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1. Northampton Central Museum - The Medieval Jewish Tombstone (c. 1259 - 1290)After taking in Doffman's Corner, the Museum can be readily reached by crossing the road in to Wood Hill, and St Giles' Square, and thence to Guildhall Road (immediately opposite the Guildhall) and the Museum itself.
The tombstone (see feature) is in a permanent exhibition on the upper floor of the building. Precise directions to it, are available at the front desk.
The tombstone forms part of a display on medieval Jewish Northampton, though it is the only exhibit. The artefact may be considered to be among one of the most important remains of the medieval Anglo-Jewry, and is one of only two surviving medieval Hebrew inscriptions in the country, the other at the putative mikveh in Bristol. It has also given a surprising amount of information about the Medieval Jews of the town. It is likely to have been that of a local rabbi and scholar, helping to confirm the known scholarly activity in the Jewry. Also the tombstone is in a German style evidencing an Rhennish influence on East Anglian Jews and the stone itself was Barnack Stone brought all the way from the Barnack quarry near Stamford. The museum gains top marks for setting up a display on the towns medieval Jews, and they are very enthusiastic about their unique piece.
2. The ‘Jews Garden’ – Angel Lane and Fetter StreetAfter looking at Joel Moss’s premises, a short detour of some 150 yards can be made down Angel Lane to the junction of Angel Lane and Fetter Street. This block of land, backed by Guildhall Road was once garden land, but was built up with the Phipps Warehouse in the 19th Century, Phipps was a shoe mercers company.
The ‘Northampton Independent’ Newspaper declared in 1939 that, ‘The cemetery [of the Jews] at Northampton was on the site of Messrs. Phipps and Son’s warehouse in the Guildhall Road and the site was called “The Jew’s Garden” within living memory.’
We now know that in fact the cemetery was outside the north gate of the town. There is no known Jewish association with the site, though this cannot be entirely discounted, as Jewish place-name traditions are good in about half of all cases. However, accounts of Jewish history in Northampton, in the 19th and 20th centuries are peppered with inaccurate guesses or wild folk-tradition about Jewish places and this may just be an interesting folk place name.
3. The Shop and Residence of Joel Moss - 25 and 29 Bridge StreetBridge Street had several Jewish businesses in it in the 19th century, though this was not the prime shopping area of Northampton. Joel Moss (d. 1878) was a general dealer from London and had his home, shop and family at the above address in the 1860s and 1870s. The building, a substantial Victorian commercial building, now survives as sports-bar and night-club on the east side of Bridge Street, just down hill from the junction of Angel Street. After Gonski and Davis, he was one of the earliest modern Jews in Northampton.
4. 15 The Drapery - The Shop and Residence of E.E. Freedman (1885)E.E. Freedman was a tailor and out-fitter and appears to have been a successful business man in one of the prime shopping streets in Northampton. He is an interesting character, as in 1885 a preacher of St Giles and a missionary to the Jews, claimed in the press that he was both a nephew of Moses Montefiore and that he was a sincere Christian and that seven out eleven members of his family were converts. Freedman publicly repudiated all of this in the newspapers.
Two years later, just before Christmas, Freedman provided 1,000 of the poorest children in Northampton a free breakfast, which was supplied in batches of 200 over five days. This greatly impressed the local church as the curate of St Katherine's, '...besought the Divine blessing on Mr. Freedman's good work and labour of love'.
Number 15 is now a restaurant half-way up the Drapery on the west side between, what is currently Macdonald's and Oxfam - the original shop was the left-hand division of the building.
5. Sheep Street, and Northampton Corporation Fish Market - the medieval Jewry, the site of the synagogue and Dr Doddridge's Dissenting Academy.To find the medieval Jewry, continue up to the top of the Drapery which leads directly into Sheep Street. The former Jewry is on the left (west) side of Sheep Street past the junction of Bradshaw Street and up hill from the former Fish Market. The Fish Market forms the rear south boundary of the site of the old Jewry, and the row of older town houses, terminating in the Bear pub, forms the front of the area. The back of the Jewry was defined by the old line of Silver Street which was rather further to east than the modern line of the street. The old line of the street would roughly bisect Bradshaw lane as it ran northwards.
The Jewry apparently formed a small and loose enclave of housing on about a half an acre on slightly rising ground. This was an area (rather than a street) formerly called the 'Parmentry' in the middle-ages. It is possible that the derivation of 'Parmentry' is from 'parchmentry' denoting where the 'parchmenters' made parchment from animal skins.
In modern day Winchester, there is a 'Parchment Street' which was formerly the 'Parmentry' in the middle ages. If so, it may hint at a former distinctive trade in parchment preparation in the Jewry. In the 12th and 13th Century the production of books and the demand for parchment rose considerably for secular use and was no longer solely a monastic occupation. Vitally the production of parchment was in great demand and became secularised and may have provided Jews who had their own tradition of book production in a position to produce parchment.
There were probably some fifteen Jewish properties, in the Jewry, including the synagogue, three communal buildings and private and rented dwellings. There were a few out-laying properties over-looking or close to the Jewry in Bereward Street, and perhaps Sheep Street and Cornhill.
The site of the medieval synagogue was just north (above) the Market, approximately under the site of the southern house, of the row of houses, nearest the corner of the street (the junction with Bradshaw Street) and the main entrance to the market.
The synagogue was as far as can be deduced, a very substantial building, with a high roof line. It was by far the most valuable property in the Jewry being worth at the expulsion at £1 - 0s. 9d. and one pound of cumin a year. Henry Lee's description of the building as a 'stately hall' from before the Great fire of Northampton, has already been given, but additionally a map of 1632 that appears to have an inset Elizabethan birds eye view of the town centre, seems to show the former synagogue building in the centre of the Parmentry.
The site of the high-status property probably belonging to Pictavinus son of Sampson, called 'Bello Fronte' in a 1504 rental, can also be located in modern Sheep Street. It more-or-less occupies the area of triangular traffic island that allows traffic to turn left into Greyfriars.
6. Sheep Street - Hebrew Study at Dr Doddridge's Dissenting AcademyOpposite the former Jewry is a row of shops in sandstone, on the junction of Sheep Street with Greyfriars, which is the remains of Dr Philip Dodderidge's Dissenting Academy. The current buildings represent the surviving top half of the academy. Dodderidge (1702 - 1751) was a non-Conformist who set up his academy for lay students among his co-religionists. It provided a modern curriculum to prepare his students for commerce, or life as a gentlemen, as well as being soundly spiritual. The study of Hebrew was also serious element of the curriculum, some 84 lessons being provided each year, and each morning during prayers a student would read a chapter of the Old Testament in the Hebrew, translating as he went along, with Dodderidge giving an exposition! Dodderidge also lectured on Jewish antiquities.
7. Sheep Street - Site of 'Gonski & Davis' Toy DealersSheep Street begins at the top of the Drapery but is cut in two by Greyfriars and Lady's Lane which run either side of the bus station.
'Gonski and Davis' toy dealers and General Dealers were at 24 Sheep Street, just two houses up along the same row as Dr Dodderidge's, but has been obliterated by the development of Greyfriars and Lady's Lane around the Greyfriars bus station and Grosvenor Centre. The site of Gonski's is the small triangular traffic island in the middle of Greyfriars road and the new road was driven clean through it in the 1970s.
The site of G.L. Michel's and Michel's House (and home synagogue) at Newlands has similarly been swallowed up in these redevelopments to the east of Sheep Street. The former factory appears to lie under the northwest corner of the new Greyfriars bus station (or close by) and Newlands is now under the Grosvenor Centre. The beginning of former Newlands street is the Market Square entrance to the shopping centre, by the Welsh House.
8. 52 Sheep Street - The Premises of Samuel Kronson, Leather Agent (1889)The Working Men's Club on Sheep Street, which was formerly no. 52b in the Victorian era, was the premises of Samuel Kronson (c. 1850 - 1924). Kronson was once again one of the earliest Northampton Jewish residents of the modern community. Kronson was a leather agent who originally came from Vienna and his wife Leah came from Oxford. Many of the early modern community were of German or Prussian origin. His home in Northampton was listed as 25 Agnes Road. His tombstone in the Northampton cemetery reveals that he died in Pittsburgh, USA, though evidently his remains were repatriated.
9. St Sepulchre's 'Church - the Jew's Cross, and the Site of the Alleged Ritual Murder Attempt, 1277Carrying on along Sheep Street, and passing by the Mayorhold Car Park on the left hand side, the Church of St Sepulchre is reached after a few minutes walk, on the right of the street.
The church is justly famous as one of only five round churches on the country, being modelled on the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. The church was founded by William de Senlis in 1170, a crusader and Knight Templar from the Pas de Calais,
with a cruel reputation.
Because of its round shape, there was an enduring tradition among the locals that it was the old synagogue a view even supported by some of its clergy until the 19th Century. Similarly in Oxford, the hexagonal tower containing the medieval Chapel of Our Lady, situated in the then Smith Gate (and now the computer room of Hertford College) was also held to be the Jews' synagogue.
