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Latest revision (formatting): 5 May 2017

by Cecil Roth
(published 1950)

The Early Communities - Section 1 (Bath to Cambridge)


JEWS FREQUENTED BATH FOR THE WATERS at a relatively early date; indeed, in a curious letter written thence in 1761 by the apostate physician Isaac Schomberg he tells that 'we have a good many bnei israel at Bath(i).  Here Isaac Franks died in 1736 and Hyman Hart in 1738; here Dr. Philip de la Cour (alias Abraham Gomes Ergas: d. 1786) built up a fashionable practice. Services were probably held sporadically therefore even in the eighteenth century. But (notwithstanding the erroneous date given in current works of reference) it does not seem that even as late as 1771, any proper Jewish organisation existed, for when in that year a son (Elijah) was born there to one Benjamin Levi, the circumcision did not take place until the infant was brought, at the age of 61/2 weeks, to Portsmouth. In the year 1782 the Bristol Hazan visited Bath for a similar purpose, and in the next year his son-in-law, Myer Solomon of London, operated there on Myer, son of Abraham Wagg of Bristol, the thwarted peace maker recently returned from America.

From Mr A. Ruben's collection.

J. ABRAHAM(S), of Bath
and Cheltenham, 1829


A constant visitor in the period of the Napoleonic Wars was Moses Samuel, Parnas of the Great Synagogue in London and ancestor of a noteworthy clan in Anglo-Jewry, who spent something like a quarter of a century of retirement at a house in St. James's Square, Bath. Life for him without a Synagogue was impossible, and his enthusiasm led to the establishment of a proper community, shortly after 1800, under his auspices and those of Michael Lewis and Jacob Abrahams (who is, I imagine, identical with J. Abrahams, 'Optician and Mathematical Instrument maker to H.R.H. the Duke of Gloucester and His Grace the Duke of Wellington, of Bartlett Street, Bath,' who also maintained an establishment 'at his shop adjoining Mr. Thompson's Pump-Room, Cheltenham(ii)). Other local residents included Joseph Sigmond, who became a Life Governor of the newly established Jews' Hospital in London in 1808: Abraham Durlacher, chiropodist or 'foot-surgeon' (1757--1844-5), formerly of Warwickshire: Nahum Joseph, teacher of Hebrew, who edited a Hebrew dictionary there in 1814: Michael Simons (d. 1824), described on his tombstone in the Bancroft Road Cemetery in London as 'late subscriber to the Synagogue at Bath': and a local eccentric named Joseph Moses, a street trader, who died on 20th February 1817 at the reputed age of 112 after having been resident in the town for something like half a century. (A lengthy biography of this strange character is to be found in The Gleaner for 27th August 1823.) Worthy of mention too is an Alexander Schomberg who, after having lived in complete assimilation for some years, wrote to Rabbi Solomon Hirschell in 1816 imploring assistance in amending his way of life: the letter found its way into the archives of the Western Synagogue, London.(iii) The original place of worship - apparently an extemporised one only - was situated at 19 Kingsmead Street, where it figures in the local directories from 1826 onwards. On Moses Samuel's death in extreme old age in 1839, he left the community a sum of money for a new synagogue. This was duly built in Corn Street and dedicated in 1841, when Solomon Woolf was Reader to the community and Benjamin Samuel and Jacob Abrahams were wardens: a tablet was placed in the building to commemorate the founder's posthumous generosity, but it is no longer traceable. The community possessed also a cemetery, at Coombe Down, about two miles from the city; it is said to date from the eighteenth century, but this is questionable.

By 1874, services were no longer regularly held in the Synagogue; and when it was damaged in the floods of 1894, the congregation was so far diminished that it had to apply for outside assistance in order to carry out the necessary repairs. In 1911, the lease of the building expired, and it became derelict. The later small community, itself no longer extant, had no continuity of association with the old.

Notes - Bath

(i) British Museum, MS. Add. 28542, f. 163: 6. Nichols' Illustrations of Literature, IV. 768.

(ii) R. S. Clap and T. H. Court, History of the Microscope (London 1932): the data are from a Trade Card. His silhouette ('Mr. J. Abraham, Optician, Montpellier Spa, Cheltenham') is in the collection of Mr. A. Rubens.

(iii) Another Bath worthy was Abraham Daniel, jeweller, engraver and miniature painter; a portrait by him is reproduced in this volume (facing p.92).

