News just in

News about arts and heritage

A look at our sizable in-tray of press releases and announcements.

22nd January 2016

Moon Song at Curve

Leicester’s Curve theatre have partnered with Remploy to fund three performances of Bamboozle Theatre Company’s Moon Song, to be performed in its Studio at no cost to the audience on Mon 1 Feb. The intention behind these free performances is to offer assistance to young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who are making the often difficult transition from childhood to adulthood.

Moon Song is an enchanting, space themed Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) production telling the story of Megan, who falls asleep and dreams of travelling to the moon. This production is carefully designed to accommodate the wide range of abilities within the autistic spectrum, through Bamboozle’s trademark interactive style.

The performances are part of a series of activities hosted at Curve and leading up to the Local Offer Live event which takes place at Curve on Wed 3 Feb.

Curve’s Chief Executive, Chris Stafford, said:

“Following the success of our recent Relaxed and Dementia Friendly performances of Oliver! our commitment to making theatre accessible to all is stronger than ever. We are thrilled to be working with Remploy to stage these performances of Bamboozle’s Moon Song for young people with SEND. It’s really important to us that Curve is renowned as a theatre where everyone can engage with the arts, and we look forward to welcoming special needs schools and SEND practitioners from across Leicester to these performances.

26th October


Organisers of the annual Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival are launching their search for the best Silver Stand Up Comedians. The Silver Stand Up Competition, organised in partnership with Silver Comedy and supported by Jasper Carrot, Arthur Smith and Sir Bruce Forsyth, will take place on Thursday 18th February as part of the annual Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival. Comedians aged over 55 are encouraged to enter for the chance to win the 2016 title. The deadline for the competition is Friday 8th January 2016 and further details are available by contacting
Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival set up the competition in 2012 to provide a showcase for older comedians. The first competition was won by Shelley Bridgman who continues to gig regularly across the UK and has helped launch the BBC search for the best script that promotes a positive portrayal of transgender characters. The 2013 winner was Marc Lucero, who regularly gigs across London and has appeared on BBC Breakfast News. On winning the competition, Marc said “I want to change the perceptions people have of the elderly and by winning this award I have proved that humour transcends age. Now we need to convince audiences that silver comedy is just as edgy and exciting as seeing the young bucks. Winning the Silver Silver Stand Up Award also proves it is never too late to start a new career.” The 2014 competition was won by comedian Peter Callaghan, who recently returned from performing as part of Old Folks Telling Jokes at the Edinburgh Fringe, and in 2015 the competition was won by Ed de Cantor. Ed had given up performing stand up aged 40, thinking he was “too old”. On winning the competition in 2015, he said “I am completely over the moon. Winning this competition is a dream come true.”

17th September 2015

Proposals set to transform Leicester’s Market

LEICESTER’s outdoor market could be set for a stunning transformation if new proposals are given the go-ahead.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby is considering major investment in the 800 year-old market, to ensure it is fit for the future and to complement the ongoing redevelopment work in the area.

The improvements would follow the construction of a new public square on the site of the old indoor market, and the repaving of the roads surrounding it, but would take priority over an extension to the Corn Exchange building.

Initial proposals for the outdoor market are to give it a fresh new look, with improved stalls, better lighting and new signage.

The revamp could include changes to the roof to make it more transparent, and the installation of LED lighting, which would save energy and reduce costs.

Shoppers and traders will be consulted on the proposals as part of the detailed design process, and it’s expected that final designs will go to the City Mayor for approval early next year.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “It’s clear that the work we’ve already done at the market has made a huge difference, with the new food hall providing customers with the attractive shopping environment they want.

“The creation of a new public square and improvements to the roads and pavements around the market will really transform the area, but they will also highlight the poor quality of the outdoor market.

“I am therefore proposing that improvements to the market should take precedence over the Corn Exchange extension, which is something we could look at again in the future when we have seen how the new public square is being used.

