Jewish settlement in Staffordshire: the early years, 1811—1901

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It is sometimes said that Staffordshire contains examples of every type of English landscape. In the same way, the story of Jewish life in the county reflects that of a large number of provincial communities and includes examples of many aspects of Anglo-Jewish history. There was a flourish? ing Jewish community in North Staffordshire in the late-nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries. It was based largely in the Potteries town of Hanley, where the only purpose-built synagogue was home to an Orthodox congregation. Until the reorganization of English counties in 1974, Wolverhampton, where there was a sizeable Jewish community and synagogue, was also included in Staffordshire, but this study has been restricted to the present-day county boundaries. Even so, in the early 1890s there were four congregations active within these modern boundaries.

Hawkers and pedlars

Following the Resettlement of 1655 and for the next fifty years or so there was a steady flow of Jews to England. Most of the first-comers settled in London, but in the first half of the eighteenth century another group began to arrive in increasing numbers from Holland, Germany and Poland. Many were single men who arrived destitute. They tended to gravitate towards the established London community, where concern grew that the capital city was becoming overcrowded. The newcomers were encouraged and financially assisted to disperse to other parts of the country.

Men moved into the provinces, supporting themselves by becoming hawkers or pedlars selling haberdashery, jewellery and other small goods. They would walk from place to place, often stopping at market towns to sell their wares and replenish their stock. It could be a dangerous life. Robbery was frequent and some were murdered for their goods or cash. A number of these men eventually settled in the provincial towns that they had first visited as pedlars, such as Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool


Plate i Yates map of Staffordshire 1775.
(Courtesy of Staffordshire Record Office.)

and Leeds.1 Later still, smaller towns within striking distance of these major centres were explored as possible places to settle. This was the case in Staffordshire.

The first Jewish settlement in North Staffordshire began in Newcastle under-Lyme, the only borough of any size in this part of the county along the important route from London to the northwest. It was a busy market town, centuries old. Pedlars would break their journeys there, almost certainly stop? ping at the twice-weekly markets, probably visiting the town in the 1700s when the Six Towns of the Potteries, later made famous by the author Arnold Bennett, were just tiny villages in the depths of the countryside. (See Plate 1.) Burslem, Hanley, Fenton, Stoke, Longton and Tunstall eventually grew into

1 B. Naggar, Jewish Pedlars and Hawkers (Camberley, 1992). This article is an amended version of a paper given to the Jewish Historical Society of England on 15 May 2008. It should be noted that recognizing Jewish individuals in public records is not an exact science and that errors will almost

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