Map of Search Results
Canterbury
Marcus Roberts

Places of interest

Bookmark this page |  E-mail this page to a friend

The Site of The House of Jacob the Jew and the Medieval Synagogue - The County Hotel
The Site of The Medieval Synagogue - The County Hotel
The House of Cresse the Jew and St Thomas Hospital
Sites of Medieval Jewish Houses - Best Lane and Kings Street
The Kings Street Synagogue
Canterbury Cathedral
The Site of Modechai and Henry Harts' Businesses - Kingsbridge and St Peters Street
The Site of the Synagogue Of 1762 - Westgate and St Dunstan's Street
The Jewish Cemetery of 1760 - Whitstable Road
Canterbury Castle


1. The Site of The House of Jacob the Jew and the Medieval Synagogue - The County Hotel

The tour is best started at the County Hotel which marks the very center of the medieval Jewry. The block of land occupied by the hotel and the High Street either side of the Hotel and its car park at the rear defines the main streets where the Jews lived.

A quick walk around the block, down Stour Street, left into Jewry Lane and White Horse Lane, finishing back on the High street, will show the relative compactness of the area of the former Jewry. Also it will illustrate how the Jews tended to favour forming a central enclave or nucleus of housing and communal facilities i.e. the immediate area occupied by the Hotel fronting the High Street.

The front of the County Hotel stands on what was originally three plots of land acquired by Jacob the Jew of Canterbury in about 1190. He obtained what was essentially an unlimited lease with a small annual rent payable on the land. The first two plots approximately occupy what is today the hotel tea room and lounge overlapping into what is now the bar. The third plot extended further along by about another twenty feet i.e. over into the lobby area of the hotel.

When Jacob acquired his land he built himself what was described at the time as "a great stone house". The house was long mentioned as a conspicuous local landmark. It would probably have been a "first floor hall" building with the living accommodation on the first floor, with a strong room beneath at semi-basement level.

In his time the house was both his personal residence and place of work. Jacob was the leading Jewish financier of medieval Canterbury, thus his house was in effect like a county bank.

After he died in about 1216, his sons Aaron and Samuel inherited the property and then sold it on to the Cathedral. The Cathedral then let it out to Cressel the Jew. Little is known as to what happened from this time to the expulsion. However by 1290 the property had been divided in two and belonged to two Jews, Aaron son of Vives and Cok Hagin. The latter had the larger part and a piece of ground. After the expulsion it seems that the Cathedral acquired the property from the king. By 1640 the site was part of the "Sarcens Head Inn", which later renamed the "Kings Head", became part of the present County Hotel.

Parts of the Jacob's house survived into modern times. Until 1927 the western wall of the hotel in Stour Street, was the surviving wall of Jacobs House. It was a massive construction made of stone and rubble and was nearly five feet thick! Due to its decayed state it was replaced by a brick wall. While it is reported that some of the wall survived in the cellars a manager of the hotel, Mr Penturo, told me that the interior of the cellar walls is brick, but this is not to say that they may not be facing older stonework. It is quite probable that archaeological investigation would reveal original fabric in the cellar wall and foundations. It should be mentioned that the cellars are not available to be seen by visitors.

An attractive medieval corbel, in the form of a medieval lady with a headdress, is preserved and inserted into a corridor wall on the first floor - reputedly a relic from Jacobs Hall. However the Cortauld Institute were of the opinion that the style of headdress showed it was probably 14th century in date, too late to be contemporary with Jacob but perhaps a link with the later history of his building.
Top

2. The Site of The Medieval Synagogue - The County Hotel

The County Hotel is also very significant as it lays on the site of the medieval synagogue. The synagogue was sited behind Jacob's house to the south and next to or near to Stour Street. In terms of the modern hotel this is approximately the area of the dining room or assembly room next to and down from the bar. Additionally, running south from the synagogue site were another two houses, the nearest to the synagogue belonging at sometime to Benedict the Jew the other to a Gentile. This last property marks the approximate south boundary of the Jewry.

The 17th century antiquarian, William Somner, wrote in 1640, that he thought that the stone parlour of the Sarcen's Head was the "a good part" of the former synagogue. He stated that the parlour was itself "mounted on a vault and ascended by many stone steps" in the manner of Jewish synagogues.

