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1. The Medieval Jewry - Eastgate StreetThe medieval Jewry was in the East Gate, directly adjacent to, and just east of St Michael's Church, whose surviving tower is still the major landmark in the centre of the city, and is the starting point of the tour. The Eastgate was originally called Jewry Street and in the 13th century was the most important part of the medieval city. The Jewish houses were very close to the central cross-roads and town market, as well as the High Cross, in the very centre of city. Eastgate was a high-class neighbourhood in the 13th century and was close to all of the key markets and customers vital to the business activities of the Jewish community, but sufficiently well away from the most noisome and noxious activities.
The research of Jo Hilaby has revealed the locations of some of the most important sites with some precision, as they can be traced through the records, rent rolls and through historic maps, by their close proximity to the church, which was knocked down, all bar the tower, to ease congestion at the Cross in 1849.
2. Bonenfaunt's Great House - 2 - 4 Eastgate StreetThe house of the communal leader, Bonenfaunt's 'great house', was approximately at, 2 - 4 Eastgate Street (now the '3Store' and former Curry's site, respectively). The history of Bonenfaunt's house can be traced with surprising detail, as it has originally been built by his father Elias, the community leader, after the death of Moses the Rich, at some time after 1200.
A Gloucester Abbey charter refers to Elias originally owning land close to the bridge, but that in order to obtain a prime site in the Eastgate Jewry and build a suitably large house, he entered into a lease, and the Augustinian priory of St Mary, Llanthony, by Gloucester, who were Gloucester's other big landholders. Its Great Register records a grant by Prior Geoffrey of Henlow, c. 1189-1203, to Elias, described as 'son of Hakelot', Jew of Gloucester, of two curtilages in the Jewry, the 'great eastern street', for which he paid an annual rent of 2s 8d.23. This would appear to be 2-4 Eastgate Street. A curtilage is literally a yard or plot, which could be of many differing sizes, but some of which could be very large.
3. The Synagogue and Curia - 2- 4 Eastgate Street
The former synagogue was described as being as situated in Eastgate Street in Cole's rental of 1455 (these rentals here and elsewhere, commonly record sites and tenants going back to the 13th century), and later local traditions preserved into the modern era, also name the same street.
The synagogue and curia was probably situated behind Bonenfaunt's House, his 'great house', and it might be that the second curtilage purchased by Elias was intended for the synagogue. Up to the 13th century synagogues were often in private hands, until increased persecution meant it was better that they were communal possessions. Hilaby's research indicates that the synagogue was two houses down from the eastern gable of St Michael's Church. In the 18th century this was the site of a Georgian shop next to the Greyhound Inn that can be seen in a bird's eye view map by Kip, and thus the position can be readily worked out in the modern landscape.
The synagogue was away from the street frontage and indeed, most of the English synagogues were always in a back-land site away from the public gaze and ear-shot. Furthermore, most, if not all medieval Synagogues in England, France and Germany were sunken or semi-sunken.
There is good evidence that the Gloucester synagogue was also a large semi-sunken or sunken structure, which survived even until the 19th century. In Bond's guide, Bond writes, 'The building which was then used as a synagogue, still exists; it rests on four pointed and substantial arches; and, when built, its floor was level with the street; the street has, however, since so increased in height as to be nearly seven feet above it, so that it is now occupied as a cellar by Mrs. Bond.' Also, it is alluded by another author that the synagogue was a, '... a large room on the north side of Eastgate-street; then used by them as a synagogue, but which has since, from the gradual elevation of the surface of the street, become a cellar running under several houses.' (Griffith). However, this latter reference is to the other side of the street (or may just be a confusion) and might refer to another Jewish house, or perhaps even another synagogue, as many towns had more than one synagogue, particularly in the 12th century.
