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The Jews of South-West England

Thesis by Rabbi Bernard Susser

Chapter Two

Immigration and Emigration -
The Jewish Communities of Devon and Cornwall after 1656


Part 2

The towns of minor Jewish in the South-West of England

Besides the principal centres of Plymouth, Exeter, Falmouth and Penzance [see Chapter 2, Part 1 above), where Jewish life was organized on traditional lines, traces of individual Jewish families have been noted in another 15 Devon and 12 Cornish towns in the period 1750-1900. In these towns there is rarely evidence of more than two or three Jewish families resident at any one time, more often there was only one, but it should be borne in mind that there may have been several or even many more. [See supra, p. 50.] In spite of their small numbers these isolated and scattered families represent an important factor in the development of provincial Jewish life, as they provided a kind of cross-country hostelry, always ready to welcome a Jewish hawker (or commercial traveller as they preferred to style themselves in the latter part of the nineteenth century), or simply to help a poor Jew on his way to the next Jewish community where he would find food, shelter, the offer of a job, and financial help. [A Jewish pedlar, down on his luck, making his way to Bridgewater in 1821, was asked if he had friends there. 'No, but there are Jews there and they will help me' (Clegg, Shemoel Hirsch, p. 33).]

The Jews who were settled outside the four Devon and Cornish communities generally maintained close links with the nearest of them. Frequently we owe our knowledge of their settlement in places like Tavistock, Dartmouth and Totnes, to the fortunate usage of synagogal officials who, in Congregational records, appended a man's town of residence to his name. This was often done to distinguish two men of the same name, and also when the man was long resident in a town and was perhaps the only Jew there, [Cf. Zender Falmouth, supra, p. 52.] hence Libche Truro, [MS in the writer's collection.] Alexander Truro, [Index to PHC A/c. 1759.] Jacob Jukel Tavistock, [PHC Bk. of Records, p. 1.] Izak Totnes, [PHC Bk. of Records, p. 2.] and Nathan Dartmouth. [PHC Bk. of Records, p. 2.] On the other hand it appears that Jews sometimes settled in towns where there was no organized Jewish life because they wished to cut their ties with their faith, frequently after marriage to a Gentile. This perhaps explains the presence of 'Silas Dursley, died Thursday sen-night a Jew, in the 109th year of his life, at Chudley, Devon' as early as 1729, [The County Journal, 31 May 1729.] though his name does not seem to indicate a Jewish origin. [Could 'Jew here mean miser or moneylender?]

©The Bookplate Society 2012

Samuel Hartís bookplate in the Jacobean Armorial style was probably engraved at some time in the period of a decade each side of 1730. From the original in the Henry Peckitt Collection, this image was kindly supplied by The Bookplate Society.

  see www.bookplatesociety.org

Another Jew who settled in Devon at an early date was one Samuel Hart, brother of the Moses Hart who was one of the pillars of the London Jewry. [Roth, Great Synagogue, pp. 50, 65. Roth, Provincial Jewry, p. 59, seems to have confused Lemuel Hart (P.C.C. Potter, 72) with this Samuel Hart.] Samuel's will was drawn up in Yarnscombe on 1 August 1744 and from its provisions it is apparent that he had married out of his faith and left it. [Admin 13 March 1746(1). He left his books to his kinsman Revd Samuel Hart of Dibford (Diptford) and his property to his daughter Mary. Samuel Hart of the Plymouth Congregation was probably a cousin (cf. the will of Judith, sister of Moses and Samuel Hart, P.C.C. Ducarel, 191, 28 April 1785).] It is likely that there were other such Jews, but unless their name was typically Jewish, once they severed their connection with the synagogue it is extremely difficult to find any trace of them.

[(1) This date would appear to be an error and, according to PCC Wills, was actually 13 March 1747 (being prior to 6 April, the date would have been recorded as 1746/7). Attention to this error drawn by Mr. Anthony Pincott of the Bookplate Society.]

