30 January 2022
The Jews of Neath



The Jews were banished from Britain by an Edict of Expulsion in 1290 and did not return until 1655.  It was not until the following century that Jews are found in Wales and these numbers were swollen at the end of the ninteenth century by immigrants fleeing persecution in eastern Europe.

The banishment was not exclusive.  There were exceptions.  The most notable was that of Joachim Gaunse from Prague who came to England in 1581 to help reorganise copper mining at Keswick in Cumberland.  Later he was in Neath at the Aberdulais copper works.  He was able, in his words, to “search out both the nature and number of the hurtful humours that were naturally bred in copper ores.”  In 1584 he was recruited by Sir Walter Raleigh to serve on the first Virginia Company expedition to the New World.  Later he served as mining supervisor on the ill-fated Roanoke Expedition of 15951.  He was not immune from prosecution for being a Jew as shown in 1589 when he was arrested in Bristol for speaking, 'in the Hebrew tongue.' No further action was taken however which is not surprising as he had friends in the Privy Council, including Francis Walsingham who had recruited him in the first place.2

The centre of the Jewish population in South Wales in the eighteenth century was Swansea and indeed, the town is believed to be the site of the first Jewish community in the whole of Wales.  Jews had been travelling to Welsh towns and villages but it was in the eighteenth century that they could be seen to be establishing themselves as craftsmen and shopkeepers with roots in a particular location.  Harold Pollins, who wrote an article on the Swansea Jewish Community for the excellent JCR-UK website, quotes a number of authorities stating that the first Jews settled in Swansea in 1741 although he believes some may have been there ten years earlier.

Swansea was the hub and Jewish communities in the surrounding area were all dependant on the facilities at Swansea.  Small communities such as Neath could not afford a synagogue, a burial ground or indeed a rabbi, and had to travel to Swansea to worship and find their final resting place.

These early Jews came mostly from Eastern Europe.  In Russian occupied territories such as Lithuania and Poland, they were subjected to harsh conditions, particularly after the assassination of the Tsar in 1881, and they travelled west mainly to avoid persecution.  It is doubtful that Neath was ever a chosen destination.  Some wished to travel to America and a stay with relatives in the Swansea area was meant as a stepping stone to a greater adventure. Others went to London and moved further west from there.  The Jews in Britain suffered less than the Roman Catholics.  They did not compete for work in local industry and for the most part were accepted into society.


Historically there never was a large Jewish population in South Wales and this was especially the case in Neath.  A 1795 Directory3 shows just a single Jewish name, that of Jacob Cohen, pawnbroker.  This was almost certainly the same Jacob Cohen who lived in Swansea and died in 1819 aged about 46.  He was instrumental in setting up the first synagogue in Swansea a year before his death.  There is no evidence of him being a pawnbroker in Swansea but his wife was and their son later ran a business in Neath.

    Swansea Synagogue Foundation Stone

Of course, one may be lulled into the false premise that all biblical sounding names were Jews but this was not necessarily the case.  Research is also complicated by the fact that many Jews anglicised their names, e.g., Levi to Lewis and Moses to Morris.

One early resident in Neath was Levi or Levy Marks (1754-1828) whose origins are not known.  He is said to have volunteered in Neath as a soldier after the French invasion at Fishguard in 1797 and he would then have been in his 40s with a young family. Most likely he enlisted with the Neath Militia.4   Several of his children were born in Neath between 1795 and 1804 after which the family moved to Swansea and from there to Cardiff in about 1811.  Levi became a pawnbroker and his son Solomon was a watchmaker as were many other Jewish families.  In Neath Levy was also a dealer in used clothes (a slop dealer), living in Water Street5  and another Jew, Barnett Michael (1760-1805) carried on the same trade in the town at about that time.

Barnett died in 1805, probably in Swansea.  After his death his widow married Levy Marks who had by then become a widower.6  Barnett was the son of German born immigrant, David Michael, who was one of the earliest Jews recorded in Swansea.  The first synagogue in Swansea was built at the back of David Michael’s house in Wind Street.