This may well be a credible reference to the remains of the former synagogue - however recent research on the form of medieval Anglo-Jewish synagogues suggests that a building towards the rear of this plot away from the street and at cellar level, should be explored as a possibility. Also medieval synagogues usually had a courtyard as well and it is on the record that the Canterbury synagogue had an adjoining plot of land (of 66 by 15 feet) and that the community held other plots of vacant land. Thus the exact nature of the building and its configuration in this small area behind Jacobs House may be a matter for further investigation.

It is probable that if there was indeed a Talmudic academy it would have been close by. Indeed next door to the synagogue was a house which belonged to Cok Hagin and Aaron son of Vives. Neither of them lived in Canterbury and Cok was a member of the famous Hagin family of London. These facts might indicate that the house was provided as a pious benefaction for the support of scholars.
Top

3. The House of Cresse the Jew and St Thomas Hospital

On leaving the County Hotel and a very short walk in the direction of the Westgate, the ancient remains of St Thomas Hospital can be seen on the left (or south) side of the street just before Kingsbridge. The hospital is important as it is one of the few earlier medieval buildings (built 1175) in Canterbury to survive above ground level. The hospital was used to shelter pilgrims to the shrine of Thomas a Becket. Also it existed in the time of the medieval Jewry in Canterbury and would have been a familiar sight to Canterbury Jews.

Its main Jewish significance is that it enables one to accurately position the house of Cresse the Jew, who lived on the east side of the hospital, that nearest the County Hotel. He built a house right next to the hospital there in 1234 and it effectively marks the outer western boundary of the old Jewry.
Top

4. Sites of Medieval Jewish Houses - Best Lane and Kings Street

By turning back a little in the direction of the County Hotel, Best Lane will be reached on the left hand side. Best Lane contained other Jewish properties. The bottom corner of the street on the right (south-eastern) corner had a house called "Leaden Porch". The next house up was the stone house of Sampson the Jew. His house marked the northern boundary of the Jewry.

Set in the pavement, Opposite the junction of Stour Street is an inscribed stone, declaring "Jews Stone House 1180". Sadly this may be a straightforward mix-up with the actual site of Jacob's House opposite based on Adlers imperfect (though important) map of the Jewry made in the 1930s.
Top

5. The Kings Street Synagogue

A few minutes walk along from the High street, along Best Lane, leads straight into Kings Street and to the Synagogue of 1847. The synagogue is set back some way from the street on the left, just before the street takes a sharp turn to the right, past a house called the "Black Princes Chantry" (no. 22).

The striking and grim obelisks that flank either side of the iron gates to the synagogue grounds are the sign that one has arrived at the right place!

The synagogue is set some way back, obscured by trees. However the Egyptian style columns carrying the frontage are easily seen. The citadel like frontage of the building is forbidding rather than welcoming, discouraging of unwanted attention.

The site itself is a historic one being the old hospital of the Knight's Templar and over the wall was the former Black Princes Chantry referred to previously.

A reporter wrote that the synagogue is somewhat Cecil B de Mille in appearance. It is unusual as there are relatively few structures in the Egyptian style in this country and it is certainly unique for an English synagogue.

If the grounds are closed, other views of the building can be seen by walking around the block, particularly down Mill Lane, which gives some idea of the side and rear of the building.

The gates to the grounds and synagogue are usually kept locked. However the Kings School, off Palace Street nearby, are very helpful about arranging inside visits, which can be arranged through the Personnel Office of the school at the Bursary. It is best to make arrangements in advance.

The synagogue was built in the Egyptian style to designs by Mr. Hezekiah Marshall of Canterbury. It was designed in this style rather then the conventional Gothic revival style, because the community thought "our every tradition associates it with recollections of persecution". However one might think of many more persecution-neutral styles then that of the Pharaohs!

Perhaps this was but a pious explanation, designed to avert the dangers of the "envious eye" of their Christian neighbours. It might be said that the choice of the Egyptian style was evidence of a sophisticated taste as the Egyptian style and all things Egyptian had enjoyed a brief vogue in this country in the wake of the Battle of the Nile.

