The  Archaeology  of  Anglo-Jewry  in  London  1066-1290  and  1656-c.1850

A review of the January lecture by Simon Williams


Ken rather fascinatingly introduced the talk with a sub-title of “work in progress” (particularly of the re-admission period); making clear that the talk comprised the actual physical evidence (both documentary and artefact-led). The first question to be answered was: were there Jews here before 1066?—there may well have been individuals, in the Roman and Saxon periods, but there is no physical evidence for their presence. 

The first set of dates represent the admission of the Jews to their expulsion; the second the re-admission by Cromwell (possibly after noticing how Amsterdam thrived). Why to 1850? Because from 1850 to1880 the community roughly doubled in size (approx. from 30,000 to 60,000). For the first 80-odd years they were only allowed to live in London. From documents it is possible to find some of the individual houses (out of a population of approx. 1,000) where Jews lived; and those which were confiscated before Edward 1st’s expulsion of 1290 (and hence reverted to the Crown and courtiers). 

Prior to the expulsion there was a total population of only about 2,500 in the whole country. There was a cemetery for Jews (the only place in Britain in which they were allowed to be buried from 1070 to 1170) outside Cripplegate, near their early centre at the Guildhall. This appears to have been desecrated—when Grimes excavated here after the blitz, he found not a single skeleton complete and in place, the only substantial finds being two broken fragments of tombstones bearing parts of Hebrew inscriptions, re-used in the London City Wall. 

The remains of two C13 ritual baths (Mikvaot) are the most substantial evidence to survive of British Jewry, found beneath basement level in the population centre adjacent to the Guildhall. One is currently being re-assembled in the lobby of the Jewish Museum. Much documentary information comes from tax receipts. In the Public Records Office, Kew, over 200 talleage sticks are a remarkably fleeting survival of the C13; these are split wooden sticks bearing on either side in Latin the amount paid, in and in Hebrew the names of the payer.  

 Jews were unable to do business within the city bounds, due to their inability to take a Christian oath so as to join a guild. This, on their re-admission, together with a barring of their return to the Guildhall area, caused them to move further east. Other artefacts comprise cemetery monuments: there are two unique to Britain to be found from the Brady Street cemetery, where most of the monuments are being eaten away by acid rain, one to the outstandingly philanthropic Miriam Levy, singularly adorned with a bust of her, and another with the skull and cross-bones (“for immortality / we are all equal in the eyes of God”) - of a type known from Amsterdam. 

Synagogues of note surviving till recent times are the Great Synagogue - 1690 (Ashkenazi), Duke St (destroyed in the blitz), and the Bevis Marks example, of a similar date, where the candles are still lit every Friday night; these being the sole modern survivors of an original total of 5 known. Further artefacts comprise a dish from Mitre St. inscribed Halav (milk), of about 1710 .Other finds: from rubbish dumps around London are lead meat seals marked ‘kosher’; 2 shofarot, [ram’s horns] dating from 1800 (+/- 10 years) have also been found, both damaged. One was dredged from the Thames. 

Thanks to Ken for an interesting and informative talk.

Further reading: The Jews of Britain (Todd M.Endleman, University of California Press, 2002) 

An important date for your diaries                                               by Don Cooper 

During this unwelcome spell of cold weather it is nice to think forward to summer and HADAS long weekend. This year the long weekend will take place from Saturday, 28th August 2010 to Wednesday 1st September 2010. The venue will be a hotel in Norwich. The city with its lovely cathedral, castle and museum has many attractions. We will travel by luxury coach. Details of the weekend will be available in due course but an interesting trip is in prospect. The cost will be approximately £350 for people sharing and £390 for those requiring single rooms. There will be a limited number of places so please let me know as soon as possible if you are interested in coming. A deposit of £50 per person is required together with an indication of whether you are sharing or not. Cheques should be made out to HADAS please. My address details are below.

HADAS DIARY - Forthcoming Lectures and Events in 2010 

Lectures are held at Avenue House, 17 East End Road, Finchley, and start promptly at 8 pm. Nearest tube station is Finchley Central. Non-members: £1. Coffee tea and biscuits available. 

