereas before 1770 they tended to go in roughly equal numbers to Plymouth and Cornwall, London and other towns, as Table 4 shows.


Table 4: Jewish emigration to the South-West, 1745-1800

The number of immigrant Jews whowent

straight to to South-West to London to other

South-Westwithin 1 year first towns first


Before 1770 7 2 6 5

1771 - 1780 3 2 1-

1781 - 1790 7 - 31

1791 - 1800 3 1 11

-- -- -- --

Total 20 5 11 7

== == == ==

(Source: Lipman, 'Alien's List'.)


Although the communities of the South-West were founded by Ashkenasi Jews who formed the overwhelming bulk of their membership from the time of their foundation and onwards, nonetheless a small number of Sephardim also settled in the area or passed through it from time to time in the second half of the eighteenth century. There were never sufficient of them to make even a little community of their own with their own synagogue for worship. On the other hand, if the experience of the early nineteenth century, of which there are many more records, was already anticipated in the middle of the eighteenth, then there must have been a constant flow of Sephardi visitors, either leaving or entering England. At least ten Sephardi Jews landed in Cornwall between 1757 and 1788, nine of them at Falmouth and one at Fowey. [V. D. Lipman, 'Sephardi and other Jewish immigrants in England in the eighteenth century', Migration and Settlement (1971), pp. 47-58.] The names of these ten have fortunately survived on a list of aliens associated with the Sephardi Bevis Marks Synagogue, London, in 1803. But there might very well have been others who had died or moved away by 1803, or for some other reason were not included on the list.

Among the Sephardi Jews who settled in Exeter in the latter part of the eighteenth century was a certain da Costa who ran a successful school for languages in Exeter from before 1772, when an Anthony Fiva disclaimed responsibility for an anonymous letter in Italian about him, until 1780. [Trewman's Flying Post, 19 June 1772 and 20 April 1780. For the name Fiva, cf. Memorial of Edward Wortley Montague against Abraham Payba... (1752).] There was also a Samuel Lopes who occupied 'The White House', Exeter, in 1797 at a rental of £6. 7s. per annum. [Duke of Bedford's Estate, William Bray's Account Book.] These Sephardim may have been connected with the Ashkenasi community in Exeter, but as no minutes of the Exeter congregation have survived from this period it is not possible to be sure.

The most important Sephardi settler in the South-West, because of the part which he and his collateral descendants played in local and national affairs, was Manasseh Masseh Lopes. Lopes was born in Jamaica in 1755, where his father Mordecai Rodriguez Lopes had made a fortune from sugar plantations. He married Charlotte, only daughter of John Yeates of Monmouth, on 19 October 1795. [Information from pedigree entered at Herald's College by Masseh Lopes, 20 January 1806.] His father died six months later and left his fortune to Manasseh. He came to Devon in 1798, when he bought the manors of Maristow, which became his principal seat, Buckland Monachorum, Walkhampton, Shaugh Prior, and Bickleigh; and in 1808 he added the manor of Meavy, in all some 32,000 acres. Manasseh and Charlotte had an only daughter Ester who died in 1819, aged 23. Presumably she had never been expected to have children because when Manasseh or Massey, as he elected to be called, was created a baronet in 1805, there was an exceptional remainder to his nephew Ralph Franco. [Hyamson, Sephardim of England, p. 203. From this Sir Ralph were descended Lord Justice Lopes (Henry Charles Lopes) &emdash; later Lord Ludlow, Lord Roborough (Sir Massey Henry Lopes), and the future Viscount Bledislow. The family generously supported Exeter University when it was the University College of the South-West.] Massey was first elected to parliament in 1802 for New Romney, and he subsequently represented Barnstaple, Grampound, and Westbury. [For fuller details of his political career, see W. G. Hoskins, 'sheaf of modern documents', Devonshire Studies (1952), H. P. R. Finberg and W. G. Hoskins, eds., pp. 412-18.]

In spite of his conversion to Christianity, local tradition in the Jewish community of Plymouth asserts that he asked for a rabbi on his deathbed. [Hyamson, Sephardim of England, p. 204.] After his death, his family is reputed to have given a scroll of the Torah which belonged to him to the Plymouth Congregation. A scroll of Esther was found in his belongings as late as 1970. [Letter to author from the late Dr M. Gordon, Plymouth, 3 September 1971.]

Another Sephardi family which settled in Devon at the beginning of the nineteenth century and which became active in high society was that of Lousada, who made their seat at Peak House, Sidmouth. There they attracted other titled members of their family to come to stay for short periods. The Western Luminary [5 January 1819. For Ximenes see infra, p. 238.] records that Sidmouth was a favored spot for Sir Moris and Lady Ximenes, as well as for Mr and Mrs David Lousada. [A son of this David Lousada became a convert to Christianity and, as the Revd Percy Martindale Lousada, married in 1848 Mary Eliza, the daughter of M. Gutteres of Sidmouth (Anglo-Jewish Notabilities, p. 107). Emanuel Baruch Lousada was married to Rebecca Ximenes (Anglo-Jewish Notabilities, p. 127).]

