The City of London
Marcus Roberts


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The Resettlement

In 1655 a climactic date was reached when Manasseh ben Israel petitioned Cromwell to allow the re-entry of the Jews. These negotiations, while incomplete, paved the way for the de facto official recognition of Jews in London. In 1656 Cromwell allowed the lease of a burial ground at Mile End Road to the Jewish community for 999 years.

Under Charles II the position of the Jews was officially recognized, despite stiff opposition from London merchants who saw them as competition. On balance it seems the merchants of the city decided that the Jewish community were overall more beneficial to the trading interests of the city than not. The Jews had excellent trading contacts with the Spanish and Portuguese colonies and the Levant. They were also very important in the importation of bullion to England. These factors led to the involvement of the Jewish traders on the Royal Exchange. In 1697, 12 Jews were allowed to officially trade on the exchange. It was decided to admit a total of 100 English traders and 12 other aliens, thus the city Jews actually had a high proportion of the places considering the size of the community.

The Sephardic community built itself up throughout this period and established a wide variety of institutions and charities. These included a synagogue, schools, orphanages, hospitals, and charities for dowries, among many. The Sephardic Jews were, it is said, assisted at every stage of their life, from birth through to death. It is claimed that this high level of assistance may well have resulted in a long term pauperizing effect among the community. Everything centered on the synagogue of Bevis Marks (1702), which replaced the earlier synagogues, and its adjoining schools and yeshiva.

The community was reinforced by fresh waves of arrivals from the continent. In 1689, the accession of William of Orange led to many Spanish and Portuguese coming in from Holland.

By the mid 18th century the trade and wealth of the community had grown considerably and the leading families were very wealthy indeed. Trade by this time centered on West and East Indies as well as Jamaica. The trade in bullion continued to be important

The Sephardic make-up of the Jewish community was soon challenged with the increasing immigration of Askenazic Jews. These Jews came via the ports of Amsterdam and Hamburg and had set up their own congregation by 1690 (and an early synagogue in Dukes Place in 1692) and burial ground by 1696. Moses Hart built the Great Synagogue in Dukes Place in 1722 and this was to remain the spiritual headquarters of the Ashkenazic community until its destruction by fire during bombing in 1941.

During the 18th Century and indeed into the early 19th century, the majority of Jewish settlement was concentrated in a very small area of about 35 acres. This area was a triangle defined by St Mary's Axe, Bevis Marks and Duke Street and Leadenhall Street. The Minories also had a Jewish population, as did the area along Houndsditch just to the east of the city. The community had come to this area in the first instance, because it was traditionally a place of settlement for foreigners and one where non-freemen of the City were allowed to trade. Also for the poorer members of the community it was close to the established and bustling markets of the East End and the large working class population they served. However from a relatively early date, some upper class and middle class Jews settled in better areas quite close to Dukes Place. Goodmans' Fields was one such residence - then a pleasant semi-rural location - and was favoured from 1720. Likewise, the area around Rosemary Lane and as far south as Well Close Square, were favoured too. Also some of the upper class Jews started taking summer residences in the country side and villages adjacent to London and a few took more prestigious town houses in areas like Abemarle Street in the West End. This early trickle of Jewish residents from the immediate vicinity of Dukes Place was by the mid 19th century to become a flood.

The community suffered some acrimonious splits at an early date. In 1706 the Hamburg Jew, Marcus Moses separated from the parent body with his supporters - part of the dispute rested on Marcus Moses wishing to follow the practices of the Hamburg synagogue. Moses firstly opened a synagogue in Magpye Alley close to Dukes Place, by 1726 He had built the Hambro' Synagogue in Church Row, Fenchurch Street. It was later to be moved into White Chapel - in Union Street, off Commercial Road, by 1899.

Another dispute among the Askenazim led to the creation of the New Synagogue in 1761, which was sited at Bricklayers hall in Leadenhall Street. This collection of synagogues, The Great, the Hambro' and the New, not forgetting The Spanish and Portuguese, formed the sum of London synagogues into the 19th century. The Askenasim were ultimately to settle their differences in 1870 to form the United Synagogue to represent their collective interests.

By 1800 the Askenasim had gained primacy in London and England. They had become the most numerous and influential. However many of them were very poor and were principally involved in hawking and small trading. The trade in old clothes was their most characteristic profession. They were also frequently accused of being responsible for an undue amount of petty crime - a charge that seems to have had some basis in researched fact. Certainly it led to the Askenasic community to considering ways of better helping and educating their poor. The eventual creation of the Westminster Jews Free School and the Jews Free School came out of these deliberations in the community. Much later the creation of the Jewish Board of Guardians, to directly help the Jewish poor, can be seen to have come out of this situation.

The Sephardim were not without their own separate problems during this period. An important problem for them lay with the rigid nature of their religious and communal organisation. When the community was established every aspect of communal and religious life was rigidly directed by the Ascama, the laws of the community, and the elders of the congregation. While this may have been appropriate in its time, it did not alter to adapt to changing social or religious conditions.

As a result it seems that some of the significant members of the community became alienated and some even left the congregation after disputes. It is to one such dispute that we owe the eventual rise of Benjamin D'Israeli to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. D'Israeli's father refused to become a warden of the synagogue when asked, and on being levied a stiff fine for his refusal, as per the rules, he decided to leave the congregation. He later assented to having Benjamin baptized and the rest of Benjamin's' story as he rose to power, is history.

The richer Sephardim were also operating under other pressures. Many of the richest were very well integrated into the higher reaches of society and were well educated. The desire for further social advancement was an incentive for baptism that would allow marriage into the English aristocracy. Also exposure to the liberal intellectual currents coming in from Europe in the 19th century was starting to take the educated classes from the traditional moorings of faith and authority. The rigidity of the Ascama would have been increasingly less appealing.

As a result the Sephardic community lost its vigor and its primacy. It increasingly became a more minor part of Anglo-Jewish life.

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