York’s Terrible Tower and the burning and slaughter of 150 Jews in March 1190

Posted: 19 February, 2024 | Category: Current News Category: Features & Analysis Category: Uncategorized

The stairway at Clifford’s Tower that leads people in 2024 back to the horrific events there in March 1190. (Picture: Trevor Grundy)




YORK, England – – – If a question mark hangs over the belief that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, there’s not one hanging over the time-tested statement that anti-Semitism is the world’s oldest hatred.

Once again, its cruel face has popped up over a high wall that shows signs of crumbling.

In The Guardian (February 16, 2024) Jonathan Freedland asked readers to imagine what it is like to be Jewish in Britain today.

Take a deep breath.

Last week, members of the estimated 270,000 Jewish community woke up to new figures showing that late 2023 brought a whopping 589 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents, compared with the same period in 2022.

Freedland wrote: “Overall, 2023 saw more than 4,100 episodes of anti-Jewish hate across the country. Most of the huge spike came after October 7 following the Hamas attacks on southern Israel and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza. Some of the incidents involved knives, others saw Jews struck with metal bars. Some victims were punched or kicked or spat on, others had stones, bricks or bottles thrown at them. Some had religious clothing – say, the kippah, or skullcap – forcibly removed.”

He goes on to say that the numbers, gathered by the Community Security Trust (CST) – the same body that helps organise the volunteer guards who have long been required to stand outside every synagogue and Jewish school in Britain – are the highest since the CST began collection data four decades ago.

These alarming statistics coincide with the release of a number of plays and films about the spread of Jew Hate in Germany and Britain in the 1930s.

At a time when millions of young American either dismiss the Holocaust as a fantasy, or who believe that it never happened on such a vast scale, the real impact of these plays and films cry out for examination.

Many fear that “Holocaust fatigue” is setting in among large sections of young people in USA and Europe.

This is not an overnight concern.

Kit Ramgopal of NBC News wrote on September 16, 2020 that a nationwide survey in America showed what he called “a worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge” among adults under 40, including over 1 in 10 respondents who did not recall ever having heard the word “Holocaust” before.

He quoted Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which commissioned the study saying, “If we let these trends continue for another generation, the crucial lessons from this terrible part of history could be lost.”

What’s being shown and performed in Britain now is an attempt to make the cinema and play-going public remember, not forget.

History to live again, like a  boomerang hurled away towards a distant horizon long ago but which has now returned to hit all of us hard in the back of our heads.

Talking on the BBC ‘s Radio Four about the way Putin sees history, Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European History at Oxford University, said: “When Americans say that’s history’ they mean it doesn’t matter. When East Europeans say it, they mean it’s the most important thing.”

East Europeans see history that way.

So do Jews.

Question is – Will media campaigns, plays films and musicals work? Will they  turn people away from race hate or do the opposite as more and more people turn away from political parties and look to others on social media for “guidance.”

They shall not pass – demonstrators against British fascism in the East End of London in 1936


Below are just some of the films and plays attacking anti-Semitism that cinema and theatregoers in the UK are being encouraged to watch.

  • Zone of Interest, a film based on a novel by the late Martin Amis. It is about the way Rudolf Hoess ran his life and organised his family while running the world’s most notorious death camp in German – occupied Poland – Auschwitz.
  • One Life – the story of Sir Nicholas “Nicky” Winton, a London broker who organised the escape of 669 mainly Jewish children from Prague at the start of World War Two.
  • The Tattooist – a death camp saga based on Heather Maurice’s 2018 novel.
  • Merchant of Venice, 1936 in which the actress Tracy Ann-Oberman relocates Shakespeare’s play to the East End of London in 1936 when Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists terrorised Jewish residents


  • Cable Street (the musical) about how Jews, Communists and others stopped Mosley marching through the East End in 1936.


Producers, actors, journalists and even some politicians say that schoolchildren and college students should be encouraged to go and see all or some of these plays and films in order to inoculate themselves against the poison of anti-Semitism.

But Jewish leaders, Christian vicars and some Christian scholars and researchers believe it would be a grave mistake to leave young people thinking that Hitler invented Jew Hate in Germany and Mosley did little  more than ape him in the East End of London in the  mid-1930s.

Perspective and knowledge are required more than ever to avoid falling into the trap that anti-Semitism is a recent hatred.

