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Tower Liberty (Original Jewish Quarter)
Tower Hill and Execution Sites - Trinity Gardens
Elephant House
Thomas Tower ('Traitors Gate')
White Tower

1. Tower Liberty (Original Jewish Quarter)

Tower Liberty

The main medieval Jewish quarter in London was historically near to the great market of West Cheap, and in the surrounding streets to the immediate west and east of the market area covered with its booths. The principal streets of occupation were what are now Gresham street (then Lade lane and Cateaton Street), Milk Street, Wood Street, Ironmonger Lane, Old Jewry, Basinghall Street (then Bassishaw), Coleman Street (then Colechirche) and lastly Olde Jurie. The "Olde" in old Jewry is confusing until it is understood that it dates from the 14th century when the Jewry was abandoned and just memory.
There were also at least two smaller settlements of Jews away from this main area and additionally, there were other Jews who lived a little more dispersed among the local population, but still close to the main four parishes favoured by the Jewish community.

Some Jews lived in the Liberty of the Tower of London and some might have lived in the Tower Ward itself.

The Liberty of the Tower was an area that was kept free of buildings and covered the area of a bow-shot from the castle. The demarcation of the area was historically important for the Tower, but the precise boundaries were in vigorous dispute with the City in the Middle Ages and were only later precisely agreed (1536) and were subject to encroachment and some 18 of the agreed boundary markers still exist as listed monuments.

In terms of the Jewish occupation of the Tower and the area around it, we have already noted that Hagin was probably a resident at the Tower itself, in Hagin's Tower. Hagin was probably a leading member of the Jewish community, which is why he was resident at the Tower.

However, it is clear that other Jews lived in close proximity of the Tower and that there was a Jewish quarter around the Tower dating perhaps from the earliest settlement of the Jews in London. There is a debate as to whether the Jewish quarter at the Tower was in the Tower Ward or in the Liberty of the Tower, or just adjacent.

In terms of some of the documentary evidence, the Jewish quarter in the City was described as 'Judaismo' in the Ward of William de Hadestok, (3 Ed. I. (Rot. Hund. I. 405) and the Ward of William de Hadestok, has been identified as the Tower Ward. Also 'Vico judeorum in Warda Haconi' (Jewry Street) is mentioned in list of lands in London belonging to St. Paul's, c. 1115-30 (MSS. D. and C. Liber. L. ff. 47-50).

The fact of the jurisdiction of the Constable over the Jews makes some presence of Jews in the area of the Tower a possibility (Strype, ed. 1720, I. ii. 32), and we also find that the custody of the Tower was given to Hugh Gifford (20 H. III. 1236), with all the rights belonging to it, of the Jewry, etc. (Cal. Pat. Rolls, H. III. 1232-47), which is further suggestive of Jewry in the jurisdiction of the Tower. However, it may be added that of course the jurisdiction of the Constable stretched into the later (main) Jewry in the vicinity of Milk Street itself and the main markets and did not rely on geography.

This Jewry close to the Tower appears to refer to an original Jewish quarter close by to the Royal Castle, probably dating from the first settlement of the Jews in London, when the immediate security of the Tower was paramount and the great markets of West Cheap beckoned ¾ of a mile distant.

These references can almost certainly be linked to modern day Jewry Street, just north of the Tower, which terminates at its south-most extension at the historic boundary of the Tower Liberty. This conclusion is somewhat strengthen by the recent strong archaeological evidence that Rangoon Street, just off the Jewry Street, (and only 250 yards from the boundary of the Liberty itself) was the 'Poor Jewry'.

Historically, areas for poorer Jews were to be found in other Jewish communities such as Oxford. The location of this has not been clear until recently. But an analysis of types of artifacts and clusters of archaeological finds have shown that modern day Rangoon Street (off Crutched Friars) just inside the Roman city wall, in Aldgate Ward) is almost probably its location. This location is in fact right next to Jewry Street in the nearer vicinity of the Tower (160 yards from the boundary of the Tower Liberty). proving the accuracy of traditional name for the area and comments by the historian Stow about a poor Jewry. It might be speculated that the early nucleus of Jewish settlement might have started here or that perhaps the poorer Jews with the weakest houses desired the nearby security of the Tower.

This is not so say that there might not have been Jewish settlement elsewhere in the vicinity and even closer to the Tower itself, but it is important to recognise that the Tower and vicinity had its own identifiable Jewish community.

2. Tower Hill and Execution Sites - Trinity Gardens

The traditional site of execution at the Tower was at Tower Hill and it may be where the medieval Jews were executed, though the use of this area is only attributed from 1381 (with the execution of Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury) but in 1532 three counterfeiters were executed at Tower Hill, which might be evidence of an earlier use of the site for the execution of alleged coin clippers, whose offences directly touched the king.