Plymouth also attracted a number of Sephardim. In 1808, a Solomon Sebag [Possibly a relative of Solomon Sebag (1828-1892), English teacher and Hebrew writer, temporary reader at the Bevis Marks Synagogue (JC, 6 May 1892). Another namesake arrived in England in 1827 as part of a mission from the Sultan of Morocco (Hyamson, Sephardim of England, p. 207). Sebag is Arabic for a painter.] was a member of the Meshivat Nefesh Society, [Mesh. Nefesh, Ply. A/c. 1808. The Meshivat Nefesh Society was a friendly Society with a social purpose associated with the Plymouth Synagogue (see infra, p. 283).] and in 1814 there was a Mrs Pereira, probably Jewish, a tea dealer in Little Church Lane. [S. Rowe, Plymouth Directory, 1814. Manasseh Lopes's mother was a Pereira.]

The influence of the Sephardim on the Congregations of the South-West of England throughout their existence has been negligible, both in respect of numbers and financial contributions, as well as upon the development of Jewish life. [Apart from the London Sephardi community, the only other Sephardi communities of any permanence were one in Dublin from about 1660 which survived until c. 1740, and one which was founded in Manchester in 1872 and which still flourishes. There were also transient Sephardi communities in the eighteenth century, or perhaps just individuals, at Liverpool and Cork (Hyamson, Sephardim of England, pp. 146, 358).]

To complete the picture of the composition of South-West Jewry in the latter part of the eighteenth century it is necessary to add that there were also a few East-European Jews. The earliest of them was employed by the Plymouth Congregation and indeed most of those known to us had some synagogal function. Moses Isaac, beadle, trusty, and probably also mohel [The chronogram on his tombstone is Deuteronomy, x, 16, 'and you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart'.] to the Plymouth Congregation was born in 1728 in Mezeritz, Poland, the home town of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of modern Hasidism. [Lipman, 'Aliens List', 33. His name is asterisked in the transcript indicating that he arrived in Plymouth between 1798 and 1803, but this is an error.] He landed at Harwich in 1748, and was acting as beadle in Plymouth in 1778, [PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 47.] but it is not known when he actually arrived in Plymouth. Another very early East-European immigrant was Joseph Cohen of Brod, Poland, who arrived in England in 1775 and subsequently made his way to Plymouth. [Lipman, 'Aliens List', 8.] Two brothers, Mordecai Levy and Joseph Levy were born in Lissa, Poland in 1770 and 1771, respectively. [Ibid. 4, 16.] They both came to England in 1789, Joseph arriving in Plymouth in 1795 when he was appointed shochet, beadle and teacher. [PHC Min. Bk. I, pp. 15, 24, 25.] In 1799, David Jacob Coppel arrived in Plymouth from Belleye (Biala, Podlaska), [Lipman, 'Aliens List', 9. He died 12 January 1805, and is described on his tombstone as 'from Bialin in Poland' (PHC tomb. B.22).] and a year later Moses David Angel, a fellow citizen and possibly a relative, followed him. [Lipman, 'Aliens List', 10.] The 26 year-old ill-fated Isaiah Falk Valentine, murdered in Fowey in 1811, [Berlin, PHC tomb. Q.24. PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 63, see infra, pp. 213, 237.] came from Breslau (Wrocklaw). [190 miles S.W. of Warsaw. Valentine was appointed a shochet of the Plymouth Congregation (PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 63).] These East-European Jews had an importance beyond their numbers. They provided, in the main, the religious leadership. They also provided the base on which further immigrants from Russia and Poland in the latter part of the eighteenth century could anchor themselves.

Having described the overall composition of the South-West Jewries until the end of the eighteenth century, let us now attempt to assess the total number of Jews in Devon and Cornwall at various points in time. It is possible to do this for 1765, which was two or three years after the Plymouth and Exeter Synagogues had been built, and just before the Falmouth Synagogue was built, on the basis of the seating capacity of these three synagogues. The Plymouth synagogue, when it was originally built, had 142 seats, [PHC Min. Bk. II, pp. 246-7.] that of Exeter about 100, and that of Falmouth about 50, [Edward Jamilly, 'An Essay on the Georgian Synagogue', (unpublished) (afterwards quoted as Jamilly, 'Georgian Synagogue'), pp. 20, 23. In 1874, it had 54 male and 36 female seats after rebuilding in 1836 (A. Myers, Jewish Directory for 1874 (1874).] giving a total seating capacity of 292. It is likely that in a period of rapid expansion the synagogues were built with provision for future immigrants, and indeed when the Plymouth Synagogue was built in 1762 it had 89 seats for males but only 52 male members. [PHC A/c. 1759.] It seems therefore that some 40 per cent of the seating was installed in anticipation of future expansion. As seats were provided at that period only for adults, children were expected to stand or squeeze in somewhere, [Cf. the Exeter Congregation's rule that boys under six and girls under twelve were not allowed in the synagogue for prayers on the High Festivals (EHC Regulations 1825, p. 13).] it follows that there were some 175 or perhaps 200 adult Jews in the South-West. Allow that there were some 250 children, since it was after all a young immigrant society, then there must have been, in all, some 450 Jewish souls in Plymouth, Exeter and Falmouth. Perhaps another 50 should be added for Penzance and other towns where there were only a few families, so that there were in all some 500 Jewish souls in Devon and Cornwall, which represented a little over six per cent of all the Jews in England in the 1760's.

