Chatham Memorial Synagogue

& the Jewish Community of Medway

Medway, Kent




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Chatham Memorial Synagogue
Chatham Memorial Synagogue

Chatham and the Borough of Medway

The Kentish towns of Rochester and Chatham had been major ports for hundreds of years, with ships trading to and from Baltic, North European and the Low Countries. Chatham was also a naval dockyard from the mid-sixteenth century until 1984 when the dockyard was closed.

Both towns together with Gillingham and one or two other small towns near the Thames estuary in southeast England, now form a single conurbation, and are known as the Medway Towns, named after the river Medway on, or close to which, the towns are situated.

In 1974, the local government district, known as the Borough of Medway, was formed, within the county of Kent, by the merger of the municipal boroughs of Rochester (a cathedral town that then had City status) and Chatham, together with adjoining areas. In 1979, it was renamed the Borough of Rochester-upon-Medway, and in 1982, the City of Rochester-upon-Medway. In 1998, it was enlarged by the incorporation of the adjacent district of Gillingham, was renamed the Borough of Medway and become a unitary authority.

Medway Jewish Community(i)

There had also been a medieval Jewish community in Rochester dating from at least 1187 possibly until the expulsion in 1290.

After the seventeenth century readmission of Jews into Britain, Jews again began to settle in the Medway ports attracted by naval shipyard in Chatham and the opportunities for trade, and by the mid-eighteenth century, Chatham acquired a community "of Jewish slop-sellers traders in old clothes and bedding - who later became Navy agents, jewellers, opticians and shop-keepers."(ii) 

Chatham Synagogue logo
Congregation Data

Present Synagogue and Address:

Chatham Memorial Synagogue (previously known also as Magnus Memorial Synagogue(iv))
at 366 High Street, Rochester, Kent ME1 1DJ

The present synagogue was was built in memory of Captain Lazarus Simon Magnus (1826-1865) by his father Simon Magnus, a silversmith and pawnbroker of Chatham, who had acquired the freehold of the plot (with the attached burial ground) in 1867. The synagogue was designed by architect Hyman Henry Collins, FRIBA.(v) The foundation stone of the synagogue was laid on 5 October 1868 and the synagogue was consecrated on 17 June 1870 by the Chief Rabbi, Rev. Dr. Nathan Adler.(vi)

In 1923 the synagogue was reconsecrated following extensive renovation and restoration and in the late 1960s the premises were extended by the construction of a social and youth centre following the demolition of the neighbouring minister's house.(viii)

The interior has recently been renovated at a cost of 110,000 thanks to a donation from a member and support from Medway council and English Heritage.(xi)

The synagogue is a Grade II* Listed Building, listed on 2 December 1985 (number 1086467). See Historic England Listing & Description.

Previous Synagogue:

The present synagogue replaced the previous synagogue, Chatham Synagogue (also known as the Cottage Jews' Tabernacle Synagogue(xi)), which had existed on roughly the same site as the present synagogue at 366 High Street, for "upwards of a century".(xii) It was described in 1847 as "a small building of brick and wood, about one hundred years old, with a clock, visible from the High Street, noteworthy for having a face with Hebrew characters".(xiii)

The first recorded mention of the synagogue is in a deed dated 1770, when a tenant of St. Bartholomew Hospital, Rochester, sublet part of his property to a number of Jewish resident of Rochester and Chatham for use a synagogue.(xiv)

The district in which the synagogues were built was an unadopted area between Chatham and Rochester, known as "Chatham Intra", or "Chatham Without", which was taken into Rochester in about 1880. (xviii)

Date of Formation:

The congregation was established in about the 1750s.(xx)




Ashkenazi Orthodox


The congregation is unaffiliated but is under the aegis of the Chief Rabbi. However, there may have been an affiliation to the United Synagogue in the early 1950s.(xxii)



Ministers & Readers: (To view a short profile of a minister or reader whose name appears in blue - hold the cursor over his name.)