However, both descriptions are quite typical and comparable to other local traditions that certain buildings that were former synagogues. For example, we find at Canterbury the following description of the former synagogue: '...they had a synagogue close by at a place which was on the site of an old Inn, "the Saracen's Head," the stone parlour of which was mounted upon a vault, and ascended by stone steps.' (Somner)
The description of a stone building with an upper room over a vault (or under-croft) is also typical of the most elite Jewish buildings, which were so-called 'medieval first floor halls', where there would be a stone crypt for storage, or use as shops, with domestic accommodation above. Also, the association of Jewish quarters with extensive cellars extending under several buildings is found elsewhere, such as at Oxford, where one could pass across St Aldate's under-ground and emerge further down the street, in the old Jewry.
The identification of the Curia, or court, is important, as it was a large court yard, or enclosed area, which contained all or most of the Jewish communal facilities. It was a large area of about 300 feet in length - a very large plot right in the centre of town - and its size reflected in the large land gavel of 16d. The curia was an enclosed area, with an entry, which housed exclusively Jewish facilities, such as the synagogue, accommodation for synagogue officials, and probably facilities like the mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) and area for the ritual slaughter of animals by the schochet, ovens for baking the matzahs, etc. The Jewish Curia at Gloucester can be compared with the Jew's Court (Curia) at Lincoln, which also contained the medieval synagogue and was fronted by a large house, next door to the famous Jew's Court, and would have been a similar arrangement.
Other Jewish houses would have been in the close vicinity of the synagogue, forming the Jewish quarter, but there were likely to have been other Jewish houses further out from the main quarter of the Jewry.
4. The Homes of the Abrahams Family (Sites of Berkeley Hunt and Pye Corner) - 37-39 Southgate Street
As related earlier, the Abrahams were one of the first Jewish settlers in Gloucester and indeed may even have been the first by a long margin. We know something of their undoubtedly long association with Gloucester and Southgate Street in particular, as some of her own recollections were recorded in a copy of an old Hebrew Calendar prepared by her father to give to itinerant Jews, by Henry Yates Jones Taylor.
'Mrs Abrahams told me that her family lived in the Southgate St, for more than 150 years. They originally lived in the House now known as the Berkeley Hunt they moved to the opposite side of the street in Pye Corner in nr (?) the house where she died.'
There was also an account of her and her family given in the 'Gloucestershire Notes and Queries', Vol IV, 1890, following on from her death in 1886.
'Miss Amelia Abraham, well known Jewess of Southgate Street died on Thursday morning, 7th August, 1886 at the age of 95. The old Jewish family of the Abrahams were long resident in Gloucester and had lived in Southgate Street for some 200 years. Miss Abraham was born in the house in which she died. Her father had previously lived in a house now owned by a Mr Strong, a baker, and which he had left in 1765. Her father was a dealer, travelling jeweller and money changer-the latter profession flourished in the city when there was a lot of foreign trade at the port. He was the Rabbi at the Gloucester synagogue, then in Mercy Place. He used to prepare and bake shew-bread for Passover. This was continued by his son, Michael Abraham who also succeeded his father as Rabbi. He also slaughtered sheep and oxen for Mr Hazeldine, the butcher, which were to be eaten by the Jewish community, having been certified and killed in the Jewish fashion with a long knife. Miss Abraham was the last representative of the old flourishing Jewish community of Gloucester. Many years ago she received help from Sir Moses Montefiore, Sir Francis Goldsmid, Professor Marks, but on receiving an alms house pension which had been voted her by the trustees of Gloucester Charities, this aid was withdrawn.
At one time there was a large Jewish community in Eastgate Street. It is said that when Miss Abraham's father was asked why the community had dwindled in numbers and prosperity, he replied that the Jews had left town when the Quakers arrived. At one time all the city's pawnbrokers were Jewish. Miss Abraham's funeral was at the Jewish cemetery at the back of St. Michael's school.'
