York Liberal Jewish Commmunity: Contextualising 1190 and wording for the Open Brief

10am-12noon, 23rd October 2019, Fairfax Room, Yorkshire Museum

There were two strands to this discussion.

  • The first was focused on contextualising 1190 within the wider and longer story of Jewish life in York.
  • The second was to reflect on the proposed language for the draft Castle and Eye of York Open Brief.

Contextualising 1190 within the wider and long story of Jewish life in York

Andrew Woods showed two coins from the York Museums Trust collection (pictured below). They are silver pennies, struck at the Castle, in the 1180s (left) and 1240s (right). They were struck for the moneyers Isaac and Jeremy. These personal names may well be associated with York’s Jewish community. The named individuals would not have been those who physically hammered the coins but would have been those overseeing the process, checking for quality etc.

It was asked: Is clipping a way of talking about Jewish life in York and challenging a persistent serotype?

We talked about the Jewish Museum’s recent exhibition: Jews, Myths and Money.

It was suggested that Anthony Bale from Birkbeck – who was an advisor on the exhibition – might be invited to York. Miri Rubin, from Queen Mary, University of London is coming to York next year.

Professor Sarah Rees Jones (University of York) suggested the central message could be a very simple one. 1190 is not the end of Jewish life in York, it could be said to be the beginning. Sarah introduced her reasons for saying this.

Jews from Lincoln moved to York in mid 1170s, it is this community that is affected by 1190. The process that brought Jews to York – establishment of royal authority in the north of England – had only just begun. The Norman Conquest that had started in 1068 was not complete until c1220s. The move of the Jews of Lincoln to York was part of establishing royal bureaucracy in the North of England. They acted as financiers to the crown, and spoke medieval French (Anglo-Norman). By 1220-1230 a Jewish community had not only returned to York but flourished there. Arron on York 1220s. The story of Jewish life in York goes along with the story of the Castle. The two are tied together.

Jewish people are part of the establishment at this time and they are also not. Antisemitic violence had started in London the year before in 1189 when Jews attending the coronation of Richard I were excluded from some of the events and then attacked. The King ordered an end to the attacks but left the country (to go on crusade). The Crusades saw preachers roaming from parish to parish whipping up fervour and recruiting to the crusades, which included drawing on antisemitic rhetoric.

1190 needs to be understood in these contexts.

York Castle Museum is likely to integrate the histories of Jewish life in York into different strands:- the Castle and Everyday Life.

It was noted there was scope for an oral history of 20th century including memories of the synagogue on Aldwark.

The York Liberal Jewish Community will discuss this at their next meeting. To consider getting York Minster museum involved as well.

Proposed language for the draft Castle and Eye of York Open Brief

We read out the language drafted after the meeting on 18th October.

The main area for discussion was framing the purpose of reflection to be Human Rights. It was felt that Human Rights was a bit blunt. Instead a place for reflecting on violence, trauma and the ‘danger of the mob’ was suggested, along with the idea of it being a place for peace. This was felt to be able to make the bridge to the other traumatic instances in the area, such as executions and transportations. It also made the connection to pacificism of the Quakers and to those imprisoned as conscientious objectors.

Conceptualising the area as a garden was discussed.  In the mediaeval period, synagogues had gardens. Cemeteries were called gardens. And Eden, as paradise, is conceived as a garden, so gardens are places which have a significance.

To add the suggestion of using Hebrew as part of the design of the space for contemplation.

Specific sentences to include in the draft Open Brief

The Open Brief has two elements, a series of sentences written in the present tense that aim to evoke the life of the new area in the future. These sentences aim to use everyday language. Then there are also paragraphs which articulate the design challenges that arise from the Open Brief, and to which initial design proposals should respond.

Below are proposed sentences related to 1190, the garden for contemplation and the connections to the wider area.

Contemplating, praying and ‘facing history’ in a peaceful garden. The garden is visibly Jewish but also tangibly part of York and clearly part of English history and heritage. The garden is close to the entrance to Clifford’s Tower and orientated towards the Motte. It is different from – but still visually and spatially connected to – the wider area. #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage

Visitors to the Castle and Eye of York area understand the significance of Clifford’s Tower – including the significance of the daffodils. The main message visitors leave with is that 1190 was not the end of York’s Jewish Community. #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage

The experience of walking up into the area is one of a slowing of pace as the impact of traffic is lessened and of entering a new space where histories can be explored. #GatheringPlace

Design Challenges:

  • The design of the space needs to respond to the route between Castlegate and the proposed new Museum building, and the fact that this divides the space in two, with an area beneath Clifford’s Tower and the Motte, and an area which borders the Foss, and links the rear of the Coppergate Centre and the proposed new building. The design of these two spaces might reflect the idea that the kinds of atmosphere and activities might move from being more reflective and quieter nearer the motte and more fun, noisy, playful and busy towards the Foss.
  • To create a garden – due to the significance of gardens as the word for cemetery, as associated with synagogues and as the paradise of the Garden of Eden. The garden should be visibly Jewish perhaps using Hebrew to achieve this and, at the same time, visibly part of York. For the garden to connect with and sit well within the other landscaping in the area, including harder landscaping and movement routes. It should be a place for peace and healing whilst also remembering the violence and trauma.
  • For the other buildings – especially the new buildings at the back of Coppergate and the new museum building – to respect and respond to Clifford’s Tower, physically and conceptually. For views, proximity and activities to be developed in ways which recognise the significance of Clifford’s Tower.
  • A need to create a sense of arriving into a different space as you walk up the hill from Tower Street, for the area to feel a bit quieter and for people to be encouraged to slow down.



Leave a comment