Forgotten People

Forgotten people of the world are many and varied however, some of them have left clues that remind us they were once here.

Some clues are celebrated and looked after well so that future generations can understand who they were and how they lived.

Others are hidden away and left to the ravages of time and, to the rough hand of modern man who, it seems, just wants to forget that some people were ever here.

But who decides which past people or communities will live on through the years by having the evidence of their existence preserved and put on public view?

who decides which past people or communities will live on through the years by having the… Click To Tweet

For example, the  Ancient House in Ipswich UK, a building that dates back to the 15th Century, has had a tremendous amount of money spent on it to prevent it from crumbling away. You can read about the history of the building and the people associated with it here.

 
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You will see that there is a secret room where folklore says King Charles II hid after being defeated at the Battle of Worcester. This is unlikely to be true. However, what is accepted as being true is that this hidden room was used by Catholics as a secret place of worship during the civil wars.

What is accepted as being true is that this hidden room was used by Catholics as a secret place… Click To Tweet

Knowing this helps us connect with people from the past and helps stop them from becoming forgotten people. We can imagine what it must have been like to have a belief that was so hated, the people had to worship in secret.

The history of this beautiful old building is widely known, discussed, celebrated and respected. It features as part of Ipswich's rich history and is known to tourists the world over. 

Ipswich's Forgotten People - Who Decides Which historic Buildings and sites should be treasured?

Contrast this with the Jews' burial ground I wrote about in my previous post, which you can read by clicking here, and you will see that all historic sites are not treated equally.

If you watch my short film found in my previous post, you will see the history of the thriving Jewish community that once lived in Ipswich appears not to be that important in the grand scheme of things. 

The Jews that once lived in Ipswich are very much in danger of becoming forgotten people, in spite of the fact that one of the women buried in the tiny Jewish cemetery is said to have had her portrait painted by Sir John Constable, a world renowned Suffolk artist whose works hang in notable galleries around the world.

I ask again, who decides which historic sites should be preserved, respected, celebrated, put on show, loved, admired, discussed publicly and treated with respect? Who makes those decisions in a town?

Who decides which communities or individuals should be remembered and which ones left to become forgotten people?

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Forgotten people

Christchurch Mansion

Above you see Christchurch Mansion, one of Ipswich's best loved and preserved buildings dating back to the 1500s. We know about many of the people who lived here over the years.
They will never be forgotten people as long as this building is preserved and made available to the public to visit. Many of those who lived here were titled people considered to be of great importance in the town's history and as such, worthy of being remembered.
Everyone who lives locally knows about Christchurch Mansion and its history. School children go on trips to this place to learn about the history of their town and the people who came before them. 
But do these children grow up with an honest, well-rounded view of the past and the various people who have shaped their town over the years?

Star Lane Car Wash and an Ancient Jewish Burial Ground with Grade II Listed Walls

Above you see an historic site that does not have the same respect afforded it as Christchurch Mansion. To the left of the shot you can just see the orange coloured brick walls that give shelter to the graves of those buried here. This site should tell the story of a community that came to our shores to work and be a part of the town's history.
A community of people that was at first allowed to live in England, then thrown out by Edward 1st in 1290, then invited back in the mid 1600s by Cromwell. 
The people buried behind the car wash had stories to tell and lives as important as anyone who has ever lived in the town. They are a part of its rich and diverse history. But few people know about them.

The Forgotten People of Ipswich - Who Are They?

The forgotten people I refer to were the last community of Jewish settlers to make their homes in Ipswich prior to modern times.

Jews first came to the UK in significant numbers in 1066 with William the Conqueror. I did not know this until I began to look into the history behind the Jews' burial ground in my old home town.

Why didn't I already know this? We had history lessons at school. We went on field trips to places of historic interest around our town and county.

We learned all about the people who came before us and had a hand in developing our town - except for the Jews who came here. No one told us about them or the little gem of a graveyard where some of them were laid to rest.

I didn't know about that until I stumbled on it myself many years ago in my adult life. Why did these industrious people never figure in our history lessons?

 

 
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The forgotten people of Ipswich - local Jews who have been sleeping here since the 1700s and 1800s while the town gradually forgot them.
 

Jews played a huge role in the economic development of England because the religious laws here at the time prevented any kind of money lending for profit.

Judaism did not hinder business dealings in this way and the lending of money for profit between Jews and non-Jews was allowed.

There is no point in me rehashing the history behind all this when you can read it for yourself by clicking here.

Reading through the article linked to above, it seems clear to me that Jews, brought to England by William the Conqueror, were used to fulfil an economic function that no one else could perform at the time.

It also seems clear to me that they undertook this function because there were precious few other opportunities open to them to make a living in this country due to 'extreme discrimination in every other area'.

Despite the fact that the Jews and their money helped build the economy of the day, they appear to have been hated for doing just that. They appear to have been in a no-win situation.

Despite the fact that the Jews and their money helped build the economy of the day, they appear… Click To Tweet

Not only were they hated for being able to make money when English religion prevented us from using the same methods, but they had much of their wealth randomly stolen by the King, the authority they were directly answerable to, in the form of taxes whenever he wanted money.

He levied the taxes against them whenever he felt like it and took whatever he wanted.

 

 
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William the Conqueror brought Jews to England in 1066 because, according to this article he believed their 'commercial skills and incoming capital would make England more prosperous'. The Jews were not treated very well despite being blatantly used to further the economic interests of this country when our own religion forbade money-lending for profit.
 

The Forgotten People Were Once an Intergral Part of England's Economic Structure

It seems that the commercial talents of Jews were highly sought after but hated at the same time. We wanted the rewards that their financial brilliance could bring to England while at the same time, we appeared to be insanely jealous of their abilities.

