Museum seeks relics of 18th Century Sephardi community in London

Curators are seeking menorahs, dreidls and pre-1800 furniture


Relics of Sephardi Jewish life in London are being sought for an exhibition depicting an 18th century Chanukah celebration at the Museum of the Home in Hoxton.

Curators are seeking menorahs, dreidls and pre-1800 furniture as well as records of anecdotes illustrating the life of the Sephardim who founded the modern community in the 1650s.

Documentation of Jewish life is under-represented in the museum, curators admit, despite the fact that it is located within a couple of miles of where the immigrants settled on arrival in the UK.

“I’ve found Jewish history of the period under-represented generally in British history books,” said Louis Platman, assistant curator at the former Geffrye Museum. He will supervise the creation of a 1745 Jewish drawing room set up for a fully-fledged Chaunkah celebration.

That depends on finding the descendants of poorly-documented early settlers and persuading them to loan or donate Judaica and other family heirlooms to the exhibition, which will open in November. “Scouring reports of London life in the 1600s and 1700s, I’ve often found only one reference to the Jewish community and then only naming the wealthiest families,” said Mr Platman, whose own Jewish heritage is Ashkenazi.

“One problem is that the early community was quite fluid, moving between London and Amsterdam, which was more tolerant of the Jews who arrived from Spain after the Inquisition earlier than society in London.

“I will be visiting the National Archives in the coming weeks to see what further information I can find, and we have engaged a specialist researcher to work with Bevis Marks and other contacts in the Sephardic community to see what we can gather.”

While it may be lacking a menorah, the museum already has a jewel of Sephardic life in its collection — a 1734 prayerbook, which is its most recent acquisition. “It’s a book for everyday use written in Judeo-Spanish which caught my eye because it also contains special prayers for Chanukah,” said Mr Platman.

“It was published in Amsterdam, which was the hub of Judeo-Spanish publishing at the time, but although by the 1700s the Sephardic population living here would have spoken English — many were integrated into the upper echelons of English society — prayers and religions teachings would still have been given in Judeo-Spanish and Portugese, so a book like this would have been a common object at home and in the synagogue.”

Archives show nearly 500 Sephardim living in London by 1695, with the community tripling in London in 50 years, although by then they were far outnumbered by Ashkenazi immigrants.


Sephardi descendants with stories to tell or objects to lend should contact


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive