Plan to build near massacre site draws protest from British Jewry

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LONDON — British Jews are opposing a proposed real estate development near the site of one of the worst massacres of Jews in English history.

An official with the Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization that represents most British Jews, said the planned $84 million leisure and shopping center near Clifford's Tower in York — where the city's Jewish community of about 150 took refuge from a mob in 1190 — will "diminish the historical and spiritual impact of the tower."

"The shops and buildings would shut out the view of the tower," said Marlena Schmool of the Board of Deputies.

Many of the Jews took their own lives in the attack; the rest were burned to death when the tower was set on fire, or killed when they fled the inferno.

The government ministry responsible for projects like the York development has announced that a public inquiry will be held in the fall.

The Board of Deputies said it will present its objections during the inquiry; English Heritage, a semi-official body responsible for preserving the country's historic monuments, said it will support the Coppergate project at the inquiry.

The developer, Land Securities, refuted some of the Jewish concerns.

"Rather than detracting from Clifford's Tower, we believe that the scheme will significantly add to its attraction," said Richard Akers of Land Securities.

He said the development would increase the number of visitors to the site, "who will be able to learn for themselves about the tower's tragic history."

He pointed out that the development would involve removing the "busy and unsightly surface-level" garage that is currently next to the tower, replacing it with a grassy area "where people can sit and quietly reflect."

The York massacre on March 16, 1190, was the culmination of months of anti-Jewish violence across the country following the coronation of Richard the Lionheart.

The wooden tower in which the Jews took refuge from the pogrom was largely destroyed by fire. The present structure dates from the mid-13th century.

During an excavation in 1902-03, charred timbers that are believed to be remains of the fire of 1190 were found some 12 feet below ground.

The Coppergate development is the second project to have been proposed for the site.

The York City Council first put out a tender for developing the area in the early 1990s, said Alesdair Morrison, the head of the city development council.

The first development program to get the nod from the city drew strong objections from English Heritage.

The new project was approved after the first development plan was rejected, and it has won the support of English Heritage.

"We believe that the design of the second Coppergate scheme is a significant improvement on the previous scheme and makes a positive response to the historic buildings around it," English Heritage said in a statement.

The group said the development "will not adversely affect the setting of Clifford's Tower and can only bring additional economic and cultural benefits to the city."

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