The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Leicester Streets

A bit of Medieval Leicester - the Guildhall
One of the newest parts of Leicester city is the High Cross shopping centre. It's massive, modern and shiny, but bears the name of a Medieval tall cross that stood at the top of the High Street.

Medieval Leicester had four main entrances called (unimaginatively) North Gate, South Gate, East Gate, and West Gate. High Street ran across town from North Gate to South Gate and, true to its name, was higher than all other streets because it was paved.

High Cross stood at the heart of trade and was the site of the Wednesday Market where country folk would bring produce to sell to the locals. By the 14th century there was enough trade to justify a regular Friday market too.

In 1577 a structure, which became known as High Cross, was erected in the area. It consisted of eight pillars topped by an eight-sided dome and must have been quite magnificent, but the march of progress and increasing size of carts meant it was knocked down in 1773 in an early road-widening scheme. A single pillar survives and now stands in Jubilee Square.

There are many information boards around Leicester that tell you about the area you're in. High Cross is close to the Medieval heart of the city and a board close to the new shopping centre gives details of local street names and their derivations.

Here's a few:

Cank Street. I've never encountered 'cank' before but the board says the street is named after a public well that stood there.

Holy Bones. What a great name. It might have something to do with the graves in nearby St Nicholas Church. Sadly it might be a Medieval joke about the number of butchers that could be found around it.

Gallowtree Gate. You might remember from a recent York post that gate means road, or way. (From the Old Norse 'gata'.) Gallowtree is fairly self-explanatory. It's where public hangings took place on the gallows 'tree'.

Sanvey Gate. Another 'gate', but the Sanvey bit is believed to be a corruption of Sancta Via, or holy way. It possibly marks the route of old religious processions through town.

And for any teenage boys out there, here's a chance to snigger.

Butt Close Lane.  Butts were, of course, the place where archers practised their skills. You can stop laughing now!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Richard III

     I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
     Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
     Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
     Into this breathing world, scarce half made up
            Richard III Act1 Scene 1

Statue by the Cathedral
I'm going to let you into a secret dear Reader: I share something with Richard III. No, I didn't spend the last 500 years under a car park in Leicester, I am, like him, "deformed, unfinished ......scarce half made up". Yep, I have scoliosis. My spine is curved. Or in other words I'm a hunchback.

It means I've always had a soft spot for the much-maligned king.  I never believed that he had the Princes in the Tower murdered (though I'd be prepared to believe that someone did it thinking they were doing him a favour); I always hoped that one day I'd learn something positive about him.

And that's where the latest day out comes in. I decided to visit Richard in his adopted home of Leicester. Of course it was never his idea to adopt Leicester. He didn't set out on 22 August 1485 to lose the Battle of Bosworth and so, by a convoluted route, end up under a city centre car park.  He always said he wanted to be buried in York, but when the fight to provide his final resting place ended York Minster came in second.

The car park
This, as Sellar and Yeatman would say, is A Good Thing. York didn't really need an additional tourist attraction. Leicester has done him proud. I regret to say that my photos of his tomb came out very badly blurred so I can't show you the views I'd like. I plan to return to get better shots.

Richard turned up in a car park on the site of the old Franciscan priory (Greyfriars) which, these days, is opposite the Cathedral. (That's quite likely, when you think about it.) After the scientists finished doing all their DNA tests and the rest of the investigations they subjected him to, he was re-interred in the Cathedral. The site opposite, where he was found, is now the Richard III visitor centre.

It covers his family history, the background to the Wars of the Roses (in which the House of Lancaster and Richard's House of York argued over who was the rightful King), the lead up to the Battle of Bosworth, and the treachery of the Stanley family who brought their forces to the battlefield then held back to see which side was winning before they joined in!

Model of Richard's spine
However, it was the upper floor that had most effect on me, where the topic of Richard's shape is discussed. We're all familiar with Shakespeare's version of Richard's story. He's portrayed as an ugly, misshapen and evil man who will stop at nothing to get his own way,  Now the Tudors (who gained the throne after victory at Bosworth) believed that deformity and disability were linked to moral weakness. In other words, the more twisted Richard's body, the worse his character. Shakespeare, who relied on Tudor patronage, exaggerated the deformity to make Richard seem more unworthy of the throne.

Will also lied about a few other things: that famous quote about offering his kingdom for a horse, for example. The implication is that he wanted means to escape, but contemporary reports say he went down fighting and determined not to yield a yard of ground.  The archaeological evidence supports that. Richard died from multiple head injuries caused by a number of different weapons.

In fact much of what we learned about Richard at school conflicts with the truth. Contemporary reports of the man suggest he was, in fact, a fine and respected King. Like this one on the wall of the visitor centre:

King Richard III Visitor Centre
Putting a face to Richard