The exterior of the building expends its main decorative details on the front. The front edges of the building are flanked by massive columns - truncated obelisks, and the main focus is on the two Egyptianate columns, like giant asparagus, which all together support a severely decorated head.

The rest of the building is in brick with a slate roof. The north side of the synagogue containing the two entrances is gentler and more welcoming in appearance, though the main entrance is in a massive stone flanked by more pylons. The gentler effect partly achieved by the use of alternate coloured brick courses. There are alternate courses of grey headers and red-brick stretchers. The rear of the building is very plain and now has a small modern brick annex. The south side of the building forms a narrow passage way with the boundary wall leading to a door that goes into a small irregular shaped vestry at the corner of the building.

The design of the synagogue is very traditional as it follows the Talmudic and traditional forms of synagogue design - perhaps somewhat more closely than may be seen elsewhere. The synagogue has the traditionally recommended twelve windows. It also has the two entries in the favoured location of the north wall, the main entry being through a small vestibule to effect the transition from the everyday to the Holy. The interior is also very lofty in appearance which is again much favoured by tradition. The Kings school and their architects felt when they were restoring the building in 1982 that there was an "unusually high space in the main hall" and they used a special new trunking and horizontal rail to break the effect of height. The front with its columns and temple like appearance, with no central doorway, is highly reminiscent of the classical synagogues in Israel.

The interior is notable for its simplicity and severity. The only relief and decoration is provided by the latticed windows and the obelisk motif repeated through the building i.e. as buttresses for the three roof spans carrying the ceiling, the side pillars of the ark, as prominent elements of the balustrade of the womens' gallery and as smaller decorative flourishes in the benches of the women's section. The rails of the balustrade are all shaped like miniature obelisks!

The only decorative flourish allowed in the whole building is the use of lotus leaves at the top of the truncated obelisks carrying the cornice which all together form a frame for the former Ark.

An old photograph shows that when the synagogue was still in use the effect would have been a little softer. This was due to the customary fixed wooden furnishings and fixtures, the brass candelabra suspended from ceiling. The window above the Ark contained a plaque, with what look like pierced Hebrew letters, declaring "know before whom you stand."

The Ark itself dominated everything and was a powerful focus of the whole building. All of the architectural motifs are centered on and are refer to the design of the Ark. In the original building this effect was heightened by the addition of two smaller obelisks set forward of the Ark itself.

Back in the pleasant garden grounds of the synagogue, another exceptional feature is the bath house (Mikveh) just opposite the secondary doorway at the north side of the building. Mikvehs are generally rare survivors. This one is a brick hut with a slate roof built in the identical style of the main building. The massive decoration surround to the door is identical in style to the main entrance and the frame for the ark, but without the lotus leaves. The sides of the front of the building are also framed by obelisks. Inside the building there is little evidence of the mikveh itself. There is a fireplace with brick obelisk surrounds but that is all. There is no evidence as to what sort of mikveh it was - there is no evidence of rain water from the roof being fed into the building for a rain fed mikveh the most common type in England.
Top

6. Canterbury Cathedral

The Cathedral still dominates the city of Canterbury, laying to the north east of the High Street, close to the area of the medieval Jewry. The Cathedral was the constant backdrop to the life of the Canterbury Jews. Also their life was entwined with the monks who were their clients and their landlords and we know that in the 12th century at least, there was a strong Judaic element in the ritual of the cathedral.

Points of specific Jewish interest in the Cathedral are the Priors Chapel which was partly financed with Jewish loans in 1226. Other cathedrals in the medieval period (such as St Albans') used Jewish funds to help finance building projects.

The Priors Chapel survives in part - the sub-vault of the chapel is an extension of the vaulting of the Water Tower in the Infirmary Cloister. This can be approached through the Library passage running from the eastern side of the Great Cloister. The original chapel above was itself was replaced by the Howley Library built in brick after 1660.

In the Crypt close by there are preserved two striking and significant sculptures of the heads of two medieval Jews. They are in a glass case just to the left of the entry to the Treasury.

The sculptures depict two full bearded Jews in full face, complete with the identifying pointed hat that Jews were required to wear in the medieval period. The hats are neat with a decorative band and tassels spaced around the rim and are shown with what look like piped seams rising to and gathered into the peak at the top.

