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
Page created: 18 October 2016
THE ORIGINS OF PROVINCIAL ANGLO-JEWRY
by V. D. Lipman
(By hovering your mouse cursor over the superscript footnote number in the text,
At the beginning of Victoria's reign in 1837, there were up to 8,000 Jews in Great Britain outside London, living either in some 40 communities, or smaller groups, in town or oountryside.1. This was the result of just over a century of development. The evidence suggests that Jewish individuals and families settled outside London early in the second quarter of the 18th century although organised communities do not appear until about 1740. The prologue to provincial Anglo-Jewry in Victorian Britain therefore covers a period of about a century.2.
Leaving aside the wealthy few who set up country homes, which were almost all near London and form part of the story of London Jewry,3. the reason for moving into the provinces was economic. The economic development can be considered in four aspects: first, peddling in the countryside; second, the opening of shops, especially by jewellers, silversmiths, clock or watch repairers, and quasi-professionals (opticians dentists, chiropodists); third, the navy agents and store dealers and other callings associated with the ports; and fourth, occupations in the growing industrial centres.
All this economic activity did not take place in a vacuum but against the background of the economic life of the country generally in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The hawker, for instance, was not a specifically Jewish phenomenon. In the 18th century shops were found only in cities or market towns, to which people resorted from the surrounding areas on market days. Outside the towns, even in villages, the daily shopping needs of the rural population were met by packmen and pedlars. "The pedlar, his pack on his back or leading a pack-horse, visited all the villages and farms. Not only did he sell scissors and spectacles, coloured handkerchiefs and calendars, but stuffs, fancy leather goods and watches and clocks, in fact anything the village wheelwright and blacksmith could not make. He went everywhere, and in many places he was the only person who brought in goods and ideas from the outer world."4.
There had been pedlars in the countryside since the middle ages; in the 17th century they increased in numbers as there were new manufactured goods to sell (small leather items, like purses and gloves; metal goods like pins, needles and knives; narrow woven goods, like laces, ribbons and tape; and 'toys' which included mirrors, fans and pens as well as playthings for children).
In the 18th century a new sort of traveller appeared who did not seIl direct to the housewife but was in fact a travelling wholesaler, with one to four packhorses. These travellers took the output of the mew factories and were known as "Manchester men". The cheap textiles produced by the new factories from the end of the 18th century rise to a new kind of pedlar, selling (unlike the hawker) on credit and taking the output of linen, wool and cotton mills; these pedlers were known as "Scotch drapers" (and were the ancestors of the 18th century "tallymen" in the industrial areas).
The pedlars were naturally unpopular with the shopkeepers who claimed they competed unfairly with them without the shopkeepers' overheads. They were subject to a licence of £4 per annum (though sellers of their own or employers' goods were exempt). They were also suspected of distributing smuggled goods, such as tobacco, brandy and foreign silks and linens; it was also alleged that the pedlars in fact were only selling English goods at higher, prices, pretending they were foreign.
It is impossible to tell how many pedlars and hawkers there were. About 2000 licences were taken out annually in the 18th century, but there was widespread evasion of the licence requirement, since a country pedlar had to produce his licence only if he got intc trouble and it was said that a pedlar always knew where to borrow a licence.5.
It was as pedlars that Jews first penetrated the English countryside. From 1720 to 1735, a pedlar named Moses Emanuel, "a Jew of uncommon learning" was familiar in the Leicestershire countryside and used to discuss theological questions with the Vicar of Hinckley.6. By the end of the 18th century, the Jewish pedlar had become a familiar figure in the English countryside, depicted by Rowlandson and other artists, fulfilling a useful function, as did the more numerous non-Jewish pedlars in the rural distribution of cheap jewellery, trinkets, ribbons, laces, watches and so on.7.
As soon as a pedlar had established himself sufficiently to set up a permanent shop, he would do so, as did non-Jewish pedlars (like Robert Owen's master, McGuffig, a successful pedlar who opened a shop in Stamford in the 1770s).
