My Ancestor was a Chut: More on Dutch and English Jews

The Chuts” Synagogue Sandy’s Row London

After I wrote my last post saying I was going to put aside for now any attempt to find my four times great-grandfather’s family in Holland, I decided to look more generally into the question of why a Dutch Jew would have emigrated from Holland to England in the late 18th century.  After all, life seemed to be pretty good for the Jews in Amsterdam at that point.  They had acquired full legal rights as citizens, many were comfortable both socially and economically, and England was in fact still forty years away from giving Jews the same legal rights as Christian residents.  Why would someone have left Amsterdam to move to London?

Su Leslie of Shaking the Tree mentioned in a comment that she had seen some episodes of the British version of Who Do You Think You Are involving famous British Jews and recalled that there had been discussion of an immigration of Jews from Holland to England in the late 18th century.  I decided to search on line for more information and learned that there was in fact a whole community of Dutch Jews who settled in London during that time.  My research led me to several websites discussing this community, including the Bishopsgate Institute website describing a recent oral history project about this community being sponsored by the Institute and created under the direction of Rachel Lichtenstein, a well-known writer and artist.  According to this site:

The oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in London, Sandys Row in Spitalfields, was established by Dutch Jewish immigrants in 1854, who began arriving in the city from the 1840s onwards. They came in search of a better life, rather than fleeing persecution like the thousands of Ashkenazi Jews who came after them in the 1880s from the Pale of Settlements.  Mostly from Amsterdam, many settled in a small quarter of narrow streets in Spitalfields known as the Tenterground. Here they continued to practise the trades they had bought with them from Holland, which were predominately cigar making, diamond cutting and polishing, and slipper and cap making. Many small workshops were established in the area and businesses were passed on within generations of families.

With their own practises and customs, many of which were different from other Ashkenazi Jewish groups, they became a distinctive, tight knit community of about a thousand people. To the frustration of the more established Anglo-Jewish population living in the area at the time, ‘the Chuts’ (as they were known locally) refused to join any of the existing synagogues…

Sandys Row Synagogue

Sandys Row Synagogue (Photo credit: FarzanaL)

So my four times great grandfather Hart Levy Cohen was a Chut—a term I’d never heard before and a community I’d never known about before.  Other sites confirmed this information and also provided some other details.  Wikipedia provided this explanation for the name “Chuts.”

The origin of the name Chuts is uncertain. A popular assumption is that it derives from the Dutch word goed (meaning “good”) and is imitative of the foreign-language chatter that others heard. It is also Hebrew חוץ for “outside” or “in the street” and may have been applied to the Dutch Jews of London either because they were socially isolated or because many were street vendors. Another possibility is that the Hebrew word would have appeared increasingly in Amsterdam synagogue records as more and more emigrated to London, and others who followed would have “gone chuts” (i.e., emigrated).

Sandys Row Synagogue, London

Sandys Row Synagogue, London (Photo credit: nicksarebi)

The About Jewishness website revealed where in London the Chuts lived:

They settled mostly in a small system of streets in Spitalfields known as the Tenterground, formerly an enclosed area where Flemish weavers stretched and dried cloth on machines called tenters (hence the expression “on tenterhooks”). By the 19th century, the site had been built upon with housing, but remained an enclave where the Dutch immigrants lived as a close-knit and generally separate community. Demolished and rebuilt during the twentieth century, the area is now bounded by White’s Row, Wentworth Street, Bell Lane and Toynbee Street (formerly Shepherd Street).

I looked up these streets on the map of London and was not surprised that this area is very close to New Goulston Street where my ancestors were living in 1841.

The About Jewishness site also provided some insight into what happened to this community and perhaps why my ancestors left London and moved to the US.  According to this site, “the successful introduction of machinery for the mass-production of cigarettes ultimately led to the collapse of the cigar-making economy on which the Chuts community depended. Many Chuts returned to improved conditions in Amsterdam, some emigrated further afield to places such as Australia and the USA, some assimilated into other Jewish families, and some eventually lost their Jewish identity altogether.”

In addition, the huge influx of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century caused tensions between the older established Chuts community and the newer immigrants, most of whom were poor, not as well skilled, and not used to living in a big city.  Interestingly, the Chuts community had traditions and practices that made them different both from the older Sephardic community and from the newer Eastern European Ashkenazi community.  Again, from the About Jewishness site:

[T]he Chuts were treated with suspicion by other Jews because the former had developed specific customs and practices, many of their families having lived in Amsterdam since the first synagogues were established there in the early years of the 17th century. Uniquely in Amsterdam, Ashkenazim (so-called “German Jews”) and Sephardim (so-called “Spanish Jews”) lived in close proximity for centuries, resulting in a cultural blend not found elsewhere. Most remarkably, the Dutch Jews were well accustomed to the sea, and ate seafoods considered not kosher by other Jewish communities.

From this information, it seems reasonable to infer a couple of things.  First, it seems that despite the fact that the Amsterdam Jewish community was fairly well-established, there must have been those, my ancestor Hart among them, who believed that there was greater opportunity for financial success in London.  These Dutch Jews decided to emigrate in order to achieve greater economic security.  Secondly, it seems that at some point many of those Dutch Jews either left or assimilated into the greater Jewish or non-Jewish society.  Some may have left because economic conditions were not as good as they had hoped; others may have left because as a “Chut,” they were not well integrated into the world of London’s Jews.  With different traditions, different practices, different synagogues, they may have felt isolated and disrespected.  I don’t know specifically what motivated my ancestors first to leave Amsterdam and then to leave London, but I’d imagine it was a combination of these factors.

Once again I am finding out new things about my own history and about Jewish history by doing genealogy.  I never knew about the Chuts, and I certainly never knew I was descended from one.  I have written to Rachel Lichtenstein to learn more about her project and will report back with whatever else I learn.

Also, in researching more about the Dutch Jews in general, I came across a genealogy blog I’d not seen before written by Kerry Farmer called Family History Research.  Kerry had a post from two years ago about searching for a Dutch Jewish ancestor using information she was able to obtain from a book compiling information about marriages performed at the Great Synagogue in London, Harold and Miriam Lewin’s Marriage Records of the Great Synagogue- London 1791-1885.  I was very excited when I read this post and contacted Kerry, who generously looked up Hart Levy Cohen and Rachel Jacobs’ wedding for me in the Lewin book.  She was able to provide me with the information she found there:

(Groom) Cohen Hart Levy

(Groom’s father) Leib Katz

(Groom’s patronymic) Hertz b. Leib Katz

(Groom’s address) Not listed

(Bride) Jacobs Rachel

(Bride’s father) Yaakov

(Bride’s patronymic) Rechel b. Yaakov

She also suggested that I contact the owners of the Akevoth site to see if this additional information would help in locating the records of my ancestors, and I have done that.  Now I will wait to see if they can provide any further assistance.

So yesterday I was ready to put aside the search for my Dutch ancestors, and then, with the help of Su Leslie and Kerry Farmer, I was able to make some progress in understanding who they were and why they left Amsterdam and why they left London.  Once again I am humbled by and grateful for the generosity of the genealogy community.  Su and Kerry are from New Zealand and Australia, respectively, and they have helped me in my search to find a Dutch Jew who lived in England and moved to America.  What a small world it is when you find such wonderful, helpful and knowledgeable people.



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38 thoughts on “My Ancestor was a Chut: More on Dutch and English Jews

  1. Hi Amy, what a lot of progress you have made in such a short time. I was glad to be able to help you. Our online whanau (not sure if I’ve introduced you to my favourite term for my blogging community – it’s Maori and roughly means extended family) truly is wonderful. 🙂


    • whanau! A whole new word for me. That makes two in two days with chut!

      Thanks, and yes, it is a small world. I’ve never heard of June Brown, once again demonstrating the limits of my knowledge of the world outside of the US.


      • 🙂 It’s a good word because it encompasses all sorts of relationships that feel like kinship but aren’t blood ties – very useful in these days of blended families and self-made communities. June Brown is best known for playing a character in the UK soap Eastenders, so unless you’re a devotee of that, it’s unlikely you would have heard of her. 🙂


      • Eastenders is set (unsurprisingly) in the East End of London and prides itself on being quite authentic. I suspect it would have to be subtitled if they tried to show it in the US. 🙂


      • Hehe; that’s what we say about Americans. Not sure who (Churchill, Wilde, Shaw?) said we’re “two countries separated by a common language” 🙂


      • Well, I have an easier time understanding you fellow former colonists than I do those from the mother country. 🙂


      • 🙂 I’m not sure my husband’s American colleagues would say the same. He’s a “real Kiwi”!

        When I was younger I could tell – usually to within a few miles – where in Scotland someone came from by their accent. Am out of practice now, but it was a fun party trick amongst ex-pats down under.


  2. I’ve just been to Kerry’s blog and the first post I found was about WDYTYA: the story of actress June Brown — and it clicked; that was the one I was thinking of!!!! Small world indeed.


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    • Thank you so much, Jana! I am always honored to be included in your Fab Finds and always find great blogs to read when I check your Friday posts each week.

      Have a great weekend also!


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  6. Hi, Amy, glad to have found your blog. I have done a certain amount of research into the history of the Chuts. My forebear, Isaac Zeegen, arrived in London from Amsterdam in 1853. In common with many of the new arrivals, the Zeegens were active in the cigar industry. A factory, Zeegen Brothers, was established in Chicksand Street, Spitalfields, and remained in business into the 1920s, when it was absorbed into the larger Godfrey Philips concern, which was also of Dutch-Jewish origin. Hope this is of interest.


    • Hi Maurice, Yes, that is of interest! Are you still living in London? It seems your family arrived in London from Amsterdam just about the time that my family left London for the US. What have you learned about the way the Dutch Jews were treated in London? If you have any sources you’d be willing to share, let me know. Thanks so much for reading, and if you have any comments or corrections about what I’ve written, please do tell me. Thanks!


      • Hello again! Here is a link to Shemot, the journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain:

        This particular issue contains an article on the Chuts cigar industry entitled “Close but no Cigar “. Enjoy!

        As to your questions, yes, I still live in London, but grew up knowing very little about my paternal forebears, thanks to my father’s predilection for broyges.

        Maurice Zeegen

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Maurice, Wow, that was so long ago that I had to go back to your original comment! Almost three years ago! Thank you for the link—I look forward to reading the article. I hope you are able to learn more about your family history. And thank you again!


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  8. Very interesting. One of my maternal great-grandfathers (family name REINA/RAYNER and other possible spellings) belonged to this Dutch community. He married, my great-grandmother (family name nee MICHAELS – originally MICHAEL) who were from the more established Sephardi community in London.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for reading and for commenting. I’d love to know more about the Dutch Jews in England. Those names are not familiar. My Dutch born GGG grandfather Hart Cohen went to London as a young man, married and had children there, and left for the US as an old man when his children emigrated. So our time in London was about 50 years.


  9. I just found this post about Dutch Jews and the cigar industry. My husband’s family immigrated from Amsterdam in the 1860s to London and on to Boston by 1870 and were cigar makers, dealers, etc. The name was Simon Hartog PARK and family. On the 1861 census they lived on Shepperd Street in Spitalfields. His sons David and Hartog (Henry) PARK (both stayed in England) may have had a shop on Hackney Rd. I just checked the PARK tree to find out that my husband is to related to the LEVY / COHEN family . Judah Hartog Simon PARK (my husband’s 1st cousin, 3x removed) married Rebecca LEVY. Her parents, Elizabeth ? LEVY and Henry LEVY. Henry’s mother is Leah COHEN and father ? LEVY.
    Do you have them in your tree?

    Rachel Kessler Park

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Rachel, thanks so much for writing. I will take a look and send you an email. The names don’t ring a bell, but then I don’t recall every name on the tree at this point.


  10. Don’t know if this site is still active…but very interesting. My Dad’s family were all Dutch Jews, some emigrated to the US directly, but some lived in London for around 30 years, in the cigar business. Family names are Frankfort, Hambro, and Debear. The Frankfort’s had several children, one my GGM, and they emigrated to US around late 1860’s. Any familiarity with these names? Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My father was David Zeegan. We realised after mum found papers that the name was actually Zeegen. I know our great grandfather had a cigar factory in the East End, and I know Maurice Zeegen has done some research but I have lost touch with him. I would like to know when they came to the UK and would love to know before that what they did in Holland. Were they from Amsterdam? How can I find out?

    Liked by 1 person

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