After the rapid increase in the early 1760's there appears to have been a drop in the overall number of Jewish residents in Plymouth, and probably in the rest of the South-West, as the Plymouth Congregation had only 40 members in 1785, [PHC A/c. 1759, passim.] a drop of 10 from 1760. The check to immigration, if there was one, was only temporary because by 1815 the membership of the Plymouth Congregation had risen to 97, [PHC A/c. 1815.] whilst Exeter in 1820 had 53 members, [EHC A/c. 1818, passim.] and Falmouth and Penzance each had at least twelve or possibly more members. In all, the four communities had at least 174 members and perhaps as many as 200. One must take into account, moreover, that there were poor families whose heads could not afford to be contributing members of the Congregation a factor which would increase the numbers, and offset those who were bachelors or had no offspring. It may therefore be hazarded on the basis that each member represented four individuals that there were between seven hundred and one thousand Jewish souls in Devon and Cornwall at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

In the period 1825 to 1845, the composition of South-West Jewry remained much as it was in the eighteenth century, in so far as the overwhelming bulk of the membership of the Congregations remained Ashkenasi, together with a fair sprinkling of Sephardim in the two counties. By 1840, however, there was this difference &emdash; the Ashkenasim were mostly British-born. According to the 1841 Census, [The decennial census returns, 1841-81, have been used extensively in this book. The difficulties involved in their use are set out in B. Williams, The making of Manchester Jewry, 1740 - 1875 (afterwards quoted as Williams, Manchester Jewry), pp. 356-7.] for example, of 126 Jews in Exeter only 20 were foreign-born and the rest were born in England. Although at first sight it seems that the community was now overwhelmingly British-born, it is not likely that this was the impression gathered by the Gentile onlooker, because of the 106 Jews who were English-born, only 41 were over 20 years of age. In other words, of the adult Jews the British-born slightly outnumbered the foreign-born. [Figures extracted from 1841 census returns.] The Jewish community in Plymouth was even more English, there being only 18 foreign-born Jews to 192 British-born. [Ibid.] These figures compare closely to those given by Lipman for the proportion of foreign-born Jews to British-born in London in the mid-nineteenth century. [V. D. Lipman, 'The structure of London Jewry in the mid-nineteenth century', Essays presented to Chief Rabbi Brodie (1967), p. 267 (afterwards quoted as Lipman, 'The structure of London Jewry').] These British-born Jews were for the most part born in Devon and Cornwall. In most cases there is no evidence to show whether or not their parents ever resided in one or other of the towns where the four Congregations were established. But in the latter part of the nineteenth century they provided a reservoir which replenished to some extent the losses due to Jewish emigration from the South-West.

Besides the changing aspect of the South-West Congregations in as much as they were becoming predominantly British-born, there was also a change in the foreign element, as in the quarter century after the ending of the Napoleonic wars there was an increasing immigration from East Europe. Plymouth attracted, amongst others, a Zvi ben Judah Lyons who was a member of the Congregation in 1829 and who came from Warsaw. [PHC Bk. of Records, p. 2b.] The Polish-born Shemuel Hirsch landed in England about 1821, [W. Clegg, Samuel Harris, a converted Jew. The history and conversion of Shemoel Hirsch, a Polish Jew; containing an account of his early life, of his travels ... (Sheffield, 1833), (afterwards quoted as Clegg, Shemoel Hirsch).] and in the same year Joseph ben Samuel of Brisk, the scribe Michael ben Abraham of Vilna, Nathan ben Reuben from Hungary, and Lazarus Solomon of Lublin, all passed through Plymouth. [PHC A/c. 1821, passim.] The last named Lazarus Solomon settled in Plymouth. Some years later he sent back to Poland twenty five pounds left by a Ze'ev ben Judah from Shatwinitz who died of cholera at a Plymouth inn in 1832; [PHC tomb. B.23; PHC Bk. of Records, p. 55b.] and in the same month died Jacob ben Uri Shragai from Lontshotz. [PHC tomb. B.26.] Mathias Cohen of Sonnhaus, Poland, died in Plymouth at only 'half his days' in 1833. [PHC tomb. A.67; PHC Bk. of Records, p. 57a. It is not known when he arrived.] Revd S. Hoffnung, later chazan in Exeter, arrived in England from Poland in 1836. [JC, 6 March 1908.] Perhaps the first recognizably East European name which is met in Plymouth is Mandovsky, who offered comparatively large sums to the Plymouth Congregation in 1822. [PHC A/c. 1821, passim. He came with his mother.] There was a more extensive movement of Sephardim in Devon towards the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century than has perhaps hitherto been recognized. The chance survival of the Plymouth Congregation's cash book for strangers' offerings which was kept by its beadle, H. Issacher, for the years 1821-23 reveals quite a procession of Sephardi men who worshipped at the synagogue, and who were called to the Torah and made offerings during 1822 and 1823. They were Moses ben Solomon Delavayo, Moses ben Hayyim Portuguese, a Turk called Jacob ben Joseph Portuguese, Jacob ben Shalom Mogadore, [He married a daughter of a Plymouth Jew called Benjamin Levy (PHC A/c. 1821, pericope Miketz).] and an unnamed person from Madagascar. [PHC A/c. 1821, passim.] Some of these six Sephardim who passed through Plymouth during an eighteen month period may have been en route to the West Indies, whereas others were probably trading in the area. [Cf. the Turkish Rhubarb seller in Exeter, for whom see infra, p. 65.]

