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Moyse Hall, Bury St. Edmunds, whence its name - What it was - What it was not

Frank Haes

<plain_text><page sequence="1">MOYSE HALL, BURY ST. EDMUNDS. WHENCE ITS NAME?WHAT IT WAS?WHAT IT WAS NOT. By FRANK HAES. Moyse Hall, in the small town of Bury St. Edmunds, has been for nearly two centuries reputed to be an ancient synagogue, or Jews' House or Hall. The words House and Hall are the same. Univer? sity Halls were called Houses or Halls, and, as you know, the words are interchangeable to-day. There are ten Halls in Oxford to-day, mostly bearing names of persons who endowed them, or in memory of whom they were erected. I hope to show you that this Jewish desig? nation is merely a misty tradition, for which I think I can fairly account. I must now let the building speak for itself as to age and date of erection. It is undoubtedly a late Norman or transition work; this gives a date between 1160 and 1200, with a few years' variation. With this photograph and the pictures in the second volume of the Transactions of this Society (1895), pages 118 and 119, you will not have any difficulty in following my remarks. In the east front was the original, and probably only entrance. The ground-floor had only very small lights, the south front had probably small lights on ground floor, and, as you see, two large windows on the upper storey. The other portion of the building must also have had round-headed windows; the only old one now existing is of much later date, being Decorated, nay, almost Perpendicular, and much of it is, I believe, resto? ration work. We are not, as far as I can see, much concerned for the present with the interior, but I may mention that the ground-floor is a stone-vaulted chamber with two rows of arches, of the same date as the exterior. The next point to which I shall direct your attention is its site. The east site is on what was known as Hog Hill, or the Beast Market; the south side is on Cornhill, which I believe was the Corn 18</page><page sequence="2">MOYSE HALL, BURY ST. EDMUNDS. 19 Market, and it stands 300 yards from the Abbey Gate as the crow flies. It seems to me that we must allow the English Jews of this troublesome period to have had a reasonable amount of common-sense, and the wish to keep themselves out of danger; therefore, I ask, would any body of men in such growing disfavour as the Jews were at this period be so foolish, so short-sighted, or so foolhardy as to thrust their place of worship so prominently before town and abbey as the position Moyse Hall occupies 1 Excepting perhaps Spain, is there any European country in which at this period the Jews built their synagogue outside the Jewry or Ghetto ? The Jews in the various countries of the world in which they have lived have, so far as is known, followed, in building their synagogues, more or less closely the style then in vogue at the period, with, of course, such internal modifications as the form of service required. Will any one attempt to contend that Moyse Hall resembles in any way the ecclesiastical style of its period ? Please remember that in estimating the then importance of this building you must not compare it with the three-storeyed houses now beside it, but with hovels of timber of one-storey elevation, thatched with rushes, reeds, or straw, and if you realise this you will see it was a very important building in a small town. Churches and cathedrals of this period, although very fine buildings, were not nearly the size and height of the later Gothic ones. Just about the time it was built some of the higher authorities of the Abbey, before the election of Abbot Samson, had borrowed con? siderable sums of money from the Jews, but is the name of any Jew of Edmundsbury recorded as a creditor ? If they had been very wealthy would the borrowers have gone away from the town, which practically belonged to the Abbey, for the loans? Mr. Jacobs, in The Jews of Angevin England, gives an extract from Ralph de Diceto, a London monk, stating that on 18th March 1190, fifty-seven Jews were slaughtered here,1 and in the same year Abbot Samson, a bitter enemy of the Jews, had all banished from the town, as they were not St. Edmund's, but the King'fe men, and none but St. Edmund's men could live in his city. Do you believe that any man in St. Edmund's town dared sell land to Jews to put up a synagogue or school in so con 1 John de Taxter, who wrote at a later date, and was a monk of the Abbey, only says Jews were killed, &amp;c, giving no numbers. Jocelin, in his Chronicle, mentions Jews by name, but all except one lived in other cities.