Shining a light on the Jewish community at the heart of Devon
This year marks a very special landmark in the life of the city of Exeter. The Exeter Synagogue marks its 250th anniversary.
As the second oldest extant synagogue outside London, it has a rich history that stretches back to the early 17th century. But the story could go back even further, according to Helen Fry, the author of The Jews of Exeter: An Illustrated History.
There is evidence of a much older Medieval worshipping Jewish community in Exeter before their expulsion from England in 1290.
Helen's book, pictured right, is the first fully illustrated history on its subject and opens a window on to Exeter's Jewish history across the centuries.
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It is as comprehensive as it is interesting and she certainly knows her subject well, having already written Jews in North Devon During the Second World War and edited The Last Jews of Cornwall.
Although based in London, she has a close relationship with Exeter, having lived in the city for 1tenyears in the 1990s.
In her book, she discovers the characters of the Jewish community but doesn't ignore the tangible reminders that remain.
Several chapters are devoted to Exeter's Georgian synagogue and the burial grounds. The building itself is a rare gem of the Anglo-Jewish heritage. The Grade II-listed building with stucco white front has changed little since its foundation 250 years ago. The burial ground in Magdalen Street adjacent to Bull Meadow pre-dates the Synagogue in answer to the need to avoid transporting bodies to London for burial.
Perhaps the biggest threat came from developers in the 1970s who were hoping to bring a bypass through. The Jewish community realised that the lease had actually expired. But the planners changed their minds and the freehold was purchased.
The book concludes with some fascinating insights including Census returns, a list of rabbis and even pedlars certificates.
The Jews of Exeter: An Illustrated History by Helen Fry is published by Halsgrove at £24.99.