North-East England 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)

Papers on North-East England

prepared by L. Olsover

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 Sunderland.

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 minyan 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.


Conference Paper on North-East England by L. Olsover

Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain - List of Contents

Durham Jewish Congregation home page

Paper first published on JCR-UK: 21 July 2016
Page most recently amended: 23 August 2016

Formatted by David Shulman


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