Anglo-Jewish Notaries and Scriveners

Articles Image

This paper is intended as a contribution?albeit a minute one?towards the social history of the Jewish Community in England. It deals with the second of the liberal professions (medicine being the first) to which Jews in this country gained entry, and is concerned with the individual lives and place in the community of some forty-five persons who were granted notarial faculties or admitted as freemen of the Worshipful Company of Scriveners during a period extending from the latter portion of the reign of King George II to the early years of Queen Victoria.

Jews were attracted to the notarial profession in all probability firstly because it afforded them unique opportunities to capitalise their knowledge of foreign languages and utilise their legal talents, and secondly because it was one of the few callings in which it was possible for them to establish themselves in independence without first subscribing to a Christological declaration or a religious test.

Those Jews who found occasion to qualify as notaries seem to have come from every section of the Community and to have varied considerably in regard to education, prosperity and antecedents. A glance at some facts relating to those about whose careers I have been able to gather some information might serve to illustrate this, and perhaps to confirm my impression that these forty-five men who lived at various times during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although confined to a single profession, can be considered as a representative sample from at any rate the longer established portion of the Jewish Community of their time. Sixty-five per cent, of them were Sephardim, thirty-five per cent. Ashkenazim. Only about a tenth of their number were the English born sons of English-born parents, half the remainder being foreign born and half the sons of foreign parents. Two or three were bachelors but the majority were married. About a third married out of the Jewish faith. They included two or three wealthy men and a number who might be gauged as "prosperous," but the majority of Jewish notaries seem to have been of modest means.

Before discussing the place of Jews in the notarial profession, I think it would be as well to explain the background and functions of this profession. Little has been published on the subject and few people are familiar with its history and purposes.

Perhaps one of the more satisfactory definitions of a notary and his functions is that appended to the lists of notaries in the London directories of the last quarter of the eighteenth century, which I have extracted from the British Directory of 1797.

A Notary, according to the original acceptation, is a person (usually a scrivener), who takes notes, or makes short drafts of contracts, obligations or other instruments (Stat. 27. Edw. 3 c.l.). At this time we understand by a Notary Public a person whose office it is to attest deeds or writings, to make them authentic in another country, but principally in business relating to merchants. Thence, it is their official department to make

Become a member to read the full article
Become a member today


24 hour access to JHSE online resources

Instant access to over 700 articles View the original articles as a PDF
Learn More


Annual JHSE Membership

Members are entitled to a free copy of the latest Jewish Historical Studies, free access to our online resources and associate membership of the UCL Library in London.  In addition, they receive the JHSE Newsletter, special offers on books for sale and pay less to attend our series of lectures and other public events.
Learn More


Student Membership

The JHSE want to encourage students to engage with Jewish history.  Apply for a Student Membership with your university email account and once we have verified your status you will soon have all the benefits of being a full JHSE member.
Learn More


Associate your Institution with the JHSE

Give your members access to JHSE online resources and special offers on book sales.  Use your institutional email account when applying, and once your status is verified we will explain the scheme.  Preferred payment is by credit or debit card.
Learn More

Your Cart