Bath Jewish Community and Congregations home page on JCR-UK



The principal source for the history of the Jews in Bedford is the law-suit of 1818/9 regarding the participation of the Jews in the benefits of the Bedford Charity. From this, it appears that Michael Joseph, the leading spirit in the community, had settled there some thirty-one years earlier - that is, about the year 1785.(i) In 1803, according to Margoliouth, he succeeded in opening a synagogue, having been joined apparently by a certain Moses ben Isaac, who married a daughter of David Marks in 1793 under the auspices of the Great Synagogue. Another member of the little community was Joseph Lyon, who became a householder in 1806. It was because of the exclusion of the latter's daughter, Sheba Lyon, from the Charity School (this was, according to the Mayor, owing to the increase in the number of local Jewish residents and to the difficulties of Sabbath attendance) that the law-suit referred to above was brought.(ii) The only other Jewish householder at this time was Godfrey Levy, great-grandfather of Professor Norman Bentwich. There had been formerly four other families, but they had either left the town or ceased to be householders. One name, however, may be identified - that of Bernhard Beer, brother of Aaron Barnett, Hazan of the Hambro' Synagogue in London, and according to report a kinsman of the composer Meyerbeer. His son, John, subsequently known as John Barnett, the eminent composer, was born at Bedford on July 15th 1802, and is clearly identical with the son of 'my brother' Judah ben Baer Levi circumcised here in that year, according to a register preserved among the records of the Hambro' Synagogue, which may thus be identified as being in the hand of Hazan Aaron Barnett himself.(iii) Michael Joseph's four daughters and two sons were probably the mainstay of the congregation. One of the latter, Nathan, was for a time the officiant; he had been authorised to act as Shochet by Solomon Hirschell in 1824. Subsequently, he was converted to Christianity, and the triumph was greeted in the Church with exaggerated applause: however, the late Professor Marks used to recount how, while on a visit to Strassburg many years later, he witnessed Nathan Joseph's death-bed return to the religion of his fathers.

The community did not possess a burial ground, but when one was established at Nottingham in 1825 four Bedford Jews were associated with the purchase, with the intention presumably of having it serve their own purposes too if the occasion should arise. They were the following:- Joseph Joseph, watchmaker, and Nathan Joseph, watchmaker, who has just been mentioned; Lemuel Lyon (presumably son of Joseph Lyon), lace manufacturer; and Jacob Wolffson, silk merchant - an entirely new name.

In 1827 (according to the original MS. returns of the 1851 census) the synagogue was dismantled and services discontinued until 1837, when the community was re-established and a new Sepher Torah acquired. Henceforth, the congregation (consisting of five members, of whom one was non-resident) met only on the solemn festivals, a private room in Offa Street, St. Peter's, serving as the place of worship. An intimate light is thrown on the decay of the community by an entry in the minutes of the Birmingham Jewish Philanthropic Society (kindly communicated to me by Mr. S. Y. Prais) recording a grant of 5 to Mr. Michael Josephs, late of Bedford, 'to forward him to London.'

In 1853, the synagogue was situated in High Street, St. Peters. It had at this time five members, now presided over by Godfrey Levy. Among his colleagues was Moses or Morris Lissack, who had settled in Bedford as 'teacher of languages and dealer in jewelry' in 1839, and lived there for nearly half a century: his autobiography, Jewish Perseverance (London 1851), adds little to our knowledge of local conditions. As a result of his exertions, the Harpur Charity, of which he was a Trustee, at last changed its policy, and determined to admit Jewish children to its school (March 1879). But it was a platonic success, as Lissack was by this time the only Jew left in the city, the organised community having come to an end some little while previously. Just before this, it is said, the synagogue had been broken into by some of the members, who took away the contents, to which they presumably laid claim. The last secretary was Lewis Levy (probably son of Godfrey Levy, and grandfather of the late Rev. J. F. Stern) who in 1833 had received his authorisation as Shochet and in 1862 had been empowered to perform the marriage ceremony between one of his daughters and a member of the Joseph family (the document is in the Jewish Museum, London). None of the appurtenances of the synagogue can now be traced (some are said to have devolved upon the Western Synagogue in London), and, as has been mentioned, the community at no time possessed its own burial-ground.

Another evanescent congregation was established at Bedford in 1903 and another in 1939.

Notes - Bedford

(i) in 1811, the Secretary of the Bedford branch of the Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews made a determined attempt on "Mr. M. J. and the others of the House of Israel, resident in the town and vicinity of Bedford"; a Jew using the pseudonym of Menasseh also joined in the controversy in the columns of the local press (cf. the third Report of the Society, Appendix).

(ii) See H. S. Q. Henriques, The Jews and the English Law, pp. 34-48.

In 1841, a similar difficulty arose for the same reason in the commercial school, one of the Lyon family again being principally concerned: see The Voice of Jacob, December 10th, 1841.

(iii) There is preserved in the British Museum, MS. Or. 9807, the Ketubah etc., for the marriage at Bedford in 1814 of Meir ben Asher, the Levite (apparently of Colchester, where his brothers Jacob and Judah resided) and Hanna bath Meir, perhaps daughter of Michael Joseph: some Kabbalistical notes are appended to the documents.