Jacob Cohen’s son, Samuel Philip Cohen (1798 -1858), was married in St. Thomas’ church, Neath in 1823 to Fanny, the daughter of the Neath postmaster, William Howell.7  In order to do this, he was baptised the previous day.  Samuel was a watch and clock maker and music seller in New Street.8  He later moved to Bristol where he worked as an accountant before returning to Swansea.

His younger brother, Reuben Zaleg Cohen also had Neath connections, being in partnership with Henry Philip Mosely9 (1811-1902) as watchmakers and silversmiths.  The partnership was dissolved in 1836 due to Cohen’s debts.10 Henry Mosely was son of the Swansea watchmaker, Jacob Mosely, who’s name appears on the synagogue’s foundation stone.

The best known Neath family of Jewish heritage in the nineteenth century was the Mosely family and the Cohen and Mosely families were closely related; the sister of Jacob Cohen’s wife marrying Henry P Mosely’s father.  Samuel Cohen attended the baptism of his relative Samuel William Mosely (1808-1869) in St. Thomas’ church in 1827, when he was described in The Cambrian newspaper as 'an Israelite of the sect of Abraham.'   Samuel Mosely was married in the same church the next day.  His grandson was still taking kosher food and following many of the old traditions decades after the family had converted.11  Samuel worked as a cabinet maker and may have made the clock cases for his brother, Jacob.  He also became licensee of The Oddfellows public house.

Samuel was son of Isaac Mosely (1761-1836) who was brother to the Swansea watchmaker named on the synagogue foundation stone.  Isaac12 moved to Neath where his children Samuel William and Jacob were born.  Isaac appeared in the London Gazette in 181513 when he spent some time in gaol at Cardiff as an insolvent debtor.  He was then described as a shopkeeper.  Fourteen years later he was again noted as a debtor and this time his trade was given as clothes dealer.14

The last named Jacob (1804-1857) was another Jew who left the faith before marriage.  Jacob of Neath was a prolific clock-maker, many of his long-case clocks being adorned with the painting of a bird or a scene above the clock-face.

Jacob Mosely appears to have been a well-respected citizen.  He stood on several inquest juries in the town and also appeared on Grand Juries at the Quarter Sessions in Neath and in Cowbridge.   His talents were many.  Best known as a silversmith, watch-maker and clock-maker, he is also named at various times as a furniture broker, spirit dealer (1832), licensee at the Mackworth Arms in Green Street (1846-1852) and stood on the committee of the Queen Street East Building Society (1840) when they rented land on which to build nine houses. In 1842 he was appointed Chief Constable for the hundred of Neath Lower at the Cowbridge Quarter Sessions. (N.B. This was not a police appointment.)

There were times however when he made appearances at local courts under less commendable circumstances.  In 1835 he made a complaint against the rival firm of Cohen and Mosely who were silversmiths in the town and also ran a pawnbroker business.  Jacob’s wife had given some property to a John Rees to pledge at Cohen & Moseley’s.  The sole purpose of this transactions was so that a complaint could be made that the shop did not have a pawnbroker sign above their name on the shop as required by law.  Whilst the court regretted the action taken between cousins, they were bound by law to fine the defendants.

Perhaps taking on the role of landlord was a step too far as by 1848 bankruptcy proceedings had started which reached fruition in March 1852.15  This was probably the reason Jacob emigrated later that year to Melbourne, Australia with his daughter Kate on The Hibernia, arriving in October.  Jacob returned to Britain in 1854, alone, on The Eagle and passed away in Neath a couple of years later.

Jacob’s son, William Henry (1840-1883), was a photographer in the town and many Victorian photographs are endorsed with his name or the name of his widow Elizabeth, who carried on the business well into the twentieth century.

A clock made by Jacob Mosely


A synagogue was built in the town near the castle walls (behind the Moose Hall) entirely at the expense of one person, Lazarus Samuel, a pawnbroker.  He was a member of the Swansea Hebrew Congregation but also joined the congregation at the Merthyr synagogue.  To save the people of Neath from travelling for worship, he decided to construct a purpose-built synagogue in his home town.  The foundation stone in Neath was laid, by the benefactor’s wife on 14th April 1867 on land owned by Lazarus Samuel and the building possessed ‘all the appurtenances, insignia, and paraphernalia of synagogues of larger dimension.’  The ark was made of New Zealand teakwood, the reader’s desk of polished Spanish mahogany and there were two stained glass windows.  The capacity was said to be 30 in 1875.