The Church's peculiarities even extend to its burials. During recent repairs to flooring two burials were found in the Church on a north - south orientation, with the heads of the skeletons virtually into the wall. It turned out that these were ancient burials of priest, their heads set directly under the drain hole of a piscina, so as to benefit from post-mortum libations of communion wine and holy water. The discovery illustrates well the powerful beliefs of medieval Christians and equally hints at the vehemence of medieval Christian beliefs about Jews.
It is in this grave yard that the Jewish community is said to have committed their outrage, an attempted crucifixion, against a young Christian boy, on Good Friday 1277. This incident was almost certainly an anti-Semitic fabrication, like the others of period up and down the country.
The broken off cross-head, was averred to have been the remains of a memorial to the ritual murder attempt, and used to be built into the wall of a cottage bounding the churchyard to the south-east and remained there until at least the first World War. Latterly, it was built into the retaining wall of the church yard and eventually moved into the church when the wall was set back in modern times to widen the street. It is now to be found inside the church, scarred by musket fire, lurking on a high and dark window sill in the north east end of the building. However, it is almost certainly a cross blown off the roof in 1661 and is testament to the continued anti-Semitic myth making in Northampton about the former Jews of the town.
Interestingly, an older member of the congregation said that the vivid story of the Jew's cross had been passed down through generations of choir boys - an interesting example of how such fables can be transmitted. Even though the cross has no real link to actual events, it is an important and potent historical symbol of prejudice. Its preservation should be amply justified on this basis.
10. The Barrack Road, and Temple Bar - the medieval Jewish cemeteryOn leaving St Sepulchre's, turn right out of the gate, and continue a short distance over to the major road junction at the end of the road. This is the site of the former North Gate of Northampton, a major entrance to the medieval town.
Crossing straight over, continue along the busy Barrack Road, keeping to the right hand side. A few minutes' walk will bring one to a tiny, and near defunct street called Temple Bar, that serves over its very short length to connect Barrack Road to Maple Street. Nearly opposite is former St Andrew's Villa, now Regent's House and overlooking the street are some rather forbidding low-rise Council flats. If you walk as far as St Lawrence Street, you will have slightly overshot.
The site of the cemetery was identified in 1992 by the author. It was found by profiling the typical site factors of the other known medieval Jewish cemetery locations in England, to create a typical location profile, in terms of factors such as the typical distance from the Jewry, relation to roads and access, drainage, enclosure type and size. This was then matched to the known historical facts about the cemetery, i.e. that it had been out side the north gate on St Andrew's Priory land. The final element of the deduction was the use of a surviving highly detailed 17th century map, which accurately showed all of the former St Andrew's land and enclosures. From this it was clear that only one location, a tiny poorly drained enclosure could be the site which was eventually developed into Temple Bar and Paradise Row. It was possible to move from the medieval enclosures to the modern street plan as virtually all of the streets ran on the former field boundaries in order to maximize developments within the individual field plots.
The confirmation of the identification came by chance months later in 1992, on the eve of the Day of Atonement, when a deep culvert collapsed revealing interments. The finds were in a hole in the roadway it self, close to the junction of Temple Bar with Maple Street. The general area of the cemetery is Temple Bar itself, and a former row of house forming Paradise Row. It is now an area of grass, and young trees immediately adjacent, to the north of the street.
The skeletons comprised of three to five individuals. The three main individuals identified consisted of a female, aged 40-44 years, and two males. Unfortunately little more could be deduced from the remains, except that one of the males suffered an arthritic condition. Later, Carbon dating revealed that dating range of the remains was almost exactly that of the period that cemetery existed and was in operation. Also archaeological research was able to eliminate the possibility it was some other cemetery and it is now identified in the archaeological record as a Jewish cemetery.
The archaeological report on the find, while recognising the relict enclosure argument, argues that the siting factor was waste land behind a medieval ribbon development of houses along the high-way, though both positions are not in reality mutually exclusive.
In its day the cemetery would have had a substantial wall, with a gate, surrounded by a deep ditch. The cemetery also had a house for funeral rites, and lodging for a watchman. The house probably lay on the highway, fronting, and concealing, the cemetery behind. There was probably a narrow entry to the gate off the side of the house. The burials would have been in neat rows, with male and female burials kept separate. Most burials would have had tombstones set facing outwards at the foot of the grave.
This spot today is admittedly unprepossessing, but one should remember that in olden days the cemetery had an essentially rural location, surrounded by fields, partly fronted by medieval suburban dwellings along the then King's Highway.
Antiquity does still survive close by, though hidden from casual glance. The south wall of Regent's House marks a former field boundary that is close to a thousand years old. Also many of the main dividing streets around follow the old field boundaries, some equally old.
