The Jewish archive collections at the University of Southampton

The Jewish archive collections at the University of Southampton is one of the most important Jewish archives in Britain. Professor Tony Kushner and Head of Archives Karen Robson explain how the archive formed.

Claude Montefiore, part of whose library is housed at the University of Southampton [MS 1/Phot/39 ph3410

1990 could be seen as one of the significant years in the development of the Special Collections at the University of Southampton, for it was then that the Anglo-Jewish Archives collections arrived at our door.

Professor Tony Kushner from the Parkes Institute at the University was the driving force in a Working Party on Jewish Archives in the 1980s. Here he explains something of the genesis of the Anglo-Jewish Archives collections and their journey to Southampton:

“Whilst it was not on the same scale and financing of the American Jewish Historical Society (whose collections are now housed at Cincinnati), the JHSE in the 1950s started collecting Jewish archives. This was under a sub-group called Anglo-Jewish Archives. This important collection was housed but not owned by University College, London, and was not made very accessible to scholars. In the later 1980s, I created and chaired a Working Party on Jewish Archives with both academics and representatives of the major record-keeping professional world in the UK. It was aimed at creating awareness amongst the archive world of the importance of Jewish materials. 

The problem of Anglo-Jewish Archives came to a head in the late 1980s as UCL made clear it would no longer temporarily house this growing collection. As chair of the Working Party, I tried various options but ultimately it was the University of Southampton which stepped forward to offer a home to his material, adding it to the Jewish collections (Claude Montefiore was the first president of the then University College, and the James Parkes Library and archive) was already there.”


Karen Robson, Head of Archives at Southampton, continues the tale:

Southampton collects its Jewish archival material within the context of a national framework agreed amongst archive repositories in the wake of recommendations of the Working Party on Jewish Archives and as part of its agreed collecting policy, details of which can be found on its website. Southampton’s collections relate to Anglo-Jewry (encompassing papers of individuals and families and of organisations with a national or sometimes international focus), whilst London Metropolitan Archives has become the repository of archives of London-based organisations. Archives of local communities and organisations have found their home in local authority record offices. The British Library considers collections of figures of national significance.

Image 2:

Arrival of boxes of Anglo-Jewish Archives material in 1990

Rolling stack accommodating archive collections in one of the strongrooms 2021

It is no exaggeration to say the arrival of the collections of Anglo-Jewish Archives at Southampton in 1990 transformed the scale and breadth of the University’s Jewish archival holdings. The acquisition of Anglo-Jewish archival material has continued unabated in the last thirty years and the material now amounts to around 3.5 million items in several hundred collections, with the majority of the material dating from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.





Belgian soldiers in a cabin ward at Allington Manor Sanitorium, 1917, a property owned by Lord and Lady Swaythling that was given for use as a hospital during the First World War. [MS 383 A4000/6/1/13]

The Jewish collections include material for a range of individuals and national organisations as well as material relating to communities. Papers of individuals include those of Cecil Roth, of Selig Brodetsky, private papers of Chief Rabbis Joseph Herman Hertz, Sir Israel Brodie and Hermann Adler, papers of Neville and Harold Laski and their parents, of members of the Henriques family, including Sir Basil Henriques, papers of the performer and writer David Kossoff, correspondence of Frederick Dudley Samuel, from the front line in World War I, sermons of Rabbi Abraham Cohen, papers of Sir Robert Waley Cohen and of William Frankel, correspondence between Mrs Joseph and her sister Lady Samuels and papers of Lady Swaythling. The collections also encompass material of less well-known individuals which offer a fascinating insight into many different facets of the Anglo-Jewish experience. The forty five volumes of the ῾journal of a minor Anglo-Jewish communal official’ kept by Samuel Rich over a period of 1904-49, for instance, are an eloquent commentary on developments in the Jewish community in London, at the Jews’ Free School, where Rich taught, and on national and international events. The experience of Jewish refugees in Great Britain in the 1930 and 1940s, is documented in, among others, papers of Adler family from Vienna, who were befriended by Cecil and Joan Stott and papers of the Van der Zyl family, which includes material of Rabbi Werner Van der Zyl relating to his time at the Mooragh Internment Camp on the Isle of Man.

Report of the gentleman’s sub-committee of the Association for the Protection of Girls, Women and Children, 1890: now part of the Jewish Care archive collection [MS 173/2/2/1]

The archives of organisations similarly encompass a vast spectrum of activities within the Jewish community, including philanthropy and social work, education, women’s rights, religious practices and observances. The Jewish Board of Guardians, the London Board of Shechita, the Anglo-Jewish Association, the editorial correspondence of the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, the Union of Jewish Women, the World Union of Progressive Judaism and the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, the Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade, pressure groups such as Conscience and the ‘35s’ or the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry are just some of the organisations represented. The Library also holds extensive material for the Institute of Jewish Affairs and the British Section of the World Jewish Congress, the latter of which provides an invaluable source for the situation of Jewish communities in Nazi occupied Europe for the 1930s and 1940s. Within the archives of Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld is a large section of material relating to the work of the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council its refugee work and its reconstruction and rescue work in post war Europe.

Refugee children rescued by Rabbi Schonfeld and the CRREC on board the ship bringing them to the UK from Poland, 1946 [MS183/1006/1]

The extent of the material held at Southampton has led to it being one of the leading repositories for Jewish archives in Western Europe. The collections continue to grow, although the covid-19 pandemic has impacted, as it has impacted on so many other aspects of life, the transfer of collections in the last year. We are always happy to talk to potential donors of collections that would fit within the areas of our collecting policy. You can contact us at

The University of Southampton’s Special Collections has purpose-built archival accommodation, including an exhibition gallery, and professionally qualified staff to curate the collections. The collections are available for all bona fide researchers. Alongside the Archives and Rare Books searchroom, where researchers can access the physical collections we have a secure seminar room which we use to host teaching and research skills sessions as well as visits. Details of our collections are available online via the Special Collections website and we maintain an active social media presence, with many of our weekly blogs featuring material from the Jewish collections.

Photograph of Michael Sherbourne, who was involved with translation work for the organisation, taking part in a demonstration with members of the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry [MS 434 A4249/7/2]

In parallel to its work as a repository for Jewish archives, the University of Southampton initiated, and has continued to conduct, a survey of Jewish archival material in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. This survey is both a means to bring together information about material on Anglo-Jewry held in the public and private sphere:

The material that we hold provides a rich source for the study of the Jewish community in the UK, as well as for many other communities of the diaspora. The collections support a wide range of research activity not only for those studying at Southampton but from scholars from across the world.