Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Leicester's Long History

I gave a talk recently on the long history of Leicester to members of Newtown Linford Luncheon Club.

This ladies’ club has been going for many years now, and while membership was originally restricted to people living in the very picturesque Leicestershire village of Newton Linford, members now come from all over the Leicester area.

The talk I gave was one of my most popular, “Leicester’s Place in English History”, which seeks to show that throughout the last two thousand years, Leicester and its surrounding area were involved in all the major events and periods.

For a start, Leicester is one of the oldest towns in the country (not the oldest – that honour falls to Colchester in Essex), a fact realised by only a few residents and visitors.

I took members through the Roman period, when Leicester was first a frontier town on the Fosse Way and later a regional capital. The largest civil structure still standing in Britain from the Roman period is in Leicester – it’s the famous Jewry Wall.

During the Danish occupation, Leicester was one of the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw – the others were Derby, Nottingham, Lincoln and Stamford.

Leicester was destroyed and rebuilt in 1173, when Henry II punished the town because the Earl of Leicester took the side of Henry’s sons, including the infamous Richard the Lionheart, in their rebellion against their father.

Simon de Montfort, who was effectively the ruler of England after capturing his brother-in-law Henry III and keeping him captive at Kenilworth, was the Earl of Leicester. Simon was killed at the Battle of Evesham.

A bit later on, Leicester Castle was the home of John of Gaunt. During this period two controversial men were under John’s protection - Geoffrey Chaucer, author of “The Canterbury Tales”, who was married at St. Mary de Castro Church, and John Wycliffe, who first translated the Bible into English. Wycliffe was Rector of Lutterworth.

After John of Gaunt died, his son Henry Bolingbroke deposed his cousin Richard II and took the throne as Henry IV.

Henry VI, grandson of Bolingbroke, was knighted at St. Mary de Castro, when he was five years old.

In 1485, Richard III spent his last night in a bed in Leicester, before losing his crown and his life at the Battle of Bosworth, which was fought just outside Market Bosworth. His body was brought back to Leicester and buried at the Greyfriars.

During Henry VIII’s reign, the disgraced Cardinal Wolsey, on his way to London and probable execution, stopped at Leicester Abbey, where he died and was buried. The Cardinal Wolsey Statue, in the lovely Abbey Park beside the River Soar, commemorates this.

Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen for a mere nine days, came from Bradgate Park, whose main entrance is in Newtown Linford, where I was giving the talk.

In 1645, during the Civil War, Leicester was successfully besieged by Charles I and Prince Rupert. One of the defenders, stationed at the Turret Gateway, was John Bunyan, whose deliverance from probable death had a profound effect on him. He later wrote “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. Soon after the Siege of Leicester, Charles was comprehensively defeated just outside the county, at Naseby in Northamptonshire.

Modern tourism began in 1841, when Thomas Cook organised an excursion from Leicester to Loughborough for a Temperance event.

I gave the talk, after a good lunch, at Gibson’s Grey Lady restaurant in the delightful Charnwood Forest village of Newtown Linford.