It seems that whilst being happy to borrow their money and reap the benefits of that money, we were also resentful of the inevitable indebtedness that came with it.

We wanted the Jews to use their business acumen to our advantage while also persecuting them for it. The ridiculous tussle between need and discrimination went on until eventually, King Edward expelled Jews from England, taking all their property and income from outstanding debts.

The ridiculous tussle between need and discrimination went on until eventually, King Edward I… Click To Tweet

 
forgotten people
 
 
Kind Edward I - was responsible for the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290 after they had been used for many years to bolster the economy.
 

The Coming of Jews To Ipswich 

Cromwell eventually allowed Jews to return to our shores in the mid 1600s many of them migrated to port towns to establish trade.

The Port of Ipswich, was a natural choice and by 1792, the town had a settled community of around 30 Jewish families.

With the help of benefactors Simon Hyam and Levi Lazarus, the community was able to build a synagogue for worship in Rope Walk.

The natural progression was the need for a burial ground and in 1796, they bought a 999 year lease from a local bricklayer on a plot of land enclosed by four walls.

 
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The ancient burial ground today - the green car wash building can be seen abutting the North wall of the site.
 

These are the walls that still surround the graves to this day. The walls that are surrounded by cars and a noisy car wash. 

Walls that were built in 1764 and, are of such historic significance, the government saw fit to give them Grade II listed status.

The full story of the burial ground is recorded here and is worth reading to get a sense of why it seems so unbelievable that a local authority would give permission for a car wash to be sited there.

The Forgotten People of Ipswich are not Forgotten at All

No, they are not forgotten people, they are the neglected people. They are ignored people. Why - who knows? There have been claims that vandalism will happen if people know the burial ground is there.

There is absolutely no history of anti-semitism in Ipswich that I know of.  I have no idea why anyone would think this little cemetery is in any more danger of vandalism that the ruins of Blackfriars Priory which is a stone's throw away and clearly marked by tourist sign boards.

Keeping it secret really just ensures that those buried there will eventually really become forgotten people meaning they will be lost forever.

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It also ensures that signs can be bolted to the listed walls that should be protected and no one will complain. It is hard to complain about something if you don't know what is happening.

After I wrote my previous post on this, I was contacted by people with similar stories about sacred burial grounds that have been built on.

A writer from the US, who has a website here, told me about an African American burial ground in New York that has a bus station built on it.

Another writer from Canada who has a website here told me of another black burial ground in Ontario that was ploughed over and used for farmland.

There is a link to an interesting  video about it here.

So it seems that the forgotten people of Ipswich are not unique. It is happening everywhere.

The question I asked at the start of this post still remains - who decides which buildings, sites and monuments get to be preserved for future generations to see?

And who decides that it is perfectly ok for some people to be lost in time and become the forgotten people of our world?

15 comments

  1. Who decides? Such a simple yet complex question. In this case, I am thankful that you decided. You took notice one day, your curiosity awoke, and now you’ve awoken ours as well. We who walk the streets with our faces turned downward into our screens need you to lift our chins to what is right there in front of us.

    1. Thank you Mithra, I think we all need prompting to look up from our screens these days! Really appreciate your visit here and your comment.

  2. An important fact I think you’ve highlighted here is how often the forgotten people are ones who’ve made great contributions to a community but because they were considered “outsiders” were resented for their industry and talent.
    I wonder too how many of the Jews of Ipswich were fleeing the Inquisition. Like the Catholics before them they were persecuted for their religion–even when they practiced in secret. It would be a terrible thing if their sacrifices and contributions were forgotten.

    1. Thanks for that comment Christopher, you are right, it would be a terrible thing but unfortunately, developers don’t seem to care too much for remembering those who came before us – it’s all about money. There was a time when a car wash would never have been allowed to lean up against such an important historic site but now, it seems anything goes in this crazy world. I think it all goes towards degrading the site ready to flatten it! Thanks for stopping by – I am well overdue for a visit to you – I have a huge amount of catching up to do!

  3. I have visited Jewish burial places all over the world but not this one…”Keeping it secret really just ensures that those buried there will eventually really become forgotten people meaning they will be lost forever.” people like you and posts like this will help preserve memories and keep important discussions from dying with the culture they reflect.

    1. Thank you Molly – your visit and comments are appreciated. Yes, it is all very subjective and manipulated (in my humble opinion!) I have been quite shocked that I didn’t know this aspect of my own hometown’s history. It is so interesting to me know about those who came before us. It is SO easily lost forever though through ignorance and apathy. Thanks again.

  4. Great piece…I am often surprised by the “true” history of a person, place, thing or even a phrase…often we assume it is just the storytelling that fades or distorts the history, and forget that often the intentional spin of the storyteller(s) to block out the parts of our past.

    1. Hello Mary – thanks for reading and taking time to comment. I think we are all at the mercy of those who decide what is important to carry forward as a ‘true’ record of the past and what to abandon to the passage of time. I am left wondering about all the other people in our local history who have been conveniently forgotten regardless of how they helped shape society.

  5. Thanks for sharing Gilly. It is sad when history is put in a corner, covered over or forgotten. In the US we’ve also seen history disappear under water as reservoirs were created that wiped out old towns.

    1. Hi Jennifer, thanks for coming by and commenting. Yes it is sad but I am getting the message that this kind of attitude is the same everywhere. I know things have to ‘progress’ but we should also have ways of honouring those who came before us and acknowledging their contribution. Thanks again – I appreciate your time.

    1. Ha Ha – you are welcome – the best history info is in the links. I have found it fascinating because I didn’t know any of this until I started searching. It is such a forlorn little place, I hope it gets saved.

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