Rev. Berliner (or Barlin) - reader from about 1802 until about 1807(xxvi)

Rev. Abraham Lyon Benjamin - from about 1808 until 1825(xxvii)

Rev. Jehiel Phillips - from some time between 1826 and 1838 until 1854(xxviii)

Rev. Lazarus Pollack (or Polack) - from 1854 until 1884(xxix)

Rev. W. Barron (or Barren) - from 1884 until 1885(xxx)

Rev. Bernard Joshua Salomons - from August 1885 until 1897(xxxiii)

Rev. Moses David Isaacs - from about 1897 until about 1903(xxxiv)

Rev. Marks Fenton - from 1903 until 1919(xxxv)

(Rev. J. Erlich - accepted post of minister in March 1919, but probably did not take up the post(xxxvi))

Rev. Joseph Babitz (or Babity) - from 1920 until 1923(xxxvii)

Rev. Abraham Samet - from 1923 until 1929(xl)

Rev. Samuel Wolfe - the last resident minister, from 1929 until 1942(xli)

Lay Officers in 1874:

Listed in The Jewish Directory of 1874, edited by Asher I. Myers:

Wardens  -  Simon Magnus; Asher Lyons, Jnr

Lay Officers from 1896:

The data on the lay officers of the congregation has been extracted listings in Jewish Year Books, first published 1896/7.(xlv)


1896-1900 - Isidore Berliner

1900-1924 - John Simon Lyon

1924-1956 - S. Halpern(xlvi)


1947-1956 - L. Morris

Vice Presidents

1902-1907 - S.B. Barnard

1907-1911 - L.B. Barnard

1945-1949 - S. Freedland(xlvii)

1949-1956 - J. Taylor


1931-1934 - S. Gergel

1934-1938 - L. Lewis


1896-1900 - Isidore Berliner

1900-1924 - John Simon Lyon

1924-1934 - G. Posner

1934-1952 - I.L. Packer(xlviii)

Secretaries & Hon. Secretaries

1896-1898 - Rev. Bernard J. Salomons

1905-1919 - Rev. Marks Fenton

1924-1930 - I. Geigel

1930-1934 - J.L. Packer

1934-1940 - L. Morris(xlix)

1940-1946 - no data

1946-1948 - M. Cohen

1948-1949 - David Gee

1949-1952 - F. Alper

1952-1953 - H. Hurst

1953-1956 - J. Rosen

1956-1958 - H. Cooper

1958-1968 - G. Lancaster

1968-1969 - N. Wolfe

1969-1970 - Dr E. Taylor

1970-1972 - Mrs J. Faull

1972-1976 - G. Lancaster

1976-1980 - L. Hack

1980-1981 - G. Lancaster

1981-1984 - A. Myers

1984-1990 - G. Lancaster

Membership Data:

Chief Rabbi's Questionnaire

1845 - 16 Ba'alai batim and 40 seatholders.

Board of Deputies Returns - number of seatholders(liii)













Jewish Year Books(liv)

1896 - 15 seatholders

1899 - 10 seatholders

National Reports and Surveys(lv)

1977 - 46 male (or household) members and 3 female members

1983 - 51 male (or household) members and 20 female members

1990 - 63 members (comprising 49 households, 7 individual male and 7 individual female members)

1996 - 36 members (comprising 19 households, 1 individual male and 16 individual female members)

2010 and 2016 - listed as having under 50 members (by household)

Charitable Status

The congregation is a registered charity (no. 800902), under the name Chatham Memorial Synagogue, registered on 19 April 1989. The governing document is a Conveyance dated 2 August 1870, as varied by a scheme of 16 March 1971(lvi).


Search the All-UK Database

The records in the database associated with Chatham and Rochester include:

  • Burials:

  • UK Jewish Communal Leaders Database - Chatham and Rochester records:

    • JCR-UK Listings and others (records of 43 individuals - as of the March 2024 update).

  • 1851 Anglo Jewry Database (as of the 2016 update):

    • Individuals in the who were living in:
      Chatham during the 1770s (2 records), 1780s (6 records), 1790s (3 records), 1800s (9 records), 1810s (22 records); 1820s (58 records), 1830s (85 records), 1840s (108 records), 1850s (110 records), 1860s (58 records), 1870s (19 records), 1880s (6 records), 1890s (4 records) and 1900s (1 record); and
      Rochester during the 1780s (1 record), 1790s (4 records), 1800s (8 records), 1810s (10 records); 1820s (12 records), 1830s (11 records), 1840s (22 records), 1850s (24 records), 1860s (4 records), 1870s (4 records) and 1880s (2 records).