However, there were also historic executions at Little Tower Hill / Smithfield (now East Smithfield). The more distant Tyburn was also a favoured historic site for the execution of commoners. However, since the execution of Jews was by the jurisdiction of the King and his agent the Constable, it was most likely to have taken place within the Liberty of the Tower (i.e. Tower Hill or Little Tower Hill)
The site believed to be that of the Tower Hill scaffold is located in Trinity Gardens at the top of Tower Hill and the site is marked with a memorial.

3. Elephant House

During the mass imprisonment of 1278 Jews were kept in the former Elephant House, built in 1254/55. The original Elephant was a male African Elephant given to the king, by Loius IX of France, but which died after two years, leaving its accomodation behind. The exact location for the Elephant House is not known, but the opinion of the Tower authorities on this matter is thus:

'Considering the extent of the castle at the time of the construction of the Elephant house in 1254/5, we believe that it was either in the inmost ward, or towards the east on the inner ward. .. We know that it was a wooden building measuring 20 ft x 40 ft. '(Colvin, H., History of the King's Works vol. I, p. 715 citing CLR 1251-60, 197; Close Rolls 1254-6, p. 46; Pipe Roll 39 Henry III, rot. 14)

There was a long tradition of keeping exotic beasts in a Royal Menagerie at the Tower. King John probably started the tradition in 1210, and lions were kept at the Tower at the Lion Tower Barbican from the mid 13th century and as well as the elephant, a polar bear was present from the 13th century.

4. Thomas Tower ('Traitors Gate')

Thomas Tower ('Traitors Gate'), the Western Inner Ward, Moat and the Outer Curtain Wall

The tallages (taxes) of 1270s on the Jewish community, were used to pay for a substantial part of the building of the Tower, including many of the oldest Tower buildings that can be seen today, which were constructed between 1275 - 1285. This includes the digging of the moat, the construction of the outer ring of defences, and the rebuilding of the western side of the inner ward, including St Thomas Tower, a water-gate, now popularly known as traitor's gate. The constructions to the south were on land reclaimed from the Thames itself.

The new construction meant that the original entrance to the fortress had be be rebuilt with a complex set of gate defences, including a barbican later known as the Lion Tower (as this was where the royal lions and leopards were kept from the 13th century) as well as a causeway through the outer and inner gateways.
Edward I also constructed a bastion known as Legge's Mount was at the castle's north-west corner and three square projections were introduced at the north end of the East wall, possibly for siege engines.

Other Towers considered to be part of Edward Is development include the Beauchamp Tower and probably the Byward Tower, the Well Tower and Devlin Tower.

5. White Tower

The White Tower is one of the great landmarks of English history, and was both a palace and fortress, though one with a notorious reputation. Visitors of the Tower often wonder at its name, which relates to the lime whitewash of the building which gave it a striking, radiant, white appearance visible from far off. For those wishing to see in actuality how striking the Tower would have appeared, one could visit Hardelot Castle, near Boulogne in France, which has been recently restored with a gleaming white lime mortar and is remarkable in its appearance, as would the Tower in its time.

Visitors to the Tower can visit all the main floors of the Tower (taking the numerous stairs) with their numerous displays and artefacts, and soak up the history.

The main areas of Jewish interest in the Tower are the lower and upper floors of the White Tower, as well as the Crypt area. The lower main floor as you enter the Tower may have once been the residence of the Constable of the Tower in the 13th century - the main guardian and administrator of the Jews of England.

The upper floor of the Tower is thought to be the site of the Constable's Court, which is thought to have been held in the eastern side of the upper floor of the White Tower and Jews would have regularly attended this court in the Tower. Jews awaiting their turn would have waited restively on the spiral stairs of the NE turret, which is the visitor exit, or in the annexed gallery. The turret stairway has many example of graffiti from its historic visitors and unfortunates.

Jewish prisoners were almost certainly confined in the White Tower at certain points. There is a tradition that Jews were kept in the sub-crypt of the White Tower during the mass imprisonment of 1278 (as well as other locations), though the Crypt has been remodelled.

Up to the reign of Henry III, prisoners may have been kept in the White Tower itself (though a purpose built prison house is also mentioned in the 12th century), but after the building project of the 1270s, most would be confined in other locations (particularly the bastions) in the Inner Ward of the Tower. The middle and upper floors of the White Tower were certainly used as a prison for hostages in 1249 and could have been used for this purpose at other times.

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