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The Castle of Leicester and St Mary De Castro

Leicester Castle

leics castle

Leicester Castle as it appeared in 1483

 

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The Castle gardens

Since 2015 going to Leicester is the equivalent of going to visit the tomb of the last Plantagenet King who died in battle: Richard III. Everything there speaks of him from the Visitor Centre named after him, to The Last Plantagenet Pub not to mention attractions and shops that display his portrait or sell items with the name of the king. Of course, the Medieval Cathedral where the warrior king was buried in 2015 is the most visited place in Leicester but if you go there, don’t forget to pay a visit to the remains of Leicester’s Castle and its church St Mary De Castro. It is difficult today to imagine how the Castle could be at the time of Richard III but it is still there indeed even in a different shape. 

IMG_2840The Castle was probably built immediately after the Norman Conquest so around 1070. The Governor  at that time was Hugh de Grantmensil one of the companions of William the Conqueror. The Castle was the favourite residence of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster and the fourth son of Edward III. From the north end of the hall, it was possible to access the lord’s private apartments whilst from the south end there was access to a kitchen above an undercoft called John of Gaunt’s cellar where beverage and food were stored. Some people erroneously think it was a dungeon. 

The castle today looks totally different. What remains are the Castle’s Mound (Motte) located between Castle View and Castle Gardens. The Motte was originally 30-40 feet Prince Rupehigh topped with a timber tower. Unfortunately no buildings survived  and the motte was lowered in Victorian times to form a bowling green.

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The Castle House

The Great Hall is the oldest surviving aisled and bay divided timber hall in Britain. Even though the exterior is Victorian, the building still retains some of its original 12th century timber posts. The criminal court in the castle’s Great Hall was the scene of Leicester’s “Green Bicycle Murder” trial 1919 so exactly 100 years ago.

Other things are still visible of the ancient castle. The wall, the remains of the castle especially the Turret Gateway also known as Prince Rupert’s Gateway, the Castle Gardens (once used for public executions) the Castle House and the stunning church of St Mary De Castro.

St Mary De Castro

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St Mary De Castro

Close where the Castle stood, there is an ancient church called St Mary De Castro. It is a very special place especially for Ricardians. In this church Geoffrey Chaucer married her second wife, Philippa de Roet and 44 people were knighted in just one day among them Henry VI and Richard Plantagenet Duke of York, Richard III’s father. He was just 15 years old. However, the most famous event to be remembered today is that it is said that Richard III worshipped there before leaving for Bosworth and prepared himself for his last battle.

St Mary De Castro means St Mary of the Castle. It was built in 1107 after Henry I gave the

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The Chapel in St Mary De Castro ground to Robert de Beaumont 1st Earl of Leicester. It was the chapel of the castle and a place of worship within the bailey of the castle. It is assumed but there is no proof of evidence, that Ethelfleda, daughter of King Alfred the Great, had founded a church on the very spot where today is St Mary. It also seems that there was a college of priests called the College of St Mary De Castro founded before the Norman Conquest.

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The tower of St Mary was built not beside the church but inside of it so visitors can see 3 sides of it while still in church. The medieval spire, rebuilt in 1783 was declared dangerous in 2013. Following the unsuccessful attempt to raise money to save it, it was demolished in 2014. The church’s structure is quite odd because in ancient times there were two churches. One was the mentioned chapel of the castle, the other a church for common people. This explains why there are two sedilias and two piscinas both from medieval times.

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Henry VI and Richard III

Curiosities

It is said that King Richard III’s mistreated body was brought to this church to be washed before being displayed for the world to see he was actually dead. Considering the evident haste he was buried in and the lack of respect showed by the Tudors, it is unlikely this ever happened.

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The Nave of the Church

Philippa de Roet, Chaucer’s wife, was the lady-in-waiting of Philippa of Hainault one of Richard III’s ancestors.

In this church Edward of Lancaster and John of Lancaster are buried. Both died in infancy.

 

 

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The architects who have refurbished the great hall at Leicester Castle….

Maber Architects

An architects practice has celebrated the tenth anniversary of its Leicester office with a VIP tour of one of their latest projects in the city – the restoration and refurbishment of the Great Hall of Leicester Castle.

Its city office is in De Montfort Street.

