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Was Moyse's Hall, Bury St. Edmunds, a Jew's House?

Edgar R. Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Was Moyse's Hall, Bury St. Edmunds, a Jew's House? EDGAR R. SAMUEL Moyse's Hall, Bury St. Edmunds, is a very solid twelfth-century stone house, of which the undercroft and part of the first-floor hall are original, but which has been subject to many later additions and alterations. Half of the vaulted undercroft is Romanesque in style, and half early Gothic. Miss Margaret Wood, in her book The English Mediaeval House (London, 1965), dates the building c. 1180. The reasons for believing that Moyse's Hall was built for and owned by Jews are its date, style, and location, a local tradition, and above all its name. The argument against is that these all fail to prove the case. In 1895 and 1896 a fervent debate on this question took place between the Rev. Hermann Gollancz and Mr. Frank Haes, first in the columns of the Jewish Chronicle and then in Volumes II and III of the Jewish Historical Society's Transactions. The matter was referred to a scholarly tribunal of three Council members, Messrs. C. Trice Martin, Asher I. Myers, and Sir Lionel Abrahams, who summed up the arguments and found on the whole for Frank Haes.i Sir Hermann Gollancz (as he later became) overstated his case and made use of some very weak and barely relevant arguments, but I feel that his case had more merit than it has been allowed and that some of Frank Haes's coolly stated arguments were too weak to deserve the credit later given to them. The debate was complicated by the demand that the Jewish community, which at that time was confronted with the problem of helping a large number of fugitives from Russia and Rumania, ought to find money to restore this old building in Suffolk. Since I propose to stir up the embers of controversy, which have lain dormant for ninety years, perhaps I ought to start by saying that the merits of historical discussion ought not tobe restrained by financial hazards and that the repair and maintenance of this interesting old building is in any case surely a local and a national responsibility. Was it a Synagogue? The local tradition in Bury St. Edmunds, apparently first recorded in 1804 in Edmund Gillingwater's Historical and Descriptive Account of St Edmund's Bury and thence incorporated in the 1817 edition of Sir William Dugdale's Monasticon Anglicanum, is that Moyse's Hall was a medieval Jews' synagogue. Both Sir Hermann Gollancz and Frank Haes debated this question and none of their arguments is entirely convincing. If one followed Sir Her? mann, all unattributed Romanesque buildings would be synagogues, for he relied upon the resemblance of the cellar vaulting of Moyse's Hall to the vaulting of the eleventh-century Rashi chapel at Worms. Frank Haes on the other hand argued that, as the building faced onto a street which was called Hog Hill during the early eighteenth century and which was then the hog market, the building could not possibly have been a synagogue, because no Jew would build a synagogue near a pig market. There are three defects in this super? ficially attractive argument. First, there is no evidence to show that this part of the Great Market was used for pigs during the Middle Ages. Indeed, in the fifteenth century Hog Lane was on the site of the present College Lane, several blocks south of the Great Market.2 Secondly, it is by no means sure that medieval Jews, who lived surrounded by assorted * Paper delivered to the Jewish Historical Society, 12 December 1973. i Trans.JHSE, Vol. Ill, pp. 33-35. Mr. A. R. Edwardson, F.S.A.,'s excellent guidebook to the Moyse's Hall Museum also accepts this verdict. 2 M. D. Lobel, The Borough of Bury St. Edmunds (Oxford, 1935), map. 43</page><page sequence="2">44 Edgar R. Samuel livestock, were so squeamish as to be put off building a synagogue just because of the presence of a few pigs once a week. Finally, another possibility deserves to be considered, assuming that the hog market was in the same place during the Middle Ages. Perhaps the Abbey's Clerk of the Market had a robust sense of humour and thought it a huge and merry jest to move the pig pens next to the synagogue, and perhaps they stayed there for 400 years afterwards because the custom of selling pigs in the north-east corner of the Great Market became entrenched. Then the site of the pig market would be the one piece of evidence which indicated where the synagogue had once been. The fact is that Frank Haes's argument really doesn't prove anything at all one way or the other. Now to return to Moyse's Hall. I think that the building is unlikely to have been a syna? gogue, because the name suggests a private house and because it seems too expensive a building for a provincial congregation. According to Dr. V. D. Lipman's reckoning, a large stone house in thirteenth-century Norwich was worth upwards of ?1 a year.3 A house at Lincoln described as 'optima domus cum duabis shoppis et pulcro exitu\4 which sounds remarkably like the surviving Jews' house in Steep Hill, Lincoln, was worth ?