Jewry Wall

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Jewry Wall
Jewry Wall and St Nicholas.jpg
The wall with St Nicholas' Church in the background
Jewry Wall is located in the East Midlands
Jewry Wall
Shown within the East Midlands
Jewry Wall is located in the United Kingdom
Jewry Wall
Jewry Wall (the United Kingdom)
Jewry Wall is located in Europe
Jewry Wall
Jewry Wall (Europe)
LocationLeicester, England
Coordinates52°38′5.71″N 1°8′29.13″W / 52.6349194°N 1.1414250°W / 52.6349194; -1.1414250Coordinates: 52°38′5.71″N 1°8′29.13″W / 52.6349194°N 1.1414250°W / 52.6349194; -1.1414250
PeriodsIron Age and Roman Empire
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 is a substantial ruined wall of 2nd-century Roman masonry, with two large archways, in Leicester, England. It stands alongside St Nicholas' Circle and St Nicholas' Church. It formed the west wall of a public building in Ratae Corieltauvorum (Roman Leicester), alongside public baths, the foundations of which were excavated in the 1930s and are also open to view. The wall gives its name to the adjacent Jewry Wall Museum.


The origin of the name of the wall (first recorded c. 1665) is debated. It is unlikely to relate to Leicester's medieval Jewish community, which was never large and was expelled from the town by Simon de Montfort in 1231.[1] One theory that has achieved widespread currency is that the name bears some relation to the 24 "jurats" (meaning "sworn men", and roughly equivalent to aldermen) of early medieval Leicester, the senior members of the Corporation, who were said to have met, as a "jury", in the town churchyard—possibly that of St Nicholas.[2] However, it seems more likely that the name derives from a broader folk belief attributing mysterious ruins of unknown origin to Jews.[3] Such attributions are found at a number of other sites elsewhere in England and other parts of Europe.[3]


The wall is an impressive example of standing Roman masonry. It dates to approximately 125–30 AD.[4] It measures 23 m (75 ft) long, 8 m (26 ft) high and 2.5 m (8.2 ft) thick.[5] It is among the largest pieces of surviving civil Roman architecture in Britain, and is comparable to the "Old Work" at Wroxeter.[6][7] The structure comprises alternate bands of Roman brick and coursed masonry, of local granite, limestone and sandstone.[5][8] In the centre of the wall are two large arched openings about 3 m (9.8 ft) wide and 4 m (13 ft) high, and there are further arched alcoves on the eastern side.[9]

The wall lies immediately to the west of St Nicholas' Church, which includes in its late Saxon and early medieval fabric much reused Roman brick and masonry.[9][10]

The remains of the Roman town's public baths, immediately west of the wall, were excavated in four seasons from 1936 to 1939 by Kathleen Kenyon.[9][11] The wall and some of the foundations of the baths are now laid out to public view. They are adjoined by a 1960s building housing the Jewry Wall Museum (and formerly Vaughan College), which stands on the remainder of the baths site (including the site of the three furnaces).[9] The museum contains excellent examples of Roman mosaics, painted wall plaster and other Roman and Iron Age artefacts from sites around Leicester.[12]

The wall was taken into state care in 1920, and is now the responsibility of English Heritage.[13][14] The wall itself is a Grade I listed building; its wider site, including the adjacent remains of the baths and St Nicholas' Church, forms a scheduled monument.[4][13]

Function and context[edit]

The wall appears to have formed the long western side of a large rectangular basilica-like structure.[4] 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.[15] The ruin was also occasionally identified as "part of a bath".[16] For much of the 19th century it was widely believed to have been a town gate, though this was suggested by neither its structure nor its location. This interpretation still appeared as fact in the generally authoritative Victoria County History as late as 1907.[17] The prevailing view in the early 20th century was that the ruin was part of the town basilica.[18]

When she began her excavations in the late 1930s, Kenyon initially thought the overall site was that of the town forum (of which the basilica would have formed a part).[5][9] 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 public baths.[9][11] This interpretation was 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).[19] The Jewry Wall was then identified as the wall of the palaestra (gymnasium) of the baths complex, and this continues to be the most commonly accepted view, given in the official scheduled monument descriptions and in the interpretive material on site.[5][13]

There are still a number of unanswered questions, however, and the issue remains open.[20]

Jewry Wall Museum[edit]

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 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.[12]

In 2004, as part of a scheme of cost-cutting by Leicester City Council, it was proposed that the Jewry Wall Museum's hours 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] Nevertheless, Leicester City Council reduced the museum's hours to save money, and it 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 two 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]

In popular culture[edit]

The Jewry Wall features as the "Old Bathhouse" in the 2020 video game Assassin's Creed Valhalla.[28] It is in the town of Ledecestre, the form of the name of Leicester that appears in Domesday Book (1086).[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harris 2008, pp. 128–33.
  2. ^ e.g. Cox, Barrie (1998). The Place-Names of Leicestershire: Part 1: The Borough of Leicester. English Place-Name Society. Vol. 75. Nottingham: English Place-Name Society. p. 5. ISBN 0904889556.
  3. ^ a b Harris 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Historic England. "Jewry Wall (Grade I) (1074773)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d "Jewry Wall: Description of the Monuments". Leicester City Council. Archived from the original on 14 January 2015. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  6. ^ "History and Research: Jewry Wall". English Heritage. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  7. ^ De la Bédoyère, Guy (1992). The English Heritage Book of Roman Towns in Britain. London: Batsford. pp. 53–5. ISBN 0713468939.
  8. ^ "The Jewry Wall". Leicester City Council. Archived from the original on 16 June 2013. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  9. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 14 January 2015. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  10. ^ 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).
  11. ^ a b Kenyon 1948.
  12. ^ a b "Jewry Wall Museum (official website)". Leicester City Council. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  13. ^ a b c Historic England. "Jewry Wall: remains of a Roman bath house, palaestra and Anglo-Saxon church (1013312)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  14. ^ "Properties: Jewry Wall". English Heritage. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  15. ^ e.g. Robinson, T. (1793). An Historical Narrative of that Renowned Piece of Antiquity, the Jewry Wall, in Leicester. Leicester.
  16. ^ Throsby, John (1777). The Memoirs of the Town and County of Leicester. Vol. 1. Leicester. p. 34.
  17. ^ Fox, G. E. (1907). "Romano-British Leicestershire". In Page, William (ed.). The Victoria History of the County of Leicester. Vol. 1. London: Constable. pp. 184–5.
  18. ^ Haverfield, F. J. (1918). "Roman Leicester". Archaeological Journal. 75: 1–46. doi:10.1080/00665983.1918.10853324.
  19. ^ Hebditch and Mellor 1972.
  20. ^ Mitchell 2009.
  21. ^ Heritage Gateway Listing
  22. ^ Jewry Wall Museum, Friends of, Current Archaeology, 2013, archived from the original on 5 December 2010, retrieved 17 May 2013
  23. ^ Catling, Christopher, ed. (29 March 2004), "More on museum closures", Salon, Society of Antiquaries of London, 85, archived from the original on 16 June 2013
  24. ^ a b Atkinson, Mel (23 January 2004). "Axe to fall on Museums and Art". Leicester Mercury. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  25. ^ "Jewry Wall Museum: Opening Times". Leicester City Council. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  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". Archived from the original on 16 June 2013. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  28. ^ "Assassin's Creed Valhalla Rumors of Ledecestre Guide". TheGamer. 12 November 2020. Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  29. ^ The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names Based on the Collections of the English Place-Name Society, ed. by Victor Watts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), s.v. LEICESTER, LEIRE.


External links[edit]