They were part of a larger decorative monumental piece that was recovered in 1964 from the west wall of the Great Cloister. They had been recycled as building material in the cloister wall.

It is thought that they were part of a screen in the Quire built under the direction of the master mason "William the Englishman" in c.1180 and destroyed in building work in c. 1300.

They were among several quatrefoils depicting heads - the other survivors, including heads of demons, are also on display in the case. The surmise is that they were part of a "Tree of Jesse" design and represented Old Testament figures.

To the contrary it looks as if the Jews' heads belong to a primarily decorative series of quatrefoils that include the heads of the demons. It could well be that the Jews were figures generally representing the Jews as a spiritual type - certainly one of the Jews has huge ears which probably the near mirror image of horns of the demons. The style of the Jews beards is also similar to those of the demons.

They are dissimilar to the "Christian" religious figures that also belonged to the screen which are smaller and more realistic in their detail and evidently referred to Old or New Testament figures. However this does not exclude them representing biblical figures, but this does not seem so likely.

It is interesting to speculate whether these figures were based on Jews in Canterbury. It is certainly the case that individual Jews (especially money lenders) were sometimes compared to the Devil or demons in medieval art, such as Aaron of Lincoln who was drawn as the "son of the Devil". But this can only be speculation.

One of these figures was displayed in the noted Romanesque Art Exhibition in 1984 at the Hayward Gallery and the catalogue came to similar conclusions as to the meaning of the art work.

As a final note a medieval visitor or pilgrim to the Cathedral in the 12th century, would have been impressed by a great seven-branched candle stick called a Pascall, as well as the regular ritual use of priestly vestments in imitation of the Aaronic priesthood, the gift of Prior Wilbert (1153 - 1167) and a previous gift of Ernulf of Canterbury, the latter who had given the cathedral a cope of with bells on the fringe as well as a blue tunicle powdered with golden birds. The vestments even included a version of the Aaronic ephod and breastplate. At the neighbouring St Augustine's Abbey, under Hugh de Loria (1091-1124) there was also a menorah.

The use of these items was the result of the fashion of imitating Jewish ritual items that came into the church in the 11th century. Canterbury itself came under a strong Judaising influence into the 12th century. The use of extravagantly ornate, seven-branched candelabra was not uncommon among the greater churches and abbeys who could afford them. Some of them were of impressive proportions - often the breadth of the Quire - and they may have been modeled on the menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome. They were usually used before and over the Easter period.
Top

7. The Site of Modechai and Henry Harts' Businesses - Kingsbridge and St Peters Street

On leaving the synagogue retrace your steps to the High street and walk towards the Westgate into St Peters Street past St Thomas Hospital and over Kingsbridge. On this street were shops belonging to Mordechai and Henry Hart in the 19th century. In 1852 Mordechai Hart's Pawnbrokers business was listed at 56 and 57 St Peter's Street. Today there is a Jewelers and a newsagents on the site. Henry Hart later opened a tailors at 20 High Street and a pawn brokers on Best lane and can be seen listed in 1867.
Top

8. The Site of the Synagogue Of 1762 - Westgate and St Dunstan's Street

Carrying on down St Peter's Street and through the historic Westgate, the old suburb of West Canterbury is quickly reached. The site and remains of the first Permanent synagogue of modern times in Canterbury can easily be found at the right-hand side (north side) of the railway crossing across St Dunstan's Street to Canterbury West Station.

According to Cole and Roper's map this building lay side on to the street and contemporary accounts say this building was reached by a narrow passage from the street. The evidence points to a building set back from the street. The synagogue itself was on the first floor being reached by a flight of steps. The basement was used a vestry room and for other purposes

The building was constructed in 1762 and taken down in 1847 being used by the community for some eighty-five years.

It is known that the interior furnishings of the synagogue included an Ark that had been used in the Old Hambro Synagogue in London and given to Canterbury. The foundation stone of the synagogue is preserved in the Jewish museum in London.

In sum the precise location of the synagogue site was thought to be an area nearly adjacent to the railway crossing, based on the site of the synagogue indicated on the Bayly's and Barlow maps of 1795 and 1800 respectively, and it was reported that stones from the foundation can still be seen from the crossing, undergrowth permitting.

