© Marcus Roberts (1995 and 2005)


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

Pages < 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   > 

As Jews gradually left the town, both Merton College and Balliol Colleges bought up and speculated in Jewish properties -- this was to play a significant role in their early development. By the time of their expulsion in 1290, only 10 Jewish-owned properties remained. These were confiscated and passed onto Balliol College.

The former synagogue (a core block of seven Jewish properties) was turned into Burnel's Inn, and this together with the rentals from the rest of the Jewish holdings (a further two or so properties), provided the college with an important annual income until Cardinal Wolsey demolished them in 1525 to build Cardinal College.

Although there's little evidence of any Jewish presence after the expulsion until the 17th century, it is thought that by some that there was a House of Converts on the site of the modern town hall. One authority on Hebrew manuscripts has claimed that the Corpus Christi Manuscripts may in fact be 14th century, meaning that they might have been produced by converted Oxford Jews after the expulsion. Furthermore, a 14th century astrolabe has been identified as having been made in Oxford and having a Jewish owner. The astrolabe includes the name of the local saint, St Frideswide, demonstrating its Oxford provenance and has Hebrew inscriptions as well as the Hebrew name of its owner.


There's certainly evidence that Jews had returned to Oxford by the mid 17th century. Most assisted with the cataloguing of Hebrew manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, or taught Hebrew privately to University students. Indeed, the founder of the Bodleian, Sir Thomas Bodley implored his librarian, 'to gette the helpe of the Jewe', so as to produce correct Hebrew title entries for the library's first printed catalogue.

The first Hebrew Manuscript catalogues were drawn up by a 'Jacob of Merton College'. This may well have been Jacob Wolfgang, who converted in order to become a member of the University in 1608. He is almost certainly the first Jew known to be a member of Oxford University. But for all his pains, he was sneered at by his collegians for having little ability in Latin, Divinity, or Humanity.

The Jewish drift back to Oxford also included tradesmen. And one of these was to change student life forever, providing that crucial boost for undergraduates 'pulling all-nighters' when faced with an essay crisis. Jacob (probably identifiable as Cirques Jobson, a Levantine Jew) introduced coffee and coffee shops to the city, and indeed, it is thought, to the country as a whole.

By the 1730s, a small Jewish community had established itself in St Clement's village, close to the East Gate of the city. Outside the religious and civic jurisdiction of the all-powerful university, it was an ideal location. Counting itinerant pedlars, grocers, and traders in its ranks, the community's interests were largely business not academia. And in the tolerant spirit of the age, they became social and economically integrated into society, suffering little in the way of anti-semitism.

Post a Comment
Submit to this trail