Lucien Wolf's description of the process is worth quoting: "The foundation of provincial Jewish congegations in England was almost exclusively the work of the German and Polish Jews ... [They] were for the most part exceedingly poor and were glad to settle anywhere as long as the locality afforded the chance of making a modest livelihood. In this way, towards the beginning of the 18th century, the leading British ports, chiefly those in the south and west of England received a sprinkling of Jewish settlers. The more prosperous set up stores for trading with the sea faring population. Those who were absolutely destitute became pedlars and were financed in this capacity by the Jewish shopkeepers, who sent them inland with boxes of trinkets, laces, cigars and other portable goods to sell to farmers and farmers' wives. Accounts were settled at the ports once a week on Friday afternoons, after which the shopkeepers and their dependent hawkers would assemble for the inauguration of the Sabbath, either in the shop or a hired room. On the Sunday, the pack would be replenished and the following day the pedlars could trudge off again on their weekly circuits As soon as a pedlar had saved a little money, he would marry his patron's daughter, or the daughter of an itinerant colleague, or would send for his wife from abroad, or [marry a gentile, who would embrace Judaism]. Then he would set up shop on his own, preferentially in the centre of the district which he had worked as a pedlar, and the peripatetic trinket seller would blossom out into a jeweller and silversmith, and would buy his goods from the great London gem and bullion merchants like the Franks, Simons and Keysers ... Each shopkeeper would become the controller of a fresh set of tied pedlars, and his establishment in the town high street would depend even more on its wholesale traffic with the chapmen than on its local retail trade. Thus it came about that at the centre of nearly every provincial congregation was a jeweller and silversmith, and that in some of the larger towns those jewellers, who had been forced into the trade by the necessity of dealing in merchandise that was at once portable and profitable, became eventually bullion merchants and even bankers."8.
Lucien Wolf's account, clear and convincing as it is, is obviously right as regards the relationship of hawkers and shop-keepers; but it needs some comment. First, the process was not, as we have seen, a specifically Jewish one: it was part of the pattern of retail distribution in the English countryside generally in the 18th century. Second, Lucien Wolf's thesis was that the pioneers of provincial settlement were the marine store-dealers in the ports; and that communities in the county towns were founded later, as a result of penetration of the countryside from the ports.
Yet the founders of the communities in the ports did not necessarily come there primarily to trade with the seafaring population. For instance, Alexander Moses (known as Zender Falmouth), the founder of the Falmouth community, arranged with a number of Jewish pedlars to set them up with a stock of cutlery and jewellery with which to travel round the countryside, on condition that they would return every Friday to make minyan for him in Falmouth; and he began business in 1740 in Falmouth as a silversmith, the fact that this was a port being fortuitous.9. The founder of the Portsmouth congregation, perhaps the oldest of the seaports, and of all provincial communities, was an engraver and artist; and the three other signatories of the lease of the cemetery (presumably the four leading figures in the Portsmouth community in 1749) were a jeweller and two "chapmer".10. Marine store-dealing, practising as navy agents, ship chandlery and similar occupations were soon sommon among Jews in the ports, but they do not seem to have been the primary reason for Jewish settlement in provincial towns.
Nor is it even clear that the establishment of communities in the ports generally ante-dated by any material period the formation of communities in the inland centres. Wolf quotes as the ports from which the inland communities were settled the following: Portsmouth, Falmouth, Bristol, Plymouth, Hull, Yarmouth and Liverpool: and as the inland communities - Exeter, Bath, Birmingham, Canterbury, Cheltenham, Coventry, King's Lynn, Norwich. No such order of priority can be established. In particular, some of the inland communities mentioned, Birmingham, Canterbury, Exeter and King's Lynn, date from the mid-18th century or a little earlier, and even the earliest seaport communities are not older than that. What is striking, however, is that so many of the provincial communities, whether in ports or inland, date from a period of twenty years around the middle of the 18th century. Following the information given in Cecil Roth's Rise of Provincial Jewry, the list is Birmingham (possibly 1730), Falmouth (1740), Penzance (possibly 1740), Ipswich (possibly 1741), Portsmouth (1742), King's Lynn (1747), Liverpool (1750), Norwich (about 1750), Plymouth (1752), Bristol (before 1753), Canterbury (before 1760), Exeter (before 1762), Sunderland (1768). There followed a further ten communities founded before 1800: Dover (c.1770), Cambridge (c.1774), Manchester (c.1780), Swansea (c.1780), Gloucester (before 1784), Colchester (before 1791), Brighton (by 1792), Sheerness (1790), Bath (c.1800).11. Any dates given are almost always approximate and reflect some act indicating the existence of a community as distinct from unorganised individuals (e.g. purchasing a cemetery, opening a synagogue; arranging regular services.)
