Chatham and Rochester
Marcus Roberts


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By 1828 there were 16 Jewish slop sellers in the town and they formed the great majority in that trade. There are also to be found in addition to the professions already listed can be found pawnbrokers, tailors, jewelers, silversmiths and furniture brokers. In the 1823 lease one of the Jews, Lion Benjamin, is noted a "gentleman" showing the emergence of a new gentrified class at the head of the Jewish community and evidence that the Jewish community had "matured" in that it consisted of a broad cross section of different class structure, incomes as well as a wide base of professions.

The extent of the Jewish presence and profile in the town is witnessed in laconic form in the writings of one of Rochester's' most famous inhabitants - Charles Dickens. Dickens' father had in fact worked in the Navy Pay Office from 1816. He wrote in the Pickwick Papers (1836-7), "the principal productions of these [Medway] towns are soldiers, sailors, Jews, chalk, shrimps, officers and dockyard men."

R.G.Hobbes, who started a career in as a clerk in Sheerness dockyards but became Cashier of the Royal Dock Yard at Chatham, wrote of the Jews in a more historical style, "...they have resorted to it in greater numbers ever since it became a dockyard town. With that enterprise and industry which everywhere characterize the race, they would eagerly seize the opportunities afforded them; the humbler sort to deal in the civil habiliments shed by recruits when they assume the military or naval uniform; and the richer to purchase the furniture, etc., of officers leaving the garrison to sell to officers joining; as well as to lend money to the impecunious, etc. Some where outfitters, some jewelers. Altogether we found that in 1848 about sixty families were residing at Chatham and its neighbourhood."

During this period two families came to particular prominence. The Magnus family and the Isaacs. In 1808 a Lazarus Magnus kept shop and sold slop in Chatham. He and his family soon rose to greater things. Lazarus and his son Simon both became Navy Agents in their turn. Simon was also a silversmith and pawnbroker.

Simon Magnus married and had his own family. All the while his business concerns grew - by 1858 Simon and his son Lazarus Simon Magnus were listed as coal merchants, a profitable trade. That the family had arrived at the higher echelons of Jewish society was indicated when Simon's daughter Lizzie made a very good match with one of the leading members of the Sephardic community. She married Manuel Castello, a rich stockbroker, who was one of the communal heads and benefactors of the English Sephardim. It was unusual at this time for marriage alliances to be made between these distinct Jewish groups (as indeed it is even to some extent today) and it would be interesting to know the exact circumstances of this marriage.

Lazarus Simon, himself, was a brilliant success and represented one of a new generation of Jews who were enjoying the new benefits of Jewish emancipation and a social integration and acceptance not seen before. He and others like him could consider themselves both patriotic Englishmen and Jews.

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