The site of Jewbury, which is both a road and an area, is where York’s original Jewish quarter was located, and the word itself means just this, “Jewish Quarter”. Jewbury is to the north east of the city, just outside of the city walls. Although previously a residential area and site of the County Hospital, the land is now primarily used as a supermarket and car park. Streets formerly on the site include Orchard Street and Lower Orchard Street.
Despite the attack on the Jews at York Castle in 1190 when the number of Jews in the city declined sharply both through death in the attack and through others fleeing the city, in the mid 1200s, over 200 Jews lived in the city, although they were expelled nationally in 1290.
One of the most important Jewish leaders in the city following the 1190 attack was Aaron of York, who was born in around 1180 and died in 1268. He was one of the wealthiest men in the country, and he lent money to King Henry III, which wasn’t repaid. After being heavily taxed, and with his money not being returned, he found himself imprisoned in York Castle.
An unfortunate suicide took place in November 1868, when George Wright, a 28 year old butcher, ended his own life. He had been living for seven weeks with Matthew Young, a joiner, and his wife in Jewbury. He had been receiving help from Dr Ure regarding his mental health, but he was found by Mrs Young hanging by the neck one morning from the beams of the ceiling. An inquest decided that the death was through suicide, even though his doctor and friends hadn’t thought he had a history of any suicidal thoughts.
An archaeological dig took place in 1982 before the building of a Sainsbury’s supermarket and car park on the site. Initial suspicions were that the graveyard was a Jewish graveyard, although the Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, intervened to suggest this might be wrong as the evidence didn’t suggest Jewish burials as the direction the bodies were buried in wasn’t as expected. The archaeologists discovered further evidence to suggest that this was a Jewish cemetery, but the Chief Rabbi and some others had some concerns about the ethics of the dig. Despite initial support, the dig had to be brought to an end quickly after pressure from the Home Office, meaning the recording work wasn’t as the archaeologists had intended, as they had both less time and funding was withdrawn.
It was found that the first burials in the cemetery were made in 1230 with some bodies moved from Lincoln. The bodies discovered were initially reinterred in a raised garden where a plaque remained, but these were then later moved to a Jewish cemetery in Manchester. The site of the cemetery is now a car park.