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Jews Mount and Mount Pelham

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Jewes mount

In the civil parish of Oxford.
In the historic county of Oxfordshire.
Modern Authority of Oxfordshire.
1974 county of Oxfordshire.
Medieval County of Oxfordshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SP51020628
Latitude 51.75238° Longitude -1.26137°

Jews Mount and Mount Pelham has been described as a probable Siege Work, and also as a probable Urban Defence.

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains.

Description

Two earthen mounds in line with Old City Wall. Built either during King Stephen's siege of Matilda in Oxford Castle, 1142, or possibly during the siege which preceded the building of the Barbican at time of Baron's War. Known subsequently as Jews Mount and Mount Pelham. Mount Pelham was levelled c.1650 and Jews Mount when canal constructed in 1790. Nuffield College stands on the site now, the line of which is defined by George Street Mews and Bulwarks Lane. There are many descriptions and interpretations by various authors. The siege works may be seen depicted in Agas's Plan, 1578. There is a reference by Wood which says they were apparently made out of the earth thrown up when the Castle Ditch was dug. Could be interpretated as siege works or town defences. (Oxfordshire HER)

The traditional link of the Oxford Jews with Oxford Castle is evidenced in the Jew's Mount which was at the castle site. The Jews' Mount was apparently a long artificial mound, though Tovey, a famous Oxford historian of the Jews who had first hand knowledge of it, also describes it 'as a small tract of rising ground'. It was also linked or continuous with another artificial mound called Mount Pelham. H. E. Salter, the Oxford topographer, also adds that the term 'mount' actually meant 'mound' and that it was a mound of earth thrown up during the construction of the medieval castle ditch and, further, that by the 17th and 18th century all the leases relating to the Jews' Mount, used the word 'mound' to mean 'fence' or 'boundary', rather than a heap of earth, and they relate that the Jews' Mount was mounded (ie bounded) on the north side and was ditched at the south. The Jews' Mount is cited to have been north east of the Castle Hill, in line with the City Wall.
Wood, the Oxford historian, held that it had been made by the local Jews in 1141, under the compulsion of King Stephen. Tovey, however, relates another local tradition that it is named after a number of converted Jews who were burnt to death for reverting to Judaism. There is no clear historical evidence for the accuracy of these traditions, though it is now surmised that both mounts were raised during sieges of the castle, which does link to the King Stephen tradition. Tovey thought that the name arose out of the Juis or pit at the foot of the mount that was used for local ordeals by water. Cecil Roth thought that there may have been a special fortification for the Jews at the site, as was the case at other castles – this is an entirely plausible explanation. Evidence of other local Jewish place name traditions across the country have frequently proved surprisingly accurate, but not infallible. Therefore it is possible that the site of the Jews' Mount is an important link with Oxford's Jewish heritage.
The Jews' Mount has been supposed by historians to have been destroyed in 1790 to make way for the new canal and its termination at the canal basin next to the Castle site in Oxford. Nuffield College is built on the site of the former canal basin. However, the site is still easily identifiable.
Part of the Jews' Mount was leased as part of the canal wharf in 1796 and it appears, as far as can be gleaned from the leases, that some three properties were on Jews' Mount by the early 19th century. This is proven in a 19th century history of Oxford which states that the Jews' Mount, 'were afterwards built upon; and the houses in Bullock's Lane, so called from a person of that name who built there in 1588, together with the canal office, stand on part of them.' The 1923 schedule of the property of the Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of Oxford, places everything on a completely certain footing, when it records as one of its entries that the Offices of the Oxford Canal Navigation was at 'The Jews' Mount, part of site of Offices and House – Bulwarks Alley'. This makes it simple to place, as 'Canal House' still exists and is now the Master's Lodgings of St Peter's College. Its back door still opens into Bulwarks Alley. The Conservative Club also occupies part of the site.
An examination of the actual site of the Jews' Mount suggests that a possible section of the mount might be preserved under the path of Bulwarks Alley. This is because there is a distinct climb or ramp up to Canal House and then a slight incline down to the steep steps of Bulwark's Alley which then takes one down to street level. The change in level is seen in the fact that the back door of Canal House is actually on first floor level and that the path of Bulwark's Alley is contained behind a very high retaining wall on the castle side. It is more likely that this odd topography preserves a historic right of way, rather than being constructed in this fashion for Canal House. (Marcus Roberts 1995 and 2005 online)
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This record last updated 23/02/2016 10:03:52

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