However, in 2009 - 2010 redevelopment in the area at the site of Hallet's Garage, at 21-24 St Dunstan's Street (i.e within the junction of St Dunstan's with Station Road West), has led to a large scale excavation of various archaeological remains from the Roman period onwards and includes a site newly identified as the actual site of the 1762 synagogue and which will undergo full excavation in due course. This new site was indentified on the basis of the earlier Andrew's and Wren map of 1768, which differs in its location of the synagogue, compared to the two other maps just mentioned earlier, and it is claimed by the Canterbury Archaeology unit, that some of the synagogue walls may have still been extant as late as 1873. Evaluation trenches dug already in 2009 have revealed sub-surface remains of what are thought to be the north wall of the synagogue and possibly its western wall constructed in brick. This will be of importance as it may well be the only 18th Anglo-Jewish synagogue to have under-gone archaeological exploration, but further work to reconcile the two claimed historic locations of the synagogue may need to be completed, though the two claimed sites are very close together. The newly excavated site lies directly adjacent to the south end of the car-park for Canterbury West railway station.
Top

9. The Jewish Cemetery of 1760 - Whitstable Road

Carrying straight on from the level crossing, the old Jewish cemetery is close by, just short walk along St Dunstan's Street into the beginning of the Whitstable Road. However the cemetery is difficult to find, even if you know where it is, though since it has been restored in recent years and the detritus camouflaging the entrance has been removed, it is much easier to locate.

To find the cemetery walk into the start of the Whitstable Road. When Forty Acres Road has been passed to the right the cemetery is very close by hidden behind the buildings and premises on the right hand. The entry to the cemetery is between the numbers 26 and 28 about 75 feet from the junction with Forty Acres Road.

The entry to the cemetery looks like the access to the rear of numbers 26 and 28, but the restored gate of the cemetery can now be seen clearly to the right a short way along the entry between the houses. When I first came to the cemetery and you stood in front of numbers 26 and 28, there is no sight of the cemetery itself, partly due to the camouflage of a wrecked car deposited in the entrance and a dilapidated garage. It was only when you walked confidently along the entry, that, the then, dilapidated gate to the cemetery, would suddenly appear to the right, the cemetery being a small enclosure or field behind the houses.

The restoration of the cemetery has included the restoration of the entrance gate, so that a key now needs to be obtained to effect access to the cemetery. When I first came to the cemetery it had quite a romantic aspect, but now that the obscuring undergrowth and trees have been removed some of this character has gone, though it of great credit that the cemetery is now cared for and offered greater protection from vandalism.

The cemetery is of considerable interest, not least because of its age and for the fact that it was the only Jewish burial ground in the eastern half of Kent until the second half of the last century. The site is some 43 by 22 yards with the gateway in the south-eastern corner. The original gates had completely fallen, prior to restoration, though they still stood in the 1970s. There are at least 150 headstones in the plot. The oldest legible inscription is from 1772 (located row H:1, if row A is the first row as the cemetery is entered, and counting from left to right). There was originally an ohel or burial house, whose existence is referred to on an inscription and also in a newspaper report. It was probably about or near the entry.

The cemetery was originally granted on a 99 year lease to Soloman Emmanuel on March 3, 1760. In 1807 a new lease was acquired and then in 1831 the cemetery was expanded when the congregation brought additional ground adjoining the cemetery from a Mr. Rogers. This additional ground was walled in at an expense of £40.

Two foundation plaques and inscriptions can be seen on the south wall. One reads that the wall and the land belong to the Canterbury Jewish community and its trustees. A second in Hebrew records the completion of work constructing the cemetery by Segilmann, Mottlieb and Ensleigh(?) in 1761. Another inscription used to be set in a masonry archway above the gate and read "This building was erected by H. Jordan Esq., as a tribute to the memory of Philip Beck Esq., who died in this city, September 19, 5614." Philip Beck (L:4) died at the age of 35 in 1854.

The existence of another inscription in the cemetery wall was noted in 1851 bearing the date 5521/1760.

The cemetery served not just Canterbury, but also Dover, Deal and Ramsgate. The tombstones are either in Hebrew or Hebrew and English. A look around the cemetery will show that a small number of families formed the backbone of the community and that there were various branches of these families, in neighbouring communities, who also used the cemetery.