There are a number of reasons for this expansion of provincial communities in the second half of the 18th century. First, there was an increase in Jewish immigration into England, probably due to certain events on the Continent, although what these were we cannot yet be sure. The places of origin of Jews in the provincial communities can be identified in sundry references and more especially in lists such as those of Plymouth and Portsmouth. The Plymouth aliens list of 1801-3 gives places of origin of 53 Jews then resident in Plymouth but born abroad and who had arrived at an average rate of one immigrant a year since 1745 (1.4 in 1761-9 and 1730-9 and none between 1777 and 1780). Of the 58, 43 came from Germany, 5 from Bohemia, 4 from Austria, 6 from Poland. The German immigration was mainly from small towns, concentrated in a relatively narrow strip running eastwards from the Rhine into Franconia (especially from Ansbach, Mannheim, and Frankfurt-on-Main). A 1766 list of 17 places of origin of Jews in Portsmouth shows a similar concentration on the Rhineland and Franconia. Some of the Falmouth seem to have come from Alsace. What is also significant is that the places of origin were small towns, and areas where peddling in the countryside was a familiar occupation. Thus the Jews in the English provinces would have been used to life in small, relatively rural communities.12.
Knowledge of the areas from which the provincial Jews came does not necessarily indicate the ultimate cause of their emigration. This may have been events like the expulsion of the Jews from Prague in 1745 or the Haidamack disturbances, which came to a climax in 1768. These affected not only the refugees themselves but the existing Jewish inhabitants of communities into which the refugees crowded, and whose chances of earning a competitive livelihood were thereby reduced.13. Generally also the Jews of the small German communities found great difficulty in earning a living. Many of the small princely states followed the pattern of the Prussian Generalpatent of 1750 which severely limited the right of Jews to transmit their rights of residence and protection to their children. In the smaller German communities Jews had to move because they could not live, nor earn a living at home. It is significant that of the foreign-born Jews living in Plymouth at the beginning of the 19th century, virtually all were between 16 and 30 (most between 20 and 26) when they arrived in England. The immigrants who moved into the.provincial communities were the small-town German Jews who had to leave home when they wanted to start a family and establish themselves in business. It was also, at first, relatively easy for them to get to England, since passage on the mail-packet was free until 1771, when the influx of poor Jews in the previous decade led to the withdrawal of this privilege.
But while immigration was the major cause of the growth of Anglo-Jewry in the second half of the 18th century, it must not be forgotten that the general population of the country, which had remained more or less static around 6 million in the first half of the century, increased to over 9 million in the second half. If we assume that native born Anglo-Jewry shared in this trend, then this would explain a pressure, resulting from both immigration and natural increase, on the means of livelihood of London-born Jews which led them to emigrate from London to the provinces. Fortunately for then, the 18th century also saw a growth of town life in provincial England, with a corresponding growth in the service and luxury trades, which provided the economic opportunity for so many Jewish shopkeepers. It was fortunate for the Jew, that it was in precisely the occupations like jeweller, watchmaker, engraver or tailor, that there was a growth in demand in English provincial towns in this period.14. As a result, both pressure and opportunity contributed to the formation of so many provincial communities in the century after 1740.15.
The formation of these communities continued after 1800. Again, any dates are approximate and represent the organisation of the community, following earlier settlement by individuals. But, based on the information given in Cecil Roth's Rise of Provincial Jewry, the picture appears to show Bedford and Coventry soon after 1800, Edinburgh in 1816, Cheltenham, Leeds and Nottingham in the 1820s, Glasgow and Newcastle in 1830, Ramsgate and Southampton in 1833, Sheffield in the 1830s, Great Yarmouth in 1838, Oxford in 1840 and Jersey in 1843. (I have included these last because communities were obviously in process of formation at the end of the period under review.) The gap between 1800 and 1816 can be attributed to the virtual cessation of immigration during the Napoleonic Wars and therefore of pressure on the London Jewish community to overspill into the provinces.
