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© Marcus Roberts (2012)

Places of interest

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Bedford Castle - Castle Lane
Bedford Loan Company - 7-9 Castle Lane
The Medieval Jewry and modern Jews - High Street
Bedford Modern School - Harpur Shopping Centre, Harpur Street
Site of First Synagogue - Silver Street
Morris Lissack's Home and Shops - 15 and 7 Mill Inn (Mill Hotel)
Bunyan Meeting House - Mill Street
Code-Breaker's School - Ardour House, 2 The Broadway
Harold Abrahams, Jewish Olympian - 30 Rutland Road
Site of Second Synagogue - Offa Street

1. Bedford Castle - Castle Lane

Bedford Castle was built during the reign of William II and as all Royal castles, would have played an important part in the daily lives of the local Jews, who would have been administered from the castle and who had the right to seek protection in the castle, but could also be imprisoned in the castle, if suspected of wrong-doing.

Bonefard of Bedford would quite probably have been imprisoned in the castle in 1202 when he was accused of causing the death of Richard, a nephew of Robert of Sutton, by "ementulation" (circumcision?), but was acquitted and released.

The Archa, or Chest, may well have been kept at the castle and was one of 26 Archae operated in England, for the recording and storage of Jewish contracts and protection from fire and pillage.

Several Jews were named as having taken part in the eight week siege of 1224, which resulted in the castle being destroyed. During the siege, elements loyal to Falkes de Breautéyal, who had long held the Castle against the will of the King, but who wanted to return the castle to its original owner, William de Beauchamp, garrisoned the castle. After a lengthy and expensive siege the castle fell and Henry then had all the male members of the garrison hung for their pains and the castle was permanently slighted. The wage cost of the siege was £1,311 and one suspects the death of the Jews would have helped defray these costs.

2. Bedford Loan Company - 7-9 Castle Lane

The father of Harold Abrahams, who raised four remarkable and successful sons, ran the Bedfordshire Loan Company,at - 7-9 Castle Lane, from 1885 and was naturalized in 1902. In addition to moneylending, he dealt as a certificated pedlar in jewellery, gold, and silver plate. He also held Jewish religious services at his house in Rutland Road, also making this a place of Jewish significance.

3. The Medieval Jewry and modern Jews - High Street

While the medieval Jewry of Bedford was small, we know that it was in the High Street of Bedford and that, on the basis of the other Jewish quarters in England, which were usually right on the most important markets, but away from the smelly butcher's row and with proximity to the protection of the local castle

This means that it would almost certainly have been next door to the most important markets at the High Street and so they would have probably been close to St Paul's and its square, the modern market place, probably on the same side of the Castle and around the Castle Lane area.

The synagogue, whether part of a private house, or a communal synagogue, would have also been close to the centre of town, albeit set back from the main street frontage.

We know of four Jews in Bedford who had property on the High Street, Cok son of Benedict, Pictavus and Jacob and Benedict, sons of Pictavus.

At the Expulsion in 1290, Cok held one-third of a messuage valued at 6s., and Jacob and Benedict, sons of Pictavus, who had died some time before the inquisition, held two messuages in common worth 13s. 4d. Jacob son of Pictavus, was hanged for felony and owned property in the High street which passed to the king and Benedict was baptised at Ely. These messuages were granted after 1290 to Newnham Priory.

In the modern period, other Jews have lived in the High Street, William Lyon, who was presumably a member of the long established Lyon family of Bedford, had a woollen draper and tailor, had a shop at 89, High street, in 1867.

4. Bedford Modern School - Harpur Shopping Centre, Harpur Street

The current Harpur Shopping Centre (1974) was built on the site occupied by the old Bedford Modern School, but preserves the 1834 façade of the school building, which was part of the Harpur Trust, which eventually opened its doors to Jewish children after a legal dispute. Sir Philip Magnus a well-known Jewish figure of his time, was highly involved with the school from 1878 and was largely responsible for the innovative modernizations of its curriculum and from 1908-13 - Harold Abrahams, the famous Olympian, was taught at Bedford Modern School.

5. Site of First Synagogue - Silver Street

Silver Street is believed to be the site of the first modern synagogue in Bedford, founded in 1803. However, it would have been very modest - just a rented small room. The precise site is not known.

6. Morris Lissack's Home and Shops - 15 and 7 Mill Inn (Mill Hotel)

Morris Lissack lived at 15 Mill Street in Bedford in 1881 and he was also a recorded as a wine and spirit merchant, at 7 Mill Street (Melville's Directory of Bedfordshire, 1867). His home appears to survive and is now Howorth's next to the Fleur des Lis pub, though no. 7, which was nearly opposite is now part of the Prudential Building (and the 'Baci Boutique'), or replaced by a modern office Building ('Times and Citizen').

One issue he fought on was the disorder and "vile language" that centered on pubs in his street such as the Oddfellow's Arms near his house and the Bedford Inn. The inn still survives today as the Bedford Hotel at 32 - 34 Mill Street.

7. Bunyan Meeting House - Mill Street

The Bunyan Meeting House is further down Mill Street and was the site of the original Bunyan Meeting House. The current church is the third on the site and was built in 1850. The Rev. Samuel Hillyard of the Bunyan Meeting was one of the local churchmen responsible for the scandelous conversion to Christianity of Nathan Joseph, the minister to the Bedford Jewish congregation in 1824.

8. Code-Breaker's School - Ardour House, 2 The Broadway

An Inter-Service Special Intelligence School, was set-up in Bedford, at the Gas Company showroom, at Ardour House, in Bedford, in the early 1940s, to teach trainee cryptanalysts, Japanese to help them crack the Japanese naval codes at Bletchley Park. The course was so intensive some candidates are said to have committed suicide. Michael Loewe of Oxford, took his course from February 1942 and then went on to work in Block B at Bletchley Park, on the coded transmissions from the Japanese navy. The building appears to survive on the Broadway as Barovic Jewellers.

9. Harold Abrahams, Jewish Olympian - 30 Rutland Road

Harold Abrahams, (1899-1978), the famous athlete, celebrated in the film 'Chariots of Fire', was the only British athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in 1924, and also gained a silver medal in the 4X100-meter relay, in the same year, was born at 30 Rutland Road, Bedford, on 15 December 1899, to a Polish Jewish father of Vladislavovka and a mother from Merthyr Tydfill.

One of his elder brothers, Sir Sidney Solomon Abrahams, was also an important Jewish athlete, as he was Bedford's first Olympian and competed at both the Athens and Stockholm Olympics (1906 &1912), and was a privy councillor. He was fifth in Long-jump in unofficial Athens Games in 1906.

A plaque commemorating the birthplace of Harold Abrahams,was unveiled by Alan Wells at 30 Rutland Road, on the 8th July 2012, and can be seen at the front of what is a modest house.

10. Site of Second Synagogue - Offa Street

Modern day Offa Road appears to have been the site of the second, revived synagogue of 1837, though nothing is known of the building or location of Jewish services there, as indeed the other early synagogues, though they apparently took place in a private room.

Other Jews lived in Offa Street, including Lewis Levy, a watch and clock maker. Other members of the family also made clocks in Bedford, including Godfrey Levy the father of Lemuel Levy, also a clockmaker.

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