There are also Jews recorded as being from Hastings, London, Norwich, Oxford, Plymouth, Portsea, St Leonards and Sandwich. There are some more exotic locations; Amsterdam (H:6) Copenhagen (H:1, I:4 - husband and wife) and Kalish (O:8). One of the community had the misfortune to die away from home in Calais.

It is notable that many of the inhabitants the Kent Jewry lived to a good age - two tombstones list 95 year old men. There is a remarkable record of Frances Nathan of Dover who lived to 104, dying in 1831, her husband Mordechai (nine years her junior) living to a mere 95 years and passing away in the same year. Another Nathan of Dover, Julia, died just short three months short of her centenary in 1886 (M:8). To put this in context it is estimated that in 1900 there were only some 200 centenarians in the whole country.

Of the notables, Hannah, the first wife of celebrated Rabbi and educator of his time, R.I.Cohen of Dover; her tomb is the flat tomb in the corner. Members of Alderman Hart's family are represented; his daughter Lizzie who died in 1872 aged seven (L:7), his son Israel aged seven in 1874 (M:13), and his first wife Rosa who died aged 35 leaving ten children in 1871 (M:12). Their memorials are touching and attractive - Rosa's is decorated a carved rose and Lizzies' with what seems to be a busy Lizzie.

The memorial to Zvi Hirsh (F:6) may well be that of Zevi Hirsch a "competent scholar of his time" who was at the Midrash Phineas academy in London in 1795. The London link is indicated by his son Davis (M:5) being indicated as being "...of London".

However the most notable burial is that of Nathaniel Isaacs (1808 - 1872) of Canterbury, the explorer and a founder of Natal and the nephew of famous Samuel Isaac of Northampton. His tombstone is located row P, the back wall of the cemetery near left of the tree.
Top

10. Canterbury Castle

To get to the Castle a good route to take is to walk along the High Street and its extension to just behind the bus station so as to walk up an access ramp on to the eastern circuit of the city walls. A ten or fifteen minute walk will take one to Canterbury East station via the local landmark of the Dame John mound. The castle keep and ruins (c. 1175) are best approached via a foot bridge from the station.

The castle would have been an important and familiar landmark for the medieval Jews of Canterbury, as it was the usual point from which the local Jewish community was administered by the local Sherriff and the Chirographic Chest holding the records of Jewish financial transactions would often be kept at the castle. The Constable of the Royal castle would genarally be charged with protecting the local Jews on behalf of the king and quite frequently Jews would have a portion of the castle assigned to them where they would lodge in times of tension, while other parts of the castle would be used as a specific prison for Jews - for example the remains of the Jew's Tower at Hereford Castle was the historic prison for the local Jews. Jews would be protected or imprisoned in the Royal castle, as they were the chattels of the King alone and under his sole jurisdiction.

The Hebrew inscriptions in the Castle have an interesting history. Hebrew inscriptions in the towers or keeps of Royal castles have been found elsewhere, and it would seem that inscribing verses from the Psalms was a favoured subject of graffiti by Jews, whether sheltering, or captive, in Royal Castles.

Dr Plot makes the first documented mentioned of the Hebrew graffiti at Canterbury, as he stated that in his time, in c.1672, that many of the stones on the north east staircase of the castle keep were inscribed with "versicles" from the Psalms in Hebrew. He also specifically mentions the stones again in an account of his 'intended journey through England and Wales' in an MS in Oxford, which is reproduced in Thomas Hearn's edition of Leland's Itinerary in 1792. He states of his objectives

'I shall endeavour also to make a full Collection of British, Roman, Saxon, and ancient English Money, found very plentifully in many Parts of the Nation. So likewise of Urns, Lamps, Lachrymatories, such as are found at Newington in Kent, whereof I have some in my Possession. Here I shall place also all ancient Inscriptions found on ancient Monuments, and ruinous Buildings, such as the Hebrew on the Walls of the old Castle at Canterbury, which I guess to have been done by Jews.'