“The market has been a significant feature of the city for hundreds of years, and we need to ensure it retains that position for many more years to come.”

Consultation on the proposals for the outdoor market will begin in the next few weeks.

Project manager Mike Dalzell said: “We have a lot of preparation work to do to move utilities and carry out necessary changes to the highways, but our aim is for construction of the new square to begin in the new year and finish by autumn 2016.”

The first phase of the market redevelopment was completed in May 2014, with the opening of the bright and airy new food hall.

The food hall has already won several awards, including Best Food Market from the National Markets Association (NABMA) and Best New Building from the Leicester Civic Society.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

28th August 2015

Everybody’s Reading

Everybody’s Reading- September 26th – October 4th

This annual festival is packed with over 140 events in 60 venues over nine days. Libraries around Leicester will be taking part, hosting numerous events – these include: local author Bali Rai will be at New Parks Library to talk about his passion for football and books; listen to scary stories and get creative with book illustration workshops at Fosse Library; at Beaumont Leys Library we have Toddler Tales with stories for younger library visitors all about Autumn Animals, and at Evington Library we have Under The Sea where fishy tales will come to life.  Watching the Detectives and John Martin (Leicester’s ‘Mr Crime’) are two of the events at Central and Hamilton Libraries for crime readers out there.

Booster Cushion Theatre for Children will also be at Fosse, Westcotes, Pork Pie and Brite Centre libraries with their show for young children and parents – Big Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

This year also sees the welcome return of BLAM!, our promotion of all things comic-related. The event at Central Library on Wednesday 30th September is a slight change to the one advertised in the brochure in that we are excited to be hosting a talk by comic-writer, Jamie Delano.

Jamie has written for 2000AD and DC Comics, as well as titles such as Dr Who, Captain Britain and Hellblazer. If you have an interest in comics, either as a reader or a writer then this event is for you.

For more events and details on how to book plus ticket prices pick up a festival guide or download it at

28th July 2015

New film about Children’s Comedy

Sceene from Kenton Hall's film A Dozen Summers
Scene from Kenton Hall’s film A Dozen Summers

Leicester’s writer and director Kenton Hall is behind a new film. As the website asks:

Are you 12 years old? Have you ever been 12 years old? Are you planning to be 12 years old at some point in the future? If so, then this is the film for you. “A Dozen Summers” is a comedy about what it’s really like to grow up in the 21st century. Get ready to enter the world of Maisie and Daisy McCormack, twin sisters who have just hijacked a children’s film in order to tell their own story. Or possibly one about a ghost girl who eats teachers. They haven’t decided yet.

See the website for A Dozen Summers

The film will be screened at Phoenix from 21st August

6th July 2015

Plans for riverside Development

PLANS for a major programme of work to improve access to Leicester’s riverside have been announced.

Leicester City Council has teamed up with the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust to help enhance the river corridor through the city, as part of a wider programme of work to reduce flood risk.

The programme of improvements has been awarded up to £1.5million from the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) Local Growth Fund, with £850,000 of this earmarked for a first phase of projects along the River Soar and Grand Union Canal due to begin over the next year.

The improvements are being match-funded by the Environment Agency, which has been awarded £33milllion of Government funding for a five-year programme of flood risk management in the city.

The Canal & River Trust has also allocated £500,000 towards the project, which will fund important maintenance, including ongoing dredging works, to help ensure the waterways are accessible, attractive and welcoming.

A new cycle link along the river between Loughborough Road and Thurcaston Road will be created, and plans are being drawn up to improve and extend the cycleway between the river and the Great Central Railway.

The Environment Agency will also undertake a five-year, £6million programme of flood relief in the Abbey Meadows area from next year. This will include culverts under Thurcaston Road and Loughborough Road, new cycle links, creation of new wetland and woodland areas, and other environmental improvements.

The Canal and River Trust will improve the existing towpath along the Grand Union Canal from the city centre to Watermead Park.

