Jews in England

William the Conqueror invited Jews to settle in England after the Norman Conquest in 1066. These were Ashkenazim who, unlike their Sephardi counterparts in the Iberian peninsula, were the descendants of Jews who had moved north of the Alps and the Pyrenees during the Roman period and beyond. They quickly began to play an important role in the economy, lending money to the king and royal court when Christians were forbidden to loan money at interest. They were an educated and skilled and became prominent in national finance and local trade at key regional centres like York, Lincoln and London.

At first, Jews and Christians lived together peacefully. However conditions for Jews in England steadily deteriorated because of religious intolerance, the level of debt owed to Jewish money lenders and resentment against the special protection Jews had received from the monarchy who relied on their funding.

In 1189 and 1190 there were violent massacres of Jews in London and York. Many restrictions were placed on Jews in the following years culminating in 1875 when Edward I introduced the Statute of Jewry. This prohibited Jews from charging interest on loans and from granting mortgages which cut off a major source of their income.

Shockingly it also limited where Jews were allowed to live, restricted in 'the King’s own Cities and Boroughs'. They were also now obliged to wear a yellow badge, sewn on their garments - a measure copied by other European countries and the Nazis in the 20th century.

Then in autumn 1290, to secure parliament’s grant of further taxation to fund his war with France, Edward expelled all the remaining 3,000 Jews from England. All their property was seized and the destitute community were forced to walk to the south coast and cross by sea to northern Europe as refugees. Many died on the journey.

Jewish refugees from the Iberian Peninsula

After Jews were deported from England in 1290, other countries copied and expelled Jews - France, the Kingdom of Naples, Berne, Hungary, Austria.

The most well known instance was Spain. From the 8th century, Spain and Portugal had Europe’s largest Jewish community. But in the 14 and 15th centuries anti Jewish attacks became more prevalent and many Jews saved their lives by converting to Christianity.

In 1478, the Spanish Inquisition was established. Its main target was Jewish Conversos who had converted either forcibly or willingly to Christianity. They became refugees in the Netherlands, France, Italy and Turkey. And were joined a few years later when Spain then expelled its openly Jewish community in 1492.

Jewish immigrants return to Britain 17th - 19th Century

Oliver Cromwell’s decision to allow Jews to return to England after 1656 was partially motivated by his aim to re-establish London as a major trading centre after the Civil War. The first Jewish immigrants to arrive included prosperous Sephardi merchants who came via Holland and Portugal. They were soon joined by Ashkenazim also from Holland and eastern Europe. Compaared to the rest of Europe, Cromwell's country was a model of religious acceptance. Jews were safe from progroms and persecution and able to conduct business.

By 1700 the small community had grown to approximately 600 people, mainly merchants, but also dealers in bullion and diamonds, skilled craftsmen, shopkeepers and a few physicians.

During the 18th century the Jewish community continued to grow. Those arriving were poor Ashkenazi migrants from the German states, Poland and to a lesser extent Dutch Jews of German origin. Renewed activity by the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal in 1720 and 1735 provoked a new arrival of around 3,000 Conversos. Others came from the Italian states, North Africa, Gibraltar and the Ottoman Empire.

During the second half of the century, Jewish refugees – Sephardi or Ashkenazi – were therefore increasingly unskilled with few material resources. They were often pedlars and hawkers, itinerant traders selling goods frequently of poor quality or dubious provenance. They worked as street traders selling oranges, lemons, spectacles, costume jewellery, sponges, lead pencils and inexpensive framed pictures.

Jewish refugees arrive in Bath

By 1800 the Jewish population of England was about 25,000 of whom 20,000 were in London and towns offering commercial opportunities and the rest mainly in the seaports as this slide shows. Bath attracted Jewish visitors coming to enjoy Bath’s fashionable society and others to take the cure that the thermal waters offered.

Catherine de Costa (a Sephardic name) is the first know Jewish Visitor to Bath in 1734 when she comes because of her health. Over the next few decades many leading Sephardim (Jews from the Iberian Peninsula) are subscribers to Bath General Hospital and attended the spas for both their health and social aspirations.

From about 1780s, Ashkenasi Jews from Eastern Europe began to also arrive in Bath and a small community of dentists, opticians, chiropodists, greengrocers, jewellers, tailors and second hand clothiers arrived to serve Bath’s well off visitors during the season.

The 19th century: Jewish refugees from Russia

During the 1800s migration from Germany, Holland and Poland in particular continued. Families were fleeing persecution, programs and expulsions. They sought a better life in England which at that time was more tolerant and had no restrictions on entry.

From the 1880s through the early part of the 20th century, massive pogroms in Russia and eastern Europe caused many Jews to flee mainly without passports, to escape poverty, military service and violence. This immigration came in waves: the first wave was a response to the programs of 1881-2 in Russia following the assassination of tsar Alexander II; the second resulted from the expulsion of Poles from Prussia in 1886; the third was triggered by expulsions from Moscow and Kiev in 1890-1.

Between 1880 and 1914 2 million Jews made their way to the USA, Canada, the Argentine, France, South Africa and the UK. 100,000 travelled by weekly steamer from Rotterdam, Hamburg and Bremen to the English ports of Hull, Grimsby.

About 140,000 of these refugees (7%) remained in Britain. As a result, The Jewish population of England increased from 46,000 in 1880 to about 250,000 in 1919. Most Jewish refugees settled in London and lived in poverty, working as artisans and small masters, and supported by the existing Jewish Community.

In 1905 the Aliens Act was passes with restricted Jewish immigration to Britain.