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1. The Grand Pump Rooms - Abbey SquareThe Grand Pump Rooms were one of the great centers of Bath social life and would have been the resort of many of the wealthy Jewish visitors to the spa. The Pump Room itself dispensed until recent times, the warm Bath water, taken by Jewish visitors, that was aptly described as tasting like 'warm flat-irons'. Jewish visitors would often take the waters first in the morning and then attend a morning concert in the building with later diversion around the nearby shops, promenades or the Upper and Lower Rooms. After all this relaxation, another concert, the theatre or parties might follow - a routine that could last some weeks.
2. The House of Lyon Joseph - 4 Lower Church StreetThe House of Lyon Joseph - 4 Lower Church Street, Abbey Green
Going due south of the Abbey, via Abbey Street, the home of Lyon Joseph in the exceptionally picturesque Abbey Green, is quickly reached. Lyon Joseph lived in 4 Lower Church Street from 1815. Joseph had been a pedlar in the West Country and later a successful shipper. He retired to Bath as a pawnbroker apparently after serious financial set-backs. Later the same house was the residence of S. Solomon, an optician of Bath, Clifton (Bristol) and Cheltenham.
The Revd. Solomon Wolfe was also there; he was the reader of the Hebrew Congregation from 1816 to 1866, thus he was effectively the first rabbi of the first synagogue in Bath in all but name, as well as the founder of the second Bath synagogue. Wolfe came from Prussia and arrived in Bath in 1816. He also acted as schochet, probably the mohel (ritual circumciser) and was later the secretary of marriages from 1842. At his death in 1866 the congregation must have been at a considerable loss. It is very likely that the loss of someone like Wolfe, who was obviously dedicated to his small community, probably played a part in its decline as it can be very difficult for small communities to perform the skilled services that a trained rabbi can provide. Indeed after his death a string of rabbis were appointed but none stayed more than five years.
Corn Street, the site of the synagogue, lies about a five or ten minutes walk from the Abbey Green, by way of York Street, Bath Street and Hot Bath Street (with the medieval Cross Bath the main point of interest on the way). Those with a strong interest and historical imagination can detour to the site of the second synagogue which is now entirely re-developed.
3. The site of the Second Synagogue - Corn StreetThe site of the second synagogue is now entirely occupied by the Technical College, across from the end of Hot Bath Street. Corn Street is on the other side of the block of land taken up by the college.
The second synagogue was purpose built, in 1842, but in a poor and depressed neighbourhood. The money was provided in the will of Moses Samuel, the founder of the first synagogue, who died in 1839. It was raised in memorial of Mr. Samuel.
The map evidence and only photographic record of the buildings, shows a modest stone structure, in a Gothic Style, intruded into a terraced residential street. Its main exterior feature was a single, large Gothic window to the street, elevated over the entry. The buildings were quite low; the top of the roof line was only just above the top of the adjacent first floor level of the next house. The building was of very modest dimensions, being nearly square, with a facade of 32 feet and a rear extension of 30 feet.
In terms of its position, the synagogue lay between the Lower Borough Walls (the site of the medieval city walls) and the River Avon. Significantly the synagogue lies just outside the old ward boundary which ran like a fault line through the buildings of the area. This is a pattern followed by a number of synagogues, which are built outside old civic boundaries.
The synagogue fell out of use by 1874. In 1876 the congregation appealed for funds for its restoration, in an attempt to restart the community. This fresh move to restart the community was under the influence of a rabbi who had retired to Bath from Cardiff in 1872. Their plaintive advert in the Jewish Chronicle ran as follows;
'The members of the Bath Congregation (consisting unfortunately of only four families) APPEAL to the generosity of their co-religionists in London and the larger towns to assist them in their effort they are now making to RE-OPEN the SYNAGOGUE which... has been closed for many years and is now in a most dilapidated state and will require a large outlay to put into decent condition for the holding of Divine Service. Considerable repairs are required to the walls and house of the Bet Hayyim [house of life] cemetery, which is in a condition that cannot be other than painful to any co-religionist who might visit it. The Synagogue is almost destitute of the necessary appurtenances for conducting Divine Service with decency...
A. J. GOLDSMITH, President
2 Sydney Buildings, Bath
S. AARON, Honorary Secretary
6, Broad Street, Bath.'
