York’s Jewish community has reacted with quiet disappointment to a decision by English Heritage not to develop a visitor building at the base of the Clifford’s Tower, where 150 Jews were massacred in 1190.
The organisation, which cares for more than 400 historic places across the country, abandoned plans, which would have increased access to the Tower and provided educational material about the massacre, perpetrated as Jews sought refuge there.
In 2016, York City Council approved the plan for a gift shop and interpretation centre, which also included new stairs up to the castle and a range of improved visitor features inside the keep, but York residents complained, saying it would disrupt the integrity of the site, and unsuccessfully sought a judicial review.
On Thurday, English Heritage said it was dropping the plans, citing a new planning masterplan for the area around the Tower and saying it would seek the input of the new north of England director, Andrea Selley.
The base of the Tower mound is a twentieth-century construction and the visitor building would not have touched any of the medieval remains, but Selley nevertheless sympathised with residents.
“Like the wallpaper in our homes, that small mound is a deeply familiar backdrop,” she said. “The thought of changing it, even slightly and even with the very best intentions, was too much for many.”
In a statement, York Liberal Jewish Community (YLJC) said that while it supported English Heritage’s objectives, “it completely understands the many concerns expressed by York residents”.
YLJC founding member Ben Rich said: “We urge English Heritage now to work with the Castle Gateway stakeholders, the City of York Council, the York Museums Trust and the local Jewish and non-Jewish communities to find a deliverable alternative way to better tell the story of the Tower as a matter of urgency.”
He added: “We look forward to being integrally involved in those plans as the representatives of the Jewish community in the City to ensure that the story of the Jews of York is told accurately, with context, compassion and respect.”