South Wales 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)

Paper first published on JCR-UK: 20 March 2016
Latest revision: 24 August 2016

Papers on South Wales

SWANSEA (South Wales)

Published Data


This community was flourishing in the 1830s, and presented a silver Kiddush cup to Rabbi Solomon Hirschell. In 1845 there were 9 Ba'ale Batim and 13 seatholders; in 1852 this had risen to 21. In 1851 there were 25 appropriated seats, 133 members, and 44 actually attending on census Sabbath.


Synagogue, Goat Street. Synagogue erected 1858.
It has seat accommodation for 96 gentlemen and 94 ladies. Seat rental, from 1.6s to 6.10s. per annum. Income, from May 1872 to May 1873 285.11s.5d, Expenditure from May 1872 to May 1873 236.5s.4.

Jewish School. Held at Synagogue Chambers, Goat Street.
Founded 1868. Number of pupils, 25. Income for 1872, 60. Expenditure about 90.


200 Jewish residents. 1900 - 6 deaths.

Synagogue, Goat Street. (founded 1780) Seatholders 60.

Swansea Benevolent Association (founded 1893). To help the resident poor. Income and expenditure, 1900, 50.

Congregational Hebrew Classes, founded 1888. Scholars 75

[A - Primarily from The Rise of Provincial Jewry (1950), by Cecil Roth]
[a - The Jewish Directory for 1874, by Asher I. Myers]
[b - Jewish Year Book]


Board of Deputies returns

  births marriages burials seatholders


4 (2M)






























Bernard Goldblum

(For the early history of the Community, see "Swansea" in Cecil Roth's "The Rise of Provincial Jewry", 1950)

By the start of the Victorian era Jews had been living in Swansea for over a century. The Jewish Encyclopedia records the birth there in 1734 of Lazarus David who was to become a founder of the community in Montreal.

The Synagogue in Waterloo Street which was in use in 1837 was already the third house of prayer of the community. It had fifty-five seats. The community at this time seems to have numbered between 100 and 150, the figure being given as 133 individuals in the Table of Provincial Congregations which appeared in the Jewish Chronicle in July 1847. This Table also gave the number of Seansea ba'ale batim as 9 resident and 2 non-resident and the number of seat holders as 13.

Mr. Marks, the resident in 1837, must have been able to report to the Chief Rabbi on the satisfactory state of the congregation since in a reply in November of that year Rabbi Hirschell expressed "much pleasure to learn of the peaceable state of your congregation". In the same letter the Chief Rabbi called the President's serious attention to the need for completing without any further delay the Bath (i.e. mikvah) which then apparently required for completion only the laying of a pipe to the sea. A Lease of land for the erection of the mikvah had been entered into in 1835 when premises in Wellington Road were taken for a period of 50 years at a rent of 2 per annum. This rent still appeared on the Congregation's Balance Sheet in 1879.

In 1845 Swansea was one of twenty provincial congregations with a vote in the election of the new Chief Rabbi. The Laws and Regulations made by Dr. Nathan Adler in 1847 do not appear to have met with universal approval as there were disturbances in the synagogue at Swansea following their introduction.

In 1845 the Swansea congregation was itself in the market for a Shochet/Hazzan/Baal Koreh, the advertisement in the Voice of Jacob adding that a Mohel would be preferred By the time similar advertisements appeared in 1848 and 1851 they were for a Shochet/Hazzan/Mohel/Baal Koreh.

The person chosen as Chazzan/Shochet in 1851 was Rev. I. Piser and his appointment was notified by the President Mr. I. Jacob to the Chief Rabbi. In replying Dr. Adler raised no objection but requested that for future contingencies his sanction should be obtained before any employment was concluded.

In 1848 Mr. I. M. Moses filled the office of Grand Juryman. He was also in that year elected one of the Board of Guardians for Swansea Union being considered the first Jew in the Principality to fill an honorary public office.

In the following year the congregation was called upon to redeem the mortgage on the synagogue and also had the opportunity of buying the freehold. There was resort to the regular practice at that time of advertising in the Jewish Chronicle for contributions from the general community.

In 1854/55 the congregation was first represented at the Board of Deputies by Mr. Isaac L. Miers of Hounsditch but the membership appears to have lapsed after this initial appointment.

The next stage in the congregation's development took place in 1857 when at a meeting after the High Holidays it was proposed that a new Synagogue be built as many had been prevented from attending worship on account of lack of space. At this meeting the president for the past seven years, Mr. Jacob, gave way to a new President, Mr. Simon Goldberg, who was to prove the leading layman in the congregation for the rest of the century.

