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Bury St. Edmunds
© Marcus Roberts (1995 and 2005)

Places of interest

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Moyses Hall, Cornhill
Hatter Street - the medieval Jewish Quarter of Bury St Edmunds?
Stars of David at the Abbey tower - The Abbey of St Edmund
Bungay (c.1154-90)
Thetford (north of Bury St Edmunds)
Castle Rising (near King's Lynn)

1. Moyses Hall, Cornhill

Moyses Hall is on the north-eastern corner of the Buttermarket. Moyses Hall is an important example of a Norman first-floor hall. The original building was divided into two sides, a greater eastern side and with a lesser western side. Both sides have their own seperate but adjoined roofs running the length of the buildings.

The exterior has flint-knapped rubble walls. The quoins, buttresses and window mouldings are all of fine cut stone. There were a number of Norman windows. There were three windows in the three bays forming the eastern side of the building, one of these however was a blind arcade. This side collapsed in 1805 and was rebuilt. Two original windows survive at the front overlooking the market.

The interior consisted of a large vaulted undercroft, divided into two, into what is now called the Undercroft and West Gallery. Over the undercroft, on the first floor was the main living accomodation. This consisted of a main hall, with an attached solar or bedding chamber for the owner over the West Gallery. There was also perhaps a third chamber at the eastern end of the building of which nothing remains.

The presence of this is indicated by later additions to the eastern end. The "Passage" on the ground floor and the "Edwardson Room" on the upper floor, are a 16th century addition. These are thought to be a replacement of an original 12th century annexe, with a courtyard access to the west side.

The best preserved and most impressive part of the building is the undercroft, a six bayed structure. This is supported on vaults springing from two simple, square-headed, Norman columns. There is a medieval door direct to the street. The shallow, brick, entry arches into the West Gallery are an 16th century insertion.

The West Gallery is also Norman and largely original. It is a three-bayed structure. The main undercroft may have been used for business, with the West Gallery being used for storage.

On the upper floor, the Hall was the main function room of the house. The interior is now bland, most of the original features are gone. However the two Norman windows over-looking the market are well preserved. These still have internal window seats and give a strategic view into the market-place. One tends to think of such halls as banqueting halls, but they were often used for business meetings as well.

The original interior would have been exceptionally light and airy for a building of its period. By the standards of the time this would have been luxurious indeed. It would also have been a very secure building.

The first recorded mention of the existence and name of Moyses Hall comes in 1328 in connection with riots between the town and the (clerical) gown.

The building was also built in the period when the west front of the abbey was completed. It shares the same Barnack stone used in its construction and it is likely that Moyses Hall was built by the abbey masons. The suggested synagogue at Guildford seems to have been made off the back of the castle building project - a similar principle to what could have applied to Moyses Hall. Another idea is that Abbot Sampson built various stone houses for poor clerks in c. 1198. This could have been one of them, though its grandeur would have been unusual for such a function. Its layout also strongly indicates its use was for a rich merchant family rather than for clerics.

While it is easy to assume that the name Moyses ("Moses") demonstrates a Jewish owner this in not necessarily so. Both Mose and Moyse are common Suffolk, Christian, surnames and examples can be seen in the names of the rioters of 1327. However this being said there is a parrallel example of a "Moses Hall" in Oxford in the period.

The house is now a museum and carries a fascinating range of local heritage items, some of which are a little macabre to say the least...

2. Hatter Street - the medieval Jewish Quarter of Bury St Edmunds?

Hatter Street is not far from Moyses Hall. It is south of Abbeygate Street, on the way to the Abbey.

Hatter Street is said to have been the medieval Jewish quarter of Bury St Edmunds. There is archeological evidence of superior stone houses in the 12th century in the street which would accord with the setting in which a Jewish community, responsible for banking, would be found.

The museum, in particular, preserves two very fine stone columns of the 12th century (now part of a fireplace in the museum undercroft) recovered from a property demolished in the 19th century. This could conceivable have come from a Jewish house. However, it is possible that part of Church Gate Street could have been the Jewry, as it was the main street in the medieval borough.

3. Stars of David at the Abbey tower - The Abbey of St Edmund

The Abbey Tower is found close to the end of Abbeygate Street, off Angel Hill.

High up on the gate of Abbey are two Stars of David. Tradition relates that they are there because Jews contributed to the rebuilding of the Abbey after it was destroyed by fire.

Benedict of Norwich did fund the rebuilding of the Monk's Hall in the period when the Jews were in good favour with the monastery. Thus, there may be substance in this claim.

