IN THE BEGINNING
1185 “The earliest notice of Jews in the town of Colchester is in 1185, when Benedict of Norwich paid a heavy fine (£40) for selling goods without licence to, among others, Aaron, Isaac and Abraham of Colchester.”
1193 “That those in the town were wealthy is indicated by their contribution of £41 to the levy of 5,000 marks, laid on Jewry for the ransom of Richard the Lionheart in 1193.”
1252 “A deed shows the Jewry to have been in Stockwell Street.”
1255 “Their position as vassals of the Crown is illustrated in 1255 when Henry III in granting the custody of the Castle of Colchester with the lands belonging to Guy de Rochefort, expressly excluded the woods of Kingwood and the Jews of the town.”
1277 “Friendly relations existing in Colchester are disclosed when in December 1277 townsmen and Jews – Saute, son of Ursel, Cok and Samuel, sons of Aaron, Isaac, their chaplain – were fined for an offence against the Forest Laws and Christians stood surety for Jews and vice-versa.”
1290 “At the time of their expulsion Colchester stood seventh among English Jewries and comprised nine families of about 50 persons living in Stockwell and having their own synagogue.”
1791 “In June 1791 the Ipswich journal described very fully the marriage of Samuel Levi, late of Bury, to Kitty, daughter of Isaac Abrahams of Colchester in the Synagogue – yard, in Angel Lane the site of their earlier occupation. The bridegroom led by the bride`s father, preceded by the Rabbi and friends with a band of music, were followed by the bride clad in white and veiled with her mother and grandmother. Under a canopy supported by four men, the form of solemnisation in Hebrew was read and at the conclusion after the bride and groom had each drunk part of a glass of wine he threw it to the ground to denote that as the glass could never be made again, so difficult would it be for them to be separated in this life. A public feast followed and the day concluded with the highest festivity and decorum ……. the strictest propriety prevailed throughout the whole of the ceremony.”
1939-43 “Several families evacuated to the Colchester area during the Second World War joined with local families and Jewish service personnel to hold services.”
1943 & 1944 “Communal sederim held locally with service personnel from the Commonwealth and the United States.”
1945-47 “Jewish National Servicemen held Friday evening services on Garrison premises.”
1950s & 1960s “Regular services begin and the Community forms – strengthened by several new families moving into the area.”
1969 “The synagogue built on land purchased from the Spiritualist Church.” “From this point the focal point provided by having our own synagogue premises, aided by the reinforcement of the Community by staff and students from Essex University, re-established the Community.”
Here are some pictures of the event. Just click on them to see the full size picture.
1985 “A civic reception was held in the synagogue to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the presence of Jews in Colchester.”
1994 “Reflecting the service and civic reception held on the opening of the synagogue Sunday October 23rd, 1994 saw the 25th Anniversary similarly celebrated.”
2011 “In 2011, the community acquired an area of Colchester Cemetery for Jewish burials, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox.” (Details here)
The Museum of the Jewish Diaspora in Tel Aviv has the following in its records: Colchester, county town of Essex, England. In the Middle Ages the town harbored a Jewish community, which ranked ninth in importance among the English Jewries in the Northampton Donum of 1194 on the organisation of the exchequer of the Jews. Colchester became the seat of an archa for the registration of Jewish transactions. In 1277 a number of local Jews and Christians were involved together in a breach of the Forest Laws. On expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290, nine houses in the Jewry in Stockwell Street, as well as the synagogue, were escheated to the Crown. A short-lived Jewish community was established at the close of the 18th century. A congregation was established in 1957 and 27 Jews were living there in 1967. The community grew, albeit slowly, and in 1969 a synagogue was built. In 1994 the community numbered 75 families.
Colchester and District Jewish Community in recent years has remained generally the same in number, some 90 or so families. In addition to those who reside in Colchester itself the geographical spread of the membership includes members living as far afield as Chelmsford, Coggeshall, Ipswich, Woodbridge, Clacton-on-Sea and Frinton-on-Sea. The demographic characteristics of the membership span all ages from the very young to the elderly. Married couples, widows and divorcees, the working and the retired. Occupations include university professors and teachers, doctors, dentists, opticians and pharmacists, lawyers, accountants, and company directors, booksellers, artists and potters, nurses and midwives, probation officers. The youngsters under the age of 19 usually account for about 20% of the total membership.
THE SYNAGOGUE & FINANCES
A modern single-storey building situated in the very centre of Colchester consisting of the synagogue hall, which doubles as a social function hall, committee room, fully equipped kosher kitchen and car park. Built in 1969 on freehold land the building is free of any debts. The Community`s financial commitment, in addition to the regular expenses of heating, lighting, insurance, cleaning and the caretaker etc., involves ongoing and potential repairs and maintenance costs. The Community does not receive any direct financial assistance from the United Synagogue (US) to whom it is affiliated for Burial purposes only.