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


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Notable Gloucester Jews

Despite the small size of the community and its later decline, the Jewish community were disproportionately influential for their numbers. Notable local Jews included the eminent political economist David Ricardo, who was unaffiliated to the local community and a convert to Christianity, who lived at Gatcombe Park and became Sheriff of Gloucester, by 1818.

One of the most exotic Jewish families in Gloucester, was the Levy-Yuly family. The Levy-Yuly family traced their ancestry back via their own family tradition, to the 11th century rabbi and poet, Rabbi Yehouda ben Shmuel Halevy, and were a prominent family in Morocco favoured by the Sultans and were leading traders and courtiers. Their name Yuly is supposed to be a Hebrew acrostic from Psalms 86.9, 'They (all the Nations) will come down and bow before you' and to have been acquired in the 18th century, when Sultan Moulay Abd-Allah (1672 - 1727) granted it as an honour to the Rabbi Shmuel Levy Aben Yuly, who was the Nagid of the Moroccan Jewry. This was no doubt conducive to modesty!

The family left Morocco to escape the persecution, by Moulay Yazid, in 1790. Elias-Moses Levy went to Gibraltar and learned to speak English. One of his sons, Y"houda Levy-Yuly was born in Morocco and after Gibraltar, came to London, as a merchant aged 20. He traded in London, as one of 'Merchants of the King of Mogador'. He married in London and had three children, Samuel, Nissim and Joseph, the eldest being named by centuries old tradition after the famous rabbi and patriarch of the family. The family made their living, using their contacts to trade with Mogador, exporting ceramics, furniture, tea, and blue fabrics from the Tuareg of the Sahara, and imported African and Moroccan products and members of the family appear to have settled in Portsea, part of the port of Portsmouth.

One member of the family, Samuel Levy Yuly (b. circa 1798), married Elizabeth Lazarus (b. circa 1810) and settled in Gloucester, at, or a little before 1831, when a son Judah was born in the city. While he was resident in the city, he was the Moroccan Consul, or trade ambassador, an important position and one indicating the scope of imports to the port of Gloucester. However, it seems that by 1836, he was living in Cheltenham, as a daughter, Phoebe was born there in that year, though he could well have been still working as consul in Gloucester and there is also evidence from the first Ordnance Survey map of 1852, which reveals that he may have had his own warehouses and business premises at the port, as research for this project has revealed that there was' Levy's Yard' on an area of Gloucester called 'the Island', which formed part of the dock-side fronting the River Severn, along with a series of other yards, many of which were named after their presumed owners. The yard was nearly opposite the burial ground forming part of the eastern boundary of St Bartholomew's Hospital.

While there were other Levys in Gloucester, they do not appear to have been involved in the import export business, mostly being shop-keepers, silver-smith and the like. It looks as if the family moved out of the area and to London, by 1840, when a daughter, Sarah (Zorah) was born and then perhaps later back to Portsmouth in the 1850s, where his trade is listed as being a clothier. Samuel Levy Yuly died on 26.1.1872 a Portsea, aged 75 years and a year later his relict wife Elizabeth, died on 25.6.1873, at Stoke Newington aged 63, probably at the home of her daughter Zorah Myers.

The Levy name has some wider prominence, as members of the extended family, settled in Ramsgate, as a Moses L. Yuly, was elected one of the first members (scholars) of the Montefiore College in 1898 and was the son-in-law of Hazan David Piza of London and was in possession of a rabbinical diploma. Also Elias-Moses Levy and his son David Levy Yuly, attained special distinction in the 18th and 19th centuries, as Elias-Moses Levy went to Gibraltar to escape the persecution of Moulay Yazid in 1790, and learned to speak English. He headed for the Americas, where eventually arriving in Florida, he was a campaigner against slavery in the 1820s. He came to London in 1828 and addressed the Clapham Sect on the evils of slavery and printed a significant campaigning pamphlet called, 'Plan for the Abolition of slavery Consistent with the interest of all parties'. His son David Levy-Yulee (b. 1810) was to become the first Jewish Senator in the USA and he was an important railway constructor in Florida and even had a city and county named after him.

A more home grown and leading Gloucester Jew, was Ephraim Samuel Joseph. He was born in Swansea in 1830, emphasising the distinctive orbit of the local Jewish community, across Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and South Wales. He was a clockmaker, pawnbroker, jeweller and latterly became the first Jewish councillor and mayor in Gloucester. The local paper recorded the following account of his mayoralty, on 18 January, 1878': 'Gloucester - A vacancy having occurred in the City Council, the Mayor, ex-Mayor, and President of the Liberal Association waited upon Mr. E.S. Joseph to request him to become a candidate for the city. After addressing a large meeting Mr. Joseph was returned without opposition. He is the first Jew who has sat in the Council in this city'.

Joseph was resident at 22 Northgate, in Gloucester, until 1883 (at this time there were only about three Jews still living in Gloucester), though he was also a member of the Cheltenham synagogue, since at least the time that worship ceased at the synagogue in Gloucester. He moved to Birmingham in 1883, and died in 1896 and has a well-known descendant in the Jewish community, as he is the great-grandfather of Anthony Joseph the genealogist.

Another member of the Jewish community who was well known locally, was Amelia Abrahams, this was due to her family's long connection with Gloucester and Southgate Street in particular, and the fact that she was the last Jew in Gloucester, when she died on Thursday morning, 7th August, 1886. From 1861 and in her old age, she had been supported by an allowance raised by subscription from the Cheltenham congregation of 13/- per week, always delivered personally. She had also received financial help from Sir Moses Montefiore.

She was laid to rest in the Barton Street Cemetery, but she along with the other members of the community interred there, were not due to be allowed to rest in perpetuity, as in 1937 the redundant burial ground was converted into a playground (with the permission of the Jewish community), to be used by the adjacent school and its approximately thirty-five graves, were hastily removed to a new cemetery, the Jewish Reserve at the municipal cemetery at Coney Hill.

World War II and Post-War

During World War II it is likely that there were Jewish servicemen and women stationed in and around Gloucester, though information on this is currently lacking.

Post-war, a small Jewish population has re-established itself in Gloucester. In the last Census (2011) a total of 0.06% of the population, or 73 persons, identified themselves as being Jewish (a self-definition), with an additional nine added, if the whole Gloucester Urban area is included. This is likely to be an under-reporting of up to 100%. Interestingly, even though Cheltenham still has a synagogue, its census figures are only 112 persons declaring themselves to be Jewish, so there is only a difference of 30 persons, which supports the statement made to me by current Jewish residents of Gloucester, that their presence and importance should not be under-estimated, in comparison to the Cheltenham community and that Gloucester membership of the synagogue may be important in maintaining viable numbers, so it should not be thought that the Jewish presence in Gloucester is mere history, but to the contrary new history is yet being made and future chapters of the Jewish history and presence in Gloucester wait to be written.

(The Creation of this Trail was Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund)

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