Brighton Jewry
in Victorian Britain




Extract from papers on
Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain

Papers prepared by Dr. (later Prof.) Aubrey Newman for a conference at University College, London, convened on 6 July 1975 by the Jewish Historical Society of England
(Reproduced here with Prof. Newman's kind consent)

Paper first published on JCR-UK: 21 February 2004
Reformatted: January 2012 and November 2015
Latest revision: 11 December 2016

BRIGHTON (Sussex) - Introductory Data

Published Data

A  -  Although a community had existed here in the middle of the eighteenth century by 1813 there were so few attendants at service that the synagogue had to be shut for several weeks. The community was formally reconstructed in 1821.  By 1825 the congregation was so well, supported as to be able to produce a printed volume Laws and Regulations of the Brighton Synagogue, 5585.

In 1845 there were 16 Ba'ale Batim and 32 seatholders.

In 1851 there were 20 appropriated seats, 150 individual members, 70 attenders at service on. Census Sabbath, and an estimated population of 150.


Synagogue Devonshire Place. Erected 1823, enlarged 1867.

Has seat accommodation for 140 persons, 100 gentlemen's and 40 ladies' seats. Seat rental, gentlemen's, 3.3s., 2.2s., and 1.1s. per annum. Ladies', 1.1s. and 7s.6d. per annum. It is contemplated to erect a new synagogue in Brighton.  Money has been raised for the purpose.

(Two Kosher butchers) A tax of 1d. is charged on every pound of meat sold.

Schools, adjoining synagogue. Founded 1871.
Number of pupils 27. There is accommodation for 100 pupils. The school is supported by voluntary contributions and by payments of pupils.

Brighton Hebrew Philanthropic Society.  Objects - for relief of Jewish poor etc..


(Brighton and  Hove) About 90 resident Jewish families. 1900-1:  3 marriages, 4 deaths.

Synagogue Middle Street (Founded 1874), seatholders 90, income 1900: 116.6s.1d..

Jewish Board of Guardians. Object - the relief of casual poor. Income 1900: 191.3s.9d. Persons relieved were mostly men.

Synagogue classes for religious instruction.
The classes are held four times a week, and the scholars number 50: 25 boys and 25 girls. There is also a Sabbath Class.

[A - Primarily from The Rise of Provincial Jewry (1950), by Cecil Roth]
[a - The Jewish Directory for 1874, by Asher I. Myers]
[b - Jewish Year Book]

Board of Deputies returns

  births marriages burials seatholders


3 (M)






























Paper prepared by David Spector

(For the Community's earlier history, see "Brighton" in Cecil Roth's "The Rise of Provincial Jewry", 1950)

After a period of rapid expansion from 1815, the tide of prosperity turned away from Brighton but was revived after the opening of the London to Brighton Railway in 1841. The population of the town at the beginning of the era was approximately 46,000 with an estimated Jewish population of 150. The Minutes of the congregation in 1845 record the number of Balibatim as 16 and Seatholders as 32 but these were of course heads of families. The 1851 Religious Census gives the attendance on Sabbath morning as 40 with 16 for the afternoon service and 40 for Evening service. In a message of congratulation to Sir David Salomons in 1855 on his appointment as the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, there are appended 32 male signatures. The resident population in 1900 was about 80 families with 90 seatholders and 35 children.

The Synagogue in Devonshire Place was enlarged in 1837 by the distinguished architect David Mocatta and remained in use until 1875 - its seating capacity is given as 75. The enlarged building had an entrance lobby, residence which formed the front of the building, School Rooms and a two story workshop. It is still standing - it is a Grade II classified building - and was sold by the Congregation after the opening of Middle Street in 1875.

The names of 25 Tradesmen and 5 Private Residents of Jewish origin can be identified in an 1840 Directory of the town and this pattern of tradesmen and residents of independent means continued through the 19th Century including well known families such as the Goldsmids, D'Aguillar, Salamons, and later the Sassoons, De Worms, A. G. Henriques, Jacob Montefiore and Bernhard Baron. The Marriage Register set up under the Act of Parliament of 1837 records 96 marriages between 1839 and 1901. The occupations of the spouses and parents are listed separately at the end of this article. The town was very popular with the Jewish community as a holiday resort and in the summer well known families such as the Rothschilds took up temporary residence.

