The wave of immigration that swept through London over the past 900 years has had a profound effect on the city, creating a vibrant and dynamic community with its own unique culture, language, and religion. Yiddish, a mix of German, Polish, and Hebrew, is the language of this community. The National Archives holds records that document the arrival, settlement, status, and activities of Jewish people and communities in Britain and its former colonies. Tracing the history of Jewish people in the National Archives can be challenging as they are not specifically named Jews in most of the records in which they appear.
Religion was not typically indicated in official records until 2001. However, Jewish individuals and families are often identifiable due to their typically Jewish names. Many surnames that are considered Jewish are more accurately German or Eastern European or, in the case of Sephardic Jewish families, Spanish or Portuguese. Therefore, surnames may not be exclusively Jewish, and many Jewish immigrants who arrived in the UK anglicized their surnames or simply changed them. The Norman conquest of 1066 marked the beginning of Jewish communities in England.
The Jewish financiers of Rouen soon arrived at the invitation of William I. Major Jewish figures such as Josce of Gloucester and Aaron of Lincoln were the main funders of English kings and their policies in the 12th century. By the 13th century, communities had been established in London and other major centers such as York, Leicester, Norwich, Winchester, Gloucester, and Oxford. The database of immigrants from England 1330-1550 has opened National Archives records documenting immigrants from the medieval period but does not allow searching by religion.
However, searching by nationality, place or origin is possible and may be the best way to have the opportunity to locate individual Jewish immigrants. Aaron of Colchester was caricatured as “Son of the Devil” in an image from 1277 for defending his sons Isaac and Samuel who were accused of hunting deer illegally in Essex. This is the first English representation of the “badge of shame” – a yellow cloth to be worn by all Jews over the age of seven after the Statute of Jewry of 1275. Emigration left a Jewish population of about 3,000 in the 1280s. With a significant drop in real tax revenues for Jewish communities, Edward I no longer saw them as a valuable resource for the Crown.
The related hostility of the Christian church fueled popular discontent and other European rulers' expulsion of Jewish communities was one of the final elements that convinced Edward I to expel Jews from England. The National Archives' richest sources for tracking Jewish people and communities related to England or Great Britain during this period are collections of petitions, orders, letters, and grants created by government officials in the course of their work for the state. Access to State Papers Online (an institutional subscription required) will open up correspondence, petitions, and discussions about events at the Privy Council. Since Jews did not have full rights or protections under English and British law until the 19th century, the best evidence of Jewish life and settlement in this period is reflected in complaints about abuses they suffered or calls for government agencies to intervene on their behalf.
Consult national state documents from the Hanoverian era for information on growing economic contributions and political influence of Jewish merchants in 18th century leading to so-called “Jewish Law” of 1753 which provided a path for naturalization for Jewish settlers in England. The new law sparked anti-Semitic riots across England which were provoked by religious and commercial groups. The threat of violence became so great that it was considered necessary to introduce a new bill to repeal it. The importance of 1782 is due to year when Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs were created which announced beginning two large collections found in National Archives (for information on records Ministry Foreign Affairs see section).
Given its broad powers Ministry Interior inevitably created records related to Jews people communities affairs. Use our correspondence guide with Home Office for detailed advice on how to search for information on specific topics locate individual articles correspondence. See our respective research guides for more general advice on immigration immigrant records naturalization. Our guide company business records provides more detailed guide searching business records. At end 20th century there were more than 250 000 Jews living United Kingdom.