The programme also includes creating better access to the riverside at Sock Island, environmental improvements around Willow Brook, restoration of the old, redundant mill race at Frog Island, and new boat mooring alongside Friars Mill.

Read more about this

3rd July

Festival of Archaeology

Jewry Wall Museum will be hosting a series of special events as part of the city’s two-week Festival of Archaeology.

The museum will be helping to celebrate the city’s rich archaeological heritage with guided walks, talks, displays and family-friendly activities.

The 2015 Festival of Archaeology runs from 11-26 July, but kicks off with a preview event at the University of Leicester on Saturday (4 July). Staff from the city council’s museums service and volunteers from the Friends of Jewry Wall Museum will be on hand at the event, offering activities including coin striking and marching drills with a Roman soldier.

On Sunday 12 July, visitors to Jewry Wall Museum can join in with a free ‘Romans and Barbarians’ day. It will include the chance to watch a Roman army on parade, see demonstrations of Roman arms and armour and strike your very own Roman coin.

There will also be craft activities, family games and an exciting finale to the event when a Barbarian warrior queen arrives on her war chariot to defy the might of Rome.

Daily from 12-26 July, the museum will run tours of Leicester’s Roman bath house, with replica objects to handle. Tours take place from 12-12.50pm each day.

On 18 July, at 2pm, there will be an illustrated talk and book-signing from Gareth Williams, curator at the British Museum, on the topic of Viking warfare in the light of new discoveries. Tickets are £5 and can be booked on 0116 225 4971.

And as a finale to the festival, the museum will host a Viking warfare day on Sunday 26 July. A full Viking encampment will be set up amidst the Roman ruins of Leicester, just as it might have looked in the 9th century, when these lands fell under Viking rule. Admission is £2 for adults, £1 for children.

Cllr Piara Singh Clair, assistant city mayor responsible for culture, heritage, leisure and sport, said: “I’m really pleased that our staff are able to work so closely with the dedicated volunteers from the Friends of Jewry Wall Museum to put on so many great events for the Festival of Archaeology.

“These family-friendly events mean everyone can get involved in celebrating Leicester’s rich archaeological heritage.”

Find out more about the Festival of Archaeology 2015

Find out what to do at Leicester’s museums

1st July

St. Nicholas Circle gets revamp

improve pedestrian and cycling routes around Leicester’s St Nicholas Circle will enter its final phase next week.

The ambitious £1.7milllion scheme has already seen improvements completed on the south side of the busy junction. Wider pavements and a new cycleway have been constructed from Peacock Lane to St Augustine Road, where a lane of traffic has been removed.

A new cycle lane has also been created on the Southgates northbound slip road, and work to create a new entrance into the award-winning Castle Gardens is almost complete.

The project will now move on to the Jewry Wall side of St Nicholas Circle from Monday (6 July).

Existing footpaths will be widened and re-laid with high-quality block paving to create a joint-use footpath and cycleway. The number of traffic lanes will be unchanged on this side of the roundabout.
This stage of the project will also see the Harvey Walk footbridge, which spans the roundabout passing between the NCP car park and Holiday Inn, taken down. Work to create a new surface-level footpath in its place will take place next year.

The scheme is part of the Connecting Leicester programme and will create more attractive routes from the city centre to attractions like Castle Gardens, the Roman Jewry Wall and St Mary de Castro Church, which all lie outside the 1960s ring road.

22nd June

Reading for everyone

The programme for Everybody’s Reading festival is very, very close to being finalised. With a multitude of events taking place all over the city, there is definitely going to be something for everyone to enjoy. There are plenty of free events taking place in libraries, cafes, community centres and many more.

Highlights of this year’s festival include an exclusive schools only performance from Countryfile and Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton at one lucky school in Leicester, as well as children’s book-themed days at Gorse Hill City Farm, smelly perfume poetry workshop from the people who brought Lush to the High Street, crime writers, story tellers, poets and so many more workshops, exhibitions and readings.  There will be loads of opportunity to get involved with something to do with reading!

