< Back

Lincoln, 1898

Frank Haes

<plain_text><page sequence="1">LINCOLN?1898. A REPORT BY FRANK HAES. It having been decided last year by the Committee of our Society that an examination should be made of the Jews' houses still standing in the ancient city of Lincoln, a grant was voted for this purpose, and they invited me to undertake the work. I wTish they had selected some one better able to do this than myself, for you would then have had a fuller account than I have furnished. I was unable to attempt the task last year, but started on it this August. I had previously visited Lincoln several times, and you may remember I have had the pleasure of showing you some of my photographs taken there. This time I have taken for the Society much larger views, including one or two which, though not intimately connected with the Jewish houses, yet were constantly before the eyes of the resident Jews of the pre-expulsion period. The cathedral in all its present glory, must have presented the same front as it does to-day, for it was finished before 1290, and Aaron's house is but a few hundred feet away. The Boman gateway must have stood out as a loftier archway than now, when the old Boman road lies eight feet below the present surface. Of the castle which faces the cathedral I took no views; what is visible has little of the original work left. I may mention that the columns of a large Roman portico are buried under the road near the Newport, as the old archway is called; they are triple, double, and single, and must have been part of a very large building. It is known that Lincoln was an important Roman centre, a whole legion being stationed there. In my report I begin with Aaron's house and proceed down Steep Hill, which is so steep that no vehicle is seen on it. I also photo? graphed the houses of the High Street, built on the bridge over the river Witham, a peculiar feature not to be found elsewhere in England. 180</page><page sequence="2">^ - 1,11 House of Aaron of Lincoln, Steep Hill, Lincoln. ^^^^^^^^^^^^ ^ Jew's House, Steep Hill, Lincoln.</page><page sequence="3">LINCOLN?1898. 181 Besides these I took two views of Steep Hill, one from the lower part of the old Bull ring looking up as far as Dane's Gate, and one from Dane's Gate showing Aaron's house. Aaron of Lincoln's House. This house, which stands near the top of Steep Hill on the east side facing the grounds of the Hostel, is not a rectangular building, the south wall being at an oblique angle to the west wall. The ground rises rapidly on the east and north sides. The house is roofed with two gables at a steep pitch running parallel with the front wall. At some unknown period the portion of the south wall covered by the east gable must have either fallen into utter decay or been destroyed, and it must have been rebuilt entirely in red brick, for the house was origin? ally built entirely of stone. The external measurements of the house are as follows: South side 47 ft. 4 in., east side 50 ft. 6 in., west side 46 ft., south end of house wall at tinsmith's door 3 ft. 3 in. thick. As a matter of curiosity I may mention that there are not less than eight doors opening externally, one of which on the south side leads into the cellar occupied by a tinsmith as a workshop. It is not necessary to describe the well-known doorway which gives access to a long passage running through the house from west to east to another doorway of much later date. It is doubtful if much of the present front is the original stonework; the east wall may well be of the older period. The Norman window inserted in the west front is not in its original place?which is doubtful. The stonework was found buried in a recess in the wall and was placed where it at present is, a few years ago. The interior comprises a cellar, ground floor, first floor, and attics. The whole of the cellar is stone vaulted?the portion occupied by the tinsmith is 24 ft. x 15 ft. 10 in. Height to crown of vault 8 ft. Height to spring of arch 5 ft. It is continued beyond the partition the whole length of the west side of building, and is of the same character, the partition being only a slight and modern one. All the doors except the well-known west one are of much later date, being square headed. The interior is now occupied by no less than five families, some of those living at the back on the upper floors gaining the entrance?Scotch fashion?by an outside stone staircase. I have been</page><page sequence="4">182 LINCOLN?1898. into almost every room in the interior except the red brick portion occupied by the tinsmith, who absolutely refuses admission to his premises. The inside of the house is a perfect labyrinth and does not resemble anything that I have ever seen; part of the walls being from the first floor considerably thinner, it is a confused mixture of chimney breasts (in one case 6 ft. deep), stone walls (one with portions of a round arch in the wall), lath and plaster partitions, cement flooring, strangely divided into narrow passages and dark rooms, up steps and down steps, but with apparently no trace of the original stairs, which would in all probability have been circular and of stone. A bedroom occupied by the newsagent extends over the bootmaker's door, separated by a very thin partition. The existing floors are probably in the same places as the original ones, the rooms being fairly lofty (10 to 11 ft. high), but it is utterly impossible to convey any idea of the irregularity of the interior without carefully made measurements and plans which would cost far more than I consider them to be worth. If I might hazard the conjecture as to the original condition of the interior, I should suggest that the ground floor was used for storage and domestic offices lighted by narrow slit lights; the upper floor being the Norman solar or living rooms of the family, the attics being used as the sleeping places of the servants. These slept in common rooms (men in one room and women in the other) on the floor strewn with rushes, &amp;c. The interior walls being all covered with plaster and paper, their condition cannot be ascertained. The shoemaker's house contains cupboards apparently cut in the solid stone nearly 3 ft. deep, but the western wall appears to have been either cut away internally or not carried up to the same thickness in the first floor, and there are also several closets somewhat similar in the stationer's house. The southern half of the house is at present occupied by the bootmaker and the northern half by the stationer. I should have mentioned that in the shoemaker's part there is a door up steps in the north wall. Tradition says this was one of the original entrances. It also says that the ground across the road opposite the west front on which is what formerly was the Hospital, now the Hostel, was the Jews' burying-ground.