\ 10s. Od. a year. Most timber daub and wattle houses were worth much less. There is no doubt that the large and wealthy London community did have stone synagogues, two of which were ultimately confiscated by Henry III and given to his favourite friars,5 but at the time of the Expulsion in 1290, provincial synagogues seem to have been much more modest affairs. They were valued as follows: Bristol Canterbury Colchester Hereford Norwich Nottingham Oxford 3/- p.a. 11/8 p.a. J/- p.a. 4/- p.a. 5/- p.a. 3/11 p.a. 18/9 p.a.6 None of these, except possibly the Oxford synagogue, is likely to have been made of stone. Moreover, the synagogue at Hereford, which included an adjacent shop, at 4/- a year contrasts with Aaron of Hereford's house, which was worth 20/- a year.7 Of course the Expulsion figures relate to the depleted and relatively impoverished Jewish communities of the late thirteenth century, but it is surely fairly realistic to expect that the size of the community and the value of its synagogue in twelfth-century Bury St. Edmunds would not have been much greater than, say, that of Canterbury a hundred years later, whose synagogue seems to have been that of the twelfth-century community. Moreover, Moyse's Hall fronts onto the ancient Market. It was and still is in a first class trading position. We don't know where the Jews of Bury St. Edmunds lived, but in London, the thirteenth-century Jewry ran along two sides of the Chepe?or market square,8 in Norwich it lay on the castle side of the Cornmarket,9 and in Oxford it was near Carfax.10 Synagogues tended to be set back a little from the market, as was the case in Norwich, Oxford, Canterbury, and London. The Location The Date The Jews lived in Bury St. Edmunds for a very short period within the twelfth century. 3 V. D. Lipman, The Jews of Mediaval Norwich (J.H.S.E., London, 1967), pp. 22-33. 4 Lionel Abrahams, 'The Condition of the Jews of England at the Time of their Expulsion in 1290' (Trans.JHSE, Vol. II, p. 96, n. 34). 5 In 1243, the King granted a London synagogue to St. Anthony's hospital (Close Roll 1242-1247, p. 142). In 1272, the synagogue in Coleman Street was seized by the King and granted to the neigh? bouring Friars of the Sack, who complained of the 'ullulatio' of the worshippers (Close Roll 1268 1272, p. 522). 6 B. L. Abrahams, op. ext. i Ibid., p. 93, n.45 and n.l. 8 Joseph Jacobs, 'The London Jewry,' Papers read at the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition (London 1888), plan between pp. 24 and 25. 9 V. D. Lipman, op. cit., p. 123. 10 G. Roth, The Jews of Mediaval Oxford, Oxford Historical Society, New Series, Vol. IX (Oxford, 1950), plan at end.</page><page sequence="3">Was Moyse's Hall, Bury St. Edmunds, a Jew's House ? 45 Though some came over to England from Normandy with William the Conqueror, Henry I's Pipe Roll of 1130 refers to none outside London. Jews seem to have moved into the provinces under Stephen11 and were well established in Norwich by 1144, when the St. William affair occurred and Jocelyne de Brakelonde complains that William the Sacrist gave sanctuary in the Abbey pittancy to the Jews' wives and children during the war (pre? sumably of 1177). ?2 On Palm Sunday in 1190, Crusaders killed 57 Jews at Bury St. Edmunds,13 and later in the same year Abbot Sampson obtained the King's licence to exclude Jews from the town, on the ground that they were lieges of the King and not of the Abbey, and that this constituted a Royal infringement of the Abbey's lordship over the town.14 Jews only lived in Bury St. Edmunds bet? ween about 1140 and 1190. If a Jew built a stone house in St. Edmunds Bury, which was a major capital investment, he would only have been likely to do so during a period of security when business prospects looked promising, which narrows the range still further to between 1154 and 1189, under Henry II rather than under Stephen or Richard I. Moyse's Hall was built between 1170 and 1190, during the short period when the Jewry of Bury St. Edmunds was sizeable, secure, and prosperous. Why did Jews settle in English provincial towns in the twelfth century and build stone houses there? In the Norman period Jews were probably primarily engaged in pawnbroking. The establishment