Bedford Jewish Community home page on JCR-UK



The Birmingham community must be one of the oldest in England, but it is impossible here to go into great detail regarding its origin. According to the late Arthur Franklin, a member of his family, Moses Aaron, was born in Birmingham in 1718 of Hungarian Jewish parentage. Though this may not be absolutely correct, one may at the least assume that the family was resident there at an early date. The earliest cemetery is said to go back to 1734 but of this too there is no documentary evidence. These dates are however approximately confirmed by the statement in The Jewish Chronicle account of 1842 that 'our nation has had a congregation here for upwards of 120 years,' - i.e. since about 1720. In the Birmingham Directory of 1770 at least ten unmistakeably Jewish names occur, including that of Abraham Barnett, schoolmaster, while a writer of 1783 refers to the Synagogue in the Froggery, rather small but tolerably filled; a new building was erected here in 1791, and the foundation-stone of its successor in Severn Street was laid in May 1809. (This was wrecked in the riots of 1813). The names of about seven Jewish householders may be traced in the rate-books of the period 1750-60, and of some sixteen in a local commercial directory of 1777.*

From the Author's Collection



A caricature on his conversion, 1787


It will be recalled that it was in Birmingham that Lord George Gordon sought admission to Judaism, in an uncompromisingly Jewish environment, in or about 1787. The earliest Rabbis of the community, according to the Synagogue Commemoration book, were apparently Joshua ben Benjamin Zeeb and Mordecai ben Joshua ( ? his son) whose incumbencies lay between those of Aaron Hart and David Tevele Schiff in London - i.e. between 1756 and 1792. At the time of Gordon's conversion, according to tradition, the religious leader of the community was 'Rabbi' Phillips, founder of a notable Birmingham family, whose ministry is said to have lasted from 1785 to 1814 (according to another account, to 1835). The extant Communal records go back to 1826. I am informed by Mr. M. Frumkin that one of the last patents granted in France under the ancien regime was to a certain Meyer Oppenheim(er) 'de Bermingham,' in 1789, for an improved method of glass manufacture. This is clearly the Mayer Oppenheim otherwise Opnaim, late of Birmingham, glassmaker, who failed in 1777: he had taken out a patent in London in 1755 for the manufacture of red glass, and in or before 1760 set up the first known Birmingham glass-furnace.

Attention may be called to Daniel Lobo (an obvious Sephardi name), who according to the Directories of 1780 and 1781 was then a Notary Public in Birmingham. He is among the earliest Anglo-Jewish authors, having published A Nomenclature: or Dictionary . . . of the Principal Articles published in this Kingdom (1776).

Note - Birmingham

* These data are from an article by S. Y. Prais in The Jewish Monthly for February 1949. Some of the persons listed (who include a watch-chain maker and a firm of jobbing smiths) had been born in Birmingham or been resident there for as much as fifty years (i.e. since 1727).

Birmingham Jewish Community home page on JCR-UK



The community of Boston is the most elusive of those to be taken into consideration here and would not indeed be included were it not that it figures in earlier lists. The first traceable local Jewish resident was shown in Hebrew as Meir ben Judah Boston and was admitted a member of the Great Synagogue in 1779/80. His offspring intermarried with the Leo family-traditionally, quill-pen manufacturers, and at the same time cigar and sweet merchants. Henry Lewis Leo (b. 1800), son of Dr. Lewis Leo of Bevis Marks, was married at Boston in 1822 to Mary Myers, who had been born there twenty-three years earlier*: several of their children were born at the same place between 1824 and 1832. One of them was buried at Lynn, indicating that there was no cemetery then in their native place: yet an old lady of eighty-five, resident there in 1915, stated that an infant brother of hers had been buried locally. Mrs. Leo's mother, Mrs. Rosa Lyons, who died at her son-in-law's house in 1847 at the age of eighty-seven, was buried in Hull. According to the Jewish Year Book, two congregations existed at Boston at different times, one at the end of the nineteenth century. This, at one time, was properly organised, with a marriage secretary under whose auspices a wedding between two local residents was solemnised in 1892 in the Synagogue. This second Jewish community too has now disappeared.

In 1813, Samuel Isaacs, known as Samuel ben R. Isaac of Boston was married to Miriam (Mary) b. Avigdor under the auspices of the Great Synagogue in London. By this time, the name would normally be used to designate Boston, Mass.

Note - Boston

* Dr. Lewis Leo was a connexion of the Goldsmid family, which is said to have brought him over to London and patronised him on condition that he changed his name. He died on 18th October 1812. Mary Myers may have been a daughter of the Meir ben Judah mentioned above. 

