The area of central Oxford around the medieval tower of Carfax, has recently become known as the Oxford Jewish Quarter, partly as a result of the popularisation of interest in this area due to the activities of the Oxford Jewish Heritage Committee, much of whose work followed on from the study by Elisa Narin van Court, who described the Jewish history in Oxford as being “Invisible”.
It was well understood that Jews arrived in Oxford in the late eleventh century and that there developed a thriving community based around the central area around Carfax Tower. But whilst there was a paper trail to this effect, there was no archaeological support for what was believed. Until now!
With major developments planned for the block opposite the Oxford Town Hall, at the north end of St Aldates (previously named Old Jewry), Oxford Archaeology was commissioned to carry out an investigation, and the archaeologist in charge of the post- excavation project, Edward Biddulph, has now published an article in the popular magazine Current Archaeology entitled “You Are What You Eat – Excavating the Oxford Jewry” (Current Archaeology v350 p 18 – 25, May 2019)
In the article Biddulph reports on the conclusions that food residues and waste found in the pits excavated in the medieval strata of St Aldates under what is believed to be Jacob (the Jew’s) Hall site show that some of the occupants had a kosher diet, ie without pig or shellfish or other forbidden foodstuffs common elsewhere at that time. There were even signs that milk and meat dishes were kept separately.
With the kind permission of the author Edward Biddulph of Oxford Archeology a .pdf of the article can be downloaded here
In February 2021 a peer reviewed scientific paper gave more details of the work described “Finding Oxford’s medieval Jewry using organic residue analysis, faunal records and historical documents”. This academic paper gives much more information about the rational and method of using the analysis of the potshards found during the excavation to identify the food cooked in the pots, and the diets of the occupents and concludes firmly that one home housed a Jewish household and the neighbour a Non Jewish Household. This new publication can be downloaded as a .pdf by clicking HERE
On 26th March 2021 the Jewish Chronicle published a feature article entitled ‘Rubbish? No, it’s proof medieval Jews ate Kosher’ written by the well known author, and member of the Oxford Jewish Heritage Committee, Rebecca Abrams, which you can read in full by clicking here, courtesy of the Author.