Was Moyse’s Hall, Bury St. Edmunds, a Jew’s House?

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Moyse's Hall, Bury St. Edmunds, is a very solid twelfth-century stone house, of which the undercroft and part of the first-floor hall are original, but which has been subject to many later additions and alterations. Half of the vaulted undercroft is Romanesque in style, and half early Gothic. Miss Margaret Wood, in her book The English Mediaeval House (London, 1965), dates the building c. 1180.

The reasons for believing that Moyse's Hall was built for and owned by Jews are its date, style, and location, a local tradition, and above all its name. The argument against is that these all fail to prove the case. In 1895 and 1896 a fervent debate on this question took place between the Rev. Hermann Gollancz and Mr. Frank Haes, first in the columns of the Jewish Chronicle and then in Volumes II and III of the Jewish Historical Society's Transactions. The matter was referred to a scholarly tribunal of three Council members, Messrs. C. Trice Martin, Asher I. Myers, and Sir Lionel Abrahams, who summed up the arguments and found on the whole for Frank Haes.1

Sir Hermann Gollancz (as he later became) overstated his case and made use of some very weak and barely relevant arguments, but I feel that his case had more merit than it has been allowed and that some of Frank Haes's coolly stated arguments were too weak to deserve the credit later given to them. The debate was complicated by the demand that the Jewish community, which at that time was confronted with the problem of helping a large number of fugitives from Russia and Rumania, ought to find money to restore this old building in Suffolk.

Since I propose to stir up the embers of controversy, which have lain dormant for ninety years, perhaps I ought to start by saying that the merits of historical discussion ought not tobe restrained by financial hazards and that the repair and maintenance of this interesting old building is in any case surely a local and a national responsibility.

Was it a Synagogue?

The local tradition in Bury St. Edmunds, apparently first recorded in 1804 in Edmund Gillingwater's Historical and Descriptive Account of St Edmund's Bury and thence incorporated in the 1817 edition of Sir William Dugdale's Monasticon Anglicanum, is that Moyse's Hall was a medieval Jews' synagogue. Both Sir Hermann Gollancz and Frank Haes debated this question and none of their arguments is entirely convincing. If one followed Sir Her? mann, all unattributed Romanesque buildings would be synagogues, for he relied upon the resemblance of the cellar vaulting of Moyse's Hall to the vaulting of the eleventh-century Rashi chapel at Worms. Frank Haes on the other hand argued that, as the building faced onto a street which was called Hog Hill during the early eighteenth century and which was then the hog market, the building could not possibly have been a synagogue, because no Jew would build a synagogue near a pig market. There are three defects in this super?

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