Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Jews of Hatcham 1272 - and some later Jewish folklore

A significant community of Jews established itself in England in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, and faced considerable prejudice. In 1190, over a hundred Jewish people were massacred in York. In 1219 a law was passed requiring Jews to wear identifying badges. And in 1290, King Edward I issued an edict expelling Jews from the country. Prior to this, they faced punitive taxes - as Christians were formally banned from lending money with interest, Jews tended to fill the role of moneylenders, so were seen as a source of income by the King. From the 1190s and 1290 there was a special office of Exchequer of the Jews which regulated the taxes and financial transactions of Jewish communities.   One effect of the latter was that detailed records were kept of Jews in England which are a goldmine for later historians. Many of these were republished in 1902 in a volume  edited by J.M. Rigg and published by the Selden Society and the Jewish Historical Society of England as 'Select pleas, starrs, and other records from the Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, A. D. 1220-1284'.  

This includes a record from 1272 which attests to the presence of a group of Jews in New Cross Gate, or as it was then known Hatcham:   'In the same way and on the same account the Sheriff of Surrey  and Sussex was commanded, that he cause to be levied upon the Jews of Guildford 3s., upon the Jews of Chichester 3s., upon the Jews of Arundel 3s., upon the Jews of Lewes 2s., upon the Jews of Seaford  2s., and upon the Jews of Hatcham 2s. ; so that he have those moneys before etc. on the said day, to be delivered to the said Henry. And the Sheriff sent word, that the community of the Jews paid Robert Tayllard, late Constable of Guildford, 3s., to the use of the said Henry, and the said Robert is removed from his bailiwick, and has nought in goods, and is not found in the country; and that the Jews of Chichester belong to the Liberty of Edmund, son of the King of Germany, whose bailiffs had the return, and did nought in execution thereof. And the Jews of Arundel and Lewes have nought except some empty houses, and are not found in his bailiwick. And the Jews of Seaford and Hatcham belong to the Liberty of our Lady the Queen of England, whose bailiffs had the return, and did nought in execution thereof'.

Not entirely sure of the meaning of the passage, but it suggests that taxes were levied on the 'Jews of Hatcham' and others in Surrey and Sussex, that they paid Robert Tayllard (Constable of Guildford) and the latter did a runner. Seemingly the Jews of Hatcham were under the protection of the Queen ('belong to the Liberty of our Lady the Queen of England'.

Jewish Folklore of the East End

Jews were re-admitted to England by Oliver Cromwell, one of a number of reasons why the English revolution that overthrew the monarchy was a good thing for all its failings. Another wave of Jewish migrants arrived in the country in the 19th century, fleeing anti-semitic pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe.  They settled in East London in particular, though there was a synagogue in New Cross. On Thursday November 8th, folklorist and storyteller, Del Reid, will be giving a talk on the Jewish folklore of the East End at South East London Folklore Society. The talk starts at 8 pm at the Old Kings Head in Borough High Street (£2.50/£1.50 concessions) - facebook event details here.

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