After the execution of King Charles I, during the Protectorate a small number of Jews were allowed to return, nearly 400 years after they had been expelled from England. Cromwell presented a petition to a special conference on the readmission of Jews, but he faced strong opposition. Ultimately it was decided that as England’s Jews had been expelled in 1290 by a king, and there were no longer kings ruling England, the previous expulsion has no legal basis.

Cromwell accepted Jewish migrants for several reasons. He thought they might finance or provide loans to help him fight Catholic enemies. He was also persuaded by Dutch rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel to help Jews fleeing persecution in many parts of Europe. Cromwell shared a widely-held view that the end of the world was coming. In keeping with Bible teaching, he believed that Jews would be recalled from the four corners of the world at the time of the Last Judgement.

When the first group arrived from Spain in 1656 they came quietly, settling in East London and building a synagogue. They did not have full rights but they were allowed to trade and work in finance. Small communities grew up in London and some other coastal cities. Some became rich but others were poor street traders who probably experienced prejudice and discrimination.