A new research study ‘What Remains: England’s Medieval Jewish Community’, is providing for the first time a comprehensive picture of a Jewish settlement in Medieval East Anglia.
Studying the town of King's Lynn, the research was undertaken by a member of the Foundation’s Advisory Panel, professional archaeologist Joe Abrams, and collates what was known of the medieval Jewish community of the town and provides pointers to help inform the archaeological record. It is used as a formal guide for town planning and urban development and means that streets and locations within King’s Lynn where Jewish communities may have lived will now be flagged as having that potential. This will encourage a different way of viewing remains in these areas, and may lead to fresh discoveries in the future.
In the medieval period, King’s Lynn was an important trading port linked with the Hanseatic League. It contained a small but vibrant Jewish community that was fully extinguished with the expulsion of the Jewish community from England in 1290. Yet echoes of that community have remained, for example with a street off the main market area named ‘Jews Lane’ until the 19th century, and may be evidenced further in physical remains that may yet be revealed.
This research has been shared with, and welcomed by, the local heritage community who view this research as highlighting a neglected aspect of the record and therefore a significant addition. It is also timely in that the Urban Archaeological Database for King’s Lynn is in the process of being updated along with the wider ‘Eastern Regional Research Framework’ for the wider Norfolk area and the eastern region.
The purpose of the document is essentially to stimulate discussion on what remains may exist, where, and at what depth, linking these potential remains to broader topics on economy, settlement patterns, trade and religion.
It is also hoped that this research may lead to further consideration of the subject in relation to the 30 towns and cities across England that once had medieval Jewish communities, and which may not be recognised in the archaeological record.
Joe Abrams commented – “I am delighted to see the medieval Jewish community being brought to the fore via the revised Eastern Regional Research Agenda. By specifically naming the Jewish community and inviting attention on it in this well-respected publication we are shining a light and, as a result, our understanding of this community will increase.”
Michael Mail, Chief Executive of the Foundation added, “this unprecedented statement regarding the medieval Jewish community of King’s Lynn has received an enthusiastic reception which we hope can act as a springboard for increased efforts to address the medieval Jewish experience from the perspective of archaeology”.
Dr Abby Antrobus, Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England, who co-wrote the Medieval Urban section of the Regional Research Framework with Brian Ayres in a previous role with Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service, stated “I’ve found the reportinspiring reading. There is a lot of information and insight in the report that has resonance for other places also, and I look forward to future conversations”.
The full study is available to download below.