By: Joseph Jacobs
Capital town of the county of Norfolk, England. After London, Oxford, and Cambridge, it is the earliest English town mentioned as being inhabited by Jews. The so-called martyrdom of William of Norwich—the first case of blood accusation in Europe—occurred there in 1144. It must have possessed an important congregation very early, as the sheriff of Norfolk paid £44 6s. 8d. for the Jews of Norwich in 1159. The most important person in the community in the twelfth century was Jurnet of Norwich, who is said to have married a Christian, Miryld, daughter of Humphrey de Havile. Jurnet was fined 6,000 marks, an enormous sum, while his wife's lands were escheated (Blomefield, "History of Norfolk," iv. 510). This occurred in 1186; but three years later he is found continuing to conduct business, one of the earliest "feet of fine" (title deed) in existence being with regard to a messuage at Norwich which he had purchased from William of Curzon. He paid 1,800 marks for the privilege of having residence in England (Jacobs, "Jews of Angevin England," pp. 90, 94, 97).
During the massacres of 1190 all the Norwich Jews who were found in their own houses were slain (Feb. 6); the remainder had sought refuge in the castle. On the return of Richard I. from Germany, the Jews of Norwich contributed for his ransom to the Northampton donum of March 20, 1194, thirteen of them contributing £88 9s. 4d. The comparative smallness of their number and contribution was doubtless due to the massacre of 1190.
In 1200 an affray took place in Norwich in which a priest assaulted and wounded Abraham of Norwich, who appealed to the court for redress. The great Jewish financier of Norwich, and indeed of all England, in the early part of the thirteenth century was Isaac of Norwich, who in 1218 was fined the enormous sum of 10,000 marks. There is still extant a sort of day-book of his transactions for the three years 1225-27. He is represented in contemporary caricature as king of the money-lenders or demons, with a triple head, showing the wide extent of his influence (see illustration,
In 1234 thirteen Jews were accused of having forcibly circumcised the five-year-old son of a Christian physician (possibly a convert). They paid a fine for respite of judgment; but four years later four of them were hanged at Norwich after having been dragged to the gallows at the tails of horses. In 1237, possibly in connection with this affair, the houses of the Jews of Norwich were twice broken into and burned.
Norwich remained the seat of an Archa down to the expulsion in 1290, on which occasion the king came into possession of bonds to the extent of £20 in money and of corn and wool to the value of £314 13s. 4d. and £311 13s. 4d. respectively. Furthermore, sixteen Jews of Norwich held messuages, which fell into the hands of the king. The community possessed a synagogue of the annual value of 5s., for which it paid 4d. as a land tax.
An unusually large number of deeds relating to the Jews of Norwich exists in the public records, especially at Westminster Abbey, where there are no less than ninety-four Latin deeds and ninety-four Hebrew "starrs" (the latter were published by M. D. Davis: "Shetarot," London, 1888). From these and other documents it is possible to determine the position of the Jewry at Norwich. It extended from Hogg Hill to the Haymarket, and from Sadle Gate to Little Orford street. The synagogue was in the center, and had a cemetery near it and a school at the south end of it. This shows that the English Jews had a separate school system.
A small congregation seems to have existed in Norwich in the middle of the nineteenth century, a synagogue having been erected there in 1848. The present congregation is a small one, numbering (1904) only 158 souls.
- Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England, passim;
- Tr. Jew. Hist. Soc. Eng. ii. 112-114, 122-130;
- W. Rye, Norfolk Antiquarian Miscellany, i. 222-236, London, 1877;
- Kirkpatrick, Streets and Lanes of the City of Norwich, pp. 29, 48, Norwich, 1899;
- M. D. Davis, Shetarot, pp. 1-218, London, 1888;
- Jewish Year Book, 5665 (= 1905).