</page><page sequence="5">LINCOLN?1898. 183 Jew's Court, Steep Hill. When this name was first given to this particular place I was unable to learn, even the town surveyor's office not being able to assist me. It is applied to the two houses immediately north of Jew's house, separated by a passage approached by a few steps leading into a court at the back. The property belongs to the Hospital. These two houses, although of considerable antiquity, are not in any way connected?as I had hoped to find?with the period at which the Jews lived in Lincoln. Strangely, however, legend and tradition connected with the Jews have here an abiding place. In the front underground room of the upper house near the fireplace was, I was informed, the well into which little St. Hugh's body was thrown after his supposed murder, while a cellar in the rear of the same building is said to be the scene of his crucifixion. Add to this that a room on the first floor of the same house is said to have been used as a synagogue, this is, I think, a fair amount of legendary tradition for one building. It is now im? possible to make a proper examination of the backs of the houses</page><page sequence="6">184 LINCOLN?1898. on the west side of Steep Hill, the whole of the property being in? habited by very poor people who have a rooted objection to the invasion of inquisitive and prying strangers. The whole is very closely built 1 _1 I Height from present floor to under crown of arch, 7 ft. 5 in. Central stone of arch, 10 in., mouldings, 1 and 2 inches ; total height, 8 ft. 6 in. Sides?Height from floor to base of capital, 5 ft. 9 in. Opening nearly 3 ft. up. A street leading from the upper part of Steep Hill is called Dane's Gate. Could this be the Dem Gate where Little St. Hugh is said to have resided 1 Dane's Gate leads into a street which runs into Steep</page><page sequence="7">lincoln?1898. 185 Hill, called Well Street. From the junction of Dane's Gate and Steep Hill both Aaron's house and the Jew's house can be seen. Jew's House in Steep Hill. This house is well known, and is situated at the top of the Straight at the lower end of what was formerly known as the Bull Bing, on the west side of Steep Hill. The exterior is so well known that any detailed description would be superfluous. The ground floor measure? ment, north to south, is 39 ft. 6 in., by 20 ft. east to west. Thickness of front wall 2 ft. 6 in. Thickness of back wall 2 ft. 9 in. These dimensions are said to cover the whole of the original house, all build? ings at the back being additions. The ground floor is at present divided unequally by the street door and hall. On the first floor are three rooms, and above three attics. In this house no trace of the original staircase is to be found. There is a curious internal arch in the north wall which was believed by the well-known authority, the late Precentor Yenables, to be part of the original structure, but for which I cannot imagine a purpose. I, however, took the following dimensions, leaving to those better versed in such matters to draw their own conclusions. The height of this arch from present floor from ground to top of key-stone is 6 ft. 9 in. The length between springers is 8 ft. Key-stones and arch stones are 11 inches deep, and the distance of the arch from the west wall is 3 ft. 5 in. Drawing to scale is appended. Opposite the present door of the upper shop is a round-headed arch. Drawing to scale appended (pp. 183, 184). In conclusion, I venture to hope that this report, on which I spared no pains to make it accurate, will be accepted as a permanent record of the present state of these, probably the oldest inhabited houses in Europe. NOTES. For further information concerning Aaron of Lincoln, see Mr. Joseph Jacobs's book "The Jews of Angevin England.'3 Extracts from the "Historical Manuscripts Commission, Fourteenth Report," Appendix, Part viii., pp. 11, 12, 263. " There were also granted a large number of quit-rents paid to the Crown from various houses in the city, many of which had belonged to Jews, and which</page><page sequence="8">186 LINCOLN?-1898. are all specified in detail. In the list the following names of Jews are found : Ursell Levy, of Wickford, in the parish of St. Mark, whose name occurs thrice; Diabella, a Jewess, condemned for felony, whose name occurs four times; Bealesset or Belasset, of Wallingford, a Jewess, also condemned for felony, five times; Hagin, son of Benedict of Lincoln, and Agnu or Agni, daughter of Benedict, one of whose houses is said to have come to the king's hands by the exile of Benedict; Jacob Levi, in the parish of St. Benedict; Floria of London, a Jewess of Lincoln, in the parishes of St. Martin and St. Cuthbert; Judah, in the Bailly ; Benedict le Count, in the parish of St. John called "la poure" ; Jacob Brauncegate, in the parish of St. George; Jocey Gabias, in the parish of St. Michael-on-the-Hill; Salomon of London, in the parish of St. Martin and in Brauncegate ; Manser de Bradeworth, in the parish of St. George; Jocey of Colchester; Benedict of London, in Brauncegate; Hagin Calf; Elias Gaboys. Besides these there is a rent of 2s., partly from the burial-ground of the Jews, and 19d. paid by the bailiffs from various Jews' houses not specified." "This inspeximus by Richard III. is dated 1484, 30th Nov." Extract from a petition of the citizens of Lincoln in the time of Richard III. :? "And where that the Jewes were in aunciaunt tyme enhabettaunt in the seyd . . . rede brought all theyre marchaundyse to be solde as Lumbdn doth at this daie in your Cite of London, and as it nowe schewith that the grettest heidplacez were of theyre beildyngez, as in a boke of your Exchequer of record itt apperith; and now the grete nowmbre of the seyd heidplacez be wasted and desolate for lakke of inhabytauntez and be . . . voyd groundez." The Roman gate, called Newport, was built by the Emperor Hadrian. Since writing my report, I have been informed by Mr. Joseph Jacobs that, in Toledo, houses built by the Moors are still inhabited ; these would therefore be somewhat older than those in Lincoln.</page><page sequence="9">Cathedral, Lincoln. Roman Gateway, Lincoln.</page><page sequence="10">Steep Hill, Lincoln?upper part. Steep Hill, Lincoln?lower part.</page></plain_text>