The different sources are not in entire or precise agreement about all of the family houses (and press articles are notorious for their inaccuracies) and when and by whom they were occupied, and the notes and queries article leaves open whether or not there was an earlier house, before the Berkeley Hunt, and the claim that Amelia died at Pye Corner in Taylor's record, seems to be compromised by the fact that Pye Corner was demolished 38 years before she died, so unless she lived in some un-demolished part of Pye Corner, it seems likely that she died at another property in the street, so there may have been up to four properties associated with the family. However, it seems that the Berkeley Hunt property may well have been purchased by the family in or around 1765, as it coincides with the foundation of the modern community of which Abrahams was a founder, and was the birth place of Mrs Amelia Abrahams, but the family may have also lived in this street as early as 1674.
However, we attain certain history as we know that the historic Berkeley Hunt building (a well-known pub) stood at 37-39 Southgate Street (geo-location 51.863918, -2.247592)and has now been replaced by a brick office building. Pye Corner itself was south of the now Brunswick Baptist Church, as the house stood in what now is now the eastern end of Commercial Road, but was evidently knocked down when the Commercial Road was made - it was part of the dock developments initiated by the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal company in 1848, which knocked out the group of cottages on Pye corner and just behind, to provide improved access to the docks and the new custom house. In order to trace the site now, Pye corner is the end of Commercial road, at its junction with Southgate Street with The (old) Swan Hotel marking the north of old Pye Corner (see the name inscribed on the building) and the matching stone built house opposite, originally the offices for the Gloucester Savings Bank, but now Lampkin House, occupying the other half of the former Pye Corner. (precise geo-location = 51.863704, -2.248147)
5. The 18th and 19th century Synagogue - Mercy Place, Southgate Street 1823A sale in 1823 reveals important details about the synagogue and its location in Southgate Street:
'Southgate Street, Gloucester.
To be sold by private contract.
Four messuages or Dwelling houses, situate opposite the Infirmary, in the Lower Southgate Street, in the city of Gloucester, within a short distance of the Basin of the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal, and now in the several occupations of Mr King, upholsterer; Mr Halford, painter; Mr Townsend and Mr Perryman.
Also an excellent Malt house, with a small Brewhouse, and warehouse adjoining, and a large room over the same now used as the Jews' synagogue, and a walled-in garden behind the same; now in the several occupations of Mr Chesterton and others, and situate behind the above messuages.
The above premises are held for a term of 1,000 years, and the Land Tax is redeemed.
This property will be sold at a price that will produce nearly £8 per cent.to the purchaser. A moiety of the purchase money may remain on mortgage.
Apply to Mr Joshua Ellis, Barton Street, or John Chadburn, attorney, Gloucester.
(Gloucester Journal, 3 March, 1823)
Other sources, including Amelia Abraham's statement, recorded by Taylor in her father's calendar, mentioned earlier, locate the synagogue of 1823, as being in Mercy Place, which is indeed opposite the former infirmary. However, the main two rows of buildings forming the narrow court that formed Mercy Place, do not seem to answer the description of the brew-house complex, and the walled-in garden, though there is group of buildings annexed to the north-eastern corner of Mercy Place, close to the dock-side and with an adjoining garden, that may well the exact location of the upper-room at Mercy Place.
To find this in the modern landscape, if you stand on Southgate Street, looking towards the dock and the warehouses, in line with the river entry into the dock, between Albert Warehouse and Britannia Warehouse, then the site of Mercy Place was in present day car park between Southgate Street and the dock, opposite the modern office block called Southgate House.
6. Gloucester Castle Site (now Gloucester Prison)
Royal castles were key landmarks in medieval Jewish life - since Jews were the personal property of the King, only he had jurisdiction over them, and this was usually exercised through the Royal castle. The castles were used to protect local Jews, to administer the Jewry (via the local Constable of the Castle, or the Sheriff), store financial documents and money and to imprison Jews accused of offences.
As was related earlier, in 1220, Solomon Turbe was thrown from the tower of Gloucester Castle, allegedly at the behest of another Gloucester Jew, Abraham Gabbay, aided by some of the king's men at the Castle, and was probably a pre-emptive reprisal for an earlier attack on Gabbay by Turbe.
