Cambridge Guildhall’s 700 year history including time as a Jewish Synagogue and gaol – Cambridgeshire Live

Posted By on May 20, 2022

Every Thursday here at CambridgeshireLive, we like to take a trip down memory lane with our 'Throwback Thursday' series. From the subtle historical artefacts you may miss on a daily basis, to those which prove a little harder to miss but have a fascinating history - we love to explore the history of them all.

This week, we've taken a look at a fairly iconic location - the Guildhall. Standing tall and proud over Cambridge's market, the Guildhall is a dominant part of the architecture in Cambridge city centre.

The Guildhall is the centre for culture and entertainment in our beautiful city. Used for a variety of events from weddings to conferences, thousands of rounds of applause have echoed inside their walls over the years.

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But the Guildhall is so much more than the events it holds. The building actually has a deep history that goes back 700 years, giving us a fascinating look into Cambridge's social history.

Let's begin our Guildhall story in 1224, when King Henry II granted the burgesses of Cambridge possession of a house belonging to a Jewish man named Benjamin for use as a town gaol. What was known as the (quite politically incorrect) Jews House is sited in what is now the Guildhall site. So where the Guildhall now stands was once Cambridge's town gaol holding prisoners in chains and filth.

The old synagogue in the square also soon became a toll booth for the market, making the location a thriving town market as it still is today. This came just before the Jews were expelled from Cambridge, as well as from the rest of the region, in 1275 during a time of heightened anti-Semitism. They were not allowed back into the city for 400 years.

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The building and the market all remained pretty much the same for the next five centuries until, in 1782, the old Town/Guild Hall is demolished and a new Guild Hall is built on the site. 'The Jew's Gaol' was also demolished around this time.

The Guild Hall which was named ugly by the pompous Victorians, was again knocked down and rebuilt in 1861. Much of the building and construction we recognise today was officially completed in 1939 but its official opening was disrupted by the war and took place after.

More here:

Cambridge Guildhall's 700 year history including time as a Jewish Synagogue and gaol - Cambridgeshire Live

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