The epitome of a diverse community: Manchester Jewish Museum

History of arrival and settlement - Where did Manchester's Jewish Community come from. A blog post by Xinran Meng.

By Sarah Jones · July 18, 2023

Xinran Meng is a MA Cultural Practice student from the University of Manchester. Xinran Meng has been on placement with Manchester Histories. His placement has involved doing some historical research on the museums, and libraries that form the HiDDEN network to produce a series of blog posts to promote their work. His second post tells the story of the Jewish Museum in Manchester.


The Manchester area was one of the first Jewish settlements in the UK. The history of Jewish settlement here can be traced back to the early 18th century. At that time, Jewish people mainly came to the Manchester area from Holland and Portugal. Initially, the community was small, with only a few dozen families living in the city.  

The Jewish people at that time were mainly engaged in freight, handicrafts and small trades. However, as the textile industry developed and Manchester became a major commercial center, more and more Jewish people began to settle in the area. By the mid-19th century, the Jewish population had grown to about 500. 

 The Jewish community in Manchester is diverse, with Jewish people coming from different backgrounds and countries. Many early settlers came from Germany and the Netherlands, while others came from Russia, Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. Despite these differences, communities are often united by shared religious and cultural traditions. 

Today, Manchester’s Jewish community is one of the largest and most active in the UK, with an estimated population of around 30,000. The community is lively and active, with many synagogues, schools, and community organizations. However, the community also faces challenges, including discrimination and anti-Semitism. 

History After the Star of David – MANCHESTER JEWISH MUSEUM 

First opened in 1984, MANCHESTER JEWISH MUSEUM is housed in the (former) 1874 Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Cheetham Hill, one of Manchester’s most diverse areas. The original MANCHESTER JEWISH MUSEUM was just a small exhibition room in a synagogue in northern Manchester. But with subsequent extensive rebuilding and expansion, the new museum included a new gallery, vegan café, shop and study studio and kitchen, as well as a revival of the old building of synagogue known as “The Gem” (H.A. Meek, 1995) Complete restoration of the synagogue. 

Collections and the Holocaust – Museum Collections 

The Manchester Jewish Museum has a collection of more than 31,000 objects, some of which document the story of Jewish migration and settlement in Manchester; other very unusual collections come from interviews and records of Holocaust survivors and refugees from World War II. 

From 1941 to 1945, the Nazis persecuted various ethnic and political groups in Europe, and Jews were massacred extensively and systematically. Under the leadership of the Nazi Party and the coordination of the SS, all government departments, commercial companies, and civil organizations in Germany participated in matters related to the Holocaust. Other victimized non-Jewish groups included Poles, other Slavs, Soviet civilians and Soviet prisoners of war, Roma, Communists, homosexuals, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the disabled.  

At this time, a considerable number of Jewish people fled to Britain from all over Europe, many of whom settled in Manchester. Most of these museum collections come from these sources and have become quite unique and precious memories and reflections on the suffering of the time (The Grand Lodge of Scotland, 2017).  

Collection highlights include a diary written by a refugee girl in Kindertransport, a Russian washboard used as a cricket bat, an English/Hebrew teapot, film footage of Oswald Mosley marching through Manchester, items produced by Jewish internees from the Isle of Man, The objects made by the detainees, along with a collection of paraphernalia, which came from a Holocaust survivor. 

Diverse past and future-present museum events 

The current museum has become a showcase of Jewish community culture in Manchester, dedicated to letting people understand and experience local Jewish culture. From the story of three Romanian Jewish daughters growing up in 20th century Manchester, to a Passover experience of food and customs, to a comedy show about Manchester’s first-ever female rabbi and her struggle for acceptance. The current Manchester Jewish Museum is dedicated to linking the past and the future of Manchester, showing part of the multiculturalism of Greater Manchester. 

HA Meek, The Synagogue, Phaidon, London, 1995, p.199 

The Grand Lodge of Scotland [online], (2017). Wayback Machine. [Viewed 20 March 2023]. Available from: