Jewry Wall

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Coordinates: 52°38′5.71″N 1°8′29.13″W / 52.6349194°N 1.1414250°W / 52.6349194; -1.1414250

The wall with St Nicholas' Church in the background
The foundations of the Roman baths. The Jewry Wall is visible on the extreme right of the photo, and Jewry Wall Museum on the left.

The Jewry Wall in Leicester, England is the substantial ruined wall of a public building of Ratae Corieltauvorum (Roman Leicester).

Description of the wall[edit]

The wall, an impressive example of standing Roman masonry, is dated to approximately 125–30 AD, and so is nearly 2000 years old.[1] It measures 23 metres (75 ft) long, 8 metres (26 ft) high and 2.5 metres (8 ft) thick.[2] It is among the largest pieces of surviving civil Roman architecture in Britain, and is comparable to the "Old Work" at Wroxeter.[3][4] The structure comprises alternate bands of Roman brick and coursed masonry, of local granite, limestone and sandstone.[2][5] In the centre of the wall are two large arched openings about 3 metres (10 ft) wide and 4 metres (13 ft) high; and there are further arched alcoves on the eastern side.[6]

The wall lies immediately to the west of St Nicholas' Church, which includes in its late Saxon and early medieval fabric much re-used Roman brick and masonry.[6][7]

The remains of the Roman town's public baths, lying immediately west of the wall, were excavated in four seasons from 1936 to 1939 by Kathleen Kenyon.[6][8] The wall and some of the foundations of the baths are now laid out to public view. They are adjoined by a building housing the Jewry Wall Museum and Vaughan College, which stands on the remainder of the baths site (including the site of the three furnaces).[6] The museum contains excellent examples of Roman mosaics and frescoes from sites elsewhere in Leicester.[9]

The wall was taken into state care in 1920, and is now the responsibility of English Heritage.[10][11] The wall itself is a Grade I listed building; while its wider site, including the adjacent remains of the baths and of St Nicholas' Church, forms a scheduled monument.[1][10]

The identity of the building[edit]

The wall appears to have formed the western (long) side of a large rectangular basilica-like structure.[1] However, the precise character and function of this building has been a matter of much debate. 18th and early 19th-century antiquaries tended to identify it as a Roman (or British) temple, sometimes said to have been dedicated to the god Janus.[12] The ruin was also occasionally identified as "part of a bath".[13] For much of the 19th century it was widely believed to have been a town gate, despite the fact that this was suggested by neither its structure nor its location: nevertheless, this interpretation still appeared as a statement of fact in the generally authoritative Victoria County History as late as 1907.[14] The prevailing view in the early 20th century was that the ruin was part of the town basilica.[15]

When she began her excavations in the late 1930s, Kathleen Kenyon initially thought that the overall site was that of the town forum (of which the basilica would have formed a part).[2][6] Although she modified her views when she uncovered the remains of the baths, she continued to believe that the area had originally been laid out as the forum, with the Jewry Wall the west wall of the basilica; but argued that in a second phase of building, only about 20 years later, the site had been converted to become the public baths.[6][8] This interpretation later had to be abandoned when, in a series of excavations undertaken between 1961 and 1972, the true remains of the forum were firmly identified a block further east (Insula XXII).[16] The Jewry Wall was then identified as the wall of the palaestra (gymnasium) of the baths complex, and this continues to be the explanation which is most commonly accepted, which is given in the official scheduled monument descriptions, and which appears in the interpretive material on site.[2][10]

There are still a number of unanswered questions, however, and the issue remains open.[17]

The name of the wall[edit]

The name of the wall (first recorded in c.1665) is unlikely to relate to Leicester's medieval Jewish community, which was never large and which was expelled from the town by Simon de Montfort in 1231.[18] One theory, which has achieved widespread currency, is that the name bears some relation to the 24 jurats of early medieval Leicester, the senior members of the Corporation of Leicester, who were said to have met in the town churchyard – possibly that of St. Nicholas.[19] However, it seems more likely that the name in fact derives from a broader folk-belief attributing mysterious ruins of unknown origin to Jews.[20] Such attributions are found at a number of other sites elsewhere in England and in other parts of Europe.[20]

Jewry Wall Museum[edit]

