Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Huge Mediaeval Cemetery Discovered at Leicester

An enormous mediaeval cemetery, with the remains of 1300 people, has been discovered in Leicester.

It is the biggest such discovery outside London, and will be of enormous help in improving historians’ understanding of life in mediaeval Leicester.

The cemetery was found during excavations on the site of St. Margaret’s Baths in connection with the extension to The Shires shopping centre, whose cost is put at 350million. There is to be a new John Lewis store on this site.

The cemetery was the graveyard of the mediaeval St. Peter’s Church, which was partly destroyed during the Sack of Leicester in Henry II’s reign in 1173 and finally demolished during the Tudor period.

Richard Buckley, the director of the University of Leicester Archaeology Services, said that they expected to find the remains of around 300 people, and were stunned to find 1300.

The remains come from the period between the 13th and 16th centuries. After extensive examinations, the skeletons will be reburied at Gilroes Cemetery.

St. Peter’s was one of a number of churches which previously existed in Leicester, one of the oldest towns in the country. There was a St. Michael’s Church nearby, as well as a St. Clement’s Church by the River Soar. After being largely destroyed in 1173, it was taken over by the Dominican Friars (Black Friars).

Leicester is unusually rich in surviving mediaeval churches today. There are five still standing in the Old Town – St. Martin’s Church (which is now Leicester Cathedral); St. Mary de Castro Church; St. Nicholas Church; St. Margarets Church; and All Saints Church. All but All Saints are still open regularly for worship.

During the 19th century, at the time of the Industrial Revolution, Leicester mushroomed from small provincial market town to giant industrial city.

The churchyards could no longer cope with the volume of population, and a new cemetery, Welford Road Cemetery, was opened just outside the town. I lead two very popular walks there, entitled “Welford Road Cemetery” and “Grave Attraction”.

The largest ever mediaeval burial site in England was found in Bishopsgate in London in 1999, when 10,500 bodies were discovered.