There has been a Jewish community in Birmingham since at least the late 18th century. Although small at first it grew during the 19th century and by 1851 the population was about 700. By 1900 the population reached 3,200 and a Jewish area developed around Hurst Street and Holloway Head where many historic Jewish buildings can still be seen. Since 1947 numbers have declined to around 3,000 as many people emigrated to Israel or moved to cities with larger Jewish communities. The old Jewish area has disappeared and new facilities have been set up in the suburbs including homes for the elderly and synagogues in Moseley and Solihull.
The archive dates from the early 19th century and contains a wealth of information about Jewish life in Birmingham and the community’s involvement with the arts, social work, politics, business and many other aspects of life. Most of the papers come from Singers Hill Synagogue in Blucher Street, the oldest synagogue building in the city still in use, and include the minutes of the governing Council and various sub-committees which were responsible for the cemeteries and burial laws, finance, and providing kosher meat. The papers of the Secretary to the Congregation include death and marriage registration records, correspondence about property and investments, publications and records of synagogue services.
The archive also includes collections of papers from charities and societies which were set up by the Congregation in the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the earliest was the Hebrew Philanthropic Society, set up in 1829 to distribute poor relief to the community. This was followed in 1840 by the Birmingham Hebrew School and the collection includes the school records and those of the Birmingham Hebrew Educational Aid Society. Other 19th century charity records include the Jewish Board of Guardians and the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society.
The collection also contains records of arts and social clubs established from the late 19th century onwards, including the Jewish Arts Society which was famous for its Dramatic Section, the Jewish Literary Society and youth organizations such as the Young Israel Society and the Jewish Youth Council. The collection also reflects the prominent role that members of the community have played in civic affairs beginning in 1839 when David Barnett was elected to Birmingham Town Council. Since then many members of the community have sat on the City Council and there have been a number of Jewish Mayors. Also preserved in the archive are personal and research papers of the historian Zoe Josephs and two collections of family papers belonging to Constance Davis and her cousin Dorothy Gillman.
Detailed catalogues of these collections are available
in Birmingham City Archives.
You can also download pdf versions of the catalogues below:
Birmingham Hebrew Congregation Catalogue - JA
Birmingham Jewish Literary and Arts Society - MS 2520
Birmingham Jewish Youth Council (1826-1997) - MS 2522
Birmingham Young Israel Society (c.1870-c.1931) - MS 2523
Papers of Zoe Josephs (1826-1997) - MS 2524
Papers of Dorothy Gillman (20th century) - MS 2525
Papers of Constance Davis (20th century) - MS 2526
Birmingham Shechita Board (1826-1997) - MS 2529
Birmingham Hebrew Educational Aid and Clothing Society (1826-1997) - MS 2539