Among the Sephardim who were resident in Plymouth about this period were Abraham Franco who was a resident in Plymouth at least since 1821, [PHC A/c. 1821; he paid for wax for a Day of Atonement candle.] until his death in 1832, [PHC Bk. of Records, p. 56.] and who may have been a poor relation of Manasseh Massey Lopes whose sister was married to an Abraham Franco; Joseph and Sara Montefiore (née Mocatta) who had a son at Stoke, Devonport, on 29 July 1828, [PHC Bk. of Records, p. 10b.] possibly the mother came down to Devon for the benefit of the climate during her pregnancy; and Isaac ben Joseph Bosca, who died in Plymouth 1833, whose surname may indicate that he was a Sephardi. [PHC Bk. of Records, p. 56. The Hebrew name could be read as Busker, indicating an occupational type surname. This last suggestion is somewhat confirmed by the presence of a similar appellation appended to Meir ben Aaron Israel, a visitor to Plymouth in 1822 and 1823 (PHC A/c. 1821, pericopes Balak and Vayera, 1822; Tazria, 1823). If the conjectured name Busker is correct it could mean a seller of obscene prints in public houses (E. Partridge, Dictionary of Slang and unconventional English, (1913) (afterwards quoted as Partridge, Dictionary of Slang), p. 113. In all probability, however, the surname Busker refers to their (unknown) town of origin.]

Then there were a few Sephardim resident in Plymouth who apparently had no connection at all with the synagogue there. Aaron Lara, for example, a relation of Lopes, died in Plymouth in 1813, leaving an estate of £1,000. [His brother Joshua, an executor of his will, was married to Sarah Ximenes (P.C.C. A. April 1813).] In 1828, a Jose Bento Said, a Portuguese Jew from Angra in the Azores, fell ill in Plymouth. In the preface to his Descripsam das 3 cidades unidas, Plymouth, Stonhause, e Devonport [Published 1829, Angra. The author has a copy in his collection.] he says that he was helped during his illness by friends. And finally, a Lydstone Pereira, possibly a Sephardi Jew, is listed in the Plymouth Directory of 1830. [At 1, Gibbon Street.]

Exeter, too, had a number of Sephardi visitors some of whom had connections with the Congregation. In 1815, there was a Turkey Rhubarb Jew from Mogadore in Morocco who together with three fellow countrymen had a shop in Exeter from about 1815 for some five years; [Mayhew, London Labour, I, 52.] in 1827, the Gutteres family supported Anglo-Jewish charitable institutions from nearby Sidmouth; [De Sola Pamphlet, 2, Mocatta Library, London.] in 1828, a Mrs Lopes bought kosher meat in Exeter; [EHC Meat Tax Book. She bought 2 lbs. of meat. Perhaps she was connected with the Samuel Lopes of 1797, supra p. 57, or possibly it was the Mrs Lopes of Maristow House buying kosher meat for a visitor.] in 1839, Hannah, relict of Moses Ancona, was buried there [EHC tomb. 6. She was a daughter of Moses Vita Montefiore and first cousin to Sir Moses Montefiore.] and so was an Aaron Amzalek in 1838, the Congregation writing to the Sephardi Congregation at Bevis Marks, London, asking for the funeral expenses and the cost of the ground to be refunded. [EHC Min. Bk. I, p. 60.] A number of Sephardim also made donations to the Exeter Congregation, presumably because they worshipped there at some time. There was David Lindo, uncle of Lord Beaconsfield, who died in 1852 and left the Exeter Congregation a legacy of £10; [EHC Necrology (at the Jewish Museum, London), 62. Lindo was born in London in 1772 and died there in 1852. He was intimately connected with the Bevis Marks Congregation: in 1838 he founded a society called Shomere Mishmeret Akodesh to oppose Reform Judaism (Jew. Encycl. s.v. DAVID ABRAHAM LINDO).] and a Miss Guedela who donated £2 to the Congregation in 1855. [EHC A/c. 1855, strangers' A/c.]