The synagogue was restarted by 1880, with the help of 'minyan men' from Bristol. However, it fell on hard-times again very soon after as 'an occasional visitor', complaining to the Jewish Chronicle, found the synagogue was largely defunct by 1881.
The acting president, Nathan Jacobs, explained in their defence, that there were only five in the congregation, of which two were always absent; one was blind, though they did send to Bristol for their minyan men! It would seem that they only arranged for a periodic minyan at best. By the next year, 1882, it looks as if the synagogue had largely given up after a disastrous flood, as there were no recorded minutes.
In 1894 the Chief Rabbi visited the community after the death of Nathan Jacobs and had cause to reflect on the woeful lack of Jewish education for children. Further travails came when in the same year, the synagogue was badly damaged again in floods, though some London business men paid for repairs - it is stated that the synagogue finally fell out of use by 1903, when it was used as a marine store. The building was derelict by 1911 and was taken over by St Paul's Church. In 1938 the building was compulsory purchased by the council and redeveloped as part of the Technical College.
4. The Assembly Rooms - Bennet StreetThe Assembly Rooms can be reached by returning to Abbey Square and then crossing west via Cheap Street, Westgate Street and then turning northwards up Barton Street and finally Gay Street, before the Circus is reached. Bennet Street and also the Assembly Rooms are directly off the north-eastern exit off the Circus. The Assembly Rooms lie directly across the street to the right at the nearest end of Bennet Street to the Circus.
One of the focuses of social life in Georgian Bath was at the Assembly Rooms, nearby the Circus, another landmark of the city. It is not surprising; therefore, that many Jews would attend social functions at the rooms. Interestingly one of the original shareholders of the rooms was Joseph Salvador, a Jew. The assembly rooms were built in 1771, by Wood the Younger, but were gutted by fire in the Baedeker Raids of 1942 and reopened in 1963. The Ball Rooms and State Rooms can be seen decorated in late 18th Century style.
The rooms were also used for Jewish marriages; the last Jewish marriage in Bath being there is 1901. Occasional religious services were also held there, after the turn of the century, by Reuben Somers, a master tailor who lived in Bath from the 1880s to 1929, thus the rooms were of importance in the closing stages of the Jewish communities life.
5. Moses Samuel's House - 42 St James' SquareSt James' Square is to be found just north of and to the rear of the Royal Crescent, off Crescent Street, via St James' Street, which joins Crescent Street. It can be reached from the Circus by taking Brock Street and Upper Church Street.
Moses Samuel was one of the central figures in establishing an organised Jewish community in Bath and was central in the provision of both of the Bath synagogues. While best known as the parnas of the Great Synagogue, he had actually made his money in the clothing trade, after coming to England from Krotoschin.
Samuel lived at St James' Square from 1812 and his house is in the center of a terrace of elegant Georgian houses on the south side of St James' Square.
6. The site of the First Synagogue - James Street West and Monmouth StreetThe site of the First Synagogue - Kingsmead Street, now, James Street West and Monmouth Street
The site of the first synagogue lies due west of Abbey Square. Kingsmead Street is a westwards extension of Westgate Street.
The first synagogue was convened in an adapted building, one that had formerly been the New Theatre and then a girls' school. The motivating force for the establishment of a formal community and synagogue was Moses Samuel, the retired parnas of the Great Synagogue. The synagogue was established at some point before 1826. A date of 1816 is most likely as Solomon Wolfe is recorded as Reader to the Hebrew Congregation for 50 years from that date to 1866. Now the site has been consumed by a DHSS building and Telephone exchange.
7. Jew's Lane - Lower Bristol RoadThe existence of Jews' Lane, off the Lower Bristol Road, is a tangible reminder of the Jewish community of the past in Bristol and suggests an area of Jewish settlement, or some other Jewish association, such as a synagogue, yet to be established. Jew's Lane is not on Moule's map of the late 1830s and was thus probably a Victorian suburban development. The lane is a short section of road, directly off the Lower Bristol Road, which becomes Lansdowne View, immediately after the railway line crosses the road. This further points to the origins of the lane after the building of the railway, as this is the demarcation line. The demarcation of a Jew's Lane, Jew's Walk, etc, often denotes a historical Jewish resident of the street.
It is to be found on the south side of the Lower Bristol Road (A36) between the junctions of Burnham Road and High Street and is officially part of Twerton.