</page><page sequence="3">20 MOYSE HALL, BURY ST. EDMUNDS. spicuous a position, seeing that the town was entirely under the rule of the Abbey ? Was there not also a charge of their having crucified a boy, Robert, in the town ? I have mentioned dates, but have not given the names of the kings during whose reigns the Hall was built. It must have been in the later part of King Henry II., or early in Eichard I.'s reign. I do not think it was as late as King John, but of course I cannot fix it so exactly. Was the general condition of the country at this period such as to warrant the great cost of such a building, which must have been a much larger one than the mansion erected by the millionaire of the time, Aaron of Lincoln1? May I sug? gest a sketch of the England of this period ? The greater part of the country was covered by vast forests, through whose gloomy recesses ran bridle-paths, the only means of communication between towns and villages, for except the Roman highways no roads existed, no bridges over rivers; in the forest wolves abounded, and travellers only moved in large bands, for security against robbers or wild beasts. Buildings of the size and style of the one we are discussing could only be built by the companies of Master Masons and their craftsmen, who travelled from place to place, encamping where they found work waiting them, and then moving on to the next town. Richard had previously squeezed ?130,000 out of his subjects for what was called the Saladin tithe, out of which total the Jews paid ?60,000. This brings me to the next argument I wish to place before you. How many Jews might have lived in Edmundsbury? I think that it is Mr. Jacobs who has stated that the probable total number of the Jews in all England before the expulsion may be estimated as not exceeding 3000. It is known that a large proportion lived in London, suppose we say 300, that leaves ninety souls for each of the twenty-seven other towns in which they were entitled to reside, but some of the larger towns, as Lincoln, Norwich, King's Lynn, York, Winchester, and others, would certainly have more, the smaller fewer than this number. Is not sixty, then, a very fair proportion ? Is it not a fair question to ask if it were probable that such a small congregation at such a stormy period would have built such an edifice ? It may be answered they were very wealthy. True, some were, but Mr. B. L. Abrahams, in his paper on the Jews of Hereford, showed that the wealth was in comparatively few hands, and we know it was held almost by a hair. Why have no synagogues,</page><page sequence="4">MOYSE HALL, BURY ST. EDMUNDS. 21 which no doubt were built of stone, been discovered in other parts of England ? Is it not accounted for by the Act said to have been passed in the second year of Edward III., ordering all the former Jewish synagogues in the kingdom to be destroyed1? I must here state that I have had a rough search made in the Record Office, but it has not resulted in finding such an entry; it has been accepted for many years, and the record may still exist or be referred to in other documents, for the records of this reign are not as complete as those of later date. However, this seems to account very satisfactorily for their non-existence, for the clergy would have taken good care to see the order carried out, and if so, why should this one prominent building have escaped 1 I now come to a very much stronger reason for my conviction that this never was a building in any way connected with Jews, unless they advanced the money for its erection, as they did for so many abbeys, castles, and no doubt cathedrals. The name Moyse was and still is a Suffolk name. Every one will allow that the spellings of proper names at the period referred to, and very much later, were very varied, so long as the sound-was fairly well retained; but we find the very words spelt as to-day in the indexes of the inquisition's post-mortem as that of a family settled in Essex, in or earlier than Edward III., and Moese as that of a Yorkshire family. The earliest reference I have been able to find to Moyse Hall is in 1328. In the Chronicles of St. Edmund's Abbey is the following entry : " On August 18th of this year Thomas le Thornham with many outlaws came to the town of St. Edmund's, and forcibly seized the keys of the gates, and no man of the town hindering them, they hastened to Moyse Hall to breakfast, killing a servant of the Abbey on the way. The men of the town, being rejoiced at their coming, made them a famous breakfast with many gifts." One of the rioters (1st Edward III.) was named Robert Mose, a butcher. The next date is 1474, where it is mentioned in the will of Andreus Scarbot as the " ten : Angnet Regio vocat Moyse Hall," which I conjecture may mean tene? ment in the Angnet quarter called Moyse Hall, and in 1574 it was the residence of one Richard Kyng. These are mentioned by Tymms in the Handbook of Bury St. Edmund's, pp. 96 and 97. I must now go back to the Chronicle again, 1st Edward III.: '' The rioters burnt halls belonging to the Abbey called Mothalle, Bradefeldhall, and New</page><page sequence="5">22 MOYSE HALL, BURY ST. EDMUNDS. halle, with it chambers and solars." There was another hall