of an efficient system of royal justice changed the nature of their profession, for once debts could be enforced at law, lands and crops as well as chattels could be pledged for loans and, given the widespread thirst for credit and the high price of money, a vast expansion in the scale and scope of the Jews' moneylending became possible and took place. Jews had legal autonomy within their commun? ity and they could grant credit to each other and enforce agency and other contracts in the Rabbinic courts.15 This gave them a com? mercial advantage over the ordinary small? town Christian moneylenders, for major capitalists such as Aaron of Lincoln were able to back smaller men by offering to buy the bonds they negotiated at a discount, so that a moneylending business could be conducted through agents and factors on a countrywide basis, and no contract need be refused for lack of funds. Of course the Jews were subject to heavy taxation and legal fees by the King, for whom they became a useful source of revenue. Nevertheless, under Henry II the Jews spread through the country and pro? spered rapidly. Stone Houses It was notable that whereas most people in England lived in timber daub and wattle houses, the richer Jews built themselves stone houses.lh There were four reasons for this. First, a moneylender's house is obviously worth breaking into and stone houses were more secure. Secondly, many Jews came from French towns, where stone houses were much more common than in England, and they were used to them. Thirdly, a stone town house was a good investment worth a high rent. It could be settled on a man's wife to avoid the mediaeval equivalent of estate duty?the one-third relief which the King by custom exacted before allowing a Jew's heirs to inherit his estate.17 A widow could more readily manage the letting of houses and shops than the more complicated 11 H. G. Richardson, The English Jewry under Angevin Kings (Methuen, I960), p. 20. 12 Chronicle of Jocelyn de Brakelond. 13 Ralph de Diceto, ii, p. 78, cited in Joseph Jacobs, The Jews of Angevin England (London, '1893), p. 112. 14 \ . . the Jews ought either to be men of St. Edmond or be ejected from the town'?Jocelyn de Brakelonde's Chronicle. '5 See H. G. Richardson, op. cit., p. 201. 16 William of Newbury's account of the attacks on the Jews of London and York in 1189 and 1190 makes it clear that the principal Jews' houses were stoutly built of stone. 17 This thirteenth-century custom is frequently mentioned in the Calendar of Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews. It presumably had roots in the twelfth century, even though such matters were less systematic then.</page><page sequence="4">46 Edgar R, Samuel and hazardous business of moneylending.18 Finally, a noticeable house in a good trading position helped to advertise its owner's business. Christian traders and merchants built stone houses too, but, except for goldsmiths, moneyers, and usurers, most were less at risk and they were less heavily taxed than the Jews, so the incentive to build in stone was less compelling for most of them. Jocelyne de Brakelonde records that Abbot Sampson bought some stone houses in the town for the master of the schools to use as halls of residence. He does not say whether this was before or after he expelled the Jews from the town. The latter seems likely, since several houses would have come onto the market at once. The Name The name of MOYSE'S HALL is mediaeval. The house is referred to as such in the Chronicles of St. Edmund's Abbey for 1328 in the following passage: 'About midnight on St. Helen's Day of this year, Thomas de Thornham with many fugitives and outlaws came to the town of St. Edmund's, and forcibly seized the keys of all the gates, and no man of the town hindering them, they hastened to Moyse's Hall (ad aulam Moysii) to breakfast, killing Roger Peasenhall a servant of the Abbey on the way. The men of the town being re? joiced at their coming, made them a famous breakfast with many gifts.'19 It is mentioned again in 1474 in the will of Andrew Scarbot as the tenement called 'Moyses HalF.20 In the early Middle Ages the word 'hall' had much the same meaning as the modern word 'house' and houses commonly bore the names of their owners. In Norwich there were Jews' houses called 'Isaac's Hall' and 'Abra? ham's Hall'.21 The Oxford Jewry included 'Jacob's Hall', 'Lombard's Hall', and even another 'Moyses hall', which the late Dr. Cecil Roth believed to have belonged to Magister Mosse of London.22 So the name 'MOYSE'S HALL' is consistent with that of a twelfth-century Jew's house, although, as Frank Haes pointed out, MOSE and MOYSE are common Suffolk surnames, the