Everybody’s Reading 2015 runs from Saturday 26th September until Sunday 4th October 2015. Everybody’s Reading is a nine day festival taking place in over 80 venues across Leicester City including community centres, schools, cafes, bars, arts venues, libraries and museums.

The festival, now in its fifth year, is organised by the School Development Support Agency (SDSA) and is an off-shoot of the ‘Whatever it Takes’ initiative (see separate bullet point for more information on this initiative). The aim of the festival is to get Leicester reading by encouraging people to hear and attend spoken word, poets, authors and community writers.

Find out more from the Everybody’s Reading website

23rd June

The Damask Rose

A CENTURIES-old local tradition as kept alive when the Lord Mayor of Leicester attended the Damask Rose ceremony on 24th June.

The Lord Mayor, Cllr Ted Cassidy,  marked the annual custom when he received the symbolic peppercorn rent of a Damask Rose and four old pennies from the landlord of O’Neill’s, a pub in  in Loseby Lane.

The Lord Mayor said: “This is a local custom that dates back hundreds of years and I am delighted that we are continuing and protecting the tradition.”

Steve Thorn, landlord of O’Neill’s Leicester, said: “We here at O’Neill’s are happy to keep up this long-standing tradition and hope we can build on it in the future.”

Dating back to the 1600s, the Damask Rose ceremony survived until 2001 when the O’Neill’s chain took over the pub. The former Lord Mayor, Colin Hall, was instrumental in re-instating the ceremony in 2010.

In keeping with tradition, the Damask Rose ceremony takes place to coincide with the Feast of St John the Baptist and representatives from the Gild of Freemen of the City of Leicester will also be present.

11th June

Magna Carter celebrated

THE 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta was marked in Leicester with a packed programme of events. From Saturday, 13th June, people were able to find out how the medieval charter helped lay the foundations for the democracy we know today – and could learn how a baron with links to Leicester helped ensure the Magna Carta was sealed in 1215.

A an exhibition at the Guildhall – featuring a reproduction of the British Library’s copy of the Magna Carta – revealed the origins and impact of the charter, while an event at Leicester Market, on Saturday 13 June,  included medieval butter-making, traditional sweet-making and an appearance by the medieval rat-catcher.

The medieval Guildhall  – Leicester’s first town hall – hosted a Magna Carta day on Sunday, 14th June, when the Lord Mayor of Leicester talked to visitors about his role and local democracy, after musical performances from comedian Anthony King.

On Monday 15th June there was an opportunity to meet Baron Saer de Quincy – the rebel Leicester baron who helped ensure that King John accepted the terms of the Magna Carta. Baron de Quincy was joined by musicians from the Medieval Music Wagon at the special event at Leicester Market on Monday – the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta.

The event also celebrated the standardisation of weights and measures – enshrined in the Magna Carta – with a selection of old Leicester weights, measures and scales on display in the window of the market’s customer service centre.

“The Magna Carta enshrines many of the things we take for granted today, particularly the rule of law and the principle that nobody can act above the law,” said City Mayor Peter Soulsby.

More news updates will follow in due course.


House bricks Part 4

22nd April 2015

House bricks

past, present and future

by Trevor Locke

Part 4 – The future of housing

House bricks Photo Alamy
House bricks
Photo Alamy

In part 3, I considered the factors that we can see playing a part in approaches to the supply and provision of housing including making better use of existing housing stock

In part 4, the final instalment of the series, I return to the brick as a central material in the construction of housing. Looking to the future of house design and supply, I move on to considering ways in which we can think outside of the box, focusing on where the future of housing might take us.

Time to do away with the brick?

Do we have to live in homes made of bricks?  Do all homes have to be three-bedroom semi-detached new builds?  Britain is a very low-rise country by comparison to many European and Asiatic countries.  British people love their little boxes set in a small piece of garden.  Suburbia is the quintessence of the British way of life. Even if we have to stick to the box-like house, need we also have to stick to the brick?