A piece of ground suitable for the new building was bought in 1857 and two years later the foundation stone was laid and the building completed. Once again Swansea looked to the wider community for assistance with the building costs by way of advertisements in the Jewish Chronicle. These pointed out that the congregation had grown from four families when the synagogue had been built 50 years previously to upwards of thirty and that these families "pious, but by no means opulent" had themselves raised 1,200 of the required 1,700. On ordinary sabbaths the Synagogue did not have enough seats for the resident families while on festival days ladies were compelled to occupy the stairs leading to the gallery and many persons were obliged to absent themselves from public worship for the want of the necessary accommodation. In its editorial columns the Jewish Chronicle commented that "It is but rarely that an appeal for a Synagogue comes before the community with such strong claims".

The new Synagogue was duly opened in Goat Street on 25th September 1889 (sic. - this should presumably have read 1859 - Webmaster's comment) with a service conducted by the Rev. J. Tuchman and a choir led by Mr. George Moore of London. The opening ceremony was to have been performed by the Chief Rabbi Dr Nathan Marcus Adler but he was prevented by illness from attending. His son, Hermann, preached instead, this being the first sermon of his career. The consecration service was followed by a banquet in the residence of one of the congregants attended by 60 people. Mr. S. Goldberg presided.

The new Synagogue was designed by Henry J. Bayliss of Swansea and built by Mr. Holtam of Bath. It was some 47ft. 9in, long x 25ft. wide and provided accommodation for 228 persons, that is, 120 men and 108 women.

For the initial period after the construction of the new Synagogue membership continued at a markedly higher level than previously. Thus, while the number of seatholders for the years 1857, 1858 and 1859 was 29, 29 and 32, the corresponding figures for the years 1861, 1862 and 1863 were 43, 45 and 46.

Among notable occasions an old record book of the congregation notes that in September 1866 the Brit of Simon the son of Albert Lewis took place in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. There must also have been great rejoicing on 30th March 1892 when the Marriages took place of Sarah and Jessie, daughters of Isaac Seline, the President. Sarah married David Harris a Navigation Teacher of Swansea while Jessie's groom was Morris Borgenicht a pipe maker from London.

There had been a similar occasion in March 1867 when a brother and sister Lewis and Elizabeth Simmons were respectively married to Nancy Jacobs and Eleazar Levy but neither of the couples were resident in  Swansea and the marriages took place at a private house.

Mr. Simon Goldberg marked the Barmitzvah celebrations of his two sons by presenting Sifrei Torah to the Synagogue and a Sefer was also left to the Synagogue in memory of Mr. Lewis Lyons who died in 1887.

In the years 1862/64 the congregation was again represented on the Board of Deputies, this time by Mr. S. A. Kisch of Lancaster Place, London.

In September 1866 there was an examination of pupils of the Hebrew School. In a letter to the Jewish Chronicle Mr. H. Worms Jnr. pointed out that this was the first such examination in the history of the community.

In the later 1860's there appears to have been a decline in the congregation and by the end of the decade its affairs reached a low ebb. In 1869 the burial of a child was refused on account of an alleged membership irregularity. Also a person who had been a member for many years was refused admission to the cemetery to place a headstone on his wife's grave . Two other persons who were there at the same time with headstones were compelled to take them back as the authorities feared that if the gates were opened for these two the third would gain admission at the same time. Little wonder that a correspondent to the Jewish Chronicle at the time expressed deep anxiety that a congregation constituted by the efforts of years may not be exposed to disunion and disruption. The quarrels also extended to the arrangement of weddings and a complaint was made to the Board of Deputies that marriage fees of over 10 were demanded. Allegations were also made of spikes being set in Synagogue seats.

With the threat of a secession of the disaffected members, peace moves were undertaken by the Chief Rabbi and harmony was re-established in the course of a pastoral visit by Dr. Adler in 1871. Among the measures agreed on was for the establishment of a new Code of Laws and this was adopted in 1872. It provided that prayers and services should be conducted 'Minhag Poland' and according to regulations laid down by the Chief Rabbi for the time being. Among other provisions of the new rules were that offerings on Shabbat should be not less than 1/- for the Chief Rabbi and hon. officers and 6d. each for any additional offering. Any person who was called to the Reading of the Law but refused to go up was to be fined ten shillings and sixpence.

There was a revision of the Rules in 1892. These now provided that "Any offering shall be not less than sixpence on Sabbaths, nor less than one shilling on Holy-days". The penalty for refusing an aliyah was altered from a pecuniary one to loss of the right to be called up again for six months. However, pride of place must surely be given to the new Rule 23 which began "That Mr. Goldberg officiate as heretofore as Baltifila and Baltekea on every occasion as long as he thinks fit, and when he decides to discontinue same, no other private member be allowed to act as Baltifila or Baltekea".