In spite of the growing immigration from Eastern Europe the total number of Jews in Devon and Cornwall declined between 1820 and 1845. From the 1841 census the names have been extracted of 119 Jews in 27 households in Exeter, and 193 Jews in 42 households in Plymouth. There were some 100 Jews in Falmouth and Penzance at this period, [Chief Rabbinate Archives, MSS 104.] so in all there were some 450 Jews in the South-West of England or about half the number that resided there just after the Napoleonic Wars. These figures are confirmed by the answers to a questionnaire which was circulated by Nathan Adler shortly after his induction as Chief Rabbi of the British Empire in 1845. [Ibid.] The information in the questionnaire is summarized in Table 5, the 1841 census figures being quoted in brackets for the purpose of comparison.


Table 5: Number of Jews in the South-West in 1845 (1841 census figures in brackets)

Members Individuals Exeter 32 (27 households) about 175 (119) Plymouth 52 (42 households) 205 (193) Falmouth 12 50 Penzance 11 51 i.e. 20 males, 20 females, 11 children, --- Total 481 ===


(Source: Chief Rabbinate Archives, 104.)


A comparison of the 1841 census and 1845 questionnaire figures indicates approximate agreement for numbers of individuals in the case of Plymouth, but a considerable disparity in that of Exeter. This may be explained by assuming the figure of 'about 175' Jews in Exeter reflected the situation some years earlier, but that in fact, there were about 145 Jews in Exeter in 1845.

Some of the foreign-born Jews who settled in Devon maintained a close interest in their towns of origin. Moses Mordecai, who was settled in Exeter by 1788 and had been an established goldsmith and bookplate designer in Portsmouth before that date, bequeathed in his will dated 7 December 1808, ten guineas to the synagogue at Maintz so that his soul might be commemorated there on Festivals, as well as numerous legacies to his family who lived in that locality. [P.C.C. Loveday, 298. See also C. Roth, 'Jewish Art and Artists', Jewish Art, ed. C. Roth (Tel Aviv, 1961), p. 531. For a similar bequest made by a Philadelphian Jew in the mid-eighteenth century to his home synagogue in Silesia, see E. Wolf and M. Whiteman, The History of the Jews of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1957), p. 42.] Michael Solomon Alexander took the opportunity whilst journeying through West Prussia to visit his native town of Sch<148]nlanke to see his surviving family, even though he anticipated considerable hostility from the rest of the Jewish community on account of his apostasy. [W. Ayerst, The Jews of the Nineteenth Century (1848), p. 129.] Where a man's birthplace is recorded on his tombstone it often implies that he had not long left his native place, as most tombstones of foreign-born Jews do not record their birthplace. David Jacob Coppel who is described as 'from Bialin in Poland' on his tombstone in 1805, had landed at Gravesend only six years earlier. [PHC tomb. B.22, and Lipman, 'Aliens List', 9.] A Mr Woolf who died in the cholera epidemic of 1832 had no relatives in England [The £25 which he left was sent back to his relatives in Poland (PHC Bk. of Records, p. 55b).] and is described as 'from Shetvinitz in Poland'. [PHC tomb. B.23.] However, if a person had been in England for many years and his native city or land was nevertheless commemorated, it probably indicates that there was a strong sentimental tie. Thus Jacob Philip Cohen who died in 1832 is described as 'from Lontschutz' and yet he was well established in Plymouth by 1819. [PHC tomb. B.26 and PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 159.] Similarly, when a Jew emigrated from England his town of origin might be mentioned on his tombstone. Joseph Marks, for example, was born in Portsea in 1805, moved to Exeter about 1833 where he lived and worked for the next twenty years. He emigrated to Australia in 1853 and died in Melbourne in 1872. His tombstone records that he was 'formerly of Exeter ', and one can imagine his widow and children visiting his grave, and conjuring up visions of their native Exeter which they were unlikely ever to see again. [Census 1851; information from His Honour Mr Justice Marks, Melbourne.]

After 1850, the Jewish communities of Devon and Cornwall changed both in respect of their distribution as well as in their composition. From this period the two Cornish communities dwindled away until they all but vanished. At this stage the Cornish Congregations were formally disbanded and their synagogues sold at the end of the nineteenth century. The gradual decline of the Penzance Congregation is apparent from its membership which is summarized in Table 6.


Table 6: Seatholders in the Penzance Hebrew Congregation, 1841-74

1841 12 seatholders 1849 8 seatholders

1845 11 seatholders 1854 5 seatholders

1874 4 seatholders


(Sources: Roth MSS 271, p. 91; Chief Rabbinate Archives, MSS 104;

PenHC Minute Bk. 1843, pp. 23 recto, 37 verso; A. Myers,

Jewish Directory for 1874 (1874)).