The main structure of the castle no longer survives, but Leland the antiquarian described the Keep as a 'hy towr' in the 16th century. The Keep had been built, between 1110 - 1120 and is depicted in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History as a very substantial and indeed a high building, similar in height to the roof-line of the Cathedral.
Later on the tower was reduced in height, but was used as the city goal into the 18th century until it was replaced by the modern prison of 1790.
The present day prison is built right on top of the former Keep and castle site, though Barbican Way still traces the original perimeter of the castle Barbican and the present gaunt out-lines of the prison echo something of the original castle.
7. Samuel Goldberg (Pawnbroker) - 55 West Gate Street
Samuel Goldberg was a pawnbroker, based at 55 Westgate Street, of whom we have a few historical details - he was a local pawnbroker (mentioned in Bretherton's Almanack and Gloucester Directory for 1869) who had subscribed to the Cheltenham synagogue since 1862. By 1886 he had opened a shop in Portland Street, Cheltenham and from 1886 to 1894; he was president of the Cheltenham synagogue, so he was a locally significant member of the Jewish community.
His residence was at what is now no. 55, which is the house with the 'Westgate Street' blue sign on it, on the south side of the street, and is the building to the right of the shared entry nearly opposite the junction with Archdeacon Street. His original street address can be reconciled with the modern street numbers, as an early OS map has the original street numbering on it.
8. Jacob Moses and Ephraim Joseph - 22 Northgate Street
Jacob Moses was described as a 'Jeweller, Silversmith and Watchmaker' (Hunt and Co.'s City of Gloucester and Cheltenham Directory and Court Guide, 1841) who lived at 22 Northgate Street, by 1841, and appears to have had earlier addresses at 14-15 High Street (1830s) and King's Street (1840s). He had married Anne (Hannah) Levy in 1839, and had a family of 10 children, and was variously a pawnbroker, silversmith and salesman, but had moved to Liverpool by the 1860s and thence to London working by this time in the travelling clothing trade.
Ephraim Joseph Joseph (1830 - 1896) was also resident at 22 Northgate in Gloucester, from c. 1860 until 1883, and was one of the last Jews of Gloucester. He originally came from Swansea and married Rebecca, who came from Liverpool. By the time of the 1881 Census they had a total of 7 children, all born in Gloucester. His comparative wealth and status is indicated by the fact that he has 3 house servants working for him in 1881.
The site of the former property is the very Left-hand side of white Debenhams building.
9. Gloucester Cathedral and Harold of GloucesterThe Jewish community had a close relationship with the cathedral, as they often lent them money. However, the cathedral is associated with the Gloucester Blood Libel, which was the second 'Blood Libel' in England. In 1168 a young boy Harold was discovered dead in the river and the Jews were accused. This alleged martyrdom is described in the History of the Monastery of St Peter's, Gloucester and has been quoted in detail earlier.
However, since this blood libel does not seem to have resulted in terrible consequences for the community, the association of the blood libel with the Gloucester Cathedral is less difficult, than for example as that at Lincoln where the tradition of the boy martyr still has some active and negative cultural currency.
There are no traces of the grave site for the boy 'martyr', at the altar of Edward the Confessor, though there is a possible site of remnants of an image of Harold in the Cathedral as there is a scratched out-line of an icon on the wall of the cathedral on the right-hand side of the central niche in the reredos in the Lady Chapel and the name 'Eerolt' (= 'Arild' or Harold?), the only possible remnant of a local cult to the boy. However, it cannot be certain is this Arild is actually Harold. Currently the scratched out-line appears to be hidden under some modern art work on the wall above an altar, and cannot be readily seen, though the scratched out-lines of other icons and saints names can be seen to each side.
10. Jewish Cemetery (Organ Passage) off Barton Street / Russell Street (now 'Potter's Place'), 20 Russell StreetThe community established a Jewish Cemetery off Barton Street, by 1784, and the first burial in the Jewish cemetery, was recorded in 1779 and it adjoined a garden, which became St Michael's Church burial ground.