Chatham Synagogue           Chatham Synagogue
Chatham Memorial Synagogue plaques
(courtesy Steven Jaffe, 2024)

Online Articles, Photographs and Other Material
relating to the Medway (Chatham & Rochester) Jewish Community


on Third Party Websites

Notable Jewish Connections with the Medway towns

  • Daniel Barnard (1825-1879), the proprietor of the Railway Saloon and music hall, Chatham (known as Barnard's Palace of Varieties), was born and died in Chatham. He was High Constable of Chatham, Chairman of its Court Leet and founder and Captain of Chatham Fire Brigade. His daughter Hannah (c.1854-1906) was a professional opera singer under the stage name Anna Barnardelli.

  • Phineas Cowan (1832-1899), elected sheriff of London in 1883, was born in Chatham.

  • Hilary Halpern (1928-2013) (married Marie), born in Chatham and who lived at Boley Hill House, opposite Rochester castle, was founder and senior partner of the Halpern Partnership, an international firm of architects. In retirement he founded the Nucleus Arts centre and a charitable trust which promotes local artists, galleries and studios in various Medway towns. He was elected lifetime president of Chatham synagogue. The Halpern Conservatory Board building, a hub for the creative arts, includes a restaurant which displays several items relating to his life, including a certificate presented to him by the synagogue.

  • Samuel Isaac (1812-1886), the principal Promoter of the Mersey Tunnel, near Liverpool, was born in Chatham.

  • Saul Isaac (1823-1903), the brother of Samuel Isaac, was M.P. for Nottingham from 1874 to 1880 and was born in Chatham.

  • Lazarus Simon Magnus (1926-1865), whom Chatham Memorial Synagogue commemorates, was a captain in the 4th. Kent Artillery Volunteers, a director of the Chatham Railway and elected as Mayor of Queenborough, a town on the Isle of Sheppey in 1858, 1859 and 1862. He was instrumental in bringing the railway to Sheerness and Queenborough.

  • Jewish Mayors of Chatham:

    • G.H. Leavey was elected mayor 1895;

    • G.A. Rosenburg was elected mayor 1925 and 1926

  • Jewish Mayors of Rochester:

    • John Lewis Levy (d.1871) was elected mayor in 1860;

    • Lewis Levy (same family) was elected mayor in 1874, 1885 and 1886.

  • Charles Dickens, in The Pickwick Papers, noted that "the principal productions of these [Medway] towns are soldiers, sailors, Jews, chalk, shrimps, officers and dockyard men."


Other Chatham Jewish Institutions & Organisations

Educational & Theological

  • Hebrew and Religious Classes

Other Institutions & Organisations

  • Branch of Anglo-Jewish Association (founded 1887)(lx)

  • Jewish Ladies Guild (founded by 1923)(lxi)

  • Medway & District Jewish Social Club (founded by 1934)(lxii)

  • Philanthropic Society (founded by 1896)(lxiii) for the relief of local poor.


Community Records

  • Synagogue Records:

  • Registration District (BMD): Medway (since 1 April 1998)

    • Previous Registration Districts:
         Medway (from 1 July 1837 to 1 April 1941);
         Chatham (from 1 April 1841 to 1 April 1998)

    • Any registers would be held by the current register office.

    • Register Office website


Chatham Jewish Cemetery           Chatham Jewish Cemetery
Chatham Old Jewish Burial Ground, 2024
(courtesy Steven Jaffe)

Chatham & Rochester Jewish Cemetery Information


Jewish Cemeteries in Chatham and Rochester:

  • Chatham Old Jewish Burial Ground (actually situated in Rochester). It is behind the synagogue at 366 High Street, Rochester ME1 1DJ and is the only cemetery in the UK attached to a synagogue.)(lxiv) It was in use from the 1780s.
    Jewish Heritage Sites:

    Article: Chatham Cemetery, by Martyn Webster, includes an introductory article to the Chatham Cemetery database (above).

    Photographs: Photographs from the Burial Ground.

  • Chatham Municipal Cemetery, Jewish Section (Note: this should not be confused with the Jewish Cemetery in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, Canada.)

