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  • Writer's pictureDoug Chapman, MA

A Brief History of All Saints’ Passage in Cambridge

What is All Saints’ Passage?

All Saints’ Passage is an ancient street in Cambridge that was once home to the city’s Jewish community.

All Saints’ Passage

All Saints’ Passage History

This quiet, narrow lane was once the heart of a thriving Jewish community in medieval Cambridge. All Saints’ Passage (once known as ‘Jews’ Street’ in the 13th century) is an alley sandwiched between the buildings of St John’s and Trinity Colleges, that exists in one of the oldest sections of the city. It’s tucked out of the way and entirely easy to miss, but this unassuming street offers a direct link to medieval Cambridge and to the tumultuous events of the 13th century.

The Jewish community in medieval Cambridge was one of the largest and most prosperous in England during the 12th and 13th centuries. Jews had lived in Cambridge since at least the 1140s, and they coexisted with their neighbours at the centre of both Cambridge’s geography and economic life. Medieval Cambridge was a highly successful market town before the university began to take priority in the later Middle Ages, and the Jewish community played a significant part in Cambridge’s thriving commercial sector. While All Saints’ Passage was not the only location in the medieval city in which Jews resided, it was the core of the historic Jewish quarter, and here you can imagine what their lives might once have looked like in this ancient city.

However, the harmonious relationship between the Jewish residents of Cambridge and their Christian neighbours unfortunately was not to last. The disinherited barons who had warred against King Henry III in the Second Barons’ War and who held out at nearby Ely, raided the Jewish community of Cambridge in 1266, marking the beginning of a series of injustices. A decade later, an edict prohibiting Jews from residing in towns held in dower by the Queen Mother, Eleanor, resulted in the expulsion of Cambridge’s Jewish community. Some historians even consider this to be a trial for the eventual Edict of Expulsion, issued by Eleanor’s son King Edward I in 1290, which forced the Jewish community out of England entirely. By the 14th century, almost all traces of Jewish life in the area were said to have disappeared, and it would not be until the resettlements of the 1650s that a significant Jewish presence would return to the city. It’s perhaps fitting, therefore, that the modern Cambridge Jewish Student Centre sits close to All Saints’ Passage on nearby Thompsons Lane.

At the end of the passage, near St John’s College, is a small green space called All Saints’ Garden that’s routinely used to host an arts and crafts market. While it’s a much more limited affair than the main market nearby, it usually hosts a range of interesting wares and merits a browse. This garden was originally the yard of a church that had once stood there, known as All Saints’ in the Jewry. The church dated from the Middle Ages but was demolished in 1865 due to its small size, which was insufficient to host the parish. It was later rebuilt as All Saints’ Church on Jesus Lane and now possesses one of the tallest spires in all of Cambridge.

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