As a concluding thought, if it had not been asserted before the discovery of bones that this was a Jewish cemetery site, then it is likely that the site would have been declared an unofficial 17th century non-Conformist burial ground, as had been assumed when the bones were first uncovered and not accorded any protection as an archaeological site.
11. The Market Square - Samuel Isaac's fountainAfter having meditated on the site of the medieval Jewish cemetery, and retraced ones steps to the Market Square, the remaining Jewish sites on the trail can be seen.
The medieval Market Square is the largest in the entire Country, though in its time it was just one of several markets in the town. The medieval Jewry, hard by the north-west corner of the market, would have serviced the financial needs of many of its customers.
It was also the site of Samuel Isaac's Iron fountain (extant 1858-1962), a fondly remembered landmark in the town. Isaac's fountain can be approximately located as it was north of the exit of Conduit Lane (which is on the south-side of the Market Square) approximately half-way into the main square.
The fountain was raised to commemorate the marriage of Prince Albert to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, but was often used as a focus for various rallies and speakers. When the metal work was taken away in the 1960s the nearest market traders used to use the remaining steps for staking up crates of cabbages and vegetables. The remaining stone were later removed as an impediment on the square a sad end to a well-regarded feature of old Northampton. In more recent times many of the original and characterful cobbles of the square have also been removed and replaced with brick pavers in the name of public safety.
12. The Market Square / Junction with Abington Street - 'Doffman's Corner'Many older Northampton residents were familiar with 'Doffmans's Corner', at the junction of Abington Street and the Market Square. This prominent site was for many years the shop of Doffman Bros, tailors, circa 1900 - 1920s, which was a superior tailoring establishment and probably one of the most successful Jewish retail out-lets in Northampton. The building is a fine 17th Century premises, which is only evident once one looks up from street level. Saul established his own shop in 1919 at 29 Gold Street in what seems to have been less striking quarters.
13. The Hebrew Congregation - Overstone RoadThe modern synagogue is to be found on Overstone Road. While the building is not of architectural merit, it does contain memorials and plaques taken from the old iron synagogue, including one to G.L. Michel the main founder of the synagogue and another to Morris Moss, one of the other founders of the synagogue.
14. Northampton Railway Station - Northampton CastleNorthampton Castle was used to administer the medieval Northampton Jewish community and it also provided a place of refuge when Jews were under attack or threat of attack and was a long-term refuge for the Jews in the Barons War in 1264. The Castle is also of great importance as it was where the Third Crusade was launched, partly financed by the Jews of England, in 1268, which was to lead to much Jewish suffering in England and Europe.
Most of the Castle was destroyed to make way for the extensive Victorian railway station, but a postern gate survives at the junction of Black Lion Way with St Andrew's Road and some of the eastern earth works survive opposite St Peter's Church. These scant relics are an important reminder of the former important associations with the medieval Jews of Northampton.
15. 10 Victoria Road - Premises of A&W FlatauOne of the workshops of the Jewish company A&W Flatau can be seen at the end of Victoria Road, close to the junction with St. Edmund's Road. The original address was given as 8 - 10 Victoria Road and the current converted workshop at no. 10 is almost certainly Flatau's premises, despite a small change in the numbering. Flatau's occupied this premises in 1884.
Flatau's was a Jewish boot and shoe manufacturer from London, and Dr Jolles who has completed much research on this area, has stated that Flatau's were definitely Jewish and indeed a Jewish Flatau gave evidence to Parliament on 'sweated' trades. Therefore this property and Palmerston House are important relics of the Jewish association with the boot and shoe trade in Northampton.
16. Palmerston House, 9 - 12 Palmerston Road - Premises of A&W Flatau (1889) and the Second World War Kosher CanteenDuring the War the local Jewish community efforts included providing a kosher canteen for the Jewish service men in the town. The canteen provided 80 meals a day in May 1943. Many Jewish communities provided such facilities during the war, if they were able to.
The canteen was convened in a factory premises (now converted into housing) and can be found near the junction of Palmerston Road with St. Edmund's Road. The buildings have a double Jewish significance as this is one of several business address of A&W Flatau, this one dating back to 1889.
17. 8 South Street - The Jewish Youth ClubDuring the War, in May 1943, Mr. Bach an evacuee, set up a Jewish Youth Centre at the above address which came to be used by a number of other Jewish organisations including the Youth Zionist Society, the Adult Zionist Society, Habonim and Maccabi Union. The house at the end of the street is a plain brick property, at the junction of Upper Thrift Street, is now less than prepossessing and has been divided into three flats.