Chatham and Rochester
Marcus Roberts

Key Dates

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1180 Circa
Some evidence of Jews in medieval Rochester. Jews appeal for, and receive, shelter in Rochester Castle
1750 Circa
The modern Jewry founded around the trade and port of Chatham and Rochester - now one of the oldest Jewish communities in the country.
The first synagogue in Chatham is established in a leased tenement. Levi Israel (a silversmith) is named as a leasee of the site.
1780 Circa
By this date the Jewish community have reconstructed their tenement as a purpose built synagogue - a modest brick and wood building with a clock.
Pigots' Trade Directory for the year lists Jews in the following occupations, tobacconists, pawnbrokers, tailors, jewelers, silversmiths, furniture brokers, slop-sellers and salesmen. Sixteen of the twenty-one Slopsellers listed are Jewish.
The Isaacs family are one of the leading Jewish families in Chatham. They are principally Navy Agents, Army and Navy contractors and outfitters as well as general suppliers to the military.
Nathaniel Isaacs, aged 22 and brother of Samuel Isaacs, gets into financial problems and defrauds individuals and banks to a sum up to £10,000 . On being discovered by a bank official he flees to Dover and commits suicide at the Victoria Hotel by taking arsenic. A scandal ensues and the Isaacs family fight to retain their family reputation.
R.G.Hobbes recalls that some sixty Jewish families live in Chatham and that many of them dealt in new and secondhand clothing as well as secondhand furniture in addition to lending money or working as jewelers.
Captain Lazarus Magnus is elected Mayor of Queenborough (a port town between Chatham and Sheerness) three times in 1858, 1859 and 1862. He is elected due to his role, as deputy chairman of the Sittingbourne and Sheerness Railway Company, in bringing the railway to the port. He is probably the first Jewish provincial mayor.
The Kent 9th Volunteer Rifle Brigade (a volunteer force) is formed, Simon Lazarus Magnus is commissioned as captain and nearly all of the male members of the synagogue join the brigade. Charles Isaacs is also gazetted lieutenant.
Captain Lazarus Magnus, aged 39, dies suddenly in lodgings in London, apparently due to an accidental over-dose of Chloroform taken for a toothache.
A new synagogue, the Chatham Memorial Synagogue as well as a minister's house, is completed in this year, on the same site as the first, in memory of Lazarus Magnus. it is built in a highly decorative baroque style. A mikveh is probably added later.
1872 Circa
L. Polack a professor of languages is minister of the synagogue. Polack House at Clifton College, Bristol, is named after him.
Daniel Barnard dies, one of the best known Jews of Chatham. Variously a proprietor of a Music Hall ("Barnard's Palace of Varieties" as well as a noted civic figure and founder and official of the local fire brigade. The fire brigade "follow him to his grave" as a mark of respect.
G.H.Leavey is elected the first Jewish Mayor of Chatham having previously been one of the first 18 Councillors for Chatham Town Council.
The Rev. Wolfe is the last minister at the synagogue.
The synagogue and community are host to many service men in the area.
1950 Circa
The community experiences significant growth due to the establishment of light engineering firms in the area. Elliot Brothers (London Ltd.) are a Jewish owned company and are significant in this respect.
A new community center, or the Centenary Hall, with a kosher kitchen, is raised on the site of the old minister's house to provide for the post-war growth of the community.
Chatham synagogue is now the only mid-Kent synagogue. Members live in a wide area but mainly the Medway Towns. Members follow a variety of occupations or are increasingly retired.
A Jewish Wedding is celebrated at Chatham shule, one of only c. nine weddings in 25 years. The synagogue is also repainted and renovated.
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