Boston (Lincs.) Jewish Community home page on JCR-UK



The association of Jews with Brighton goes back to the period before it became a fashionable watering-place and was still known as Brightelmstone. It was at this time one of the many ports of embarkation for the Continent, and among those who passed through for this purpose we know of Levi Nathan, that learned, quarrelsome, autobiographical pedlar, while he was on his way to Paris to escape a lady's unwelcome attentions in the early seventeen-sixties. The first Brighton Jew of whom I have a record goes back to about the same time; he is Israel Samuel (Ensele ben Samuel Cohen, called 'Brightelmstone')(i) who was admitted a member of the Great Synagogue in London in 1766. He was soon joined by others. In the collection of Mr. J Snowman, formerly of Brighton, there was a copy of Alexander's prayer-book of 1770, inscribed: Abraham Benjamin, of Brightelmstone in Sussex, his Book, 1770.(ii)  (His name is entered, though without the place of residence, in the printed list of subscribers at the close of the volume.) He is clearly identical with Abraham ben Benjamin, aleph ayin (the elucidation of this abbreviation eludes me) who figures in the Great Synagogue registers for 1802; his son-in-law, Nathan ben Koppel, called Milkman, was admitted a member in 1804.(iii)  In 1786, a son called Abraham was born to Menahem Azriel of Arundel. The circumcision was performed by R. Leib Aleph, of Portsmouth, who records how took with him a scroll of the Law so as to hold a religious service in due form and how 'there were fourteen men present, from here and Brightelmstone.' There must have been at this time, then, quite a little nucleus. In the following year, 1787, Leib went to Brighton itself, there initiating Isaac ben Benjamin into the Covenant; and in 1802 to operate on Moses ben Abraham, possibly a son of Abraham Benjamin.(iv)  Israel L. Lindenthal, subsequently Minister of the New Synagogue in London, was born in Brighton in 1796. In 1805, or thereabouts, Isaac Mayers, of Brighton, was buried in the Great Synagogue ground in the capital. The local subscribers to the London Jews' Hospital, in 1808, included Abraham Benjamin, Hyam Lewis, George Lewis, and J. Solomons.

The early settlers were sufficiently numerous for the street where those of the humbler sort congregated - a 'twitten' leading off Church Street - to be dubbed Jew Street after them, as it still remains. The first mention I have been able to find of it is in Cobby's Brightelmston Directory of 1799, in which the Town Crier is recorded as a resident there.(v) Besides these, there were the visitors. Quite early accounts of Brighton speak of its popularity in Jewish circles. In a description of the watering-place in the Morning Post of 12th August 1807, for example, we read how 'the front of Donaldson's Library is a complete Stock Exchange. Jews and Gentiles are speculating upon the sport of the day. Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, whose family was to remain closely associated with the city, frequented it regularly, and two of his children, Daniel and Benjamin, died there in 1815. When peace was made with France, Solomon Hirschell, the Chief Rabbi, was there. (Among the exhibits at the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition of 1887 was the illumination that was displayed outside the house in Ring's Road where he was then residing. It consisted of a painting on linen, shewing a large tree with four branches intended to represent Austria, Prussia, France and Russia, united at the foot by England, and surrounded by scriptural quotations in Hebrew and English.) Where did the ordinary visitors stay? The Brightelmston Directory of 1799 affords the opportunity of answering this query, for it includes among the Lodging Houses that of Moses Jacob Cohen, in Little Castle Square, comprising one Parlour, two Best Beds and one servant's bed.

The Sephardim of course were in a separate category. In the Directory of 1822 are included Moses Ricardo of 61 King's Road, and Mr. Mocatta of 77 King's Road, one of whose kinsfolk subsequently designed the original Brighton Railway Station: but it is questionable whether they played any part in the life of the community. Brighton was the seat too of various kinsmen of Disraeli's, of the Basevi and Lindo families, several of whom were baptised at the Hove Parish Church and were laid to rest there, as tablets round the walls testify.


From the Author's Collection


A caricature by Dighton, 1801

The first British "Court Jew."


Another unfaithful Jew, but extremely familiar Brighton figure, was Pellegrin Treves, one of the Prince Regent's dissolute set, who figures prominently in the memoirs of the time and was caricatured by Dighton in 1801 as 'a fashionable JEW TRAVERS-ing the Steyne at Brighton.'

It is clear that by the beginning of the nineteenth century there were sufficient Jews in Brighton for a community to be formed. According to Sawyer's Book of Churches the first Synagogue and School were established about the year 1800 in Jew Street. If this location is correct, it remained here for only a short while, for J. Marchant's Plan of Brightelmstone, of 1808, marks the 'Jews' Synagogue' in Poune's Court, a little way up West Street, on the right hand side coming from the sea.