called Ledenhalle, where they imprisoned the prior and some monks. With Moyse Hall, Bury had in all five, and I propose to you to accept the natural inference that all five halls were appanages of the Abbey; Moyse Hall having been built by, or for, or named after, a certain Moyse, a Suffolk man. Perhaps I had better say what these halls were. They were used as places where the better class of the vast number of pilgrims who visited the shrine of St. Edmund might rest and dwell during their stay when they could not find room in the guest-house, which was a prominent feature in all the great abbeys. Respectable pilgrims would not care to mix with the low class of drunken roisterers that would be found in the taverns of the day. And this explains the use of the smaller half of the building, as being the chambers necessary. Accepting this solution of this vexed question, every difficulty disappears at once. Its prominent position, its large size, its upper chamber or solar, its close proximity to the Abbey, are all explained, and I hope you will agree with me that it is as reason? able and probable as many things which are now accepted as true history. I do not wish to weary you, but I should like to mention the curious persistence of the name of Moyse as a surname in Suffolk, and to account for the misty tradition I trust I have dispelled. In the town records under date of May 15, 1685, a room under Moses Hall is assigned to a certain person, and again under the same name in 1691, May 7, it is referred to thus: "One arch in the north oyle of Moses Hall excepted from lease of the building." Here we have the beginning of the tradition which has so long confused antiquaries. You will notice the date is not long after the restoration of Charles II., " The whole country had been strongly saturated with Puritanism, and Suffolk has always been remarkable for its strong Puritanical element." "In the days of James I., 1620, numbers of earnest men and women of Suffolk left England and founded the New England of the United States." Is it not self-evident that the Moyse became corrupted into Moses, and on this corruption the tradition took root ? Surely it is unnecessary to dwell longer on such a plain explanation. The name Moyse is still to be found in small villages in the county among the sons of the soil, where one would naturally look for the existence of an old name. It is not to be found in a higher class, though I may men</page><page sequence="6">MOYSE HALL, BURY ST. EDMUNDS. 23 tion, as showing it is not extinct even there, that the London Post Office Directory of 1893 has five of the name, and two with the final s. I have here a list of some ten or twelve of the name, farmer, black? smith, carpenter, bootmaker, grocer, &amp;c, all in small places, most of which I feel sure none of us have ever heard of:? Place. Name. Boxted Carlton Cretingham Fornham . Ipswich . Kirkley Risby . . Southwold Woolpit London Moyse Moyse &amp; Moye Mays Moyse &amp; Son Moyse Moyse Moyse Moys Moyse 5 Moyse 2 Moyses. Business. Farmer Blacksmith Grocer Blacksmith 1290 1325 1328 1345 1353 1368 1474 1574 1685 1691 The Name and Variants. John de Muese Margery de Moese Moyse Hall Rose Mois Peter Moys Peter Moys Moyse Hall Moyse Hall Moses Hall Moses Hall There is one curious coincidence, that of the farmer living at a village called Boxted, the manor of which formerly belonged to the Abbey of St. Edmund, and is now in the gift of the Crown. Who knows but what this man's ancestor may have been the man after whom Moyse Hall was named 1 Stranger things than this are recorded in history. NOTES. The names Moyse, Mose, Mosse, in use temp. 1560-1620. From the Index to the Proceedings in Chancery, regno Queen Elizabeth. Vol. i. page xc, a Mose. ? ? 307, John Moyse and another, title of land, Otterham, Cornwall. ii. ? 214, Hamlet of Peignton. Moyse. ? ? 282, Moysehall, the same as Norden's Mosehall in Ardely, Essex. See Norden's Survey of Essex, 1594. ? ? 241, Henry Moyse and Johan Moyse his wife in Cornwall. ? 219, Eichard Moyse or Moys. ? ? 383, Thomas Moyse, legacy charged on mansion-house at St. Osyth, Essex. ? ? 220, Edward Moyses. iii. ? 293, Manor of Mose, Essex. This is the same as Norden's as above. ? ? 196, Mosehall, in Cornwall. ? ? 161, Agnes Moyses, land in Cornwall.</page><page sequence="7">24 MOYSE HALL, BURY ST. EDMUNDS. Vol. iii. page 146, Simon Mosse, land in Cornwall. ? ? 262, Henry Mose, personal matters. The above list shows that at this period three Moyses Halls were known, and also that all the various spellings were pronounced alike. At this period Jews were not permitted to live in England, and this helps my contention that Moyse was a fairly common name, or rather surname, in England. Having examined every guide-book of Bury St. Edmunds in the British Museum, I can assert that they have all copied the description of Moyse Hall from the earliest one published.</page></plain_text>