The City of London
Marcus Roberts


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Jewish Emancipation

The movement towards Jewish emancipation in 19th century was important for Jews of this country generally and was particularly important for London Jews. This was because most of the moves that led to Jewish emancipation originated in the capital and greatly advanced the London Jewish community. It was also to be very important in completely redrawing the Jewish map of London as emancipation greatly encouraged the large-scale movement of Jews out of their traditional quarter in the city and the adjoining streets of the East End into the suburbs.

The movement towards Jewish emancipation was part of a general move to remove disabilities to disadvantaged groups, especially the Roman Catholics. It was due to this general change in the English intellectual outlook referred to earlier. Also in the case of the city of London it represented the reality that Jews were by now leading players in life of the City.

In 1830, Baron Lionel de Rothschild, was elected an MP by the City of London, though he could not take his seat due to the religious test of the parliamentary oath. In 1831 Jews were allowed the freedom of the City, a very important concession, which allowed them to carry on retail trade in the City, for the first time. David Salomons career is symptomatic of the rapid pace of emancipation. He was one of the founders of the London and Westminster Bank. In 1835 he was elected the first Jewish Sheriff of the City. In the same year he was also made Alderman but was debarred due to religion. In 1847 he became the first Jewish Alderman, having succeeded in passing a bill in parliament to allow Jewish Aldermen in the City. In 1856 he became the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London. In 1858 the removal of the religious oath for entry to parliament meant that Jews could take a seat in the House of Commons for the first time. These were indeed heady and exciting times for the Jewish community.

From about 1825 there was the beginning of a larger scale move out of the traditional Jewish center in the City. These trends as usual were started by the upper classes and soon imitated by the middle classes and lower middle classes. In the 1830s and 1840s, the residences of choice were Finsbury Square and Finsbury Circus, with Bloomsbury being the most fashionable of them all. As time went on the move into fashionable parts continued into the West End and the fashionable suburbs. The upper classes went to Park Lane and Regent's Park, Mayfair, Bloomsbury and other West End destinations. The most popular places of middle class residence were Islington, Maida Vale, Bayswater, Hammersmith, St John's Wood, Hampstead as well as Soho and Southwark, Canonbury and Dalston. The City synergies bowed to pressure and set up new branch synagogues in these places.

This period also saw the creation of the Reform synagogue movement, which sought a more rational form of worship, at more convenient hours, and one which avoided what to them seemed the lack of decorum in worship, at both Sephardic and Askenasic synagogues. The creation of the Reform congregation at the West London Synagogue in 1840 was the result of a direct challenge to the authorities of both sections of the community. This produced another major schism in the community, but one supported by both sections of both the Askenasim and Sephardim.

By 1880, most of the upper classes and upper middle classes had moved out of the city and the rest of the middle classes were following them. The Jewish middle classes grew greatly in the 19th century and were increasingly Anglicized. The typical middle class Jew now felt "English" as a result of emancipation and their aspirations were similar to the rest of the English middle class. In material terms this meant that they wanted to seek their piece of the semi-rural idyll now newly opened up and to be found in the growing suburbs of London. More specifically still they wished to own their own detached property, often a villa, which the Victorian building speculators willing provided to give substance to a middle class dream of the rural residences of the upper classes. Naturally, as more Jews entered the middle classes, this tended to fuel the continuing move out of the city.

Socially, all of this had consequences. In the past the different Jewish classes lived close together and worshipped together. Through the 19th century the different layers of the Jewish community were to become separated in where they lived and to where and how they worshipped and organised themselves.

A later Victorian commenter was able to look back on this period of London Jewish history with some rose-tinted nostalgia,

"...Those were happy days for the London Jewry. Rich and poor lived within a stone's throw of each other, and the poor were not very poor and the rich were not proud. The Rabbi, the Warden, and the Beadle ruled by a sort of Divine right, and the synagogue chest was administered on principles that would have shocked the scientific guardians of the poor who now perform that function."

"In the process of time the rich moved westwards. They were still occasionally to be seen at synagogue, and on the seventh day of Tabernacles would drive down to Dukes Place and Bevis Marks in gorgeous barouches, attended by powdered and bedizened lackeys. But synagogues were soon built westwards and they were seen no more."

The writer concludes, by noting that by 1880 the City and its environs was something of a shadow of its former Jewish-self, excepting the continuation of traditional working class Jewish industries and trades, such as the old clothes trade.

In the 1880s, the most significant Jewish professions in London were, were stock exchange brokerage, general merchandising and tailoring. Also, of considerable importance were clothiers, boot-makers, diamond-cutting, furniture broking and watch making. Jews also had dominated specialty trades in coconuts, oranges, canes and umbrellas, meerschaum pipes and Valentine cards.

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