8. The Jewish Cemetery - Bradford Road, Coombe DownThe Bath Jewish Cemetery was founded in 1815 and its title deed dates from 1820.
Coombe Lane and the Jewish cemetery lie some two miles south of Bath. It is located opposite an MOD site, on the corner of Bradford Road (A 3062) and Greendown Place. The 'Foresters Arms Pub' is the easiest landmark, directly opposite the entrance to the cemetery and the ohel. The wall of Greendown House, 174 Bradford Road, further east, indicates the eastern extent of the small grounds. To find the site on Google Maps or Google Earth enter 51.359867, -2.353575 into the search bar.
Again, like many such Jewish sites, the cemetery was on the very edge of the City limits. The former city limits are indicated by an old boundary post opposite the junction of Coombe Road and North Road, the next street junction just to the east. The cemetery was also sited close to the entrance to a local stone quarry.
Overall the cemetery is a dignified and decent burial ground. Within its walls lie the Jewish people of old Bath. What is unusual is that there are no memorials to Jewish mayors or councilors, or folk with other distinctions or celebrity. The inhabitants of the cemetery are as low-key in death, as they were largely in life, and this gives as good an idea of the quiet ambiance of Jewish life in the city as any.
The cemetery is an elongated and irregular shaped plot, lying along the roadside. It is exactly 100 feet long, though its width varies from 30 - 40 feet. It is essentially a long rectangle with a small extension on the south side, a small patch of land 15 feet by approximately 40 feet. It is surrounded by rough stone walls about seven feet high. The former ohel is at the entrance near the pub. It is a small irregular shaped building with a large, now boarded up window, on to street. Inside there is a large fire place on the east wall, though the chimney is on the south wall suggesting a move of the fire place at some point. Indeed there is a closed off window opening close to the fire place. There is also evidence that the roof level was raised at some point as well. The door is on the north side right on the entrance.
Within there are about 50 tombstones, contained in several rows of stones; the majority are uprights, but there are five chest and horizontal tombs. Many of the tombstones have bi-lingual inscriptions, though a number are only in Hebrew. The overall styles of the stones reflect local Christian styles and indeed local (Christian) monumental mason have placed their company name on the margin of some of the stones. Some of the stones have attractive ornamentation. At the rear of the cemetery is a nice example of Cohanic hands. The tombstones of Abraham and D. Rees have very attractive urns and Levitical ewers on their heads. The first burial was in 1836 and the last according to the last caretaker of 1967 was in 1921. Twenty-nine of the tombstones date from before 1901.
At the rear of the plot there is a large regular raised terrace some four feet high, running along most of the length of the back wall of Greendown House. This appears to be another possible example of 'raised ground' i.e. a terrace of preferential or privileged burial, another example of which can be seen at Chatham Jewish cemetery. However the over-grown state of the grounds when we visited made it impossible to establish if this was discarded rubble and material from elsewhere!
A commemorative plaque is to be found set in the middle of the wall of the southern extension of the cemetery. Unfortunately there is no discernable trace of the original inscription what-so-ever.
Since our original visit there have been moves afoot, in Bath in 2006, to bring the cemetery back into decent order by the Friends of Bath Jewish Burial Ground. The cemetery is now the responsibility of the Board of Deputies.
9. Miscellaneous SitesThese other sites may be worth visiting, if time allows, though those in the shopping areas suffer the modern curse of 'facadisation' with modern shop frontages and other re-developments and the removal of street numbers on major stores making them difficult to locate.
The home of Solomon Abraham Durlacher - 2 Union Street
Dulacher was a chiropodist (1757-1844/5) previously of Warwickshire. He also lived at 3 York Street.
The home of J. Abraham the Optician - 12 Kingsmead Street
Jacob Arahams was one of the communal leaders of the Bath community, as well an optician and mathematical instrument maker, 'to HRH the Duke of Gloucester and His Grace the Duke of Wellington'. He came originally from Exeter.
Richard Sheridan's House - 9 New King Street
The celebrated playwright Sheridan was based in Bath. His play the School for Scandal (1777) includes a comic, but unsympathetic portrayal of a London Jewish Money lender, Moses, who lends money to under-age young men. This portrayal led to the play nearly being banned in London, as it was supposed to reflect on the character of one of the contestants for the office of Chamberlain at the time, who had been charged with the same offence.