FOR more than 200 years Jewish families lived and died in Oxford, away from the threat of persecution.
Living in the Jewish Quarter around St Aldate’s, they thrived in the safe haven the city offered them.
But in 1290, in the face of growing anti-Jewish sentiment and massacres elsewhere in England, the 200-strong population was banished from the country.
They were not to return for more than 350 years.
Hundreds of years later, their story became lost in history – with just a few reminders to show they were ever there.
This week, their lives were remembered at a special ceremony and a plaque unveiled at what was once their cemetery.
Historian Pam Manix said: “Many people visiting the Lasker Rose Garden at the Botanic Gardens will be unaware of its special place in Jewish history.
“It was once the site of the city’s Jewish cemetery and up to 200 bodies were buried there up until 1290.”
In 13th century England, Jewish residents were not allowed to be buried in Christian cemeteries or even to walk the bodies of their dead through the city.
They built their cemetery on what was then wasteland. Funeral processions would walk out of the city walls from St Aldate’s and round to the cemetery.
This gave the path along the city walls the name Dead Man’s Walk – a name it keeps to this day.
Ms Manix said: “I had always wondered why it was called this and yet not many people seemed to know.
“It is remarkable that the name has lasted so long.”
Oxford was a relatively safe place for a Jewish community. It was popular with monarchs and there were no recorded incidents of violence against Jews in Oxford.
But gradually anti-semitic feeling grew. In 1218, England became the first country to make Jews wear a marking badge.
By 1290 tension reached a height and the Jewish population was expelled from England. They were only allowed to return in 1657.
Ms Manix said: “We would like to let people know about these people, we have very detailed records so can actually tell you where they lived, who they married and when they died.”
The cemetery is located under the rose garden on High Street. People gathered there to see a memorial stone unveiled during the ceremony on Wednesday.
It tells the story of the Jewish community so future generations will know their place in the city’s history.
Ms Manix said: “Often history tells the story of great kings and the wars they fought. But this is about every day individuals living and working in Oxford.
“Now we can remember them and make sure their stories are not forgotten.”