From a map of the area, it may seem that the synagogue was sited in a run-down part of the town but a letter from a visitor in 1868 comments, 'It is situated in a very retired spot, the ground immediately surrounding it being tastefully laid out with grass plot, parterres of flowers, and fruit trees.'16

Lazarus Samuel was born in Warsaw around 1814 and had set up business as a jeweller in New Street initially before moving to the corner house joining Water Street and Wind Street.  Sometime before he died in 1874 the business had changed to that of pawnbroker.  Lazarus was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Townhill, Swansea, there being no burial place in Neath. His memorial reads:

In affectionate remembrance of David Lazarus Samuel, of Neath, who departed this life on 30th April 1874, aged 63. During his lifetime he was ever an upright and a straightforward man, God fearing and ever going in the path of righteousness. To his wife and children, he imparted his virtues. In the town where he lived he erected a synagogue, there performing his duty to his God until the end of his days. His loss is lamented by his sorrowing wife and children to whom he was ever an affectionate and devoted husband and father: and also, lamented by a circle of friends by whom in life, he was greatly respected and now much deplored. May his soul rest in peace.

By 1880 the synagogue was open just once a year for New Year and Pentecost.  It closed its doors completely a short time later.












OS Map of Neath showing the site of the synagogue and a clock made by Lazarus Samuel

Rachel, the daughter of Lazarus Samuel, continued with the pawnbroker business in Cattle Street and then in Bridge Street until her death in 1929.  By the time of the 1881 census, she was left to bring up five small children when her husband entered the asylum at Bridgend.

The trade of pawnbroker was often one filled by Jewish people.  Samuel Nathan (1842-1909) who has been born in Australia, had settled in Neath by the late 1860s, married a daughter of Lazarus Samuel and set up his shop in Church Place before moving to Market Street. The business remained in the family through his nephew George (1858-1925) until the latter’s death.


Numbers increased towards the end of the nineteenth and the start of the twentieth centuries though it is believed that the Jewish population of Welsh towns was never more than two percent.  Numbers in Swansea rose from about four hundred to about a thousand in the decade before the First World War.  In Neath numbers rose as well but, unlike many other towns in South Wales, there was never a Jewish ‘community’ in Neath; there were never more than a handful of Jewish families in the town.  The Jewish Year Book for 1939-40 numbered only 15 Jews in Neath.  In comparison Aberavon and Port Talbot numbered 46 and Swansea 565.  Statistics in these books however, were regarded as estimates rather than accurate numbers.

Immigrants to Neath at the start of the twentieth century were from Poland, Lithuania and Russia.  Israel Neft (1851-1920) was from Wilcomir in Lithuanian Russia and lived in London before moving to Greenfield Villas in London Road, Neath.  He was probably a dentist as several of his children became involved with dentistry.  In 1911 two of his daughters were manufacturing teeth and at the start of the First World War were noted as offering to sort soldiers’ teeth free of charge.

His daughter, Ida, was married from Pontardawe in 1909 to the Rev. Herbert Sandheim who for seven years was the rabbi in charge of the Swansea congregation.  He incurred debts with non-Jews and, falling out with his Swansea flock he emigrated to Canada in 1912.

The Neft family moved to Llanelli but another of Israel Neft’s daughters, Rosa, was married at Neath in 1915 to her cousin, a young Lithuanian born solicitor, Lewis Silkin and their eldest sons, Arthur and Samuel, were born there.  Lewis Silkin became a Member of Parliament in 1936 and was raised to the peerage as Baron Silkin of Dulwich in 1950.  Samuel followed his father into the legal profession and became a Q.C.  He too entered Parliament in 1964 and served as Attorney General between 1974 and 1979.  In 1985 he was created a life peer as Baron Silkin of Dulwich.