Although only a small community (it had declined an invitation to be represented at the Board of Deputies in 1836 on the grounds that it was at present too small) it was unique in the early part of the 19th century in that the Chief Constable of Brighton was Henry Solomon, his brother-in-law Hyam Lewis was a Town Commissioner and a member in 1838 of the first Police Committee established under the Municipal Corporation Act 1835, and another brother-in-law Levi Emanuel Cohen was the Editor of the Brighton Guardian, a distinguished journalist, and twice President of the Newspaper Society in 1841/1843. The son of Lyam Lewis - Benjamin Lewis - was also a Commissioner. All these gentlemen were active in the affairs of the Congregation.

Two events of interest occurred in the 1840's, the first was the report on March 14th, 1843 of an inquest on the death of Hannah Dale 14-15 years of age, a servant of the Jews Synagogue, Devonshire Place, from suspected poisoning. Hannah was the maid of Mrs. Rentel and her son - Moses Rentel - minister of the Synagogue - and had complained to friends and parents of bullying by Mrs. Rentel and having been told that she would have to fast at Passover. Warrants were issued for the arrest of Mrs. Rentel and her son but they were subsequently released and a verdict given of "poison unknown circumstances". Mother and son left the town and Rentel continued his career in Australia. The more sensational event was the murder of the Chief Constable - Henry Solomon - on the 14th March 1844 - by a deranged youth John Lawrence (age 23) who had been apprehended for robbery by one of his officers. Lawrence suddenly struck the Chief Constable with a poker and he died from his injuries the next day leaving a widow and nine children. A local appeal raised a large sum for their welfare with the Brighton Commissioners giving 500 and Queen Victoria 50. John Lawrence was swiftly tried and publicly hung at Horsham on April 6th, less than a month after the murder. It is interesting to note - in view of the small Sussex Jewish population - that three Jurors were excused service at the tria1 at Lewes on the grounds of their Jewish faith.

Brighton was one of the original 19 Provincial Congregations that took part in the conference for the establishment of the office of Chief Rabbi and was represented by Levi Emanuel Cohen at that time Vice President of the Congregation. In 1846 a Brighton Hebrew Philanthropic Society was established to coordinate the relief of local charity and its first reports have been preserved in the archives of Brighton Library. The first year recorded a list of 43 subscribers headed by Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid and non-Jewish subscribers included the Marquis of Bristol and Lord Hervey - the local Member of Parliament. In its first year 183 applicants were helped and 383 in the second year.

In 1830 Sir Isaac (then Mr. Goldsmid) purchased the Wick Estate in Hove for 55,525 and in 1835-38 built 'Wick Hall which he occupied until his death in 1859. Sir Isaac was the first Chairman and Life Commissioner of the enlarged Board of Commissioners of Brunswick Square. He developed Palmeira Square and Adelaide Crescent and made gift of land to the ecclesiastical authorities, on which St. Johns Church Hove was built. His son - Sir Francis Goldsmid - for a time occupied Wick Hall at Hove and acted first as a Commissioner of Brunswick Town and after this Commission was wound up as a, Commissioner of Hove. He was responsible for the development of a considerable part of Hove. After his death in an accident in 1878, the title passed to his nephew, Sir Julian Goldsmid, who lived at 4, Palmeira Square, Hove. He stood as a Parliamentary candidate for Brighton in 1864 but was unsuccessful as was his father, Frederick David Goldsmid, in Brighton in 1860. Sir Julian was subsequently successful elsewhere becoming Deputy Speaker, and died in Hove at the early age of 57 in 1896. The rateable value of the Goldsmid Estate in 1896 was 14,220. Numerous local streets are named after the family and a full list is appended separately.