Occasionally a Jew achieved national fame, and his birthplace consequently became public knowledge. Such a one was Elias Parish-Alvars, famous English harpist and composer, who was born in Teignmouth in 1808. [Jew. Encycl. s.v. PARISH-ALVARS, Elias.] The search for traces of Parish-Alvars led to the discovery of a Joseph Parish, 10 Wellington Row, Teignmouth, who was a music seller there in 1827. [Pigots Directory, 1823. Benjamin Jonas, father of Joseph Jonas, first Jew in Ohio, lived next door.] Without any other indication it is difficult to identify Joseph Parish as a Jew, but the similarity of name and musical occupation suggests that he was related to Parish-Alvars. Another Jew, Isaac Gompertz, member of a famous family of that name, published a poem called Devon in Teignmouth in 1825. The book contains an epitaph to his brother Barent who was buried in the Exeter Congregation's cemetery. The Gentleman's Magazine mentions the presence of Jews in Barnstaple from 1765-1805 and in Dartmouth in 1764. [Gent. Mag. 1805, 1764.] A record at the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro, shows that Moses Jacob was well established in Redruth in 1767. [Pet. 24, Royal Institution of Cornwall.] The Census of 1851 shows, perhaps best of all, the widespread birthplaces of the members of the South-West communities in the first half of the nineteenth century. There were the Ezekiel and Levi families in Newton Abbot from 1780 to 1800; Joanna, wife of Henry Moses, was born in Hayle in 1812; Betsy, wife of Abraham Abrahams, was born in Callingden in 1799; Moss J. Jacob and Amelia wife of Henry Joseph of Penzance were born in Camborne in 1813 and 1812; Esther, daughter of Agnes and Jacob Moses, was born in Yealmpton in 1829; Martha, wife of Henry Woolf, was born in Bodmin in 1829; and Edel, wife of Joseph Joseph was born in Liskeard in 1771. Towards the second half of the nineteenth century English-born Jews in Plymouth came from a narrower spread of birthplaces. From the 1871 Census returns for Plymouth we learn of only two other families in Cornwall. There was the Joseph family in Redruth in 1842, and the family of Mrs Henrietta Jacobs in Truro in 1845. In each of these instances it may be assumed that there was at least the one Jewish family resident in the town at the time of birth. The Aliens List of Plymouth reveals Jews settled in Cornwall from the first half of the eighteenth century. Levy Emanuel was a silversmith in Truro from 1748-63; Isaac Van Oven was a spectacle maker there from 1771-85, Barnett Levy was a silversmith in St. Austell from 1758-75; Moses Israel made his home in Tavistock from 1797; from 1764, Moses Mordecai was a silversmith in Dartmouth, where he was joined by Nathan Joseph in 1784; Mordecai Jacobs plied his trade as an umbrella maker in Cornwall, probably travelling from place to place without any settled abode, from 1753-73. [Lipman, 'Aliens List', nos. 30, 20, 31, 3, 45, 57, 53.] Local directories also reveal the presence of Jews at Truro, [Pig. Direct. 1823.] St. Austell, [Universal British Directory, 1798.] Liskeard, [Pig. Direct. 1823.] Newton Abbot, [Pig. Direct. 1823; D. M. Stirling, History of Newton Abbot (Newton Abbot, 1830), p. 176.] Bideford, [Pig. Direct. 1823.] Tiverton, [Ibid.] Dawlish, [Harrison, Harrod Co's Dawlish Directory, 1862.] and Torquay, [Pig. Direct. 1823; Whites Direct. 1850.] particularly in the early part of the nineteenth century.

It may be that Jews settled in all the main centres of trade where it was possible for yet another all-round trader, particularly one specializing in jewellery and the watch trade, to make a living. As soon as the man ceased to trade, either because of old age or death, his widow and children might well move back to a neighboring organized community. This process may be illustrated by the Bellem family of Dartmouth. The progenitor of the family was Matathias Hyman ben Elijah Bellem, who was a member of the Plymouth Congregation before 1786, at which time he was in Dartmouth. [PHC A/c. 1759, p. 25.] He had a son Aaron who was born about 1780, [Because Aaron's wife was born in 1783.] probably in either Dartmouth or Plymouth. [His father was established in Dartmouth by 1786.] Aaron married a Plymouth girl, Rachel, born in 1783, [Census 1851.] and she joined him in Dartmouth where their children Harriet, Hannah, Jacob, Abraham, Esther and another were born. [PHC Bk. of Records, p. 56; Census 1851.] Aaron died on Wednesday, 23 October 1833 in Dartmouth, and was brought to Plymouth for burial on the following day. [Census 1841; PHC tomb. B.52.] By 1841, his widow and all her children were back in Plymouth. She died there in 1853, leaving her deaf and dumb daughter Harriet behind her to be supported by the Plymouth Jewish community until she too died in 1890. [Census 1871; PHC tomb. F.5.] After the death of their mother the other children left Plymouth for unknown destinations.

Table 10 summarizes the minor Jewish settlement in Devon and Cornwall in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (see Map 4).

Table 10: Minor Jewish settlement in Devon and Cornwall
in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

First and last known dates of Jewish residence

Number of Jewish families


















St. Austell



















 Newton Abbot




























 Clyst Honiton

















































St Ives

In the twentieth century, individual Jewish families, generally with a weak attachment to their religion, settled for short periods throughout Devon and Cornwall. Occasionally, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century, such a family would join the Congregation at Plymouth or Torquay. During the Second World War a number of Jewish children were evacuated to the South-West. Mrs Doreen Cohen (née Barnet) was one of a group from the West Ham Secondary School, London, who were evacuated to Helston in Cornwall. She recalled:

Passover was a memorable time. Together with the Jewish parents we prepared everything ourselves. The provisions came from London but arrived very late, so for the first few days we only ate matzah. The minister, Rabbi Salomon, kept trying to reassure us that food was on its way. I'll never forget slaving over the frying pan preparing the Seder meal. I had to fry enough fish for 50 children and parents.

Habonim, a Jewish youth movement, set up South Devonshire hostels, in Exmouth, Dawlish and Teignmouth, for the new concentrations of evacuated Jewish children. [JC, 1 September 1989, 'London Extra', pp. 3, 6.]

Some Jewish families from Plymouth moved inland to escape the bombing. One family moved to Horrabridge, and Mr J. B. Goodman could be seen walking the ten miles or so, there and back, every Saturday morning, under the hot summer sun or through the deep Dartmoor snow drifts of winter, to attend the Sabbath service in the Plymouth synagogue.

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