DIGNITARIES from all over the country will gather in Worcester to commemorate the city’s medieval Jewish community who were persecuted and driven out of the city for their faith.
In an act of remembrance on Friday (July 22), around 40 people representing secular and religious organisations and major faiths of the UK will witness the unveiling of a plaque in memory of Worcester’s historic Jewish community.
Members of the public are also invited to attend at St Andrew’s Gardens, opposite Copenhagen Street car park at 10.30am.
During the Middle Ages there was a small Jewish community in Worcester with the first reference of a small group from 1154. There is evidence there may have been a Jewish Quarter in Cooken Street, now Copenhagen Street.
During this time, Worcester, at the behest of Henry III, played host to a national gathering of England’s leading Jews to levy a tax on about a third of their property.
Worcester was one of 26 Jewish centres to have an archa or official document store for Jewish records during the medieval period.
The archa was an official chest, provided with three locks and seals, in which a counterpart of all deeds and contracts involving Jews was to deposited in order to preserve the records.
Its introduction was part of the reorganisation of English Jewry ordered by King Richard I in light of the massacre of Jews that took place in 1189 and 1190. The massacres resulted in a heavy loss to the Crown revenue partly as a result of Jewish financial records being destroyed in order to conceal evidence of debts.
The archa was intended to safeguard the royal rights in case of future disorder. All Jewish possessions were to be registered and certain cities, including Worcester, were designated to serve as the centre for all future Jewish business operations.
In 1263, during the Baronial Wars, Worcester’s Jewish community was attacked by the Earls of Leicester and Derby.
However, Jews continued to live in Worcester until 1275 when Edward I drove them out of the city. Edward’s mother, Eleanor of Provence, had insisted on it – Worcester was one of the towns she held as part of her dower lands. There has been some speculation on why she did this.
It was only 15 years later, in 1290, that Jews were expelled from England altogether, having suffered prejudice, repression, and persecution, at one time or another throughout England, by civic and church leaders and the Crown. They were not to return for more than 300 years.