The Jews of Exeter

This book was published by Halsgrove in July 2013 to mark the 250th anniversary of the foundation of Exeter synagogue in 1763. Launched at the Guildhall, Exeter on 22 July 2013 hosted by BBC broadcaster Judi Spiers.

In the summer of 2013 Exeter synagogue commemorates its 250th anniversary. As the second oldest extant synagogue outside London (Plymouth the oldest), it has a rich history stretching back to the early 1700s. There is also evidence for a significant Jewish presence in Exeter in Medieval times before their expulsion from England in 1290.

Exeter’s first purpose-built synagogue was erected in 1763 and is now a Grade II Listed Building. The old burial ground in Magdalen Road on the edge of Bull Meadow was acquired in 1757, with the earliest legible tombstone dating back to 1807. Over a period of two and a half centuries, the Jews of Exeter have contributed to the wider Devon and Exeter community, including commerce, business, the arts, politics and civic life. Notable figures throughout its 250 year history includes Alexander Alexander, optician to King George IV; goldsmiths & silversmiths who registered their marks at the Exeter Assay Office; Charles Samuels, eminent picture frame & painting restorer; and Heschel Smith who invented and patented the contraceptive pill.

With over 200 photographs, the book offers the first fully illustrated history of the subject and a window into the different centuries of Exeter’s Jewish history, focusing on the personalities and figures who shaped the community. It also lists burials in the old Jewish cemetery in Magdalen Street and the new Jewish burial section in the municipal cemetery at Exwick, thus providing important information for genealogists and family historians. Over a period of two and a half centuries the Jews of Exeter have contributed significantly to society, including commerce, business, the arts, politics and civic life.  The synagogue still functions as a place of worship today with an active communal life.


Exeter’s Georgian synagogue is one of the rare gems of Anglo-Jewish heritage. The Grade II Listed building with stucco white front that has survived for nearly three centuries has changed little since its foundation two hundred and fifty years ago. As the third oldest synagogue in the country and second oldest outside London (Plymouth being a year older), regular services are still held and it is a thriving community today. The discreet unassuming place of worship is located in Synagogue Place, the only Jewish named street in the city.

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