Within a short time however the congregation fell on evil days, and was temporarily dissolved. In 1813, the Brighton Herald published the following note:-

"We are greatly surprised to learn that among the seventeen thousand persons of which, at least, the population of this town is now composed, there are to be found only nine adult males of the Jewish persuasion; which not being, according to their Mosaic law, enough to form a congregation, their synagogue has been shut for several weeks."

The subsequent revival was mainly due to a single person, whose name should be remembered in the annals of Brighton Jewry and indeed of the larger community. In 1782 there had come to England from Niederweren, near Munich, a certain Emanuel Hyman Cohen, who shortly after settled in Brighton. Here he set up a Jewish school - the first in a long and distinguished line; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that be established a Heder.(vi) This continued to exist until 1816, seven years before his death. I suspect that he was in fact the communal factotum, his work as the congregational teacher being only one facet of his activity. He married a local resident, Hannah Benjamin (a daughter of Abraham Benjamin?), who bore him ten children. The eldest of the family was Levy Emanuel Cohen, a notable figure in Brighton history, who founded the Brighton Guardian in 1827, subsequently owned it, and edited it down to his death in 1860 with a verve and pugnacity that makes his name a memorable one in the history of English journalism. (The Guardian survived him for nearly half a century, continuing publication down to 1901). Through his instrumentality, after a period of internecine disputes, the local community was formally reconstituted in 1821. (It is in this year that the muniments now existant begin.) So as to avoid all recriminations about the past, it was determined to regard this year as the date of its establishment and to overlook anything that had taken place earlier. As in 1808, the Synagogue was situated in West Street (according to the Directory of 1822). It was very small, however, having only thirty-four (men's?) seats. The Secretary was Levy Emanuel Cohen; the Shochet his father, Emanuel Hyman Cohen (who on one occasion claimed exemption from service as Special Constable on the grounds that he was a Minister of Religion). In 1823, the lease of a piece of ground in Devonshire Place was acquired, and a small synagogue erected on the site, which was opened in the following year and enlarged in 1867. In 1826, a plot was presented to the community by T. R. Kemp (the founder of Kemp Town) for use as cemetery.

The original code of synagogal laws, seventeen in number, dated back to the foundation of the community, but is no longer traceable. However, in 1825 it was revised at elaborate length and published under the title Laws and Regulations of the Brighton Synagogue, 5585 ('Printed by W. Fleet, Prince's Place') - one of the earliest codes of the sort to appear in England outside the capital, and incidentally containing the earliest specimens of Brighton Hebrew typography. According to the fourth section of this interesting little work, a unique copy of which is in my collection, the Kahal or Directing Members were the following:-

Hyam Lewis (to whom my copy belonged(vii),
David Woolf,
Levy Emanuel Cohen,
Henry Solomon(viii),
Saul Charles Aaron,
Jacob Michael Silverston, and
Solomon Nathan Berncastle.(ix)

The community was by now solidly established, and with this we may take our leave of it.(x)

Notes- Brighton

(i) According to the Brightelmstone Directory of 1800, Israel Samuel was then established as a silversmith and toyman at 22 East Street. He was son-in-law of Johanan Phillips of the Great Synagogue: his brother-in-law, Barnett Phillips, of Bury Street, London, died at Brighton 1817 and mentioned him in his will. Among his descendants was Charles Samuel, a great benefactor of Jews' College.

(ii)  Below this is a note, obit 17 Tammuz 5505, probably indicating the anniversary of his father's death (the date is in Hebrew) and a fragment of family register shewing that Phoebe Benjamin died on 8th March 1829, that Elizabeth was born in 19th May 1810, and Abraham on 15 May 1802.

(iii)  Abraham Benjamin's wife, Bella b. Nathan, died in 1821 and buried in the Brady Street cemetery, London. The husband must have been a man of some scholarship, being called Haber.

(iv)  Later on, Myer Solomon, of the Western Synagogue, London, performed many circumcisions in Brighton from 1810 to 1837. The first few of these include Eliezer ben Haim (i.e. Hyam Lewis ?) 16.ii.1810; Abraham Aberle ben Moses Dob Levy, 11.vii.1811; Mordecai ben Solomon, 5.iii.1813; and Raphael ben Menahem Mendele Cohen, 13.iii.1814.

(v) I am informed by Mr. J. H. Cohen of Brighton, who has generously placed his notes at my disposal, that the street is shewn (without a name) in the Brightelmstone map of 1778. I find it difficult however to accept the suggestion that there was a Jewish place of worship here c. 1761-1770.

