Synagogue no longer open, but community still active.
Canterbury Jewish Community consists of members from all Jewish denominations and holds a number of social events each year. Many of its members also belong to one of the other communities in Kent.
The following is published on the Kent Family History Society web site:
In 1762 a Synagogue was built in St Dunstan’s Street Canterbury but with the coming of the railway it had to be moved as it was standing where the St Dunstan’s level crossing was about to be built. In 1848 Sir Moses Montefiore laid down the foundation stone in King Street of the rather unusual Egyptian style building pictured below. It included a bathhouse in the grounds (Mikvah). The Jewish congregation had declined by the 1920s and both buildings were sold. Initially St Alphege church used the synagogue as a parish hall but more recently they have become a recital room and music store for The King’s School.
Jews in Canterbury – documents in the cathedral archives confirm a Jewish community in the city in 1180 AD. One of the leading members, Jacob the Jew, lived on the corner of High Street and Stour Street; now The Abode hotel. Other records attest to Canterbury’s Jewish quarter being centred in this area now bounded by High Street, Stour Street, Jewry Lane and White Horse Lane. But in those days Jewry Lane and White Horse Lane were one street, which Hasted calls Cross Street, and Stour Street was Hethenmanne Lane. In Hethenmanne Lane there was a Jewish school and a Synagogue. In the medieval era church law prohibited Christians from carrying out money-lending as a business. But it was a necessary financial services that Jews were able to provide. In 1192 when King Richard the Lionhearted was ransomed it was the Canterbury Jews who were charged with collecting together the ransom; estimated to be the equivalent of two billion in today’s terms. It is said that the King of France offered a similar amount to keep King Richard imprisoned! The ransom was raised largely in precious metal and plate and stored in the cellar of a building on the corner of Stour Street and Jewry Lane. To ensure that the entire amount did not go missing on its way to Germany it was dispatched in small quantities.
Becoming rich through money lending did not endear Jews to their Christian neighbours and coupled with other events they became greatly disliked throughout Europe. King Edward I of England made Jews wear yellow stars and created an exorbitant tax only for them which eventually became impossible to pay. By 1290 Edward I issued the Edict of Expulsion aimed at clearing the Jews from his kingdom and their assets went to the royal exchequer. A Charter of Christ Church Priory held in Canterbury Cathedral Archives dating from this period names several Canterbury Jews, and lists the value and rents of the tenements where they lived. A few Jews converted to Christianity to stay in England but the majority left the country. Hence from 1290 there were no known Jews resident in Canterbury until after Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth government rescinded the Edict in 1656.
A Jewish Cemetery was founded in 1760 in the St Dunstan’s area and was the only cemetery for Jewish interments in East Kent. As the Jewish population dwindled in Canterbury the cemetery became neglected. It was restored by the City Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews in 2000 with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The cemetery lies behind the houses at the lower end of Whitstable Road. The entrance behind number 26 is not easily seen from the road and is kept locked. To arrange access telephone: 01227 862 190.
There is no longer a Jewish place of worship in Canterbury. The nearest is in Medway. However, the University of Kent has an international Jewish Society that hold regular Friday meetings