The Hebrew inscriptions may well have been incised during a time when the Jews took shelter in the castle, perhaps during the Barons' War, or when the community were confined by edict in the castle in 1278, or perhaps they could have been completed by individual Jewish prisoners, such as Abraham, who was thrown into jail on the charge of murder in 1225. The Hebrew 'verses' on the stairs were in fact one of two sets of Hebrew graffiti at the Castle as an article in 'Archaeologia' in 1782 (p. 301) notes that there were Hebrew verses on both the stairs mentioned previously and on the walls of the guard chamber. The article notes that they were seen in 1732 by Mr. Fremoult, '...after which time they were taken away'.

Further evidence for the survival of the inscription after 1732, is given in a remarkable correspondence between the first Jewish member of the Royal Society, Mendes Da Costa (a remarkable character in himself) and Edward Hasted, which is also revealing of prejudicial attitudes towards Jews in the 18th century.

Mendes Da Costa, wanted to visit the inscriptions in 1766, but he was reminded by Hasted in the following letters that his desire might be thwarted since the authorities, 'would make great exceptions for a Jew and a stranger to search for it'. The correspondence is as below (Nichols: 'Illustrations': 4: 645 (1822):

From Mr. DA COSTA.
"SIR, Royal Society, Oct. 24, 1766.
" I presume to trouble you with the following Query: In a MS. of Dr. Plot's, dated June 10, 1674, I find this notice: ' Antient Inscriptions on ruinous Buildings--such as the Hebrew exquisitely written on the old walls of the Castle of Canterbury.' Is there such a Hebrew Inscription now extant? If there is, can a copy be procured? or can I have permission to employ some Jew (of Canterbury) to copy it, and decypher it? And would you take it under your inspection and care to inform him where it is, and give him your advice in what manner to do it? and favour the Literati with an exact account of it.
"I do not doubt the patronage of our learned Friend Dr. Ducarel, joined with the Query being purely literary, will plead my pardon for this trouble given you. I am, with great esteem, Sir, your obliged humble servant, E, M. DA COSTA."
To Mr. DA COSTA. ", Sutton, near Dartford, Nov. 4, 1766.
"Sir, I received by the hands of my good Friend Dr. Ducarel, the favour of yours, which needs no kind of apology, as it ever gives me the greatest pleasure to contribute my small assistance to any literary Gentleman who thinks it worth his acceptance.

"The Hebrew Inscription you inquire after was written on the walls of one of the stone stair-cases in the old Castle at Canterbury, in the 13th century, by the Captive Jews, during their imprisonment there, and contained some few Versicles of the Psalms, and this Inscription was permanent not many years ago, as I have been told by some who have seen it. It is, I do suppose, no very difficult task to get admittance to this Inscription, by any Gentleman of the County, or one supported by proper recommendations; but, I think, they would make great objections to admit a Stranger and a Jew to search for it, especially as the direction of it rests with the Magistrates of the County in their public capacity. As one of them, as well as in my private station, I shall always be glad to do you every service in the procuring of it that I can; and, as I shall visit those parts of Kent, in all probability with these few months, I shall have an opportunity of getting a copy of it. In the mean time I shall have the pleasure sure of meeting you at our Society, and of consulting on the best means of obtaining it most to your satisfaction.
"I am, Sir, your most obedient servant, EDWARD HASTED."

It is evident that the inscription disappeared at some point after 1766. In the 19th century a local historian Brent looked for them but could not find them and the 'Archaeologia' Journal refers to them having been 'taken away' by the time of the article already referred to, of 1782, so we can identify the timing of their disappearance with some precision. Brent noted how the Castle had been destroyed year by year, by locals looking for building materials and that many of the near by houses were built of stones taken from the castle, "and some idea of the extent of this ancient fortress may be surmised by noting its present remains, and then surveying the small houses in the neighbourhood, the greater part of which have been constructed from its materials". It is faintly possible that one day some of this graffiti will emerge again in some building operation, though it is also possible that given the interest in the inscriptions that a gentleman or antiquarian could have had them removed and it is thereby possible that they remain unrecognized in a private or public collection somewhere.
Top

Stories(0)
Articles(3)
Letters(0)
Books(0)
Video(0)
Audio(0)
Photos(14)
Memories(0)
Comments(0)
Post a Comment
Submit to this trail
Celebrities(0)
Profiles(0)
JTrails Registered
Charity Number: 1151165