Text taken from ‘The Encyclopaedia of Oxford‘, Ed. Christopher Hibbert, Macmillan London, 1988.
“Jews first came to England in the wake of William I and settled first in London and then in provincial centres. A group of Jews was settled in Oxford early in the 12th century, and the community developed during the following decades, although always remaining comparatively small. Throughout mediaeval England Jews were restricted mainly to money-lending as a means of livelihood, and they were subject to heavy taxation and not infrequent property confiscation by the Crown: the earliest surviving document relating to Oxford Jews refers to a levy exacted from them in 1141, during the war between Stephen and Matilda.
The expansion of the University in the later 12th century attracted Jews to the city, and many were among the wealthiest in England. They were also scholarly but were prohibited, as Jews, from membership of the University, and their contacts with scholars were through lending money and letting lodgings. Jacob’s Hall, facing the present Town Hall in St Aldates’s, was probably let by a Jew as student accommodation, as was Moyses’ Hall, which was to become the property of Oriel College in 1362.
By the end of the 12th century Great Jewry, the street of the Jews, ran from the present Carfax to Folly Bridge. Many of the houses were owned by Jews, some of them let to Christians. There were also Jewish houses in Pennyfarthing Lane (now Pembroke Street), Lombard’s Lane (now Brewer Street) and around Wheatsheaf Yard. Jewish investment in house property was an important feature of mediaeval Oxford since the Jews rebuilt the lath-and-plaster dwellings in stone, often extending as well as improving them. Later documented transactions, such as those between Walter de Merton and Jacob of Oxford in the 13th century, show how these residences became part of the newly founded colleges of the University.
Two stone tablets, one on the wall of the town hall and the other at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, commemorate the mediaeval Jewish community. David of Oxford, a noted financier, owned a house on the town hall site which was, at his death in 1244, expropriated and presented to the Domus Conversorum, the `home for converted Jews’. Some time after 1190 land outside the East Gate was acquired by the Jews for use as a cemetery. The plaque on the wall of the Botanic Garden gives the date of establishment as 1177, now accepted as too early. On the east side of St Aldate’s, just south of the north corner-tower of Christ Church, stood the 13th-century synagogue. The building comprised houses that belonged to Copin of Worcester, an Oxford Jew who had property dealings with St Frideswide’s Priory.
In general the Oxford Jews’ relationships with their Christian neighbours seem to have been friendly. On occasion the latter safeguarded the former’s property against confiscation; and Copin of Oxford, a prominent member of the 13th-century community, was cleared of one of the frequent ‘coin-clipping’ charges by an all-Christian jury.
The 13th century was characterised by extortionate and restrictive measures against Jews in England, culminating in their expulsion by Edward I on 1 November 1290. Oxford Jewry was impoverished and many fled the country. Under Henry III the Jews were urged to apostatise, and in 1221 a Dominican Friary was established in Great Jewry in Oxford, probably for this purpose. Accusations of crimes of violence, fraud and desecration against the Jews increased. In Oxford on Ascension Day, 17 May 1268, Jews were accused of desecrating the processional crucifix. The community was imprisoned and required to pay for its replacement as well as for the construction of a gold-and-marble crucifix, which was inscribed with an account of the alleged incident and erected opposite the synagogue.
During the years leading up to the expulsion, Queen Eleanor appropriated the property of Oxford’s Jews as `death duties’ due to the Crown and presented it to her favourite, Henry Owen. By 1290 the Oxford Jewish community numbered fewer than 100, of whom no more than nine remained home-owners; and, following the expulsion, surviving Jewish property, including the synagogue, was presented by King Edward to William Burnell, Provost of Wells, who subsequently bequeathed it to Balliol.
Although unable to take part in University life, through their business and personal contacts the Jews of mediaeval Oxford had had an influence on scholarship, as is evident early in the work Of Robert Grosseteste and of Roger Bacon. Both these scholars studied Jewish exegesis, and the latter was particularly interested in the work of an important Jewish scholar of the 13th century – Moses of Oxford.”
The following is a chronology of events (taken from the Jewish Communities and Records website):
1075 – First Jews settle in Oxford.
1141 – During the civil war between King Stephen and Matilda, Matilda imposes a levy on the Jews when she occupied the town. On Oxford’s recapture by King Stephen, he demands, by way of punishment for the Jews’ compliance, three and a half times as much. The Jews are unwilling for comply, until he burns down the home of the Aaron fil’ Isaac.
1177 – Jews permitted to purchase land outside London. Jews of Oxford purchase land for use as a cemetery.
1210 – Much of the property of Oxford Jews confiscated by King John.
1222 – A University deacon, Robert of Reading, converts to Judaism and marries a Jewess. He is burnt alive.
1222 – Council of Oxford orders Jews to wear yellow star on all clothing.
1231 – New Jewish cemetery to the East of the town centre, on the west bank of the River Cherwell, was acquired by the Jews.
1244 – Jewish homes attacked and looted by Oxford students.
1244 – Jewish Loan Rate to students fixed by King Henry III at two pence in the pound per week.
1255 – Oxford sees influx of large number of Jews who converted to Christianity and receive a allowance of one and half pence per day.
1290 – All Jews expelled. Jewish property granted to Provost of Wells.
1309 – The former Synagogue in Great Jewry, later Fish Street (now St. Aldates), was converted into a tavern called ‘Broadyates’ (and from 1520 ‘Dolphin’). It is now part of Christ Church.