Tuesday 9th March 2010 - The History of RAF Bentley Priory - lecture by Erica Ferguson 

Squadron Leader Erica Ferguson left the Royal Air Force in 1996 after 18 years of service as an Air Traffic Control officer.  She had always had an interest in military heritage and veterans’ welfare and consequently was delighted to help with the project to preserve the important site of RAF Bentley Priory for the Nation after its closure by the Ministry of Defence in May 2008. 

For this months lecture, Erica will give a presentation on the history of Bentley Priory and the plans for its future as a vibrant museum and education centre. 

Tues. 13th April  - The GWR comes to the Thames Valley - lecture by John Chapman. More on God’s Wonderful Railway! (John is also a military historian, and was part of the group with which HADAS member Andy Simpson toured the WW1 Salonika (Northern Greek) battlefields in 2009). 

Tues. 11th May -  Graeco-Roman Period Funerary Practices in Egypt.  Lecture by John Johnson. 

Saturday 28 August - Wednesday 1 September - HADAS Long Weekend in Norwich (details to come) 


Membership Matters                                                                                        Stephen Brunning 

A warm welcome to the new members who have joined since October 2009: Juliette, Colin and Christopher BROWN, Anthony BUCK, Andrea CATANIA, Edward and Valerie HARRIS, Joanna KACORZYK, Dot RAVENSWOOD, Fiona RICKLOW. 

The HADAS membership year runs from 1st April to 31st March, and so all members who pay by cheque will need to renew from next month (except those people who have joined since January this year). 

Please find enclosed a renewal form, and I would ask that you fill it in and return it to me along with the appropriate amount as soon as possible.  The current rates and where to send your payment are on the form.  Many thanks.  If the renewal form is not enclosed and you require one, please contact me (details on back page) 

February lecture The Trendles Project given by William Cumber                          Liz Gapp 

The subtitle of this talk was Exploring Marchams Past. Last year one of the HADAS outings was to this site, and as a result this talk was set up. 

William Cumber introduced himself as the farmer who owns the land which this site occupies. He bought the farm in 1973, and started farming then. In 1975, a combine harvester driver commented on strange patterns noticed when the wheat was cut. The next year, in 1976, William Cumber used a crop-spraying helicopter to photograph a circle with a square on one end, which was very clear from the air. The corn in it was about waist high. Nothing much happened for a few years, but in 1981-2, when an archaeologist walked a field to the north of the one where the photo was taken, he was shown the photos taken of the circle. As a result, two sample trenches were cut by Richard Hingley, and the resultant discoveries led the experts to declare an undiscovered amphitheatre.

On this farm boundary the right-hand side is the farm, and the left hand side, that adjoins the farm, is a scheduled ancient monument with a Romano-British style temple. It is thought that this may overlay an Iron Age Celtic building. Due to the proximity of these remains, it was not altogether surprising that the farm field had remains in it to be discovered. Once William was aware of the likelihood of this, he made sure that ploughing in this field was kept to a minimum, and, with the advent of set aside, designated this field as such.

In the 1930s, this area was excavated by J.S P. Bradford and R.G. Goodchild, leading to the uncovering of the temple area as well as Iron Age roundhouses, pits and ditches. In 1964, Dennis Harding also did some excavation, resulting in a slightly different assessment of the age of the temple. Subsequently, a large tile scatter was found in one area on a recent excavation by Gary Lock which resolved the dilemma. The tiles actually had two different ages as there were two groupings a hundred years apart, probably relating to two separate occasions when the roof was tiled.

This area appeared not to be an occupation site. It is thought that it lies on the boundaries of three British tribes, namely the Atrebati, Catuvellauni and Dubunii tribes, and that this may have been where they met for religious and trade purposes.

In the 1990s, William Cumbers wife met Gary Lock from Oxford University, and it was decided to use Marcham as a training dig for Oxford archaeology undergraduates. Geophysical surveys of the field were undertaken, which showed features at the cardinal points of the amphitheatre. It also showed a large rectangular building in the centre of the field and a system of prehistoric ditches in the south-western corner. The initial idea was for the excavation to be carried out over three years, but as time went on and the extent of the discoveries grew this has extended to more than ten years. This has been helped by lottery funding, and the various farming allowances that supplanted the set-aside scheme. Whilst these exist, it is economically viable for excavation to continue, especially as it is considered to be a very important site.

