History of Jewry Wall

The Jewry Wall, Leicester, is one of  the largest remaining Roman masonry structures in Britain, and the only element of the Roman town of Ratae Coritanorum to survive. Built in about AD 160, it formed the entrance to the public baths. The wall later became the west wall of the original Saxon church of St Nicholas, which ensured its survival.

The Jewry Wall, with the church of St Nicholas beyond
The Jewry Wall, with the church of St Nicholas beyond

Iron Age and Roman Leicester

Two thousand years ago, Leicester was an important settlement for the Corieltavi, a native British tribe who occupied the area known today as the East Midlands. Following the Roman conquest of AD 43 the town was called Ratae Corieltavorum. It became a thriving centre for the next 400 years.

A grid of streets was laid out for the Roman town. In the 2nd century the town’s public buildings included the forum (the administrative centre or market), basilica, market hall, and public baths, which were completed by about AD 160.

Medieval builders demolished the rest of the baths in order to reuse the stone, leaving only one fragment, the Jewry Wall, upstanding. The wall had by that time become the west wall of the church of St Nicholas, built during the Anglo-Saxon period.

The conduit for the Roman baths at Leicester, with the wall beyond
The conduit for the Roman baths at Leicester, with the wall beyond. The baths were completed by about AD 160

Later History and Excavations

How the wall became known as the ‘Jewry Wall’ is uncertain. Its name might derive from the 24 ‘Jurats’ or medieval borough councillors who held meetings in the churchyard. In 1722 the antiquarian William Stukeley called it ‘The Jury Wall’ on his map of the town.

At this time the wall was commonly known as the Temple of Janus. Janus was the Roman god of gateways: as the wall resembled a gateway, it was thought to be the west gate of the town and was sometimes referred to as ‘the Janua of the old City’.

The modern spelling was in use in the early 19th century, but there is no known link to a Jewish quarter.

The remains of the Roman baths were discovered by chance in 1936 when a factory was demolished to build a new swimming baths. Pioneering archaeologist Dame Kathleen Mary Kenyon (1906–78) excavated the current site between 1936 and 1939.

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