© Marcus Roberts with original research and contributions by Ian Holt. Trail and Project Kindly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund


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The Modern Community is Founded

No Jews are known to have lived in Gloucester from the time of the Expulsion, through to the time of the re-admission of the Jews, under Cromwell in 1655. However, if the Abrahams's family tradition in correct, one of the earliest provincial settlements (as opposed to a larger organised community) of the returned Jews of all was at Gloucester, as the family claimed to have resided in Gloucester from as early as 1685. Certainly, one of the family, Israel [Isaiah ] Abrahams, who died in December 1821, took residence of his house (the Berkeley Hunt) in Southgate Street in 1765 and he is described on his daughters tombstone, using Yiddish, as 'Isaiah zu Gloucester', suggesting that he was indeed a founder of the community, even if not as early as 1685. He was typical of the early modern Jewish residents of Gloucester, as he was a dealer, travelling jeweller, with additional work as a money-changer, as exchanging currency was important in the context of a busy port with international travellers and merchants. He was also the effective minister to the community, carrying out functions of a rabbi and baking the Matza for Passover.

It seems that a group of Jewish hawkers, pedlars and shop-keepers gathered in Gloucester in the early 1760s and formed a settlement that became an organised community. It was often the case in the provinces that a community would be founded by Jewish hawkers and pedlars, who came across cities such as Gloucester, on their rounds, and decided to make the city their permanent abode and a basis of their peregrinations, if they continued to do them, and then other Jewish travellers would also use the city as their base for the Jewish Sabbath, once a synagogue was established.

Further evidence that a Jewish community had been founded in Gloucester, by 1764, is found in an unpromising and anti-Semitic local news report in The Gloucester Journal of 26 March, 1764, which related that: 'Yesterday morning three fellows were committed to the Northgate gaol upon suspicion of stealing divers watches, and other things of value, a few months ago in this city. A farmer had bought one of the stolen watches of a Jew, that lives here, and taking it to be mended the watchmaker saw it, and the Jew being called upon discovered the fellow who sold it to him by which means they were apprehended. A colony of the sons of Israel have lately taken up their abode here, to the great prejudice of the fair trader, as well as the community in general; for by receiving stolen goods, they encourage rogues to pilfer us'.

More light is shed on the early history of the community by the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, which related in a report of 18 March 1842, that 'The Jews have formed a congregation here (Gloucester) for upward of seventy years. The late Sampson Levy, Hyam Barnett and Henry Moses were the founders.'

There is also a reference in the Gloucester Journal, of 6 September 1784, to a Mr Sharman, who is also likely to have been Jewish, in an advert relating that one Boniface, a hairdresser of Bath, came to Gloucester to attend the Music Festival. 'Boniface most respectfully informs the Ladies, that he cannot possibly be in Gloucester till the day before the meeting. He may be heard of at Mr Sharman's, broker, in the Upper Northgate Street'.

Most of the Jews in Gloucester carried out the usual occupations of provincial Jews of the time - of jewellers, watch and clock makers, pawnbrokers, and hawkers.

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