© Marcus Roberts (2004 & 2008 & 2012)


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Benjamin Norden (1798-1877) is undoubtedly one of the most interesting figures in the Ramsgate community, outside the immediate Montefiori circle. Norden was a notable early explorer of southern Africa in the literal foot-steps of Nathaniel Isaacs of nearby Canterbury. He was born in London and went out to South Africa in 1820, with the large number of other Jewish settlers who went out there in that period.

He first farmed in the Albany District and settled in Grahamstown in 1829, working as an auctioneer and merchant. He took part in various public works, such as the construction of churches and more vitally the construction of the first jetty at Port Elizabeth. He established trade links between the Cape Colony and Natal and like Isaacs, he urged the British Government to extend British Rule to Natal. Like Isaacs, he was one of the first white men to explore parts of southern Africa. His expedition to Matabeland was important. He helped open the Namaqualand copper mines. He also prospected for gold in the Orange Free State. From 1840 he moved to Cape Town and played an important role in forming the fledgling Cape Town Jewish community. He hosted the first public worship of Jews in South Africa, when 17 Jews met in his home to worship on Yom Kippur, 1841. Norden fell into disrepute with his active resistance to the plan by the British Government to send convicts to the colony. He fell out with his merchant colleagues and received a disabling spinal injury when he was stoned by a rioting mob in 1849. Norden retired to England (and Ramsgate) in 1858 and was buried at Ramsgate in 1877.

Another fascinating family associated with Ramsgate was the Levy-Yuly family. The Levy-Yuly family trace 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, Yéhouda 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 chidren, Samuel, Nissim and Joseph, the eldest being named by centuries old tradition after the famous the famous rabbi and patriarch of the family. Some of this three children are related in the family history to have come and settled in Ramsgate and the family traded with Mogador, exporting ceramics, furniture, tea, and blue fabrics for the Tuareg of the Sahara, and imported African and Moroccan products.

Certainly, while the family tree is intricate, it is certain that in the late 19th Century the family name was in evidence in Ramsgate, as a Moses L. Yuly (b. 1838 in Mogador the son of Yéhouda Levy-Yuly and d. 1911 in Ramsgate), 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, the Jewish Cronicle records the death of Sarah Yuly, the daughter of the late David and Sultane Yuly, of Mogador, Morocco, and the niece of the late Moses and Rebecca Yuly, on the 5th February, at 80, Hereson-road, Ramsgate.

The family also gained distinction, in the 18th and 19th centuries, when Elias-Moses Levy left Gibraltar and 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 town and county named after him.

In the later part of the 19th century the small Jewish community in Ramsgate was engaged in a number of professions. In 1894, there were listed the rabbi and reader at the synagogue as well as the two collegiates at the college. Additionally, in the commercial sector, there were listed, a house-furnisher, three hair dressers and perfumers, several men's clothiers and ladies clothiers, some merchant tailors, a master and custom tailors, there was a general dealer, a china and glass dealer, a pawnbroker and clothier, a financial agent. There were also at least six keepers of boarding houses.'

Furthermore, the Rev. S.H. Harris was listed as the Principal of the Townley Castle College and recent research by JTrails, precipitated by the discovery of a photograph of a synagogue at the school, by Terry Wheeler of the Ramsgate Historical Society, has shown that Townley Castle College was in fact a boarding school for Jews and that the synagogue is a 'lost' synagogue of Ramsgate which seems to have been long forgotten.

The boarding house keepers and tailors formed the majority of Jewish trades in Ramsgate. The boarding house keepers were a very distinctive Jewish group in the town. They provided kosher accommodation and entertainments for Jewish tourists who came to the town in large numbers in the summer months, along with other members of the middle class who came to the attractions of the resort. The summer months also saw many of the Anglo-Jewish aristocracy and Sir Moses Montefiori's extended family gathering around the open house that was provided at East Cliff Lodge. All of this helped the local Jewish economy more than the mainstream tourist and local trade.

There were also some eight 'private' residences listed, some of which indicated upper-class Jews of independent means, including Sir Sebag Montefiore. Thus the community was for its small size quite diverse, socially and professionally, but with three pronounced groups, namely boarding house keepers, tailors and upper-class Jews.

The community produced its own civic figures. Jonas Levi was a J.P and barrister, who died in 1894. Joseph Barnett became an Alderman of Ramsgate in the late 19th century. More notably Ramsgate has produced its own Jewish mayors. Lazarus Hart (1831-1917) was another J.P. and twice Mayor of Ramsgate - a well respected local figure. In this century Joseph (Joe) Barnett (1911-1967) was three times mayor of Ramsgate and 'devoted to his town'.

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