Reading Jewry
in Victorian Britain




Extract from papers on
Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain

Papers prepared by Dr. (later Prof.) Aubrey Newman for a conference at University College, London, convened on 6 July 1975 by the Jewish Historical Society of England
(Reproduced here with Prof. Newman's kind consent)

READING (Berkshire)

Published Data


Jewish population about 200.

Synagogue, Westfield Road, Junction Road (founded 1886).
Seatholders between 40 and 50. Income 1900, 147.17s., expenditure 118.16s.0d.

'The synagogue was consecrated by Rev. Dr. H. Adler, Chief Rabbi and Dr. H. Gollancz M.A., and opened by Sir Samuel Montagu Bart., on Wednesday, October 31st 1900.'

b - Jewish Year Book]


Prepared by Aubrey Newman

In 1903 the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration paid particular attention to Reading, as a result of which the Mayor, past Mayor, and the President of the Reading Hebrew Congregation appeared to give evidence. One reason for this attention was undoubtedly the way in which the Dispersal Committee in London had helped to send a number of new immigrants to that town, and part of the evidence related to the way in which these new arrivals had been able to integrate themselves peacefully into the life of the 'host' community. The Mayor for example testified:

As a magistrate I have had no trouble with them; they keep to the law and are quiet and inoffensive. They subscribe to and make collections for our local charities. There is practically no crime among them. I have never known of a drunken Jew. There is no insanity among them; they do not come on the rates, although they contribute to them They have no adverse effect on the religious life of the town. They are moral, abstemious, and thrifty.

The former Mayor made much the same points:

It is not within my knowledge that there is any difference between the method of living in the case of the foreigner and that of the English of the same class. The children of the foreigners fall into line with others attending the schools; they are very intelligent, and on no occasion do I recollect that foreign parents have been summoned for not sending their children to school. The foreigners who come to Reading are of the working class. I have known several cases where they have come into the town merely as journeymen, but have ultimately been successful in starting on their own account. These foreigners bring new industries into the town, and the benefit is quite mutual.

The community at Reading seems to have emerged in the early 1880s; the President confirmed in his evidence that he had come to Reading 'in the latter end of 1885' and had found then five families, all working for the one firm. Thereafter there had been a comparatively considerable increase, though it was pointed out that in 1903 there was a total of 233 aliens, including French and Italians. 'Most of them were tailors, 'pressers...... , boot lasters, cap makers. Chiefly tailors', but there was evidence that other trades were represented: 'They also engage in cabinet-making, antique furniture dealing, and cigar shops'. The majority were 'of the working class', and one of the objects of erecting the synagogue was to attract more Jewish settlers to the town. According to the evidence given a considerable number did come, largely from the East End of London, and Sir Samuel Montagu's connection with the community - including presiding at the first public meeting called by the Building Committee in 1900 - emphasised the link between the growth of East European immigration and the growth of communities such as that of Reading.

Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain - List of Contents

Reading Hebrew Congregation home page

Reading Jewish Community home page

Formatted by David Shulman

Paper first published on JCR-UK: 12 September 2016
Page most recently amended: 12 September 2016



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