Philip Salamon - brother of Sir David Salamon resided at 26, Brunswick Terrace, Hove and took an active part in the public life of the town as J.P., High Sheriff of Sussex and Deputy Lieutenant of the County and joined the congregation in 1849. Philip Salamon had a private synagogue at 26, Brunswick Terrace and the minutes of the Congregation contain acrimonious correspondence on this matter, as private places of worship were contrary to the Laws of the Congregation. However these differences were resolved and Philip took an active part in its affairs, becoming President in 1855.   He died in 1867 and on the occasion of the opening of Middle Street Synagogue in 1875, his son, Sir David Lionel Salamon, Bt. carried one of the Sepher Torah's in the traditional procession and presided over the commemorative banquet at the Royal Pavilion. Much has been written regarding the connection of the Sassoons with Brighton and Hove and I will not add to this other than to say that they were great benefactors of the Synagogue. Anna and Louisa Cohen - grand daughters of Levi Barent Cohen - were also devoted to the congregation and their niece Lady Rosebery is commemorated by a gift of a stained glass window.

The Synagogue in Devonshire Place was too small for the local residents and numerous visitors on the Holy Days, and in 1860 the Congregation resolved to acquire a new site. Progress was slow and a more central site was not acquired until 1874. The new Synagogue in Middle Street was consecrated on the 23rd September 1875 with a seating capacity of 450, with a School and house for the Minister in the rear. Electric Light was installed in 1892 and this was the first synagogue in the country to use electricity. Stained glass windows subsequently replaced the original windows and it is considered one of the most beautiful synagogues in the country. It was recently classified as a building of Historic Interest - Grade II - the Department of Environment notes are attached. In 1883 efforts were made to change the ritual by the omission of the repetition of the Amidah but were not successful. Most of the hawkers on the beaches during the summer season were Jewish and the popularity of Brighton with Jewish visitors was the subject of numerous cartoons and lampoons appearing in the press. The large scale migration from Eastern Europe barely affected the town. The Congregation was one of the earliest to have sermons in English and its ministers particularly the Rev. A. C. Jacobs were held in high esteem by all residents. The Chief Rabbi - Dr. N. Adler - moved to Hove in 1880 and died at 36 First Avenue in1890. Samuel Montagu took a considerable interest in the Synagogue and was its first representative at the Board of Deputies in 1877. Baron G. de Worms was appointed a Trustee in 1885. A branch of the Anglo Jewish Association was opened in 1879 and the Brighton Jewish Mutual Improvement Society established in 1889. The mortgage of Middle Street was finally paid off in 1885 and the meat tax which had been in operation since 1824 was abolished in 1892.

Mention must be made of John Howard (later Sir John Howard) who completed the Palace Pier and was amongst other things a distinguished railway and water engineer, proprietor of the South London Mail and Director of the North British Railway. He was an outstanding philanthropist and ran a local charity known as the Howard Charity from special office in Richmond Terrace, Brighton. He was a member of the West London Synagogue but is buried in the Florence Place Cemetery of the Congregation. Sir John was born in Liverpool, the son of a prominent merchant and shipowner.

These notes are just a brief glimpse of the life of a small provincial community in the Victorian Era whose members had a much wider impact on the general life of the area both in local government and trade. On the whole it had established a good relationship with the local authorities and contributed greatly to the development of Brighton and Hove. The town had also responded and shown great tolerance, its local library being amongst the sponsors of the first Jewish Encyclopaedia. The grand daughter of Hyam Lewis married a Coleman Cohen and a descendant of this family was the late Lord Cohen of Brighton. A brother of Levi Emanuel Cohen migrated to Australia and his son was the first Jewish Cabinet Minister in New South Wales and another daughter married a future Lord Mayor of Melbourne.. The community responded to the many calls for help, from the Blood Libel at Damascus in 1840 to the relief of persecuted Russian Jewry, and in spite of its small size was generous in its gifts to other newly established provincial synagogues from Sheerness to Manchester. It was not an ultra orthodox community - perhaps orientated too much to the wealthier Jewish elements in the town - but still succeeded in running its affairs efficiently and maintaining its institutions.

