In the thirteenth century Winchester had a thriving Jewish community, concentrated in the area around the street known today as 'Jewry Street'. However, in 1290 this prominent community was expelled from England, and mentions of it appear to have been wiped from the history books. The Jews in medieval
Winchester experienced increasing persecution in the 13th century;
Benedict, son of David of Oxford and the wealthy businesswoman Licoricia (known as 'Licoricia of Winchester'), was hanged
for alleged felony, and his body buried by the gaol. The community was not given permission to bury him in the Jewish cemetery.
Since 2014, the University of Winchester has been supporting a local group that would like to see Winchester’s Jewish heritage promoted in the city’s museums and through dedicated visitor guides. However, as the project explores a largely missing aspect of the
city's past, rekindling it involves a great deal of detective work. Initial investigations were carried out in 2014 by four student researchers from the departments of Theology, Religion & Philosophy, Archaeology and History, as part of the University's WRAP (Winchester Research Apprenticeship Programme), alongside a local Jewish A level student. The idea stemmed from a journal article* that compared the Jewish history of York to the lack of such in Winchester.
Image: medieval portrait of a Jew in the Holy Sepulchre Chapel of Winchester Cathedral. Photo Christina Welch
*Griffiths, T. 2012, ‘The State of Jewish Memory in York and Winchester’, University of Potsdam, Institute for Jewish Studies; PaRDeS (2012) 18.-S.67-78
9 July 2017: Medieval Jewish Winchester guided walk
The walk starts at 13.30 at the Tourist Information Centre. For further information, go to the Visit Winchester website.
Inaugural MJW walk and civic reception
The aim of the project is not only to build up a body of scholarly knowledge about Winchester's medieval
Jewish history but to allow tourists and local residents to discover it too. To this end, the team, consisting of Winchester academics (see below) and Winchester City Council representatives, held an Inaugural Medieval Jewish Winchester Walk and civic reception on 8 July 2015 to commemorate this neglected part of the city’s history. The civic reception was hosted by WCC at the Winchester Guildhall. Photo: the inaugural MJW walk on 8 July 2015; where the tree now stands is where the synagogue used to be, fronting onto Jewry Street (on the far side of the yellow brick building). The alleyway was an alley in medieval times as well.
A colloquium was held in the Winchester Discovery Centre on Jewry Street on 19 May 2015. At this event, distinguished guest speakers reflected on the evidence for Jewish life in medieval England.
The map and summary walk leaflet are provided by Winchester City Council; further information on the walk locations can be found in the detailed walk leaflet. Both resources are downloadable via the right-hand side column.
We are extremely grateful to Charlotte Andrasi, Adele Beston, Tracey Churcher, Cader McPhail, Toni Griffiths, Rachel Carver, Dr Alex Langlands and Dr Katherine Weikert for helping with the research. We are also extremely grateful to Danny Habel - see below.
The walk is dedicated to Jack and Gretel Habel, the parents of Winchester entrepreneur Danny Habel. Jack Habel came to England on a special agricultural visa. He applied for his girlfriend Gretel to be allowed to join him and a few weeks later, in March 1939, she too left Berlin and arrived in England. They married in May and were moved out of London to the Hampshire countryside to spend the war working the land to help feed the war effort. For a young couple who had to leave behind absolutely everyone and everything they knew, going from Europe’s third largest city to a farm outside Winchester was a huge challenge. (Image: Jack and Gretel Habel in 1939)
At the end of the war Jack began work for a haberdashery in Winchester, but after a few months there he decided to set up on his own, making mattresses and reconditioning upholstery. Gretel had learnt skills from her mother who had been a seamstress in Germany so she was able to assist in the production in their small shop in Middle Brook Street, Winchester. From these beginnings the Habel family became established and both Jack and Gretel became very active in community life in the city. Jack rose to be chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and joined the Rotary; Gretel was on the committee of the Friends of Winchester Hospital and of VSO.
Gretel’s mother was one of a handful of Jews who survived the war in Berlin. She came to Winchester in 1946 and lived with her daughter until her death in 1968. Jack and Gretel had two sons, Alex who became a consultant paediatrician practicing in the West Middlesex Hospital and Great Ormond Street, and Danny, who remained in Winchester and continued to run the family business.