Chatham and Rochester
Marcus Roberts


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Overall the synagogue and cemetery, like so many earlier Jewish religious facilities, was quite literally constructed on marginal land. Such land would no doubt have been cheap and available. Also it is questionable how readily earlier Jewish communities would have been able to acquire more prime sites for social and economic reasons.

The Jewish community of Chatham really came into its own, like so many of the provincial Jewries, in the Napoleonic Wars. Chatham, with its extensive Royal Naval Dockyard, was a key naval installation and port in Napoleonic era. In its time it was, "...the largest industrial enterprise in South-East England." The busy local economy around the Navy greatly stimulated the growth and wealth of the Jewish community. The community entered its most illustrious period in the earlier 19th century.

There were a substantial number of Jewish Navy Agents listed for Chatham. In 1809 there were seven licensed Navy Agents for Chatham. Five out of seven were Jews - a substantial majority. The Navy Agents were among the richest members of the Jewish community. Their trade was essentially to advance money to sailors, in anticipation of their eventual wage tickets and share of "prize money" received at the end of a voyage. In 1816, the listed Navy Agents were Abraham Aaron, Lyon Aaron, Asher Cohen, Lewis Cohen and Solomon Lucas.

The position of Navy Agent was one that entailed considerable trust, as there was ample opportunity for sharp practice by the Navy Agent. One Jonas Abraham, Navy Agent of nearby Sheerness, had his license revoked in 1813, "...for abusing the trust reposed in him." This was not a unique case, but no abuse of position was recorded in Chatham.

Navy Agents were merely at the top of an extensive hierarchy of Jews servicing the needs of the Navy. In Chatham there were many slopsellers who sold "slop" or the basic clothing, bedding and requisites of the ordinary sailors. Others would have actually traded aboard the Naval vessels, rowing out to the Man O'Wars provide necessaries to pressed sailors who were denied shore leave for fear of desertion.

There was also good business to be found with the large military garrison at Chatham as well as civilian workmen employed at the dockyard.

The renewed lease of the synagogue lease in 1823 witnesses this transformation of the Chatham Jewish economy from one of shops and sales as it includes five slopsellers. Further diversification of the Jewish economy is suggested by the presence in this list of signatories of one hardwareman and an apothecary.

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