    The First Baron Silkin - courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Israel Struel (1873-1919) was born in Russia and set up business in Swansea as a clothier.  The press reported his draper’s business in financial difficulties in 190617 and a couple of years later he is to be found working as a draper and pawnbroker in Cattle Street, Neath.  Thirty years later his widow, Annie Struel was running the pawnbroker shop.   The family’s main store was established in The Parade where they advertised as 'The campers’, cyclists’ and hikers’ paradise'.  They moved from there to Orchard Street, next to the Gwyn Hall in November 1937 and later to Queen Street.

A private company was formed in 1935 to carry on business as 'clothiers, tailors, men’s, women’s and children’s outfitters, boot & shoe-makers etc…' and the directors named as Mrs Annie Struel, Oscar, Emanuel and Jacob Struel, all of Neath.

By 1962 Struel Bros., wholesalers had established themselves in Swansea.  The best-known family member was Malcolm Struel (1924-2012), son of Emanuel, who became chairman of Swansea Football Club and guided the club to much success in the Football League and became a director of the club in 1955.

Malcolm Struel in the dark glasses alongside John Toshack and others celebrating promotion to the top tier of the Football League in 1981.                                                                                              Wales Online

The Jews during the first half of the century were struggling for a national homeland. They received an unexpected boost in 1931 when a man from Neath left them £120,000 in his will; the biggest donation that the Jewish National Fund had received to that date.  The Fund had been created in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine for Jewish settlement. Isidor Michaelson (1852-1931) had been born in Russian Poland.  He made his fortune as a pioneer in Rhodesia, returning to the United Kingdom towards the end of the century. In 1921 he bought out the Glamorgan holdings of the Whitworth Estate and became a colliery owner.  He had very little or nothing to do with Jewish society and it was only during his retirement at Neath that Swansea Zionists brought his attention to the Jewish National Home project.  In Neath he lived at a house named Oakleigh in Hillside and by the terms of his will, after his wife’s death (in 1949) the house was given to the Salvation Army for a children’s convalescent home to be known as the ‘Isidor Michaelson Home’.18  The house became the home of the Poor Clare Colletine Monastery between 195019 and 2006. Why the house was never used for the purpose Michaelson intended is not clear but may be related to the fact that it was sited behind 'The Laurels' which became a children’s home.

Oakleigh House shortly before its demolition in 2008.               Photo: Sandra Davies

There were a lot more immigrants in the twentieth century who lived in Neath for a while and amongst them were:

Abraham Isaac Morris (1835-1906) a painter and glazier in Old Market Street.  He came from Russian Poland.  His home was in Alexander Street.

Hayman Lewis (1881-1978) a Russian draper (originally a travelling draper) who lived at Victoria Gardens.  Originally his name was Hayman Cavenson.  He received his naturalisation certificate in 1910.  Note that many citizens marked on their papers as ‘Russian’ were from Russian occupied countries such as Poland and Lithuania.

Mayer or Meyr Zaremski or Zarembski (1867-1910) was yet another Pole.  He was a painter and paper-hanger running his business from Cattle Street and then The Parade.  He was living in Neath when he was naturalised in 1903 but he died in Swansea.  In 1904 P Zarembski along with G Nathan and Mrs R Samuel were noted as Neath country members of the Swansea synagogue.

Samuel Supper or Super (1876-1946) was again from Poland.  He was a fancy goods dealer (1911), draper (1914) and later, outfitter and wardrobe dealer (1923), his shop being in Llantwit Road.  His wedding in December 1908 was the first ceremony to be held at the new synagogue in Aberavon.  He became naturalised in 1919 and died in Salford.

Louis (Lewis) Foner (born 1879) came to Swansea from Russia with his father Mendel (Morris).  Louis was billed as a ‘marine store dealer’ when he lived in London Road, Neath and ran a scrap metal business from James Street.  During the war as part of a government initiative he bought old newspapers for transportation to the paper mills.  His second wife, Dora Baddiel was a close relative of the comedian, David Baddiel.  His mother, Frida, set up a business in a Swansea arcade as ‘Madame Foner’ selling corsets and she engaged her daughters and a niece to manufacture them.  One of the daughters, Ange, had a corset shop in London Road before the First World War.  Madame Foner’s is still in business selling lingerie.