In 1881, a letter to the Jewish Chronicle signed by 'An Occasional Visitor to Bath' complained that he had found the Bath synagogue closed on a Friday night and Saturday morning. He pointed out that 'in Penzance with only three members the synagogue was open every Shabbat and frequently made minyan from visitors like himself'. [M. Brown and J. Samuel, 'The Jews of Bath', TJHSE, XXIX (1982), 153.]

In Falmouth the number of Jewish families similarly declined rapidly from 1842 to 1874, as Table 7 indicates.


Table 7: The size of the Falmouth Hebrew Congregation, 1842-74


1842 14 families

1845 50 individuals, men, women and children

18659 males aged over 13 years

18743 families


(Sources: JC, 14 March 1842; Chief Rabbinate Archives, MSS 104;

Roth, MSS 204; A. Myers, Jewish Directory for 1874)


From the middle of the nineteenth century, the Exeter Congregation also began to decline steeply in numbers. The names of 128 Jews have been noted in the 1851 census returns for Exeter, and only 73 in the following decennial returns in 1861. By 1875 there were only 40, [EHC A/c. 1875.] and about 1880 the Congregation disbanded. [Letter from M. L. Dight of Birmingham to JC, 15 July 1881.] The number of Jews in Plymouth also declined after the Crimean War, as the 1851 census reveals the presence there of 278 Jews whilst the 1861 census shows a drop to 233. This level gradually increased. In the 1871 census there are 268 names which are almost certainly Jewish, with a further 27 who are possibly Jewish. By the end of the 1880's, there was sufficient Jewish life to attract some of the new wave of immigration which came from Eastern Europe. The numbers may be expressed in tabular form as in Table 8.


Table 8: The number of Jews in Plymouth and Exeter according

to the Censuses of 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1881


N u m b e r of J e w s i n

Census dates ExeterPlymouth


1841119 193

1851128 278

1861 73 233

1871 not searched 268

1881 not searched 280


It is difficult to pinpoint the causes for the decline of the Jewish communities in the South-West of England, and more particularly in Cornwall. Some emigration either to more prosperous centres in England or abroad was occasioned by a falling off in local commercial opportunities. This was largely caused by the spread of the railway system to the South-West which enabled local shopkeepers to obtain goods more easily from the large industrial centres and deprived the Jewish tradesmen of their advantage in national connections in the business world. Better transport also enabled the inhabitants of villages and farmsteads who had previously found it difficult to get to main trading centres and had relied on travelling Jewish salesmen for their supplies to come into the market towns to do their own shopping. In Falmouth, Andrew Jacobs, the secretary of the Congregation, recorded in the 1851 census:

Since the giving up of the foreign packet here, the Jewish population has decreased with the inhabitants generally. [P.R.O. H.O./129/12/309.]

Whilst the members of the South-West Congregations were experiencing economic difficulties, and perhaps to some extent because of them, they also suffered from internal dissension, possibly occasioned in part by business rivalry and for the rest by a clash of personalities. [For editorial comment on this, see JC, 24 October 1873. Alexander Alexander, the dominant personality in the Exeter Congregation, appears to have been a very difficult person (see EHC Minute Bk. 1823, EHC Minute Bk. 1860, passim; Western Briton, 20 February 1846, for examples of his quarrelsome nature).] This, too, may have had the effect of driving away those who wanted to live in a more pleasant atmosphere.

There is no evidence whatsoever that local hostility was driving away the Jews, nor are there any grounds to suggest that most Jews in the South-West lost their identity by merging into the general background. Some few men may have married Gentile women, if the latter were not converted their children were not Jewish and were lost to the Jewish community. Even a well placed contemporary observer, Isaac Aryeh Rubinstein, the shochet and communal factotum in Penzance in 1886, was at a loss to explain the exodus:

Many Jews flourished here in abundant plenty and some acted in a representative capacity in local and national government equally with Christians. Moreover those who live here today live on the fat of the land and enjoy unhindered and uninterrupted peace. In spite of this, our brethren have forsaken this place ... Why, I know not. It is a riddle without interpretation ... they leave a blessed land ... without any compelling reason. [Ha-Melitz, XXVI, 155, 25 November 1886.]


The trend noted above during the period 1820-1845 of increasing East-European immigration continued in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Numerically, the number of German-born Jews steadily dropped after 1851 whilst the number of Polish- and Russian-born Jews rose until the end of the century. This trend is illustrated by the figures in Table 9 which are extracted from the 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1881 censuses.


Table 9: Number of East-European Jews in Plymouth and Exeter,

1851, 1861, 1871 and 1881


Place of 1851 1861 1871 1881

birth Plym. Ex. Plym. Ex. Plym. Plym.


