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


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Hyam Barnett

We know more about one the founders, Hyam Barnett, mentioned by the Jewish Chronicle, which in reporting his death in the Spring of 1815, noted that he had been, 'well known during near forty years for the extent of his dealings throughout this county [Gloucestershire], Hereford, Monmouth and South Wales'.
Remarkably his original business card, headed with an engraving of a lion (of Judah?) still survives and relates that he traded from opposite the General Infirmary [Southgate Street] and gives very valuable information about his skills and merchandise. The card stated that Barnett, 'Sells all kind of silver goods watches &c arms, crests and cyphers Engrave'd on seals, plate &c. Hair Work nearly executed and Mourning Rings made - on the Lowest Terms - Most money given for old Gold & Silver. Also sells cotton stockings at a reasonable price. Likewise, fine sealing-wax, Black Lead pencils &c. NB Helsts Powders for taking out Iron Moulds. Licensed Hawker.' His card is decorated with engravings of all sorts of fine silver ware, a floral spray cunningly contrived of spoons, and two fob watches.

Most of the goods and services that he advertised were typical of those supplied by Jewish tradesmen and hawkers of the time. The mourning rings as memorials to the deceased were a status symbol and could be issued in quite large numbers (Samuel Pepys willed that 129 mourning rings would be given away at his funeral) and would be good business, as most other jewellery is only sold in small quantities. However, the reference to a Jew specialising in hair work is very unusual - perhaps even unique. It seems that the 'hair work' was part of the early 19th century mourning rite, as some of the rings in this period were gold lockets containing a ringlet of hair from the deceased. However, hair work was not just restricted to lockets and very intricate jewellery pieces were made from the hair of the deceased, and 'beautifully detailed landscapes and floral designs were made by jewellers using human hair. In England in the late 18th century early neo-classical style pieces were bordered with seed pearls surrounding the words "In Memorium" and a panel of simple, twisted hair.'

The sale of writing equipment was also a typical Jewish speciality, particularly the selling of lead pencils, which in this period were very valuable items, both because lead pencils were the easiest writing implement to use anywhere and were durable (particularly for writing military despatches) and also because the graphite which they contained (held either in a silver holder, or in a hand-made Cedar case) originated from one single mine in Borrowdale in the Lake District, guarded day and night by soldiers, as the 'Wad' or pure graphite was worth its weight in Gold, as it was a strategic material used for moulding cannon balls and shot. All of the Wad used in pencils was smuggled out of the mine and was contraband. Barnett was also evidently a clock maker as well and a late George III mahogany bracket clock with a painted face is recorded and attributed to him.

Hyam Barnett had numerous children with his wife Sarah; comprising one son, Barnett Barnett, and seven daughters; Hannah Hart, Ann, Eleanor, Sarah, Rebecca, Esther, and Rachel. His son Barnett Barnett (1787-1817) of Hereford, had a daughter, Frances Barnett (1809-1892) who was for many years Headmistress of the Jews' Free School.

The Synagogue and Cemetery

In terms of community facilities, the cemetery was established, first off Barton Street, in the 1780s, and it served not only Gloucester, but Ross, Stroud, and elsewhere. Its latest date of foundation is attested to by the oldest tombstone in the cemetery, to a young member of the Levi family dated to 1784. A synagogue may have been established in city, by 1792, as the Gloucester Guide reported the existence of a synagogue on Barton Street, which: 'Joins the East Gate Street and continues in the same direction; on the south side the Jews have a synagogue, and nearly opposite is a Presbyterian meeting house'. No other evidence of this synagogue is known and it is likely to have been rented space in a house or warehouse, if it existed. The presence of the synagogue is not necessarily supported by the presence of the cemetery close by in the same street, because with the exception of Chatham synagogue, where the cemetery uniquely adjoins the synagogue, most synagogues are some distance from the Jewish cemetery.

By 1802, there was a second synagogue whose existence is well verified. The Gloucester New Guide relates that, 'The Jews have also a small synagogue in the suburbs of the Southgate Street'. We know that in fact that the synagogue was off Southgate Street, in Mercy Place and it was a room above a warehouse adjacent to a brew house and it would have been very close to the dock water-front. This type of back-street industrial location, in an adapted building, was quite typical of 18th and early 19th century synagogues and in many ways prefigures the modern practice by Black Pentecostal churches of hiring industrial units to worship in, in modern industrial estates.

The residences of the Jews of Gloucester were not particularly localised, most of the known addresses are in a number of different streets, but perhaps with some preference to being within walking distance of the synagogue, mainly in the Southgate and Westgate areas, as most traditional Jews would not walk more than a particular distance on a Sabbath, even if they were within a defined boundary (such as a walled city) that could be constituted an 'eruv' or enclosure within which free movement and carrying would be permitted.

Up to the early 19th century, one distinctive and interesting feature of Gloucester Jewish life was that it was (in the words of Amelia Abrahams), 'a place of rest' for 'travelling Jews', or 'a place of fraternal greeting', as 'they contrived to meet at Gloucester to attend synagogue on the Sabbath'. The travelling Jews would have been the Jewish pedlars who criss-crossed the entire country in search of business, but also would have probably included Jewish beggars or itinerants (schnorrers), following a set route, with stopping off places, where they would have been able to receive communal charity. In Jewish tradition the beggar felt that they were doing the community a favour by giving them the opportunity to fulfil the commandment of charity, so the attitude to the travelling Jew was not necessarily a negative one, also for very small communities they could help guarantee a full minyan, or religious quorum, necessary for fully valid Sabbath services.
We know that in Oxford, Jewish beggars came to receive charity right up to the early 20th century, as part of their circulation around the country, which seems to have been sanctioned in part by the leaders of Anglo-Jewry, as it helped prevent poor Jews being a charge on the Parish. This Gloucester tradition is preserved in notes made in hand-written Hebrew calendar which was originally made by Mrs Abraham's father, the Rabbi, for the use of one of the travellers.

The Rise and Fall of the Gloucester Community

Life in Jewish Gloucester proceeded quietly in the 19th century. If the community had its heyday, it was in the later 18th century and into the very early 19th century. The community declined from the early 19th century onwards and one specific cause (as was the case in a number of other locations) appears to have been arrival of the railway, which often introduced additional competition that the local Jewish communities seemed unable to contend with.

In the case of Gloucester, this was the creation in 1811, of a horse drawn railway, connecting Gloucester Docks with Cheltenham, and then later a standard gauge railway line, in 1848, which probably sealed the fate of the community.
This created additional trade and opportunities in Cheltenham, which over time encouraged Jews to move to Cheltenham, where many of the local Jews found their niche in serving rich tourists at the flourishing spa resort. The Cheltenham community was founded in 1824, suggesting that the economic opportunities provided by the plate-way could have been decisive. Furthermore spas were well known for their more relaxed and mixed society, which strongly assisted Jews with social aspirations. With the establishment of the synagogue in Cheltenham, as well, the writing was on the wall for the Jewish community and an organised congregation has already ceased by 1871, when the Chief Rabbi visited.

It may be added that the community had their own views as to why the community failed as they blamed the arrival of the Quakers to Gloucester with their superior business skills. While the Quakers had been active in Gloucester, since the 1650s, they had waned in influence in the city during the period that the modern Jewish community was founded and experienced it first flourishing, until a regular preparative meeting was resumed in1812 and in 1834 the Quakers moved to a new meeting house in Greyfriars. While they were small in numbers, they had several prominent businessmen among their number, so the allegations appears to have some justification and the rejuvenation of local Quakerism also coincides with the decline of the Jewish community.

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