The Cemetery was last used in 1886 and in 1938 some of the burials were removed to a new 'Jewish Reserve' at Coney Hill, the result of a 'cursory exhumation' leaving many remains behind. The removal of the bones enabled the former Jewish cemetery to become a playground for the adjacent St Michael's School. St. Michael's cemetery, which occupied the southern two thirds of the site, was also cleared in the 1950's.
When the site was recently developed, more remains, which had been previously identified in the initial exploratory excavation, were removed and reburied in a Jewish cemetery. However, the archaeologist stated that he observed a burial horizon and more burials beyond the excavation area, so parts of the site are still probably a Jewish cemetery.
The trial excavation revealed that the original wall of the Jewish cemetery (separating it from what became the Christian cemetery) was formed of large vitrified glass blocks each measuring 0.22m x 0.22m x 0.32m, and that there was had probably been a small building - the burial hall or Ohel - close to the original gate and entrance in Organ passage. That this excavated debris can be related to the Ohel can be confirmed by reference to the 1852 OS map, which shows the Ohel in the SE corner of the site, next to the gate in Oran passage.
Once the site had experienced its second clearance in its history, it was redeveloped as Potter's Place, 20 Russell Street. Organ Passage can still be seen, but there are no indications in the form of a plaque or notice, that this was once (and indeed still is) a Jewish cemetery.
11. Coney Hill ReserveWhen the original cemetery was cleared (and it appears likely that only graves with markers were moved) a new space for the exhumed burials was made at Coney Hill municipal cemetery, at the boundary of the cemetery. The cemetery successfully evinces the Jewish heritage of Gloucester and is well worth visiting. It is to be found right along the middle of the NE boundary of the cemetery, next to the Metz Way, behind its own hedge and can be accessed by walking on the road that leads northwards from the main car park inside the cemetery. (Precise geo-location = 51.856651, -2.218283).
A notice stands in the entrance to the Jewish cemetery, which is in its own hedged compartment and it reads:
'Here lie the remains of a number of persons of the Jewish faith formerly interred in the old Jewish Cemetery, adjoining St Michaels School and removed hither in April 1938, when their cemetery was given by the Jews of this country as a playground for the children of Gloucester.'
The cemetery contains the preserved tombstones of a number of the old Gloucester and area residents, though some are now fragmentary, fallen, or nearly indecipherable, though some are quite well preserved. Of particular note is the tombstone to Miss Amelia Abraham, who died in 1886, the last member of the second Gloucester Jewish community and whose father was a founder of the 18th century community and the Rabbi at Mercy Place and the kosher slaughterer.
The inscription is in both English and Hebrew and is as follows: English: 'Sacred to the memory of Amelia, youngest daughter of the late Israel and Sarah Abrahams, who departed this life August 4th, 5647, i.e. 1886, aged 92 years. May her soul rest in peace. She was the last surviving member of the Gloucester Jewish congregation. A good name is better than riches'.
Hebrew (in English translation): 'Better is a name than good ointment. Here is buried the virgin Amelia, daughter of R(Mr) Isaiah of (Ger Zu) Gloucester. Born on the 1st of Ab, 552 (1792); departed this life on the 4th day of Ab, and brought to her resting place on the 6th day of Ab, 646 (1886). A daughter of 92 years on her death. May her soul be bound in the bundle of life'.
Her father's religious name (shem haggodeh) was Isaiah. His Kinnui, other name by which he was known in the world was Israel.
Other tombstones include that of Mr. B. Barnett, the son of the founder of the modern Gloucester Community.
12. The Brook Street Medieval Jewish Suburb - Now Market StreetIn 1275, when the Jews are expelled from all of the Queen Mother's five dower cities including Gloucester, Belia, the widow of Jacob Couperon, (one of Bonenfaunt's sons) decided not to leave and evaded the edict by moving just outside of the legal boundary of Gloucester, by living in a small suburb outside the city walls, with her brother, Ursell, who had led the Worcester community of 42 years. This was Brook Street, which is now Market Street near to Gloucester Railway Station.