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Memorial Address: Hilary Jenkinson

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Memorial Addresses (i) SIR HILARY JENKINSON, C.B.E., LL.D., F.S.A. (President of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 1953-55) By Professor Norman Bentwich1 HILARY JENKINSON and I were at Cambridge together and were close friends, and we remained friends thereafter. I knew, too, his uncle who was Librarian of the University Library, and a friend of Solomon Schechter who spoke of him with reverence for his devotion to the study of manuscripts. Hilary must have inherited that love of ancient documents. For from his Cambridge days he was concentrated on one purpose, to reveal the treasures of history and knowledge hidden in ancient records and archives. From Cambridge he went straight to the Records Office, and made his way up in the hierarchy to be Deputy-Keeper?which means the Director of the office. He records that it was the reading of Joseph Jacobs' book, The Jews of Angevin England, that gave him the idea of what might be done by patient gleaning in the astonishing series of English records about the Jewish Exchequer of the Middle Ages. He records, too, that his predecessor at the Record Office was a famous Jewish scholar, Sir Francis Palgrave. By fortunate coincidence?one of his first official tasks of importance in the Record Office led him to the study of exclusively Jewish records of the community in England in the thirteenth century. He discovered that the Plea Rolls were largely records, not of legal suits, but of all kinds of transactions. And they contained memoranda which throw a flood of light on the Jewish social conditions. He wrote an article on his research, which appeared in the Transactions of our Society in 1912; and he was elected a member of the Council of the Society. Continuing his studies of the Plea Rolls, under the guidance of Dr. Israel Abrahams, then the Hon. Editor of the Society, he prepared for the Society a volume, the Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews preserved in the Record Office, Edward I 1275-1277. That was the third volume in the series, the first two having been edited by J. M. Rigg. It was published in 1929, and, sad to say, no further volume has been published since. With his abundant knowledge of records of all kinds his introduction is a mine of information on aspects of the life of medieval Jewish and Christian communities. He was elected a Vice-President of the Society, and then in 1955 President. In his presidential address he called on the Society to continue the work of scholarship, and urged that it would be a fitting memorial of the tercentenary of the Jewish resettle? ment in England to complete the series. Anglo-Jewry had a unique heritage of historical documents about the community. It was a privilege, but also a challenge. He reckoned that three more volumes of the Plea Rolls would be required, and for their publication a special fund, estimated then at ?6,000, should be raised. He suggested how the work should be done and offered generously to be the general editor. Unfortunately the work could not be put in hand at once, but his prodding did stimulate the Society after a few years to undertake it. We shall miss, however, his guiding hand. In his presidential address also he described his function as an archivist, "That office has the primary concern for the conservation and accessibility of documents 1 Delivered before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 26th April, 1961. 257</page><page sequence="2">258 MEMORIAL ADDRESSES in the interest of political, economic and social history." The archives are pieces of writing of all kinds, from official registers to the small notes which accumulate in the conduct of affairs. And their value is for the indirect and incidental information given on a mass of topics. Sir Hilary pointed out that the Jewish community in England had a rich store of archives, partly of the synagogues, schools, and charitable societies of all kinds and other institutions of the community, partly in the correspondence of the leading Jewish families, and partly in miscellaneous notes. The first thing to be done was to make a survey of the field, and to find a depository for the material. Here again he offered the benefit of his wide experience, and he suggested a large vista which would embrace the documents not only of this country and the British Commonwealth, but of the Jews of the European continent with whom English families were linked. Again his stimulus has led to action, and the Society's programme will for many years bear witness to his vision. He described the archivist as "the selfless devotee of Truth"; and the description is apt for him. The Jewish cornmunity, not only in England, holds in grateful memory the generous scholar who was constantly seeking ways of adding to knowledge of the past, and of breathing fresh life into buried archives.</page></plain_text>

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