Most of the Jewish families who made up this community came to
live in Durham for economic reasons. The area is surrounded by
oolliery districts and many Jews living in Sunderland and Darlington
had built up credit rounds amongst the miners in these areas. They
sold their goods, mainly clothing and furniture, on credit, and as
the miner's pay was usually on a Friday, these Jewish travellers had
to be on the spot to collect their weekly payments. They were
orthodox Jews and in order not to desecrate the Sabbath, they found
it more convenient to live near their places of business. This was
the basic structural growth of the community.
Prior to 1888 there were no Jews living in Durham, but in that
year the earliest Jew, Mr. B. Morris, arrived in Durham direct from
Lithuania. The writer was not able to discover even by consultation
with his descendants what induced him to come to Durham. Be that as
it may he soon brought over his brother Edward Morris and his father
Jacob Morris. At a later stage in 1897 Edward brought over his
nephew Nachman as a prospective bridegroom for his daughter whom
he married two years later. Nachman then brought over his brother
Boruch. This was a family of learned Talmudic scholars and they
dominated the communal scene for many years.
In 1891 Mr. J. Morris led a deputation to Sunderland requesting
the loan of a Sepher Torah. They stated that they wished to remain
members of the Sunderland Hebrew Congregation. It appears that the
Durhamites were members of the Sunderland Community, for in 1904 the
Durham Congregation asked to be "affiliated" as a separate community
to the Sunderland Congregation with rights of burial etc. This
request was "refused" at the Council meeting held at Sunderland on
April 13th. No reason was given.
During the early years of the twentieth century the London
Jewish Board of Guardians, following a policy of "dispersal", sent
a number of East European Jews to Durham, as well as elsewhere in
the North-East of England. Partly as a result the "Durhamites"
were now able to form a minyan and set up a small place for communal
worship in John Street. The President was Edward Morris, Treasurer
S. Herman, and Secretary was B. Morris. The population was now
72 souls, i.e. 15 families. There was no minister or shocket,
but the parents were well able to teach their children in the
Hebrew studies as was required for their Jewish upbringing. The
visiting minister was Dr. Samuel Daiches the resident minister of
In an interview with Mrs. Steinberg, a widow resident in
Durham for many years, the writer was informed that her parents
were married in Spennymoor - a colliery village a few miles away
from Durham. This was very odd, because they [were] known to be orthodox
Jews and it would have been unusual for them to have lived away from
the small Durham Community. It transpired that her father was one
of the original members of the West Hartlepool Jewish Community;
he used to meet the incoming boats arriving in West Hartlepool from
the continental ports in conjunction with a reception committee to
greet the new immigrants. They would supply them with Kosher food
and a bed in their own modest homes, and give them a little money
until they were able to look after themselves. Some of these early
immigrants did well and were later to establish substantial businesses
in the Teesside area. There may have been a Minyon in Spennymoor
for a short while before they settled in Durham.
The principal families were the Bergsons, Garsteins, Robinsons,
Cannons, Garbetts, Bergs, Books, Hermans and Cohens.
The average size of the family was 4-5 children.
The principal occupations of the first generation of immigrants
were:- Credit Draper, Furnishers, and Money Lenders. There was one
Jewish tailor and one Cobbler. Their children did not follow up
their parents' businesses, but had a leaning towards the professions,
mainly Doctors and Lawyers (in that order).. It was easier to earn
a livelihood in this way.