In 1903 the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration paid
particular attention to Reading, as a result of which the Mayor,
past Mayor, and the President of the Reading Hebrew Congregation
appeared to give evidence. One reason for this attention was
undoubtedly the way in which the Dispersal Committee in London
had helped to send a number of new immigrants to that town, and
part of the evidence related to the way in which these new arrivals
had been able to integrate themselves peacefully into the life of
the 'host' community. The Mayor for example testified:
As a magistrate I have had no trouble with them;
they keep to the law and are quiet and inoffensive.
They subscribe to and make collections for our local
charities. There is practically no crime among them.
I have never known of a drunken Jew. There is no
insanity among them; they do not come on the rates,
although they contribute to them They have no
adverse effect on the religious life of the town.
They are moral, abstemious, and thrifty.
The former Mayor made much the same points:
It is not within my knowledge that there is any
difference between the method of living in the case
of the foreigner and that of the English of the same
class. The children of the foreigners fall into line
with others attending the schools; they are very
intelligent, and on no occasion do I recollect that
foreign parents have been summoned for not sending
their children to school. The foreigners who come
to Reading are of the working class. I have known
several cases where they have come into the town
merely as journeymen, but have ultimately been
successful in starting on their own account. These
foreigners bring new industries into the town, and
the benefit is quite mutual.
The community at Reading seems to have emerged in the early
1880s; the President confirmed in his evidence that he had come
to Reading 'in the latter end of 1885' and had found then five
families, all working for the one firm. Thereafter there had
been a comparatively considerable increase, though it was pointed
out that in 1903 there was a total of 233 aliens, including French
and Italians. 'Most of them were tailors, 'pressers...... , boot
lasters, cap makers. Chiefly tailors', but there was evidence
that other trades were represented: 'They also engage in cabinet-making, antique furniture dealing, and cigar shops'. The majority
were 'of the working class', and one of the objects of erecting
the synagogue was to attract more Jewish settlers to the town.
According to the evidence given a considerable number did come,
largely from the East End of London, and Sir Samuel Montagu's
connection with the community - including presiding at the first
public meeting called by the Building Committee in 1900 - emphasised
the link between the growth of East European immigration and the
growth of communities such as that of Reading.