Philip Zeiler (1869-1928) was a Russian.  He travelled to London in about 1893 and worked for a few months in a tobacco company before moving to Wales. His wife had been the manageress of a Russian carpet company and Zeiler started his own business after borrowing £100 capital from her.  He ran ‘Melyn Outfitters’ in Briton Ferry Road and opened another branch in Skewen.  His slogan was 'Cheaper than Town'.  His son, Louis (1896-1966), took over the business and moved into town in 1931, running a shop from Angel Street and later Orchard Street. His slogan was ‘Tailors of Distinction’.  Moses was the oldest of Philip Zeilier’s twelve children.  He had a university education at Cardiff before joining the Royal Fusiliers in December 1915 and  he lost his life at Bullecourt in May 1917.  He is remembered on the Arras Memorial to the Missing.20

Herman Leitz (1867-1956) was born in Vilnius, Lithuania.  He came to Neath setting up a business as a clothier and draper in Windsor Road about 1902.  Most of the family moved to London.  However, one branch remained in the town and his grandson John Leitz (1923-1995) was very well known in the scouting movement, becoming District Scoutmaster.  'The John Leitz Training Ground', a campsite on the edge of Craig Gwladys, is named after him.  Herman Leitz’s eldest son, also named Herman, joined the Royal Fusiliers in November 1915.  He was killed in action at Ypres in August 1917 and is remembered at the Menin Gate Memorial.21

Aberavon had its own synagogue from 1907 and the Lewis, Leitz, Struel and Zeiler families were all members of the Aberavon synagogue in the 1920s.


There were never many Jewish families in Neath.  Sometimes numbers were swollen by the mere size of family but it is doubtful if there were more than half a dozen Jewish families in the town at any one time.

None of them appear to have been involved with the politics of the town, although John Leitz did become a Community Councillor, and they remained amongst the merchants, craftsmen and traders that made Neath a busy market town.

Few of the families stayed for more than one generation, usually moving to Neath from elsewhere in the United Kingdom and then moving on.  Only the Mosely, Struel and Zeiler families remained resident for a longer term.


1. MB Donald, Elizabethan Copper 1956 and Jewish Chronicle 12.1.1900

2. I Abrahams, Joachim Gaunse, A Mining Incident in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, in Transactins of Jewish Historical Society of England ; and Jewish Chronicle 12.1.1900. Cai Parry-Jones (2017) contests the evidence - or lack of it - that Gaunse helped to develop Neath's copper smelting works.

3. 1795 British Trade Directory

4. Jewish Chronicle 25.6.1858 letter from Mark Marks.

5. Resiant lists 1794 and 1799, N.A.S.

6. Alison Sands (descendant).

7. Neath Parish Register

8. 1822 Pigot’s Directory

9. The name is spelled several different ways and often appears as Moseley.

10. Perry’s Bankrupt Gazette 26.11.1836

11. Alison Sands.

12. Buried Jewish cemetery, Swansea 1835

13. London Gazette 1.7.1815

14. London Gazette 22.12.1829.  Isaac is named in one directory as a slop-dealer.

15, London Gazette 5.3.1852

16. Jewish Chronicle 22.5.1868

17. Cambrian Daily Leader 23.5.1906 and 22.6.1906

18. Jewish Chronicle 16.12.1949

19. Neath Guardian 28.4.1950

20. Neath and Briton Ferry in the First World War p. 228.. Jonathon Skidmore 2018

21. Neath and Briton Ferry in the First World War p.189.. Jonathon Skidmore 2018


Wales’ Clock and Watchmakers… William Linnard 2003.

Watch & Clockmakers of Swansea… Joan Greenlaw 1993

The Jews of South Wales: Historical Studies…Ursula R. Q. Henriques. 1993

The Jews of Wales… Cai Parry-Jones 2017

National Archives naturalisation papers

Cambrian, Western Mail and Neath Guardian newspapers.

My thanks also to David Morris (WGAS), Mike Hawkins (JHASW Heritage-trails), Jeff Coleman (GFHS), Alison Sands and Leonard Cohen (descendant of Jacob Cohen), Christine Rose (descendant of Mosely family), Dr. Bronwen Bennett (Australia, descendent of Samuel Mosely).










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