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Report of the Sub-Committee on Moyse's Hall

C. Trice Martin

<plain_text><page sequence="1">REPORT OF THE SUB-COMMITTEE ON MOYSE'S HALL. APPOINTED BY THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE JEWISH HISTOEICAL SOCIETY OF ENGLAND. We have considered the evidence brought before us by Mr. Gollancz and Mr. Haes on the question of the early history of Moyse's Hall in Bury St. Edmunds. We find that the belief, maintained by Mr. Gollancz, that this building was once the residence of a Jew, or the synagogue of a Jewish community, rests entirely on the statement, made by various anti? quaries, that there was a local tradition to that effect. We have had before us nothing to show whether this tradition was ever generally current in the neighbourhood, and if so, to what period it can be traced. So far as we can ascertain, it first appears in print in Dugdale's Monasticon Anglicanum,1 a work of which the publication was begun in the year 1655, i.e. 465 years after the expulsion of the Jews from Bury St. Edmunds, 365 years after their expulsion from England, and 181 years after the date of the document in which, as we understand, the name Moyse Hall appears for the first time.2 It is obvious that a tradition separated by so long an interval of time from the supposed facts to whicfh it refers is in need of strong corroboration before it can be regarded as having any historical value. Mr. Gollancz, however, maintains that it should be provisionally accepted until some further evidence is discovered to prove definitely its truth or its falsehood. 1 Vol. iii. p. 104 of the edition by Caley, Ellis, &amp; Bandinel (London, 1817 1830). 2 We assume that Timms had good authority for stating, in his Handbook to Bury St. Edmunds, that Moyse Hall is mentioned in the will of Andreus Scarbot, which bears the date 1474. VOL. III. 33</page><page sequence="2">34 REPORT OF THE SUB-COMMITTEE ON MOYSE'S HALL. Mr. Haes, on the other hand, brings forward various arguments against its probability. It seems to us that one of these is of considerable importance. Mr. Haes gives the names of several persons, apparently Christians, living in the eastern counties, who have borne the names of Moyse, Moyses, Muese, Moes, or Moys, and he suggests that the original owner of Moyse's Hall, after whom the building was called, is just as likely to have been a Christian as to have been a Jew; and that the tradition that the building had been in Jewish ownership may have originated in an attempt to explain so Jewish-sounding a name. It is true that, in a part of England in which Moyse or Moses is known as a name borne by Christians, it is less likely than elsewhere that the hypothesis of Jewish ownership should have come into existence as the result of a popular attempt of this kind. But, as we have pointed out above, there is nothing to show that the belief in the Jewish ownership of Moyse's Hall had a popular origin. It may well have been at first the hypothesis of an antiquary (Dugdale, for instance) who was familiar with the facts that Moses was a Jewish name, and that Jews had lived in Bury St. Edmunds, and was not familiar with the fact that Moses is also a name occasionally borne by Christians in East Anglia. In our opinion these considerations weaken the claim of the tradition to be regarded as evidence of a historical fact; and, as we have said, even apart from these considerations, the claims of the tradition do not seem to us to be very strong. We must add that we are not able to attach much importance to certain other arguments which Mr. Haes brings forward. Mr. Haes urges, for example, that the Jews of Bury St. Edmunds were neither numerous enough nor wealthy enough to make it probable that one of their number, or the whole body of them, possessed so important a building as Moyse's Hall; and further, that a Jew would not have chosen for his residence, nor a Jewish community for its synagogue, a situation so prominent as that of Moyse's Hall. We do not think that enough is known of the Jews of Bury St. Edmunds to make it possible to pursue this line of argument to any purpose. There were certainly Jews in Bury St. Edmunds before 1190; but we do not know whether they were rich or poor, few or</page><page sequence="3">report of the sub-committee on moyse's hall. 35 many. And we see no reason why they should not, if they were able to afford it, have lived in important and prominent buildings, as did the Jews of other parts of England. (See J. Jacobs, Tlie Jews of Angevin England, 102 and 117.) C. TRICE MARTIN. B. LIONEL ABRAHAMS. ASHER I. MYERS. List of the principal documents laid before us :? (1.) "Moyse's Hall, Bury St. Edmunds," by the Rev. H. Gollancz, Jewish Chronicle, 14th June 1895. (2.) "Moyse's Hall, Bury St. Edmunds," by F. Haes, Jewish Chronicle, 14th February 1896. (See p. 18 above.) (3.) "Reply to Discussion," a paper sent us by Mr. Haes. (4.) "a Further Paper on Moyse's Hall," a paper read to the Jewish Histori? cal Society by the Rev. H. Gollancz on the 21st March 1896, and sent us by the author. (See p. 25 above.) Supplementary Note on Moyse's Hall. I find that the passage in Dugdale's Monasticon which was referred to in the report of the Moyse's Hall Sub-Committee, is not the work of Dugdale himself. It does not appear in the early editions of the book, and was apparently first inserted in the edition of 1817. The oldest passage in any writer that I have been able to find supporting the belief that there is extant any building in Bury St. Edmunds which was formerly inhabited by Jews, is a note by Bishop Gibson in his edition of Camden's Britannia, which was published in 1695. The note is as follows: "They have a tradition that the monastery there (i.e. in Bury St. Edmunds) was afterwards (i.e. after the time of King Sigebert) inhabited by Jews; and an old way leading to the entrance, called the Jewes' Way, may seem to give it some colour of probability." It is scarcely necessary to point out how little support this statement, that the monastery itself was once the habitation of Jews, lends to the theory that a particular house near the monastery was once a synagogue or the habitation of a particular Jew. And yet it is on this foundation that Tovey bases his belief that there are extant Jewish remains in Bury St. Edmunds. B. L. A.</page></plain_text>