The first season, the rectilinear building base was uncovered, but it is not clear whether the building was ever completed, especially as there was no debris in the middle of the building, and so no indication of a tiled roof.

It was estimated that the building was dated to either the late 3rd century or 4th century. The floor is built on the local bedrock, and the building is thought to be some sort of shrine. 

Over the following seasons more buildings were uncovered, and to distinguish them they were given nicknames according to the artefacts found in their vicinity.  So the café was located near to fragments of pottery and stone; the trinket shop  had metal working and evidence of burning nearby; another building was nicknamed the pizza parlour.

In another area, a four-metre square deep pit had been dug and refilled with stone except for one hole which was filled with coins. Buildings were found that had only ever had three sides, like the typical shops found at Pompeii, although the inside was barren of finds. The digger found 120 artefacts in a random trench that was found to contain two hearths. The walls Richard Hingley had uncovered were uncovered once more; he had marked them by covering them with old sacks. In the Royal Box, a raised dais in the middle of the amphitheatre building was found a 2 ½ tall bronze brooch with enamel on it. 

In the Royal Box was found the centre of a drain, the extent of which is still being investigated. The amphitheatre was now re-identified as an arena, due to the fact that it is circular, not oval, and also that it is not near a large centre of population. 

During the very wet years of 2006-7, there was a resultant problem with the water table, in particular on 20 July 2007 four inches of rain fell in Tewkesbury. The result was that it was impossible to excavate, and it took another year fully to drain, so it was only in 2009 that excavation of the drain could be continued. So far 300 metres have been discovered, and there is more to find. It didnt work well as parts had collapsed, and it was built without man-holes to correct this. 

The arena, which is about 40 metres in diameter and had walls around 4 to 4 ½ metres high, could also be a sacred pool, a concept which looked very likely in 2006-7. However, it is possible that this building has alternated between these two functions. The surrounding wall was scooped through revealing six skeletons. They are Christian burials dating to 380 AD, and there may be more, but due to the delicacy required in excavating them it was decided not to try to find any more. It was felt possible that these were buried in a ceremony to close the site. 

An interesting find was the skeleton of Daisy the cow which although a mature animal, was about half the size of the cows we see nowadays. 

In the course of excavation, there have been several finds including; an intaglio, coins, pins, pottery and skeletons, both human and animal. The human remains have now been reburied close to where they came from, and the rest of the artefacts are temporarily stored in Beaumont St in Oxford. 

One of the problems that arose once this very important site became well known, was that of theft by illegal metal detectorists often called “nighthawks“. Security on the site is difficult, so at various times the site was seeded with metal washers, and when that became possible to be screened out by the detectors, was then seeded with cartridge cases from the local clay pigeon club. This strategy has improved the situation, although it still happens. 

The digging obviously costs money to pay for the supervisors and other facilities, so trainees pay to do the dig.  A trust, the Vale and Ridgeway Trust, was funded by the Lottery Fund. This paid for three years’ worth of peoples trench and for pamphlets about the excavation to be printed. 

As William Cumber said at the end of his very interesting and entertaining talk, as the years go on there is more and more to talk about, so more has to be left out each time to fit the talk into the available time. It is impossible to give the full flavour of this talk as the slides shown added so much to the talk, but I hope this overview gives an indication of what was an excellent talk. 

STOP PRESS - Congratulations to Dorothy Newbury, well-known long-term HADAS member, who has just celebrated her 90th birthday. 

Waitrose Community Matters                                                                          Stephen Brunning 

HADAS was one of three nominated charities in January 2010 under the above initiative at Waitrose Mill Hill.

Each month, shops will have £1,000 to divide between three local organisations.  Customers are offered a green token every time they shop. These can be inserted in one of three perspex boxes – one for each organisation. At the end of the month the tokens for each organisation are weighed. Then the beneficiaries will each receive a proportion of the cash depending on the number of tokens received. 

I am pleased to report that shoppers have raised the splendid sum of £260 for HADAS.  We had to compete with Copthall Swimming Club and Whetstone Wanderers Youth Football Club, so receiving over 25% of the cash is a great achievement.  There is hope yet for the Historic Environment! 