(vi) The 1800 Directory shews him living at 37 Ship Street: other Jewish names in it include Abraham Benjamin (1 Russell Street), Moses Jacob Cohen (2 Little Castle Square), Israel Samuel (22 East Street) and Isaac Levy (26 West Cliffe).

(vii) He was Commissioner of the town in 1822 and subsequent years and a member of the Great Synagogue in London, which congregation recorded the birth of his son Benjamin on 22nd October 1804. The family continued to play a prominent part in Brighton Jewry.

(viii) Later High Constable of Brighton and Vice-President of the Community; he was murdered in his office by a prisoner on 13th March 1844. His wife was a daughter of Emanuel Cohen.

(ix) It is possible to supplement this list by picking out some of the obviously Jewish names from the Directory of 1822. They include:-

Mr. R. L. Cohen, jun. (Professor of Languages) 46 Russell Street;
(?) Goodman, Samuel, Esq., 13 Cannon Place;
Aaron, Isaac, umbrella maker, 74 Church Street;
Jonas, Alexander, jeweller, 26 Brighton Place;
Silverstone, Jacob, jeweller, Brighton Place;
Woolf, Daniel, hat maker, 2 King's Road;
Moses, ----, hat maker, 31 St. James's Street;
Isaacs and Joseph, fruit merchants, 65 St. James's Street;
(?) Goldsmith, Samuel, Cooper, 21 Cavendish Street;
Lewis, Hyam, pawnbroker, 31 Ship Street.

Another important member of the Community was Isaac Bass, Town Commissioner, who took a prominent share in local charitable work.

(x) Besides the public synagogue at Brighton, there was also for a long time a private one in Brunswick Square, fitted up with particularly fine antique appurtenances, in the house of Philip Salomons (d. 1867), brother of the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London. The building is still standing; the appurtenances were acquired by Reuben Sassoon, and then passed into the possession of his nephew, David Solomon Sassoon, whose son now owns them.

Brighton Jewish Community home page on JCR-UK



Margoliouth, writing in 1851, was unable to find any reliable record of the Jews in Bristol before the beginning of the century. We are now in a position to improve on him by some fifty years. The hero (or villain) of the notorious cause celebre of 1753, Henry Simons, stated in one of his depositions that two years before he had intended to go to the Synagogue at Bristol 'and thought that it would do me a deal of good to read there.' Again, in November 1754, an unfortunate Jewish hawker named Jonas Levi was murdered near Brecon (letters of administration over his property were granted in the following April). In the newspaper accounts of the gruesome episode, it is mentioned how the Jews of Bristol offered a reward for the apprehension of the murderer. At this time, then, there was already an organised community. The name of the Hazan was R. Hirsch, whose office was mentioned when he was admitted to membership of the Great Synagogue in 1762/3(i). Another early member, one must assume, was 'Old Frankfort' who died at Bristol in 1804 at the age of 98. In this period, too, Hiam Moses and Isaac Moses (probably brothers), from Bristol, got into the news (Gentleman's Magazine, May 1768). The original place of worship was in the former Weavers' Hall(ii).

A new synagogue was erected in 1786 in Temple Street; it is described as 'very well fitted up, painted and furnished with altar-piece, branches, candlesticks, etc., in such a style that, though it is not one of the largest it is one of the handsomest places of worship in Bristol.' The Order of Service on the dedication of this Synagogue - one of the earliest, or rather the earliest, publication of the sort for any English community outside London - is extant: from it, one gathers that the leading spirit was Eliezer ben Jacob, at whose expense the new building was erected, and who, after the recital of the afternoon service in the old synagogue, 'stood and annulled its sanctity in the presence of the whole Congregation,' who then proceeded, two by two, to the new one. There is no question but that this Eliezer ben Jacob is identical with Lazarus Jacobs, the eminent Bristol glass-manufacturer, whose work is still sought after by collectors. He was succeeded in the craft by his son, Isaac Jacobs, who was appointed Glass Manufacturer to George III and whose work is among the best specimens of the local production, but who ultimately fell on evil days. Another prosperous and noteworthy member of the community was Joseph M. Alman, whom we find subscribing to various London Jewish charities from 1797 to 1808(iii).

The Bristol community of former days was notorious for its fissiparous tendencies. An early split resulted in the formation of the New Congregation, reunited with the parent body in 1835. Thus reinforced, the community reconstructed its synagogue, which was reconsecrated on 18th August 1842, 'the lyrical hymn in Hebrew and English by Hyman Hurwitz, Esq., Professor of Hebrew in the London University. The Music composed and conducted by Mr. M. Moss,' according to the Order of Service, a copy of which is in my collection.

Notes- Bristol

(i)  He had formerly been the personal attendant of the 'Baal Shem' of London, and was the ancestor of the Collins (= Kalisch) family.

