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A FLEDGLING COMMUNITY
Until very recently, with little documentary evidence of its existence, the medieval Jews of Guildford would have merited little more than a footnote in a history of Anglo-Jewry. However, an exciting archaeological discovery in 1996 changed all that, when the remains of what’s believed to have been a 12th century synagogue were unearthed in the town.
What we do know from historical records is that a handful of Jews lived in Guildford from the early 1180s. A thriving market town and centre of the local woolen trade, its other principal draw for the medieval Jewish community was its royal castle, which offered them protection and sanctuary.
However, although Jews owned properties in the Guildford, these were probably not their main homes. Rather, they were simply somewhere to stay when their owners were in town on business (In medieval terminology, they provided repyr - a 'repair' or resort for business purposes.) In all likelihood, the families’ principal residences were in London.
A case in point is Isaac of Southwark, a prominent member of the local community in the mid 13th century, but who, as his name suggests, hailed from the parish of St.Margaret’s in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames. Indeed, in 1277, when his daughter Slema was summoned to a debt hearing in Surrey & Sussex, the local sheriff couldn’t compel her to attend as she was "sleeping and waking" in Southwark.
As a result, in so far as a community did exist, it wouldn’t have enjoyed the structure or formality found in larger settlements. Any religious activities or services would have been based around one or two families who provided basic facilities for themselves and for others.Next