Another matter which brought the Swansea congregation onto the wider communal scene in 1871 arose from a Court case in which Mr. E. F. Moses was involved. A seaman was apprehended on the charge of stealing a pair of stockings and a cap from Mr. Moses. The matter came before the Court on Shabbat and Mr. Moses refused to sign the deposition on the ground that Jews are precluded from writing on the Sabbath. He asked either that he be allowed to sign in the evening or that the case be adjourned until Monday. The Court refused this request and discharged the prisoner. Mr. Moses wrote to the Chief Rabbi who replied in a letter to the Western Mail that the London practice was for the deposition to be signed on the Saturday night or Monday morning. Mr. Moses was also persuaded to refer the matter to the Board of Deputies where there was a debate as to whether the question should be dropped or referred to the Law. and Parliamentary Committee. Following a 6-6 vote the Chairman by his casting vote ruled that the matter should not be referred and so it was dropped.

In 1874 The Rev. J. Tuchman left Swansea for Sheffield. His stay of fifteen years with the congregation was by far the longest of any of its communal servants up to that time. He was succeeded as Chazan and Shochet by Rev. Lazarus Slevanski from Norwich who in turn was replaced in 1876 by the Rev. Israel Levanton.

The year 1877 again saw dissension in the congregation, this time on account of the plight of two children who were in the workhouse. They were alleged to be relatives of leading members of the community who it was claimed should secure their release. The Chief Rabbi was again involved and the matter was eventually resolved by the despatch of the children to South Africa to be reunited with their Mother. Payment of the fare was guaranteed when the children were aboard the boat.

Also, in 1877 a Branch of the Anglo-Jewish Association was formed with 36 members but this interest was not long maintained and the affiliation lapsed.

Swansea returned to the appeal columns of the Jewish Chronicle in 1878 when on the enlargement of the cemetery there was a deficiency of 125 for the rebuilding of the boundary wall.

Swansea was not, of course, always at the receiving end of appeals. The congregation responded in 1859 and 1864 to appeals by the Board of Deputies for help to alleviate disasters at Bojonowa and Monastir. In 1894 a collection was made on behalf of the Albion Colliery Disaster Fund. There were regular collections for the Swansea Hospital and in 1901 over 200 was raised by the stall of Jewish ladies at the Grand Bazaar for the Victoria Wing of the Royal Cambrian Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. But perhaps the biggest effort was the 300 raised in 1891 towards the Fund for the Relief of Russian Jewish Fugitives. In this amount was a contribution of 10 from the Mayor and 2.2.0. from the Vicar of Swansea.

The 1880's brought fresh changes in the religious leadership of the congregation. The appointment in 1881 of the Rev. Israel Miron as Chazan/Shochet was to inaugurate a lengthy tenure of this office. Moreover, following the setting up of the Chief Rabbi's Fund for Provincial Ministers the Rev. Moses Hyamson was in 1884 appointed Minister in Swansea. Not only was the town henceforth to have two ministerial officials but for the first time it had in Rev. Hyamson a graduate of Jews' College who was primarily a preacher as opposed to its previous line of Chazan/Shochetim. These new Ministers began to represent the congregation among the wider community. Thus in March 1887 Rev. Hyamson delivered a lecture to the Royal Institution at Swansea on "The Fall of Jerusalem, its History and Legends."

In October 1884 a silver salver was presented to Mr. Solomon Brown on his retirement due to failing health as baal tephilla in which capacity he had given his services for over 30 years. Three years later Mr. Simon Goldberg also reached the stage of completing 30 years as hon. baal tephilla and in 1889 his two sons donated a pulpit to the Synagogue to commemorate the 50th year of his residence in Swansea. In 1893 a silver salver was presented to Mr. I. Seline who had been President of the Congregation for some years and its Registrar of Marriages for 18 years. He did not in fact resign as Registrar until 1922.

Rev. Hyamson left Swansea at the end of 1888. The advertisement for his successor sought a HEBREW TEACHER and LECTURER at 100 p.a in addition to which it was anticipated that the Jewish Provincial Ministers' Fund would grant a subvention. Rev. Harris L. Price from Manchester was appointed in December 1888 and took up his post the following month. There were to be three more changes within the next decade. Rev Price was succeeded in 1891 by the Rev. Jacob Phillips from Tredegar who stayed until 1893 before being appointed Minister in Sunderland. By this time the office was advertised as Minister, teacher and second reader and a salary of 120 p.a. was offered exclusive of grant from the Provincial Ministers' Fund. Rev. Phillip Wolfers from Hanley was elected and remained until 1899 before going to Cardiff. Rev. S. Fyne from Newport was appointed in his place.