It is not. It existed long before Hitler or Mosley were born.

Perspective and a close encounter with Christian history is vital.

So, after the films, the plays and the musical(s) it’s a good time to get on the magic carpet and fly away to another England and into another age.

Hello Clifford’s Castle, the terrible tower that first overshadowed and then destroyed the lives of at least 150 Jews in York city in March 1190.


Anti-Jewish  propaganda posters and pictures are re-appearing in different parts of the world


Events involving Jews living in Europe, the Middle East or anywhere else almost always rebound on Jews living in England.

Resentment against Jews in York grew in March 1190 as soldiers prepared to leave on the Third Crusade.

A mob of men with swords, axes and poles targeted Jewish homes for looting. The governor of York offered the Jews protection in the well-fortified Clifford’s Tower.

They accepted. They were betrayed.

Leaders of crusades told their followers that their aim was to liberate Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim control.

But on the way to the Holy Land, they were encouraged to kill Jews who were condemned as the killers of Christ.

Clifford’s Tower – once a year Jews in York conduct a remembrance service on the site where so many of them  were killed by Christian rioters in 1190.


Ed Glinert writes in a useful book about places one should visit in Yorkshire (111 places in Yorkshire that you shouldn’t miss (Published by Emons) that a mob besieged the keep, a fire broke out and many of those inside chose to commit suicide rather than be forcibly baptised. Fathers killed their wives and children and then slayed themselves. Those Jews who didn’t kill themselves or die in the fire were murdered by those who saw an opportunity to eradicate their financial debt to the local Jewish population. One of the (mob) ringleaders Richard Malebisse, offered safe passage to any Jews who agreed to convert (from Judaism to Christianity). The few who took this option were tricked and murdered as soon as they came out of the burning building.

Clifford’s Tower was originally an all-wooden building.

Stone replaced wood when it was re-build in 1250.

All Jews in England were expelled by Edward 1 in 1290, a hundred years after the Clifford’s Tower massacre of at least 150 Jews.

Jews in  Medieval England were held responsible for killing Jesus. In the eyes of most Christians, Jews were barely human


Andre Maurois writes in his book ‘A History of England’ (Jonathan Cape, London, 1937) – “Edward 1 divested himself of one of the main ancestral resources by his expulsion of all Jews from England in the year 1290. The failure of the Crusades had resulted in a revival of popular hatred against the only infidels within reach of reprisals, and powerless to defend themselves. They were accused of every crime. Their baronial creditors wished to be rid at once of debts and creditors. The action taken by the King was less inhumane than previous persecutions. He allowed the Jews to take their chattels with them, and hanged certain mariners who murdered their passengers on the crossing. The trade of moneylending was carried on in England after the expulsion of the Jews by Christians from Cahors in France and the caorsins as they were called, who had found a trick for evading the laws of the Church.”

Over the years, the English became adept in the money market and when the Jew returned to England in the days of Oliver Cromwell, they found amongst the Gentiles prosperous rivals who were at once formidable and tolerantly indulgent.


Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit York and climb steep stairs leading in to Clifford’s Tower.

Most visitors have heard about Kristallnacht: nearly all know about the Holocaust. But many express concern that outrageous attacks against Jews were part and parcel of life in Christian England for hundreds of years.

And what happened at Clifford’s Tower in 1190 was a drop in the ocean compared with the plights of  Jews in other parts of the Medieval (Christian) world.

The Rev Michael Coren an Anglican priest with a Jewish background who lives in Canada summed it up in an article in The Times (February 17, 2024)  headlined “Why Christians are so often wrong about Israel.”

He wrote about the renewed rise of anti-Semitism.

“It is crucial,” he said,” in all this to recognise that while anti-Semitism certainly existed outside the Christian world, it was in Christendom that it was perfected. Blood libels, pogroms, forced conversion and mass expulsion soaked and distorted the church, in all its denominations, for almost two millennia. Then the Holocaust. Nazism may have been more interested in the occult than Christianity but the Shoah took place in a Christian continent, with all the historic and traditional hatreds still pulsing and beating.”

Historic and traditional hatreds.

Those words need repeating not once and again, but again and again . Those plus the burning need to know where these traditional hatreds came from and in whose interest the flames of hate were fanned and kept alive for so long with such ghastly consequences.