former deriving from the Essex manor of MOSE near Har? wich,23 which is in the Domesday Book as 'MOSA'. A Robert Mose, butcher, was one of the 1328 Bury St. Edmunds rioters.24 Frank Haes also found references to two other Moyse's Halls, each without any Jewish connection. These look convincing at first sight, but do not withstand scrutiny. One is the manor house of Mose, which was called variously MOSE HALL, MOYSE HALL, and OLD MOZE HALL, and the other is the village of MOUSE HOLE (now pronounced MOZZLE) in Cornwall, which some erratic clerk spelt MOSEHALL in the course of an Elizabethan Chancery suit.25 Frank Haes proved beyond doubt that Mose, Mois, Maus, and Moes were mediaeval English surnames current in East Anglia. So we are left with two possibilities, either MOYSE HALL was built or owned by a Suffolk Christian named MOSES or surnamed MOY, MOYSE, or MOSE, or else it was built or owned by a Jew called Moses. The Latin form AULA MOYSII strongly hints at the latter. The usual Angevin form of the Jewish name is MOSSE, which seems to be a transliteration of the Hebrew name MOSHEH, in which the final syllable is sounded. The surnames MOY, MOYSE, and MOSE, however, contain only one sounded syllable, If the owner's name had been MOYSE, one would expect the building 18 Many Jewesses did of course trade on their own account, but it is very noticeable that at the Expulsion most houses were owned by women. Dr. V. D. Lipman explains this in his 'Anatomy of Mediaeval Anglo-Jewry' (Trans. JHSE, Vol. XXI) by pointing out that the family house was fre? quently settled on the wife in the marriage contract. This would give the husband a life interest in it and the wife the reversion; by the thirteenth century it had become 'the custom of the Isle'. 19 Thomas Arnold, Memorials of Bury St. Edmunds, Vol. II, p. 349. 20 Tymms, Handbook of Bury St. Edmund's, p. 97, cited in Frank Haes's 'Moyse Hall, Bury St. Edmunds. Whence its name?What it was? What it was not' (Trans. JHSE, Vol. Ill, p. 23). 21 V. D. Lipman, The Jews of Medi?val Norwich. 22 G. Roth, The Jews of Medi?val Oxford. 23 Victoria County History of Essex. 24 Frank Haes, op. cit. 25 Ibid.</page><page sequence="5">Was Moyse's Hall, Bury St. Edmunds, a Jew's House ? 47 to be AULA MOYSI or AULA MOYSIS. The phrase AD AULAM MOYSII strongly suggests that the second syllable was sounded and that the owner's name was the Hebrew MOSHEH or Angevin MOSSE rather than the English MOYS or MOSE. Before 1194, when Archbishop Hubert Walter devised a new clerical system for the Exchequer of the Jews, the records of individual Jews in England are very sparse. Almost the only references to the sizeable twelfth-century Bury St. Edmunds community come from the monastic chroniclers and these do not name many individuals. Apart from the fact that the Abbey borrowed money from Jurnet of Norwich and Isaac fil Rabbi Gotce of London, we know the names of none of the twelfth-century Bury St. Edmunds Jews,26 not even those of the fifty-seven killed in the 1190 massacre. So there could have been a dozen Jews named Moses there, trading on their own account or acting as agents or cus? tomers for richer men elsewhere, or there could have been none, or the house might have taken its name not from its twelfth-century builder but from a thirteenth-century owner or occupier. Bury St. Edmund's was such a thriving centre that, although it had no Jewry, it is likely that one or two Jews would have repaired there on market days, as happened in other places. In 1270, Moses of Clare, whose business embraced transactions in Oxfordshire, Lincoln, and Cambridge, lived at Sudbury within the Liberty of St. Edmund, and there was an archa and chirographers there who recorded his transactions.27 The likelihood of his having had a place of business in Bury St. Edmunds is very high indeed. Conclusions I should now like to summarise our argument. It doesn't seem likely that MOYSE'S HALL was a synagogue?its location and high cost argue against it?but it could have been a Jew's house, either when it was built or in the late thirteenth century, or both. The date, location, and material of the house all accord with the suggestion. Taken in conjunction with these, its name AULA MOYSII, or MOYSE'S HALL, makes it highly probable that it was in fact a Jew's house. 26 Jocelyne de Brakelonde, op. cit. 27 Calendar of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews, Vol. I (j.H.S.E., 1905),. p. 234. [See PLATES VII, VIII, IX, &amp; X]</page><page sequence="6">PLATE VII ^^^^ ^</page><page sequence="7">PLATE VIII r?i t ** '* CM bb E</page><page sequence="8">PLATE IX ^ ^^^^^^^^^ g</page><page sequence="9">PLATE X</page></plain_text>