Occupations, of course, varied with the type of town. By 1837, at least nine communities were in 'county' towns, i.e. towns whose economic basis was primarily due to their being administrative and marketing centres.16. Together with these can be considered the 'resort' towns - Bath, Brighton, Cheltenham, Ramsgate. In all of them, the predominant occupations were those of shopkeeper or professional man. The occupations of some 120 individuals are mentioned in the Rise of Provincial Jewry. Leaving aside 23 who were in specifically maritime callings (navy agents, marine store dealers), 60 were silversmiths, goldsmiths or jewellers; 13 watch-makers or clockmakers; 3 hat makers and 3 furriers. Of the 'professionals', 15 were opticians, dentists or chiropodists and 4 painters or engravers.17. The very narrow range is apparent as is the close connection between the different occupations, e.g. between jewellers and watchmakers, or between goldsmiths and engravers. Very few were tailors;18. there were artists in Plymouth, Bath, Bristol, Portsmouth and Liverpool;19. and when, outside the main industrial centres, Jews became engaged in manufacture there was often a connection with other Jewish occupations, e.g. in Bristol Lazarus Jacobs and his son Isaac Jacobs were well-known glass manufacturers.20. Even Henry Solomon, who spent 23 years in the service of the Brighton Commissioners, 16 as Chief of Police (in which office he was murdered in 1844) began as a watch-maker.
The resort towns followed the same general pattern as the ordinary county towns but some of the shopkeepers doubled as lodging-house keepers; there might be some schoolmasters taking in Jewish boys as boarders; and there would be some, like Moses Mocatta and Moses Ricardo in Brighton, who were listed in 1822 as specifically not 'in trade'.21.
The seaports, especially the naval ports, provided a special range of economic opportunities. Before the full development of a naval supply organisation, ships' captains relied on private contractors to supply their vessels with stores and their men with clothing. The navy agents were officially recognised as such and entered in the annual Navy List. The Napoleonic Wars saw an immense growth in the number of navy agents and in 1816 the Navy List recorded over 140 Jewish navy agents: 46 in Portsmouth (including Portsea and Gosport), 39 in Plymouth (including Plymouth Dock or Devonport and Stonehouse), 10 in Sheerness, 6 in Chatham, 2 in Exeter, 2 in Liverpool, one each in Deal, Dover, Truro, Sunderland, Canterbury, North Shields, Falmouth and Brighton, besides 25 at various addresses in London and 2 in Deptford.22.
We can now see the beginnings of communities in the major industrial centres, notably Manchester and Birmingham. After Liverpool, Manchester was the largest provincial community of the period. The majority of the Jewish population, which in 1840 was about 1000, earned their living as shopkeepers or hawkers in a restricted range of merchandise, mainly clothing and jewellery. It is well known that Nathan Mayer Rothschild operated in Manchester from 1798 to 1804 as a cotton merchant and manufacturer, buying raw materials and dyes and having goods made up for export. But Mr. W. Williams' work on The Making of Manchester Jewry 1740-1875 has now documented the growth of a substantial Jewish merchant group in the cotton trade, with the arrival of some 30 merchants from Germany, Holland and London in the 1830s and early 1840s.23. These cotton merchants, together with clothing manufacturers such as Benjamin Hyam or the family of the West India merchant Abraham Franklin, formed an upper-middle class group, which (like that in the much larger London community) began in the 1830s to move out into what were then middle-class suburban areas. At the other end of the social scale, the growth of a workshop 'proletariat' - as distinct from the hawkers and petty traders - probably did not begin in Manchester until after 1840.
The year 1837 (or perhaps even 1840) marks an appropriate point in the development of provincial Anglo-Jewry at which one can conveniently begin a new period. Economically, it marked the decline first of rural peddling, and then of urban hawking. There were a .number of reasons for this: the coming of the railways, the competition of the Irish immigrants, the efforts of the communal authorities to apprentice young Jews to artisan trades, the economic success of former pedlars in setting themselves up as shopkeepers, and the growth of retail shopkeeping generally.24. The following decade of the 1840s also saw the beginning of an appreciable flow of poorer immigrants from Prussian Poland, and even the western parts of Russian Poland, who were now able to travel by railway across Europe to Hamburg. From there they went by ship to Hull, which was at this period the principal port of Jewish immigration, receiving during the 1840s some 300-400 immigrants a year. These immigrants, including those who had hoped to go to America but did not get beyond Britain, filtered into the provincial communities, particularly in the north, as well as to London.