The firm’s roots go back more than 30 years, and it employs 70 people across five offices in the Midlands and London.

Since the Leicester office opened in 2007, it has grown to employ 10 people and has been responsible for some of Leicester’s best known buildings and architectural projects.

Maber director Ian Harris, who heads the Leicester office, said: “Two huge reasons for our success are long-term relationships with clients and the talent of our people, so it was great to bring everyone together to celebrate in an amazing space.”

The newly-refurbished Great Hall is thought to be the largest medieval hall of its kind in Europe.

Ian said converting it into a new Business School for De Montfort University brought together a wide range of the practice’s skills, including architecture, interior design, landscape design and conservation.

Part of the hall, once used as a Crown Court, retains the Gothic Victorian furniture, including the judge’s chair, dock and jury benches, which must rank it as one of the most unusual university teaching spaces in the world.

Some of Maber’s other major Leicester projects have included:

• The King Richard III Visitor Centre in the city centre, a £4 million project designed to tell the story of “the king in the car park”.

• The Summit, a £13 million, 12,200 sq m student residential space with a 22-storey tower that has created a new landmark at the western gateway to the city.

• New Walk Museum’s new entrance and spiral staircase, featuring a design inspired by ammonites

• Charnwood Primary School for Leicester City Council – an award-winning design that complements the traditional architecture of the existing Victorian school buildings.

See: http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/business/maber-architects-celebrate-10th-anniversary-753489

There’s more at http://www.dmu.ac.uk/about-dmu/news/2017/june/lovingly-refurbished-leicester-castle-shines-for-visitors.aspx

There was room at the Blue Boar for Richard III….

Blue Boar, Highcross Street, Leicester - c.1826

Here is an article from the Leicester Mercury:

“Apart from a recent council explanatory information panel tucked on its side wall above a litter bin, few passers-by would know that the modern brick box building housing a hotel and casino was the site of Leicester’s most famous inn, that once was the penultimate stop of a king of England. For this is the spot on which the famous Blue Boar Inn was sighted.

“It’s a name known to everyone with an interest in historic Leicester. It owes its fame to a watershed in England’s history and, of course, to a monarch whose name has recently made Leicester known worldwide.

“Today’s bland building, out of scale and style with the rest of Highcross Street, is the site of the old Blue Boar Inn, from where King Richard III and his nobles led his army into the Battle of Bosworth, which ended the Wars of the Roses – it also ended the king’s life and the Plantagenet dynasty.

“On August 20, 1485, Richard came to stay at the Blue Boar – probably then known as the White Boar – because, it seems, Leicester Castle was by then in a state of decline and was considered unfit and unprepared for the monarch. So, Richard went to what was then the town’s best inn. It was situated in Highcross Street, then Leicester’s main thoroughfare.

“Although the inn has been immortalised by great Leicester artist John Flower (see above) it is thought that what is seen in his drawing was just one wing of what would have been, in Richard III’s time, a much larger building. The king is thought to have occupied the large room on the first floor of the portion of the inn we see in Flower’s drawing.

“After this historic event, the story is that the bed, which it is said the king brought with him, was from then on known as the King’s Bed and that many years later, a hidden treasure of coins was found in the bedstead. In 1605, the inn’s landlady, Mrs Clarke, was murdered “through connivance of her female servants, in order to obtain possession of the gold”.

“Since the discovery of Richard III’s remains, Leicester has become a place of pilgrimage with visitors from all over the world coming to the Cathedral and the visitors’ centre. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the Blue Boar had been preserved, so that, too, could have been included on the pilgrims’ schedule?

“However, before we begin to blame 20th century planners for the inn’s destruction, we have to go back much further – to the early Victorian period, in fact, as it was 1836 when the Blue Boar was felled, having “passed into the hands of a speculative builder who waved aside all protests and tore the place down”. Sounds familiar, 200 years on. This act was described by Professor Jack Simmons as “a hateful act of vandalism”.

“In its place a terrace of houses was built. In the 1960s, these houses were demolished and a similar sort of box building built, housing the Exquisite Knitwear company.

“This area is once again becoming a focal point of Leicester’s commercial life.

“Today’s replacement for the Blue Boar Inn is a Travelodge – which is rather appropriate, when you think about it.”

The Blue Boar site today

 

 

 

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