Poland 20 9 27 7 41* 44

Russia 1 - 2 - 8 2

Hungary - - 1 - 5 -

Rumania - - - - - 7

-- - -- - -- --

Total 21 9 30 7 54 53


Germany 14 9 9 4 25 14

Prussia- - - - - 8

(*including 5 from Russian Poland and 1 from Prussian Poland.)


Table 9 shows that the general increase in the foreign-born element in the new Jewish communities of the new industrial towns due to an influx of East-European Jews was reflected in the South-West Congregations. [According to Williams, Manchester Jewry, p. 270, the proportion of Jews of Russian or Polish birth in Manchester rose from 19 per cent of the total Jewish population there in 1861 to 35 per cent in 1871.]

The first known large scale influx of East-European Jews to the South-West of England was composed of prisoners of war brought back from the Crimea. A number of these were imprisoned at Plymouth and Dartmoor and some even brought their wives and families with them. [JC, 20 April 1855. The Jewish prisoners were 'mostly, if not all, natives of Poland'.] The Plymouth Congregation helped to look after these prisoners and some of them probably settled in Plymouth. Once again they probably wrote glowing letters to their families and friends back in Russia and Poland extolling the wonderful opportunities in England and freedom from oppression and persecution which was characteristic of the British way of life. A good example of this type of panegyric, though of a somewhat later period, is the letter already quoted in part, written by Isaac Aryeh Rubinstein from Penzance in 1886, and which was printed in the widely-read Russian-Jewish journal, HaMelitz:

In the provinces there are many great cities, and many large factories of different types. One can easily learn a craft or trade which provides a livelihood. The hearts of the English manufacturers are favorably inclined to us, and they make no racial or religious distinctions ...

Our brethren in Russia and other lands complain that the State closes the way before them, not allowing them to settle in the country &emdash; would it not be better for them in the lands of liberty and freedom where there is no Pale of Settlement, where there is none who says to them: 'until here and no further'. [Ha-Melitz, XXVI, 155, 25 November 1886.]

Notwithstanding such glowing reports only a trickle from the flood of East-European immigrants made its way to the provinces. In spite of Rubinstein's warning that in the two or three centres where Jews settled in England in large numbers ]

Each grabs his neighbour's food, for seven eyes are cast upon one loaf

the new immigrants preferred to cluster in ghettos of their own making rather than spread to Cornwall. The Russo-Jewish Committee explained why Jews would not leave the slums of the East End of London and go to the provinces:

(1) No desire to be amongst strangers.

(2) Local prejudices against foreigners.

(3) Some refugees would not learn English.

(4) Lack of opportunity for Jewish education. [L. P. Gartner, The Jewish Immigrant in England ÝÝÝ (1960) (afterwards quoted as Gartner, Jewish Immigrant), p. 149.]

There may well have been some force in the second reason &emdash; local prejudice against foreigners. The 1871 census returns for Plymouth pointedly identify some of the heads of family as Jews. Thus, the occupation of Leah Morris, born in Germany and not naturalized, is given as 'Jewess', and she has four English-born children. Harriet Bellem's occupation is listed as 'supported by the Jewish community' and she was born in Dartmouth in 1810. Ninety year old Rachel Karbman, born in Prussia and still a foreign citizen, is recorded as being on 'Jewish relief'. Isaac Neuman, born in Souack, Poland and a British Subject is called a 'Pedlar Jew'. And although the door-to-door enumerator recorded the occupation of Samuel Levy as a 'Second hand clothes dealer and outfitter', the Superintendent Registrar crossed this out and substituted 'JEW'.

The four reasons adduced by the Russo-Jewish Committee may help to account for the reluctance of new immigrants to move to the South-West but they do not go far to explain why the local Jews left.

Those East-European immigrants who did go to Plymouth were probably attracted by family or friends. From the Plymouth returns of the 1871 census records we learn the overseas origin of 66 Jewish men and women. The place of origin of a further eight Jewish men in Plymouth who applied for naturalization between 1879 and 1898 has also been noted. [Information from the Home Office, London, 1 March 1966.] In the census returns, sometimes only the country of origin is noted, more often the district is listed, and, occasionally, the town. Of the 74 men, 8 came from the district of Suwalk in Russian-Poland, and five of these, including the Roseman and Fredman families, came from the same town, Saki (variously spelled Schaki and Shakie). [The enumerators who recorded the Census returns had a hard job and often made mistakes when spelling foreign names and places. Sometimes they misheard, sometimes the enumerated themselves were not sure of the spelling, or whether their town of origin was in Russia, Russian-Poland or Poland.] Tabulating the countries of origin of Plymouth Jews from the 1871 and 1881 census returns, the following picture emerges:


1871 1881

Austria 1

ä Germany21 14

Poland (including Russian-Poland) 40 44


Rumania 7

Russia 2


From the above figures it will readily be seen that a substantial proportion of the active, adult Jewish population of Plymouth came from Poland and Russian-Poland. Together with the Rumanian and Russian Jews they spoke a common language &emdash; Yiddish. The strong influence of family connections on immigration is clearly shown in the case of the Fredman family. The 1871 Census reveals three Fredman's known from other sources to be brothers (or possibly cousins), Lavine (or Levin as he is called in the 1881 Census), Samuel Wolf (he was later called just Wolf), and Jacob David. A fourth Fredman, Levy, was almost certainly also a brother of these three.

