Northampton synagogue discovered under kebab shop

Walls of 800-year-old synagogue discovered under halal takeaway

By Marcus Dysch, April 15, 2010

The remains of a 13th century synagogue have been uncovered in the most unlikely of places - underneath a Northampton halal kebab shop.

Archaeologists discovered what they believe to be a staircase and walls 12ft below the cellar of the Kebabish takeaway, and a neighbouring pub.

The find came after painstaking radar surveys and non-intrusive investigations carried out using 3D imagery technology.

Marcus Roberts, director of JTrails, the National Anglo-Jewish Heritage Trail, located the site after spending more than 20 years researching Northampton's Jewish history.

Working with Caroline Sturdy Colls, a forensic archaeologist and expert in geophysics at Birmingham University, he discovered the series of masonry walls and a staircase leading to what may have been a vestibule in the shul.

Mr Roberts said: "It's a bit like Time Team. The survey showed what appear to be substantial remains under the kebab house, exactly where I had predicted they would be, matching an image I had found in a book.

"We know from the records that the synagogue appeared to have survived the expulsion of Jews in 1290 and the great fire of Northampton in 1674. There are records from 1751 of the town clerk describing the building as 'very substantial; a fair stately hall'."

A wall in the cellar of The Bear, the pub next door, is thought to have been part of the synagogue or an adjacent Jewish building.

In the 13th century Northampton had one of Britain's five largest Jewish communities. It was home to a number of notable scholars and was one of only 10 communities in the country with its own cemetery.

Mr Roberts said: "Even though there has been a lot of development around the site over the years I felt sure there would be these sunken remains.

"I hope a proper excavation could take place should there ever be a redevelopment of the street. If the remains are what we believe, they are of national and international significance.

"The owners have been very helpful and we have an excellent relationship with them. It's been a very nice piece of interfaith work. Muslim owners are now the custodians of a major Jewish historic site."

Next month JTrails, part of the Spiro Ark organisation, will oversee the reburial of Jewish bones found in Northampton in 1992. The ceremony, which has been co-ordinated with the Chief Rabbi, will see the remains interred at the town's Jewish cemetery. There are thought to be around 100 Jews still living in the town.

Last updated: 4:30pm, April 15 2010