Well my take on this question is very clear:  no.  If we can persuade people that there are new ways of building homes that do not require bricks and mortar, then we begin to open up more solutions to increasing the housing supply.  New materials can be manufactured more quickly than clay bricks.  Wood does not need to be consumed in large quantities for structure – new materials can replace it that are more friendly to the environment. Wood is good for interior features and furnishings – where its natural beauty can be appreciated – but inside walls and inside roof spaces (where we cannot see) we do not have to use wood, if cheaper and more ecological materials can replace it.

People have already begun to re-think the idea of a home and have started to construct houses, using radically new ideas about what to build with and how to create living spaces. Our problem is that,  to Mr & Mrs Average, such ‘experiments’ are a bit cranky and certainly not for them. Understandable perhaps but these new concepts of what constitutes a home lead to all sorts of beneficial spin-offs. Take heating for example as part of the overall use of energy in living accommodation.  Some of these new, ‘experimental’ homes are seeing anything up to a fifty percent reduction in the cost of energy.  The less money required for energy bills, the more money is available to pay for the cost of the home and for its interior furnishings.

People who are on fixed incomes have to balance the cost of their mortgages, leases or rentals against estimated running costs. If they think they are going to be faced with high costs of energy, their calculations of affordability are going to fail to stack up, given all the other costs that are involved.

I would like to see the average family offered financial incentives to at least try something new, when it comes to homes.  Today’s house-builders are focused on return on investment and profit margins. That explains why they all want green field sites on which to build profitable, standardised boxes. The supply of housing, particularly in the ‘affordable’ sector is dominated by building companies that have to make a healthy profit margin. Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to be in business to make a profit. What I am arguing for is an injection of policy that would make it possible to both build at a profit and to offer something that is different from standardised boxes.

Television programmes have been stimulating interest in new approaches to house building.  Amanda Lamb’s My Flat-Pack home (Virgin, Sky, UK TV Home channel) follows families who opt for constructing their homes from pre-fabricated flat-packs. Watch this on YouTube.

Companies are now offering pre-fabricated houses, and some of them are portable (see this article for example .)

A company called Dan Wood is offering a variety of dwelling houses that, it says, provide ‘customised, turn-key homes with the highest standards of energy efficiency.’ Their website goes on to claim that ‘building your own homes doesn’t have to be a dream.’  This is a company that, it seems, offers pre-designed buildings that can be constructed pretty quickly. Dan Wood website.

We can be much more flexible and imaginative when it comes to designing homes. Will people be prepared to change their preconceptions about what they can accept as being a home?

Thinking outside of the box

If we can tempt house-buyers away from the standardised, magnolia painted box, then it is much more likely that the housing shortage will be dealt with and dealt with more quickly. Encouraging the use of new materials, changing building regulations to reflect new trends in energy conservation and giving up our obsession with look-alike houses are some of the things, I would argue, that would lead to more people having their own homes in a shorter space of time.

But to make this work, people have to change their ideas about what constitutes a house for families to live in. Our concept of ‘the home’ has changed little in post-war England. We are beginning to move away from the one-family-one-house model towards multiple-occupancy structures which make far better use of land. In the urban setting, land is expensive but families want their own spaces in which children can play and family pets can run free.  Flats are not an option for the bulk of people who want homes for themselves and their children. The desire for garden space is deeply ingrained in the British psyche. In the sixties, the builders of tower blocks wrongly imagined that children could take the lift down to the ground floor to play in communal areas. How wrong they were. Even childless couples often prefer properties that will provide them with a bit of garden. Some architects have designed apartment blocks with gardens; in Sydney, Australia,  a programme is underway to provide ‘green apartments.’  In Australia green homes are being built that use less water and energy; at the Green Strata project ‘We focus solely on helping owners and occupiers of residential multi-unit properties improve the sustainability of their common property and their community of residents.’  Green Strata website.

