Jewish Emigration to Britain

How did Jewish people make a living in Hull?

For centuries, Jewish communities across Europe faced difficulties in making a living. Until the 19th century Jewish people were often not allowed to join trade guilds or hold land, so fewer occupations were available to them. 

During medieval times, Christians were banned from lending money at interest and so a tradition began of Jews working as bankers, moneylenders and pawnbrokers and also in the jewellery trade. Many Jewish businesses served their own community, for example as tailors making special religious clothing and kosher butchers.

In the 18th and 19th centuries most Jewish immigrants into the United Kingdom were poor. Few had enough money to start businesses, but with hard work and the support of their community many were able to thrive.

Jewish businesses in Hull:

Many Jews who settled in Hull set up small businesses serving their community or sailors from ships docking in Hull. 

Some of Hull’s earliest recorded Jewish traders include:

1770 - Michael Levy – watchmaker and Hull’s first identifiably Jewish businessman

1792 - Joseph Lyon – slop man (a seller of readymade clothes for sailors), and later a pawnbroker

1826 - Solomon Meyer – pawnbroker

1826 - Israel Jacob – silversmith

By the 1830s Jewish professionals also appear, such as Isaac Lyon, a surgeon, and J.L. Levinson a dentist. Another successful Jewish professional was the architect Benjamin Septimus Jacobs (1851-1931), who designed many buildings in Hull, including the Yorkshire Penny Bank (now Café Nero) in Queen Victoria Square.


Architect – Someone who designs buildings 
Guild – A group of merchants or craftspeople who set standards for their trade
Kosher – Food prepared according to Jewish laws
Occupation – A job or profession
Pawnbroker – Someone who lends money, in return for goods
Professional – Someone who does a skilled job
Thrive – To do well

Scroll down for a list of related links on this topic and see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Hull History Centre | 
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