(For some additional information, also see IAJGS Cemetery Project - Chatham & Rochester)


Chatham Jewish Population Data



(The Jewish Year Book 1896/7)



(The Jewish Year Book 1901/2)



(The Jewish Year Book 1903/4)



(The Jewish Year Book 1904/5)



(The Jewish Year Book 1907/8)



(The Jewish Year Book 1909)



(The Jewish Year Book 1915)


about 150

(The Jewish Year Book 1966)


about 200

(The Jewish Year Book 1971)


about 100

(The Jewish Year Book 1985)


about 150

(The Jewish Year Book 1991)


about 100

(The Jewish Year Book 1992)


about 50

(The Jewish Year Book 1996)


Notes & Sources
( returns to text above)

  • (i) See the "Brief History" of the Chatham synagogue, reproduced from the Congregation's website; and the section on "Chatham" from The Rise of Provincial Jewry by Cecil Roth (referred to below as "Roth's section on Chatham"); "Jewish Life in the Medway towns" by Irina Shub (article in "Shemot" and "The Clock Tower" see Bibliography) (referred to below as "Irina Shrub's articles")  for the early history of the Chatham Jewish community and synagogue.

  • (ii) Irina Shrub's articles, fourth paragraph.

  • (iii) Reserved

  • (iv) The congregation was listed under this name in Jewish Year Books until 1980.

  • (v) Carol Herselle Krinsky - Synagogues of Europe - Architecture, History, Meaning, 1996, Appendix I, p. 430. To view a description of the Jewish architectural works by H.H. Collins, hold your cursor over his name.

  • (vi) Roth's section on Chatham, Irina Shrub's articles, and The Jewish Directory for 1874, by Asher I. Myers.

  • (vii) Reserved

  • (viii) Irina Shrub's articles.

  • (ix) and (x) Reserved

  • (xi) Irina Shrub's articles.

  • (xii) The Jewish Directory of 1874 refers to it as having existed upwards of a century prior to 1870.

  • (xiii) The "Brief History", reproduced from the Congregation's website.

  • (xiv) Irina Shrub's articles.

  • (xv) to (xvii) Reserved

  • (xviii) The "Brief History", reproduced from the Congregation's website.

  • (xix) Reserved.

  • (xx) Although often given as 1780, Jewish Chronicle articles (mentioned in Roth's section on Chatham) indicate that the congregation had been in existence 'more than ninety years' before 1841 (i.e from about 1750), The Jewish Directory refers to it as having existed upwards of a century prior to 1870 and Jewish Year Books (from 1964) give the date as 1760.

  • (xxi) Congregation's website, last accessed 27 October 2021.

  • (xxii) Jewish Year Books 1950 through 1953 stated that the congregation was affiliated to the United Synagogue. However, no mention is made of Chatham in Aubrey Newman's United Synagogue 1870-1970, which otherwise lists all United Synagogue members and affiliates, past and present.

  • (xxiii) to (xxv) Reserved.

  • (xxvi) Irina Fridman (A Fitting Memorial, a brief history of Chatham Synagogue) gives the name of the first-known minister of the Chatham congregation as Frederic Benjamin Barlin. Barlin painted a portrait of the Sephardi haham Raphael Meldola and of chief rabbi Solomon Hirschel (see his works on Art UK). However, according to Cecil Roth, F.B. Barlin the artist was not the minister but the son of the reader at Chatham synagogue whose name was Berliner.

  • (xxvii) Irina Fridman - A Fitting Memorial, a brief history of Chatham Synagogue.

  • (xxviii) Irina Shrub's articles (Shemot 17/1 p.17).

  • (xxix) Irina Shrub's articles (Shemot 17/1 p.17).

  • (xxx) The Jewish Chronicle in a report dated 31 October 1884 placed Rev. Barron at Chatham, the year that his predecessor retired and on 27 April 1885 reported that Rev. B.J. Salamons(sic) has been elected to the post of reader and secretary to the congregation, in the place of Rev. W. Barren.

  • (xxxi) and (xxxii) Reserved.

  • (xxxiii) The Jewish Chronicle on 27 April 1885 reported that Rev. B.J. Salamons(sic) had been elected to the post of reader and secretary to the congregation and on 22 October 1897 reported that Rev. Salomons had preached his valedictory sermon in Chatham as he was to become a stipendiary resident at Judith Montefiore yeshiva, Ramsgate. He was listed as minister and secretary of the congregation in the first two Jewish Year Books to be published (1896/7 and 1897/8).