The end of the 1830s also marked a transition in the internal life of the provincial communities. In the 1840s, the provincial Jewish middle class began to be involved in the struggle for political emancipation. Until 1836 interest had been concentrated, by a relatively few keen spirits among the leading London Jewish families, on the attempts to pass general bills for the removal of Jewish disabilities. After 1835, however, with the reform of the municipal corporations enacted in that year, Jews stood for election to the new town councils and were elected in Portsmouth, Birmingham and Southampton. Though technically debarred from sitting as councillors because they could not make the declaration under the 1828 Corporations Act 'on the true faith of a Christian', their breach of the law was connived at in the provinces until the situation was regularised by legislation in 1845.25. Parallel with the participation in the campaign for external emancipation, the provincial communities generally abandoned in the 1840s their highly oligarchic constitutions. In virtually every congregation, in London or the provinces, up to the end of the 1830s, the powers to vote at general meetings, to elect to office, and to be elected to the honorary offices of the congregation were restricted to their 'privileged' members. Seatholders were excluded from these privileges, and indeed in many congregations, the honorary officers were selected, not even by the privileged members, but by a caucus of the outgoing and former honorary officers. It was only in the 1840s that this system was democratised. In Canterbury, for instance, up to 1846, no one could even become a privileged member unless he was the son of such a member or had married such a member's daughter, or was permitted by a majority of the privileged to purchase privileged membership.26. A similar process of democratisation began in Liverpool in 1838 and in Manchester in 1844.
Congregational reorganisation was accompanied in the larger communities by the formation of Jewish day schools. These can be attributed to the desire to show gentile opinion that Jews were 'anglicising' their younger generation and fitting them for the full civil rights being claimed; that they were equipping children to earn their living in ways more productive than peddling or hawking; and that they were providing an English secular education combined with Jewish instruction, thus avoiding the Christian, indeed often missionary, inspiration of many of the new schools of the period. Such Jewish day schools were formed in 1838 in Manchester, and in 1840 in Birmingham and Liverpool.
But while 1837-40 marks the end of an era, it is a little too early for the statistical evidence on provincial Jewry which is available from 1845 onwards. In a paper delivered to the Jewish Historical Society in 1950, I estimated the Jewish population of Britain in 1851 at about 35,000, of which about 20,000 were in London. I am now inclined to think that, while 18-20,000 is correct for London, 15,000 for the rest of Britain may be rather on the high side though not out of the question, and a figure nearer 10,000 for 1851 would be more correct. We have no general coverage for the provinces earlier than the replies to the Chief Rabbi's statistical questionnaire of 1845, a published summary of which I used in 1950. The original returns to this questionnaire have since been discovered in the Chief Rabbinate Archives (ms.104) and transcribed by Rabbi Bernard Susser; and, thanks to his generous courtesy, I have been able to see the transcript in advance of publication in these Conference reports. On the basis of these returns, I should put the total Jewish provincial population in 1845 at around 8,000. The total of 'individuals' listed in the returns is just under 6,000, but it excludes some important congregations, notably the Manchester Old Hebrew congregation, Portsmouth and Southampton. Alternatively, if we add up the number of privileged members and seatholders, these total just under 1,000; assuming them to be roughly equivalent to heads of families and multiplying by 5, we get 5,000, to whom must be added the residents of the communities not included in the list as well as Jews resident in smaller groups outside organised communities.27.
If 8,000 is about right for provincial Jewry in 1845, a slightly lower figure would be appropriate for 1840, to take account of the immigration of the 1840s and natural increase between 1840 and 1845 (the population of Great Britain increased from 18.5 to 20.8m. between 1841 and 1851). Nearly half of provincial Jewry in 1840 would have been in the three major communities of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. Of the remaining communities, Brighton, Bristol, Canterbury, Chatham, Exeter, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Swansea would have had between 100 and 300 residents, all the rest having less than 100.
The general picture then at the beginning of the age of industrialisation, railways, emancipation and democracy, is one still greatly influenced by the rural peddling and shopkeeping origins of provincial Jewry. But it was qualified not only by the special circumstances of the seaports but by the growth of communities in industrial centres like Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham and Swansea. But these communities and industrial centres were still very small and it was only in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester that major industrial centres were matched by major Jewish communities. Even in Liverpool, and still to some extent in Birmingham and Manchester, the economic base was still commerce rather than manufacturing industry. The industrial revolution had begun in the English provinces in the mid-18th century but by 1840 its impact on provincial Anglo-Jewry was still limited.
Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain - List of Contents
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