Remembering Helen O’Brien                                                                                       Sheila Woodward

It was with great sadness that we heard of the death of Helen O’Brien, a member of HADAS since 1973. She was a regular digger throughout the first phase (1976 to 1981) of the West Heath excavation. She also took part in the post-excavation work, and contributed to the West Heat Report, published in 1919. 

Helen often participated in HADAS social activities in those early days, and those of us who shared them with her remember her quiet charm and beauty, her friendliness and her good humour. They are happy memories. We extend our sympathy to Helen’s husband and daughter in their great loss.


Graham Hutchings                                                                                                     Don Cooper

We also have to report the death of a long-standing member, Graham Hutchings, in December 2009, aged 85. Graham was a member from 1981 to 2008 and kept an eye on developments and issues from the Cricklewood area. He was one of the organisers of the Cricklewood Festival and usually persuaded HADAS to have a stall there! Our condolences go out to his family and friends.



19th C Population History Workshop - a few places left 

The LAMAS Local History Committee is organising a workshop for Saturday 20th March 2010, to demonstrate how members of affiliated local history societies can construct a nineteenth century population history of their parish. The workshop will be conducted between 10am and 1pm in the new e-learning suite of the Museum of London, London Wall, EC2. 

The workshop will consist of a presentation showing how the census statistics have been used to create a population profile for one particular nineteenth century Middlesex parish. There will then be an extended hands-on session during which participants will be able to extract figures for their own parish from The Online Historical Population Reports website and compile a full set of data to take away. There are still a few places left.  For further information or to book a place contact: 

         LAMAS Local History Workshop, c/o 9 Umfreville Road , London , N4 1RY ,

         or email to: – subject Local History Workshop



OTHER  SOCIETIES  LECTURES  AND  EVENTS                                         Eric Morgan 

Wednesday 3rd March, 8pm, Stanmore & Harrow Historical Society, Wealdstone Baptist Church Hall, High St, Wealdstone. “The History of Uxbridge” - talk by K. Pearce. Visitors £1.

Thursday 4th March, 10.30am-12 noon, Mill Hill Library, Hartley Avenue, NW7. “London Walks - History and Highlights of the Capital Ring”. Talk. Coffee, biscuits 50p. 

Sunday 7th March, 11am - 1pm. Hooray for Hendon!”  Guided walk through 1,000 years from the Domesday Book to Hendon Aerodrome. Meet at Hendon Central Tube Station. Led by Paul Baker. Cost £7.

 Monday 8th March, 3pm, Barnet and District Local History Society, Church House, Wood Street, Barnet (opposite Museum) “Hornblower’s Navy.” Talk by {Paul Chamberlain). Tea: 2.30 pm.

Wednesday 10th March, 8pm, Mill Hill Historical Society, Wilberforce Centre, St Paul’s Church, The Ridgeway, NW7 . “The Building of the Underground.” Talk by Tony Earle.

Saturday 13th March, 11am-5.30pm. Lamas Archaeology Conference, the Weston Theatre, Museum of London, London Wall, EC2. (For details please see February Newsletter)

 Friday 19th March, 7.30 pm. Wembley Historical Society,  St. Andrew’s Church Hall, Church Lane, Kingsbury, NW9: “My Little Bit of History”. Talks by Members.

Sunday 21st March, 11am-1pm - Fabulous Finchley”. Guided walk through 1,000 years of Finchley Central and East Finchley. Meet at Finchley Central Tube Station (Ballards Lane exit). Finishes at East Finchley. Led by Paul Baker. Cost £7.

Wednesday 24th March, 7.45 pm, Friern Barnet & District Local History Society, St John’s Church Hall, (next to Whetstone Police Station) Friern Barnet Lane, N20. “Allotments”. Leon Price and Phyll Miles. Cost £2. Refreshments 7.45 pm.

 Thursday 25th March, 2.30 pm. Finchley Society. Drawing Room, Avenue House, East End Road, Finchley N3. “Liquid History - London and the Thames”. Brenda Cole. £2.

 Sunday 28th March, 11am-1pm “Battle of Barnet”. Guided walk. Meet at Junction of Great North Way and Hadley Green Road. Led by Paul Baker. Costs £7.

Please note that the exhibition on “The History of the Welsh Harp” at Church Farmhouse Museum, Greyhound Hill, NW4 mentioned in the February Newsletter has now been extended to Sunday 28th March