Main article: Jewry Wall Museum

The Jewry Wall Museum faces the Jewry Wall ruins, and houses artefacts from iron age, Roman, and medieval Leicester. The building is Grade II listed and located below Vaughan College, home to Leicester University's Institute for Lifelong-Learning.[21] The museum is run by Leicester City Council and is free to enter.[9]

In 2004, as part of a scheme of cost-cutting on the part of Leicester City Council, it was proposed that the opening hours at the Jewry Wall Museum would be reduced. An interest group was created in response, and the 'Friends of Jewry Wall Museum' have been actively promoting the museum since.[22][23]
Regardless of this, Leicester City Council reduced the museum's opening times to save money, and the museum is closed for several months over the winter.[24][25] Councillor John Mugglestone, rationalised the decision at the time, saying: "At Jewry Wall, we have more curators than visitors".[24]

The museum was threatened again in 2011, when Leicester City Council announced plans to close the museum (along with 2 others in the city) to save money.[26] This decision was overturned following a motion by the City Council's backbench Labour councillors, led by former Labour Council leader Ross Willmott.[27]


  1. ^ a b c "List Entry Summary: Jewry Wall". English Heritage. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Jewry Wall: Description of the Monuments". Leicester City Council. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  3. ^ "History and Research: Jewry Wall". English Heritage. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  4. ^ De la Bédoyère, Guy (1992). The English Heritage Book of Roman Towns in Britain. London: Batsford. pp. 53–5. ISBN 0713468939. 
  5. ^ "The Jewry Wall". Leicester City Council. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Anon. (n.d.), The Jewry Wall and Bath Complex, Leicester City Council : pdf available at "Jewry Wall: Description of the Monuments". Leicester City Council. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  7. ^ Courtney, Paul (1998). "Saxon and Medieval Leicester: the making of an urban landscape" (PDF). Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society 72: 110–45 (129–33). 
  8. ^ a b Kenyon 1948.
  9. ^ a b "Jewry Wall Museum (official website)". Leicester City Council. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c "List Entry Summary: Jewry Wall: remains of a Roman bath house, palaestra and Anglo-Saxon church". English Heritage. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  11. ^ "Properties: Jewry Wall". English Heritage. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  12. ^ e.g. Robinson, T. (1793). An Historical Narrative of that Renowned Piece of Antiquity, the Jewry Wall, in Leicester. Leicester. 
  13. ^ Throsby, John (1777). The Memoirs of the Town and County of Leicester 1. Leicester. p. 34. 
  14. ^ Fox, G.E. (1907). "Romano-British Leicestershire". In Page, William. The Victoria History of the County of Leicester 1. London: Constable. pp. 184–5. 
  15. ^ Haverfield, F.J. (1918). "Roman Leicester". Archaeological Journal 75: 1–46. 
  16. ^ Hebditch and Mellor 1972.
  17. ^ Mitchell 2009.
  18. ^ Harris 2008, pp. 128–33.
  19. ^ e.g. Cox, Barrie (1998). The Place-Names of Leicestershire: Part 1. English Place-Name Society 75. Nottingham: English Place-Name Society. p. 5. 
  20. ^ a b Harris 2008.
  21. ^ Heritage Gateway Listing
  22. ^ Jewry Wall Museum, Friends of, Current Archaeology, 2013, retrieved 17 May 2013 
  23. ^ Catling, Christopher, ed. (29 March 2004), "More on museum closures", Salon (Society of Antiquaries of London) 85 
  24. ^ a b Atkinson, Mel (23 January 2004). "Axe to fall on Museums and Art". Leicester Mercury. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Leicester City Council plans to close museums as part of cutbacks". Leicester Mercury. 22 January 2011. 
  27. ^ "Leicester City Council makes U-turn on some of its planned cuts". Retrieved 17 May 2013. 


  • Anon. (n.d.), The Jewry Wall and Bath Complex, Leicester City Council : pdf available at "Jewry Wall: Description of the Monuments". Leicester City Council. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  • Harris, Oliver (2008). "Jews, jurats and the Jewry Wall: a name in context". Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society 82: 113–33. 
  • Hebditch, Max; Mellor, Jean (1972). "The Forum and Basilica of Roman Leicester". Britannia 4: 1–83. doi:10.2307/525857. 
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. (1948). Excavations at the Jewry Wall Site, Leicester. Society of Antiquaries of London Research Report 15. Oxford. 
  • Mitchell, Steve (2009). "Correspondence". Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society 83: 335. 

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