  • (xxxiv) The Jewish Chronicle of 4 February 1898 placed Rev. Isaacs in Chatham. He was listed as minister of the congregation in Jewish Year Books 1901/2 and 1902/3.

  • (xxxv) Rev. Fenton was listed as minister of the congregation in Jewish Year Books 1903/4 through 1919. and various Jewish Chronicle placed him in Chatham.

  • (xxxvi) Letter dated 26 March 1919 in the congregation's archive, from J. Erlich to J. Lyons, president of the congregation, accepting the post of minister.

  • (xxxvii) A Fitting Memorial, a brief history of Chatham Synagogue by Irina Fridman. Rev. Babitz is not listed as minister of the congregation in any Jewish Year Book.

  • (xxxviii) and (xxxix) Reserved.

  • (xl) A Fitting Memorial, a brief history of Chatham Synagogue by Irina Fridman. An agreement between the congregation and Rev. Samet dated 10 January 1923 concerning his appointment and duties as the minister is amongst the congregation's papers deposited at Rochester-upon-Medway Studies Centre. Rev. Samet is listed as minister and reader of the congregation in Jewish Year Books 1925 through 1930.

  • (xli) A Fitting Memorial, a brief history of Chatham Synagogue by Irina Fridman. Rev. Wolfe is listed as minister, reader and shochet of the congregation in Jewish Year Books from 1931 until 1940, when publication ceased during the war years.

  • (xlii) to (xliv) Reserved.

  • (xlv) Where a person is first listed in a year book as holding a particular office, it has been assumed that his term of office commenced in the year of publication of the relevant year book and that he continued in office until the commencement of office of his successor, unless the office was vacant. Initially year books corresponded to the Hebrew year, and thus ran roughly from autumn of one year - the year of publication - until autumn of the next year. From 1909, year books were published according to the Gregorian year, being published generally towards the end of the year prior to the year appearing in the title of the year book. For example, if an officer is listed in Jewish Year Books 1935 through 1938, it is assumed that he commenced office in 1934 and continued in office until 1938. However, it should be noted that this is only an assumption and, accordingly, his actual years of office may differ somewhat from those shown here. Jewish Year Books were not published during WWII subsequent to 1940. There were no Jewish Year Book listings of lay officers, apart from the secretary subsequent to 1956.

  • (xlvi) The Jewish Year Book was not published in the war years 1941-1945. However, as S. Halpern was listed as president both prior to the war (until 1940) and after the war (from 1945/6), it is presumed that he also served as such throughout World War II.

  • (xlvii) Spelled Freidman in the Jewish Year Books 1945/6 and 1947, but presumed to be the same person.

  • (xlviii) The Jewish Year Book was not published in the war years 1941-1945. However, as I.L. Packer was listed as treasurer both prior to the war (until 1940) and after the war (from 1945/6), it is presumed that he also served as such throughout World War II.

  • (xlix) The Jewish Year Book was not published in the war years 1941-1945 and L. Morris was also listed as secretary in the Jewish Year Book 1945/6, the first to be published following the war. However, it is uncertain whether this was an error (the publishers merely repeating the data they had prior to the cease of publication) or whether L. Morris actually served as secretary throughout the war years.

  • (l) to (lii) Reserved.

  • (liii) Extracted from table from Chatham from "Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain".

  • (liv) Dates reflect year of publication of relevant Jewish Year Book.

  • (lv) Reports on synagogue membership in the United Kingdom, published by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and which can be viewed on the website of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research. Click HERE for links to the various reports.

  • (lvi) Charities Commission website, accessed 29 October 2021.

  • (lvii) to (lix) Reserved.

  • (lx) Jewish Year Book 1896/7.

  • (lxi) First listed in Jewish Year Book 1924.

  • (lxii) First listed in Jewish Year Book 1935.

  • (lxiii) Jewish Year Book 1896/7.

  • (lxiv) in 2006, Stoke-on-Trent Hebrew Congregation relocated its synagogue to the refurbished ohel at the congregation's cemetery in nearby Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Jewish Congregations in Kent

Jewish Communities of England homepage

Page created: 25 July 2003
Data significantly expanded: 5 May 2017
Data further significantly expanded and notes first added: 26 October 2021
Page most recently amended: 5 May 2024

Research by David Shulman, assisted by Steven Jaffe
formatting by David Shulman

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