By noting where and when their children were born it is possible to determine that Jacob was the first to come to England. He was in Birmingham in 1862 where his first daughter, Leah, was born, and then moved to Devonport where his second daughter, Phoebe, was born in 1863. Levin and Levy arrived in England between 1866/7, when they each had a child born in Saki, and 1870, when they each had a child born in Plymouth. Woolf similarly arrived between 1867, when Goldie, the last of his children to be born in Saki, was born, and 1871, the year of the census.

Reading between the lines, it appears that once Jacob had established himself as a clothes dealer with a shop in busy Queen Street, Devonport, he called over his brother Levy when there was a job for him as beadle of the Plymouth synagogue, and then called over his family, who started at the bottom of the ladder, as so many other Jewish immigrants did at the end of the nineteenth century, as hawkers of sponges and leathers. Sponges were then widely used to rub down horses and leather was needed for harness.

Once an immigrant became established, if he was at all kindhearted he would bring his relatives or friends who were struggling in London and help them to find accommodation and work in Plymouth or Devonport. Thus 'the father of Joe Greenburgh, a most philanthropic gentleman, brought my uncle, Samuel Wolfson, to Devonport before the First World War. My uncle and aunt, being childless, in turn brought me over, and "adopted" me, as my father and step-mother were having a hard time in Lithuania'. [Verbal testimony of Mark Wolfson, Bournemouth, to the author, August 1990.]

This landsmanshaft [A term used to express the comradeship in their new country of emigrants from a common town or district.] possibly accounts for the survival of Plymouth Jewry well into the twentieth century when many other communities of similar size and nature disintegrated. There is a similar instance of such a cohesive community in Sunderland where the East European emigration came almost entirely from one town, Krottingen. [A. Levy, Sunderland Jewish Community (1956), p. 94. For group migrations see also Jewish Journal of Sociology, VI (1964), p. 158.] This provided a continuity of tradition which enabled the Sunderland Jewish community to maintain its orthodox character until well into the twentieth century. Possibly something similar happened in Plymouth where two large families, the Roseman's and the Fredman's, together with their landsmen dominated the community for the best part of a century.

A large proportion of the nearly three million Jewish emigrants who left Eastern Europe, passed through Germany, 70,000 settling there between 1870 and 1910. [S. A. Ascheim, Brothers and Strangers (Wisconsin, 1982), pp. 37, 42.] The acculturated and assimilated German Jewish community looked on these Ostjuden with loathing born of embarrassment and fear. The fear was that the Ostjuden would reinforce German anti-Semitic stereotypes and the embarrassment was lest native-born Jews should be identified with the 'dirty, hirsute, kaftan-clad and shabbily-dressed beggars'. [Ibid. pp. 43ff.] The establishment in London reacted in a similar way, but there is no evidence to suggest that the English-born Jews in Plymouth displayed any hostility towards the East European immigrants. [For the general hostility amongst English Jews against the Russo-Polish immigrant see Gartner, Jewish Immigrant, pp. 24-56.] Rather, the new immigrants in the latter part of the nineteenth century were probably greeted as a welcome reinforcement to a declining community. [Gartner, Jewish Immigrant, p. 214, also suggests that there was a greater rapport between native born Jews and immigrants in the smaller communities.] Putting it another way, neither in Plymouth nor in Devonport were there sufficient Jewish men to establish a viable rival Congregation. [For an account of the power struggle between new immigrants and the established Jewish community, see Williams, Manchester Jewry, pp. 298-317.] Moreover, the new immigrants trickled in slowly and were more easily absorbed and assimilated by the existing Jewish community. The same welcome was extended in the twentieth century to the Jews who settled in and around Plymouth during the Second World War.

From the 1880's, the Plymouth Jewish community was the only viable and active one in the South-West. In 1883 it numbered about 230 souls. [An estimate based on the number of members in 1883 (PHC A/c. 1883).] It continued to grow, if slowly, from 300 in 1906, [Jew. Year Bk. 1906, p. 237.] until there were about 400 in 1935. [Jew. Year Bk. 1935, p. 367. Exeter had 37 Jews in 1935.] After the second World War there was a decline in numbers, an accurate count in 1965 indicated 202 Jewish souls. In 1970, in the whole of the South-West of England there were about 350 Jewish souls, [Jew. Year Bk. 1970; Ibid. 1985.] but that number has further declined, so much so that by the beginning of the 1990's only intermittent services are held in Exeter and Torquay and it has become impossible to ensure a regular minyan for Friday night and Saturday morning services in Plymouth.


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