This book is the first fully illustrated history of the Jews of Plymouth, a history in which the community
has made a long and distinguished contribution to the city’s naval and civic life.
The present-day community traces its roots to the 1720s and Plymouth Synagogue, a Grade II listed
building, is significant because, not only is it the oldest synagogue outside London, but the oldest
Ashkenazi synagogue in the English-speaking world. Its exquisitely beautiful interior has seen continuous
worship for over 250 years since it was first built in 1762.
The congregation’s oldest cemetery lies on the historic Hoe, with the first recorded burial in 1744. It is
here that the founder members of the community are buried: amongst them Joseph and Sarah Sherrenbeck,
Abraham Joseph I and the Hart brothers.
The naval connection, which goes back to Elizabethan times and Sir Francis Drake, ran deepest from
the 1700s until the Second World War. Jewish pedlars were granted permission to board the ships docked
in the port and sold all kinds of goods to the sailors. Their main trade was in sailors’ clothes or ‘slops’
which gave rise to the term ‘slopmen’. Figures like Abraham Joseph enjoyed the favour of royalty and was
appointed slopman to HRH Prince William Henry.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Plymouth and Devonport’s Jews entered local politics. Their
contribution is unparalleled in other provincial Jewish communities of this period. Many served on the
various Council committees or as Councillors of Wards. Myer Fredman became the first Jewish Mayor of
Devonport and Arthur Goldberg elected the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Plymouth.
During both World Wars, the Jews of Plymouth played their part in the British armed forces, with a
number being killed in action. The first civilian casualties of the intense German bombing of the city in
WW2 were Mary Smith and her niece, Esta, both members of the synagogue.
Over the centuries, Plymouth has seen its share of famous Jewish artists, among them Abraham Daniel
(the miniaturist), Solomon Hart (first Jew admitted to the Royal Academy), and Robert Lenkiewicz whose
art courted controversy in the 20th century.
For generations, the Jews of Plymouth found a safe haven from the pogroms of Europe, a city where
they could settle and prosper without any fear of intolerance or religious persecution. This is their
extraordinarily diverse and rich story.
Helen Fry has written widely on the history of Anglo-Jewry, with particular reference
to the Jews of Devon and Cornwall, including Jews in North Devon during
the Second World War and The Jews of Exeter. She also specialises in WW2,
primarily writing about the refugees from Nazism who fought for Britain. Her WW2
books include Churchill’s Secret Soldiers, The M Room: Secret Listeners who
Bugged the Nazis, Freuds’ War, Spymaster: The Secret Life of Kendrick and Inside
Nuremberg Prison. Helen has featured in a number of documentaries for Channel
4, ITV and Channel 5, as well as live interviews on the BBC and various radio stations. She is a member of
the Biographers Club. Official website: www.helen-fry.com
Imprint: Halsgrove. ISBN 978 0 85704 253 8, hardback, 297x210mm, 160 pages. Published February 2015.