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The Suffolk context

The first thing to say about Jews in Suffolk is that they have always been very few in number. 

Jewish communities are known to have lived in Bury, Ipswich, Bungay, Eye and Sudbury during the Middle Ages but little is known about these households.  In 1190, fifty seven Jews were massacred in Bury St Edmunds and the rest of the community expelled from the town.  A hundred years later, all Jews were expelled from England by royal decree.

Tradition has it that Oliver Cromwell invited Jews to return in 1656.  (This idea of a formal ‘invitation’ is a disputed and some people believe that, as Jews began to arrive, they were tolerated if they lived discretely.)

By 1750, a small community was establishing itself in Ipswich.  These people are thought to have come from the Netherlands which had close ties with the port of Ipswich.  Dutch ports such as Flushing and Hook of Holland are just a good day’s sail across the North Sea.

By the end of C18th, the Ipswich Jewish community had raised enough money to build a synagogue near the port (Rope Walk) large enough to accommodate about forty people.  They also bought land for a cemetery nearby (near Fore Street).  The cemetery is still there and has about thirty six headstones.  

You can judge from the size of the synagogue and cemetery that the community was small.  It was at its largest during the early C19th (exact numbers unknown) and then dwindled over the years.  By the time of the  1851 census, the Suffolk community was reduced to one household in Eye and five in Ipswich.  It seems that the pull of larger centres of Jewish life was strong and people moved away.

When Jewish migrants from the Russian Empire arrived in numbers in UK from 1880 onwards, they settled  mainly in Stepney in East London, with others in cities and industrial towns such as Manchester, Tynemouth, and South Shields.  Suffolk was not a destination for them.  There was no Jewish community in the county to speak of by then and even the synagogue in Ipswich had been pulled down.