(ii)  Cf. W. Matthews, New History of Bristol (1794), p.49.

The antiquity of Bristol Jewry is confirmed by an advertisement in Felix Farley's Journal of March 31st, 1759 (quoted by J. Latimer, Annals of Bristol in the 18th Century, p.337):'To be sold, a handsome dwelling house and garden, with a brickyard, situate in the parish of St. Philip and Jacob. The Jews' Burial Ground and some buildings are in the said yard.'

(iii) Aaron and Isaac Alman (the former a silversmith, the latter a watchmaker) figure in the Bristol Directory of 1793-4, as do also Isaac Samuel (butcher), Isaac Jacobs (hairdresser), H. and L. Levy (opticians) Liebman and Lazarus (silversmiths), Higham Palatine (quill-manufacturer), Benjamin Samuel (furrier), Jacob Samuel (glass-engraver), and others. Barnett A. Cohen, later of Charleston, S. C., had been born at Bristol in 1770; he was perhaps son of Moses Cohen, of Tower Lane, Bristol (London Gazette, 1776).

Some Reminiscences of Bristol Jewry (J.C. 5.iv.1907) does not, unfortunately, provide any useful early information.

Bristol Jewish Community home page on JCR-UK



The record of the modern settlement of Jews in Cambridge down to the close of the eighteenth century has hitherto been restricted to the family of Israel Lyons the elder, Hebrew instructor and silversmith, and his son Israel Lyons the younger, scientist. It is, however, possible to amplify this to a really considerable extent. The first Cambridge Jew of modern times, perhaps, was Benjamin Lyon, who died in 1743, letters of administration over his property being granted to his widow Ann in June.(i)  Far less hypothetical is the case of Lyon Levy, who was resident in Cambridge in 1748, a child named Joseph being born to him in that year: the circumcision was performed by Isaac Carricao de Payba, who in his Register records how he went to Cambridge to perform the ceremony. Later in the same year, he was there again to operate on the infant Emanuel, son of Jacob. We know that Israel Lyons, the silversmith, was in Cambridge from about 1732. There must thus have been at least three Jewish families resident here at this time. Eight years later, in 1756, Payba visited the University town again to initiate into the covenant the little Jacob, son of - Jacobs, the grandfather acting as godfather on this occasion.

Regarding the most remarkable member of the Lyons family, the following passage is worthy of quotation in full:-

"Public Characters of 1802-3. pp. 174-6.

The Bishop of Elphin was induced, by his admiration of genius, to cultivate the acquaintance of the well known Israel Lyons, who, though not a member of the university was resident in Cambridge. They who were personally acquainted with that wonderful man are impressed with a higher opinion of him than those who knew him only from his works; and no one was more able to estimate his powers, or is more inclined to acknowledge their extent, than the Bishop of Elphin. Israel Lyons was born of Jewish parents, and discovered, when very young, an extraordinary passion and capacity for mathematical studies. This introduced him to Dr. Smith, the late master of Trinity, who was himself an eminent mathematician. It is said that Dr. Smith, wishing to increase his opportunities of reading, offered him a lay-fellowship of Trinity, on condition that he would embrace Christianity; and that the offer was rejected rather from national and family motives, than from the strength of his religious attachments. In 1759 he published a system of fluxions, which placed him in the rank of the first mathematicians of the age, and which all the subsequent improvements and treatises have not deprived of its popularity. The studies of Mr. Lyons were not confined to mathematics: he was a botanist, and his knowledge of botany, on which he wrote, would alone have distinguished his name. For his support he taught mathematics to pupils in the university, whom his reputation easily procured him. At that time the disputations in the schools were elevated into consequence by the exertions of the present Bishop of Llandaff and the late Dr. Jebb, and Mr. Lyons was celebrated for supplying to his pupils the most ingenious arguments that were produced on these occasions: his objections were sometimes of a serious nature, but in general they were necessary cavils; and it is to be lamented that so great a genius should ever have been condemned to the frivolous employment of raising difficulties which had no real existence. His lectures afforded him an adequate support: he was patronized by the first characters in the university, and his comforts and respectability might have been continued, had he not become the slave of a fatal intemperance. He became an habitual drunkard, and all the usual degrading effects of drunkenness soon appeared in his character. Other miseries besides those attending the loss of reputation began to press upon him: his pupils fell off, for he used entirely to neglect those who did not supply him with wine during his attendance. When the voyage to the north pole, under Captain Phipps in 1773, was planned, Mr. Lyons was recommended as a proper person to superintend the mathematical objects of the voyage. A most remarkable circumstance appeared on this occasion. The novelty or pleasure of the engagement, or the separation from his former connections, effected a happy and total revolution in his habits, and he was no longer a drunkard. He did not, when he returned to England, relapse but appeared restored to himself and his studies: whatever might have been now expected from him was defeated by his death, which happened, very much regretted by the lovers of science, soon after his return, in 1775."(ii)