Of course, to the contrary it may be stated that the original Norman Tower was rebuilt in the period c.1330-80 after a riot caused serious damage. Therefore, it is not contemporary with the community, though it is not known if it copied decorative elements of its predecessor. Additionally the Star of David does have a traditional Christian use which is unrelated to Jewish building projects - the plain six-pointed star is a symbol of the creator, the intersected star, the sign of the Trinity.

One piece of Abbey decoration that is hardly philo-semitic, but is nearly contemporary with the Bury Jewish community is a sculpture of a soul in torment dating from c.1140. The soul in question is that of a usurer - he is standing holding a bag of coins, beset by demons, in the mouth of Hell. One may imagine that the sinner in question is Jewish.

The piece originally came form the West Front of the Abbey, but was later placed in a niche in the Norman Tower. It is now in the undercroft of the museum at Moyses Hall, next to the fireplace.

The site of the ruined abbey with its surviving elements of the refectory and dormitory can still be traced within the grounds. If the Abbey is entered through the Abbey Gateway, the remains of the Great Hall or refectory (with the abbuting and adjoining dormitory) are indicated in the Abbey Gardens. It lay on the west side of the cloister (the dormitory on another side) and the shape of the cloister is still laid out on the ground. The refectory was no doubt the 'Hall; that was rebuilt with money provided by Benedict of Norwich.

4. Bungay (c.1154-90)

Bungay is west of Lowestoft and Beccles and was a classic rural Jewish settlement in the lee of the Bigod castle. The Bungay community was almost certainly established by 1154 and its presence is confirmed by the donum of 1159. In the donum, they contributed four percent of the burden and ranked seventh in the list. Some Jews were dispersed from Bungay in c.1174 when Hugh de Bigod was punished by Henry II for his part in an insurrection. The community was finally dispersed by c.1190 during anti-Jewish episodes.

It is known that there was a Joseph of Bungay who was a member of a Jewish mystical (and ascetic) group in the Middle Ages. There was also a Meir of Bungay.

Bungay is today a village of about 4,000 inhabitants. The visitor can see the remains of Hugh de Bigod's castle. The keep and the forebuilding (c.1165) still survive and are impressive. There is a network of paths around the town (the Bigod Way) and all the historic sites will be indicated on an heritage trail, (to be E.C. funded).

Also of considerable interest is the fact that excavations in the late 1990s, near the boundary of the castle, have revealed the remains of a stone house of c.13th century. This is an unusual rural find, especially as it is outside of the castle. The house had very deep footings and was substantial building. It was close to the boundary of the castle and not far off the market and the south gate. It has been speculated that this could have been a Jewish house, as its earliest date could perhaps have coincided with the Jewish settlement in Bungay. The archaeologists have had difficulties to explain what this building could otherwise have been.

If this is possibly the remains of a Jewish house it could reveal vital information about a very obscure aspect of Anglo-Jewish life. The property would be in exactly the position that one would anticipate a Jewish property to be, ie. close to the castle and the main commercial activity and markets.

During my reseach, my informant from Bungay museum told me about "Jewish Graves" in St Mary's Churchyard in Bungay. These headstones have a Star of David on them, though as yet I have no information about their date or actual provenance - Jewish or otherwise.

There were also more modern Jewish residents of Bungay. Moses Samuel kept a shop in the village from 1792-1807. On his removal to Ipswich, his nephew Simon Aaron took over the shop for a period. That Jews lived and traded in a village at this early point was an unusual occurance.

5. Thetford (north of Bury St Edmunds)

The Thetford community was established by 1154 and is revealed in the Donum of 1159. They contributed eight percent of the amount and were ranked sixth in the list. Hugh de Bigod had his own mint at Thetford.

David the Moneyer lived at Thetford and was responsible for the mint. It is probable that he would have lived close to it. There was also a Jacob of Thetford, a witness of a deed in 1265.

Thetford is a small town which still retains a number of remains of its medieval past, from three of its monastic organisations. Castle Hill is an exceptionally fine Norman motte.

6. Castle Rising (near King's Lynn)

Castle Rising is a Norfolk village of exceptional interest. The huge Norman castle, and its extensive earth works, which was a vital attraction for the Jewish settlers of the village, is still very much in evidence. The castle dates from about 1150 and the keep from the 12th Century. The castle belonged to the powerful William d'Albini, the Earl of Sussex, and was retained by the family until 1224.

The community was established by about 1174, perhaps somewhat earlier, if the known dates of some of the Castle Rising Jews are taken into account. The date of foundation probably would not predate the building of the castle in 1150.

A Diaia of Rising (fil Mosse de Lincoln) is known from the settlement and was married to Henna. Diaia is known from as early as 1239 and died in c.1273-4. A Deulecresse of Rising, fil Diaia (and ultimately, fil Leo) is known, but not of the same family as the other Diaia. He was known by 1239.

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