Sources of Reference

Minutes and Marriage Register of Brighton Synagogue

The Jews of Brighton 1770 - 1900  J.H.S.E. Transactions, Vol. XXII

Brighton Old Ocean's Bauble - Edmund W. Gilbert

Fashionable Brighton 1820 - 1860 Anthony Dale

Reference Libraries - Brighton and Hove

David Salomons House - M. D. Brown


Marriage Register - BRIGHTON SYNAGOGUE

Extract of classification of occupations of spouses and parents for period 1893 to 1901


Government Contractor

Barrister at Law


Boarding House Keeper





Jeweller and Silversmiths (33 entries)

Carver & Gilder


Certified Accountant

Lead Manufacturer

Chief Rabbi


Cigar Manufacturer

Mantle Maker

Civil Engineer



Ostrich Feather Merchant

Clothier and outfitters (14 entries)


Commission Agent

Professor of Music

Dealer in Dental Goods


Diamond Merchant


Doctor of Medicine



Tailors and Tailoresses (10 entries)

Fancy Goods Merchant



Tobacconists (2 entries)

Fish Merchant




General Dealer

Woollen Merchant

Gold Wire Worker


It is difficult to give the exact numbers as some of the occupations are similar or varieties of those already extracted.



1854 Brighton Directory - identifiable Jewish names

8 Jewellers (including 2 watch and clock makers)

2 Lapidaries

3 Pawnbrokers

1 Silversmith and Tobacconist

3 Lodging House Keepers

1 School Proprietor (Dr. Loewe)

Surgeon Dentist



3 Clothiers

Ladies Outfit and Foreign Silk Depot

Printseller. stationers and repository of arts

Foreign and English Fruiterer

Professors of German (2)

Professor of French

Professor of Music

Editor of Newspaper (Levi Emanuel Cohen)

Apart from Levi Emanuel Cohen, his brother Nathan and sister Rosanna were Printers at that period. One of the Jewellers is described as "Jewellers, watchmakers and goldsmiths to the Queen.


Appendix III

Department of the Environment

Extract from List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
County Borough of Brighton, 20th August 1971.

(East Side)
The Brighton Synagogue

Grade II.

Built in 1874-5, when the Jewish Community moved here from Devonshire Place, Architect Thomas Lainson, the Surveyor to the Wick Estate, Hove. The building is built of yellow brick with polychrome dressings. The "Test front facing the street has 3 projections, each containing 2 round-headed windows with single round-headed windows between the projections. Each window is franked by thin red columns and the heads of the windows are edged with polychrome dressings. Circular window above and pediment surmounting the facade.

The building is listed for its interior which is an extremely sumptuous example of late C19 craftsmanship. There are galleries on the North South and West sides. These are supported on columns which have elaborate capitals representing fruits mentioned in the Bible. At gallery level are further columns forming round-headed arches with a clerestory above. The galleries and the spaces beneath the galleries are edged with rails of iron and brass of elaborate design. The Cantor's desk and the Sanctuary are edged with, and the Ark of the Covenant enclosed in, either iron or brass railings of great beauty and elaboration. Contemporary and slightly later brass candelabra, the earliest one given by Hyam Lewis, the First Jewish Town Commissioner of Brighton (elected 1822, d. 1850 circa). All the windows of the Synagogue have stained glass which is slightly later in date than the building but late C19.


Nos. 37 & 37A
Nos. 38 & 39

Grade II

This was the 2nd Synagogue to be built in Brighton serving as such from about 1810 until the present Synagogue in Middle Street was built in 1870. Early C19. Three storeys. Three windows. Stuccoed, the ground floor rusticated. Stringcourse above ground floor. Four Doric pilasters standing on this. Pedimented over. Glazing bars intact above ground floor. Round-headed central doorway. Two pointed windows on ground floor, probably not original. The name of the Synagogue, though painted out, can just be read in the pediment. Adjoining on the North is an extension of 3 windows, probably originally a separate house, with an eaves cornice instead of pediment and iron guards to the 1st floor windows.

(This description by the Ministry is not strictly accurate. The Synagogue came into use circa 1824 and was enlarged by the noted architect David Mocatta in 1837. Middle Street was built 1874/5.)


Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain - List of Communities covered

Brighton Jewish Community home page

Brighton's First Jewish Congregation (to 1974) home page

Brighton & Hove Hebrew Congregation (incl. Middle Street Synagogue) home page

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Reformatted by David Shulman



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