As a matter of fact, some scholars presuppose that Jews’s single settlements were traced in London since the Roman invasion in 41 A.D., although the first documentary proof of their presence appears only in 1128. Others claim that the first written records of their settlement in England date back to the time of the Norman Conquest. There is no evidence of their existence in England earlier then they were brought by William the Conqueror from Rouen to London about 1170. In accordance with William of Malmesbury’s observations, the earliest reference to a collective Jewish settlement is about 1115, where the “Jew street”ť is mentioned.
From the time of the Jews’ first arrival in the capital of Britain they suffered from prejudice and brutality. The massacre of the Jews at Richard I coronation in 1189 was a proof of the attitude towards them, the king never punished the rioters. In 1194 the “Ordinance of the Jewry”ť was passed, it made Westminster the seat of the Exchequer of the Jews. Due to it the Jews gained spiritual domination and erected several synagogues.
In the times of so called the “Baron’s War”ť, the Jews of London served a buffer between the king and the barons. They grew more and more oppressed and condemned for their activities and customs in 1271, for instance, hundreds of Jews were hanged on suspicion of adulterating the coinage. Generally, they were prohibited to acquire London property. 1283 saw the closure of all Jewish synagogues around the city.
Despite the anti-Jewish feeling spreading in London, the Jewish population inhabited England from the times of the Norman Conquest until the Expulsion in 1290 by a decree of King Edward I. After the Expulsion the Jews’ properties fell into the hands of the king, and from then on to the seventeenth century London was occasionally visited by Jews. In 1283 the community being expelled altogether, it would be another 350 years before Jews could return to Britain and London in particular. However, Cromwell felt necessity in their financial support and allowed some of them to stay on its territory in 1656. By 1677 the number of Jews residing in the capital of Britain increased significantly, still they continued to be regarded as rivals in foreign trade. Along with the petition of Thomas Viollet, other attempts against them were made in 1660s.
All the same Jews continuously made efforts to integrate into British life legally and reside in London officially. By the middle of the eighteenth century they accumulated wealth due to the foreign trade and in 1753 the Jewish Naturalization Act was signed. Though it was due only for several months, the act together with the parliamentary struggle increased the Jewish influence in the city. Jewish representatives occupied the posts of aldermen, sheriffs, and even a mayor. Historians reduce to a common denominator that Jewish Emancipation took place starting from 1858 when the Jews took seats in Parliament. At the same time there developed the Jewish culture, including Jewish press in London which came into existence together with “The Voice of Jacob”ť and “The Jewish Chronicle”ť in 1841. This period is characterized as flourishing in their struggle towards complete independence. In 1850s numerous attempts were made to consolidate the London community. The Board of Guardians, the Jewish Congregation Union and other societies were founded as well as the Reform Synagogue was made. In the nineteenth century the London Jewish community faced the same difficulties which it had at the beginning of the twentieth century, as systematic and adequate organization of all branches of activity was needed.
Today Jewish life and heritage enjoys its Renaissance in London. As Jewish Heritage Day is annually celebrated, Jews from all over the world may come to explore London Old Jewry area’s landmarks.