Besides the various members of the Lyons family, there must have been a sizeable nucleus of Jews in Cambridge at this period. Contemporary with them, from about 1750 onwards, there was a certain Solomon Mordecai, a native of Prussia, who had left that country at the age of sixteen in order to avoid military service: his death in 1814, at the age of 95 was duly noted in the Press.(iii)  He was possibly the ancestor of a family attached to the Hambro' Synagogue in London, which went by the name of Cambridge in the congregational records. In the summer of 1810, a still-born son of Solomon Cambridge was buried in the Lauriston Road Cemetery in London. Another son of Solomon Cambridge, Jacob, was treated more generously by fortune, not only growing to manhood but also marrying a daughter of Naphtali ben Reuben Jacob, a past warden of the congregation, on whose roll of members he was admitted in 1820. Another family from the same city was associated with the Great Synagogue, under whose auspices Sally Moses, wife of Manny (=Menahem) Cambridge was buried at Brady Street about 1800. In 1792, Isaac Cohen (ben David) Keyzer war living there, and his wife Hannah (daughter of Moses Levy) gave birth to a daughter named Elizabeth. There was a Cohen family, too: and P, J. Cohen, of Cambridge, was one of the Jewish pioneers of Australia, and the first person to conduct services a Sydney when the congregation was founded. (It is possible that he was the son of the Jewish pedlar named Cohen who is mentioned in Stokes' account.) That there was a Sephardi element too in the community is shewn by the reference to a Portuguese Jew named Silva, who went by the name of A. Grove: he is possibly to be identified with the Abraham Fernandes da Sylva, alias Anthony Grove (grandfather perhaps of a similarly-named celebrity of the following century) who died in the seventeen-eighties and was buried in the Beth Haim Novo in Mile End.

The names here assembled are sufficient to add credibility to the statement in the Monthly Magazine of 1805 (xix.234), that 'there is at present also in the town an academy for the Jews' - and to Dyer's additional remark, quoted somewhat doubtingly by Stokes, that in his day (1774-8) 'there was a small synagogue opened for public worship.' The 'Academy' referred to was maintained by Solomon Lyon, formerly of Prague, who also taught Hebrew to members of the University; among his pupils were Benjamin Cohen, Moses Montefiore's brother-in-law, and lsaac Nathan, the musician.(iv)

Cambridge must accordingly be added to the list of those English towns which had an organised community in the eighteenth century. It does not seem however to have continued long into the nineteenth, for at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria the recollection was quite dead. Jewish householders might still be traced, nevertheless, in the University town. There was for example an Abraham Emanuel, silver-smith, living in King Street in 1832; and, according to the Voice of Jacob of 28 March 1843, a Jewish householder named Marks attracted attention by the patriotic decoration outside his house on the occasion of the royal visit. Four years later, in the spring of 1847, a Jewish congregation was again established, services being held at 7 Hobson Street in the house of Lazarus (M.) Cohen (who acted as Reader and Warden), Jacob Hartman being the Treasurer, and Benjamin Hart another leading spirit.(v)  The average Sabbath attendance was now about 15. In 1850 however (according: to the original census returns of the following year) services were temporarily discontinued. The synagogue was subsequently transferred to Petty Curry, where it continued in existence until the autumn of 1889, when it had to be removed owing to street improvements. Shortly after the University congregation began to function.

Notes - Cambridge

(i)  A Church of England clergyman named Benjamin Lyons matriculated at Sidney Sussex College in 1665 (Venn, Alumni Cantabrigenses, iii, 122): he was obviously not of Jewish extraction, and I am now inclined to think the same of his later namesake.

(ii) Attention may be called also to the Literary and Miscellaneous Memoirs by J. Cradock (1828), who mentions the elder Lyons, his teacher in Hebrew, i. 273: and to the details regarding both father and son in Nichols' Literary Anecdotes.

(iii) A Joseph Mordecai (or Mark), apparently from Bonn, seems to have died in Cambridge as early as 1754, and his daughter (?) Judith in 1764, letters of administration over their property being granted to their next-of-kin.

(iv) I do not think that Solomon Lyon was identical with the 'Rabbi' of that name who gave expert evidence in the case of Lindo v. Belisario in l795 and was apparently a London synagogue official. On the other hand, Abraham Septimus Lyon, who died in Jamaica in 1872 aged 68, was a member of the Cambridge family.

(v) cf. Voice of Jacob, 28.iii.1843; Jewish Chronicle 28.iv.1847, 13.vi.1947; The Book of Memorial, Cambridge 1940.

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