These Ministers continued the outside relationships which had been started by Rev. Hyamson. Rev. Price protested in the local press against attempts being made to convert Jews to Christianity and Rev. Phillips gave a public lecture on "The Rites and Ceremonies of the Jews" and "A peep into the Talmud." Rev. Phillips was also among those invited by the Mayor and Mayoress to an "At Home" to the members of a Committee who had been instrumental in raising funds and distributing relief to the unemployed of the town.

But apart from the Ministers these were years when members of the community also began to take a greater part in the life of the general community. In 1896 Brahem Freedman was elected in the Victoria Ward as the first Jewish Town Councillor. In 1892 Simon Goldberg and the Rev. J. Phillips were re-elected members of the Committee of Management of the Swansea General & Eye Hospital.

In 1895 Simon Goldberg was elected the first Jewish J.P. in Wales. Commenting on this event the "Cambrian" wrote "Mr. Simon Goldberg the only Conservative on the list is the senior partner in the well-known firm of S. Goldberg & Sons shipowners and coal exporters, and is well known for the interest he takes in various local charitable and philanthropic movements. He is a director of the Atlantic Patent Fuel Co., Chairman of the Swansea Shipping Co. Chairman of the Glamorganshire Building Societies (Swansea) and a member of the Swansea Hospital Committee. He is, we believe, the only member of the Jewish community who sits on the Commission of the Peace in the Principality and his election may be regarded as a well-deserved, if long delayed, compliment to that body." In the same year Mr. S. Goldberg's son Hyman was appointed by the Queen as Consul for the Republic of Hawaii at Swansea.

During the last decade of the Victorian era there was a marked increase in the size of the congregation and its activities. In 1892 there was inaugurated the Swansea Jewish Mutual Improvement Society and by 1901 there were also Benevolent and Zionist Societies.

Between 1892 and 1895 the congregation was again represented on the Board of Deputies this time by a former resident, Dr. L. Barnett.

There were also the beginnings of a rift between the older section of the congregation and the newcomers or 'foreigners'. In 1894 a Society was established among the 'foreign' section of the congregation to promote the general study of Hebrew Literature. Its President was Mr. Israel Shatz. The Rev. P. Wolfers started English classes in connection with the Society.

As regards occupations, the ship owning, coal exporting and building society interests of Mr. Simon Goldberg and his family were clearly exceptional. The vast majority of the congregation followed a much more traditional and circumscribed range of trades. In Hunt's Directory of 1848 Jewish names appear under the headings of Hardwareman, Drapers, Pawnbrokers, Silversmiths & Jewellers, Clothiers & Outfitters and Watch and Clock makers. This pattern did not change very much in the second half of the century but new fields of activity grew up in furniture and picture dealing and picture frame making and glazing. The occupations of the 37 Swansea bridegroom married in Swansea between 1840 and 1901 can be summarised as follows:

Commercial travellers, travelling drapers etc 11
Picture and picture frame dealers   5
Watchmakers   4
Glaziers   4
Furniture dealers   3
Drapers   2
Merchants   2
Pawnbroker   1
Teacher of languages   1
Teacher of navigation   1
Tailor   1
Dentist   1
Gentleman   1

Among the older generation Mr. Henry Micholls Jones was a dentist in 1860. An earlier professional was Dr. Douglas Cohen who appears in Matthews' Swansea Directory for 1830 as one of five physicians in the town. He had graduated in Edinburgh in 1828 and moved to Liverpool in 1847. Another medical man was Dr. L. Barnett, the son of Mr. Henry Barnett. He practised in Swansea until 1889 when he moved to London.

The first Jewish member of the legal profession practising in Swansea appears to have been David Seline who was born in 1867 and became a Solicitor in 1889.

When the Victorian era ended in 1901 the Swansea Jewish Community numbered some 300/400, that is three times its size at the start of the reign. The indications from the numbers of seatholders are that the increase had not been continuous for after a rise in the fifties and early sixties the number fell back  around 1870 to the figure of the late fifties. There was a gradual increase through the seventies and eighties and a larger increase in the early nineties, but there was a falling off in the later nineties before another large increase at the turn of the century. Perhaps the main explanation for this fluctuation is to be found in the movement of people from Swansea to the many new centres which sprung up in South Wales during this period. While Swansea was the only organised Welsh congregation at the start of Victoria's reign, the Chief Rabbi's pastoral tour in 1894, besides including Swansea, embraced also communities at Newport, Brynmawr, Tredegar, Merthyr, Aberdare, Cardiff and Pontypridd. There were of course also Jews settled in many smaller centres,

Introduction to Papers on South Wales and Conference Paper by Geoffrey Alderman

Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain - List of Contents

Swansea Jewish Community home page

Swansea Hebrew Congregtion home page

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