The Jewish population in London has seen a remarkable transformation over the past century. In 1880, there were approximately 46,000 Jews living in the city, but by 1919, this number had grown to around 250,000. The majority of these individuals resided in large industrial cities such as London, Manchester and Leeds, with the East End of London becoming known as the Jewish Quarter due to its high concentration of Jewish inhabitants. At the National Archives, visitors can view original documents or access records online for free.
This guide provides an overview of the records found in the National Archives that document the arrival, settlement, status and activities of Jewish peoples and communities in Britain and its former colonies over the past 900 years. Identifying Jewish individuals and families in official records can be difficult as religion was not routinely indicated until 2001. Furthermore, many Jewish immigrants anglicized their surnames or changed them altogether upon arriving in the UK. Additionally, many surnames that are considered Jewish are actually German or Eastern European, or Spanish or Portuguese for Sephardic Jewish families. The first recorded presence of Jews in England dates back to 1066 with the Norman conquest.
William I invited Jewish financiers from Rouen to England and major Jewish figures such as Josce of Gloucester and Aaron of Lincoln became 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 provides access to National Archives records documenting immigrants from the medieval period. However, searching by religion is not possible; instead it is best to search by nationality, place or origin to locate individual Jewish immigrants. In 1275, Edward I passed a Statute of Jewry which required all Jews over the age of seven to wear a yellow cloth badge as a “badge of shame”.
This led to a significant drop in real tax revenues for Jewish communities and Edward I no longer saw them as a valuable resource for the Crown. The hostility of the Christian church towards Jews also fuelled popular discontent and Edward I eventually expelled all Jews from England in 1290. The best evidence of Jewish life and settlement during this period is reflected in complaints about abuses they suffered or calls for government agencies to intervene on their behalf. State Papers Online (an institutional subscription required) provides access to correspondence, petitions and discussions about events at the Privy Council. Additionally, national state documents from the Hanoverian era provide information on the growing economic contributions and political influence of Jewish merchants in the 18th century. The 1753 “Jewish Law” provided a path of naturalization for Jewish settlers in England but sparked anti-Semitic riots across the country.
This led to a new bill being introduced to repeal the law. The Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs were created in 1782 which opened up access to records related to Jewish people, communities and affairs. At the end of the 20th century there were more than 250,000 Jews living in the United Kingdom. The most important period of Jewish migration was between 1870 and 1914 when an estimated 200,000 Jewish immigrants arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe. This article has provided an overview of how the Jewish community has evolved over time in London. From its earliest recorded presence during William I's reign to its expulsion by Edward I and subsequent re-emergence during the Hanoverian era, it is clear that Jews have played an important role in British history. The National Archives provide invaluable resources for those interested in researching the history of Jews in Britain.
By searching through original documents or accessing records online for free, visitors can gain insight into how this community has developed over time.