The forest in the sky, in Northern Italy has become widely celebrated as making a breakthrough in the way that high-rise apartment blocks can be made into ‘vertical forests’, having two 27 floor tower blocks that are home to 730 trees and thousands of shrubs and plants.  The amazing amount of vegetation produces oxygen and create a micro-climate that cools the apartments in summer and moderates heat loss in winter, as well as filtering smog and dust particles from the atmosphere. Each block has as many trees as could be planted in a hectare of forest. The buildings are creating a biological habit for apartment-dwellers in Milan. ‘Grey water’ from the apartments is used to irrigate the vegetation. These projects are an example of combing architecture with live plants; trees have been introduced into building design before but nearly always inside the buildings. These ideas might change the climate and ecology of cities and, providing the costs are within affordable standards, might well revolutionise the urban landscape.  Wikipedia.

A lot of lessons were learned from the housing disasters of the 1960s. Not that all public housing was based on tower blocks. Councils developed large estates for working class people. This was often in tandem with a programme of slum clearance. Outer urban land provided cheap space on which Councils could spread acres of social housing for the poor and needy.  These housings estates also have to be supplied with schools, shopping centres, health services and good access to the national transport systems. There was a time when large private sector housing estates were constructed without any of these basic amenities of family life being provided.  Planners got it badly wrong and approved applications for large housing developments in which there was no planning gain in the form of schools, shops or health services.

I hope we have got a better approach to planning these days. We got stuck in policy opportunism, that allowed developers to create housing estates rather than communities. I remember going to see large numbers of show-homes in Leicestershire in the 1980s.  Although the new-build houses offered every latest comfort and amenity, the estates as a whole were just houses. Car-ownership was relatively cheap in those days and it was assumed that everyone who would buy a new house would have at least one car and would be able to drive to the shops or take the children to school.  The architects of these ‘soul-less’ rural or suburbial estates were people who clearly lived in immaculate barn-conversions who had lost the notion of community and what constituted family life in villages and city-edge suburbs.  These housing estates put profit before people.  There were no schools, shops, doctors surgeries or any of the other essential elements of daily life.  The estates were all about houses and more houses and that was it.

It took a lot of protest by lobby groups to bring about change to this situation. Hopefully planners, and the politicians who control them,  are more enlightened these days. We were lucky – we ended up with a brand new house just five minutes away from a primary school  and within easy walking distance of a doctors surgery and a small supermarket. It was a matter of luck – just being in the right place at the right time (in 1992.) Many other families were less fortunate and got themselves stuck in beautifully designed homes that were miles from the nearest shop or school.

The policies that govern urban development must take into account how people actually live and not be focused on the commercial demands of private sector building companies. We need to think about sustainable communities in which people can live comfortably and happily for several decades, able to adapt to changing economic circumstances.  Short-termism is no way to plan urban growth.

Where will the future of housing take us?
Governments, both national and local, must face the challenges of improving life in Britain by coming up with credible, joined-up policies that meet the basic living needs of the people who elected them. People are slow to change and hard to convince that change to traditional ways of doing things can be better. We need houses to live in; we want houses to live in. But we do not need them to be made from traditional clay bricks. We want them to be structurally sound for many years; we want them to be warm and not overly expensive to heat; we want them to be situated within easy access to roads, schools, healthcare centres and shops. We need to get to work in order to earn enough money to pay for them. The modern home is, as Le Corbusier famously said is “a machine for living.” Modern homes tend to look like that with all their fitted kitchens and ‘mod cons’ but they are also a reflection of our tastes and cultural values. My hope is that people will become more adventurous in what they will accept as suitable house-building materials; I also hope that people will be more inclined to accept new approaches to designing homes.

Trevor Locke
March 2015

Trevor Locke has an MA in Urban Policy Studies.


Office of National Statistics, A century of home ownership and renting in England.

Guy Standing (May 24, 2011). “The Precariat – The new dangerous class”. Policy Network.

Planning Advisory Service. Objectively assessed need and housing targets – technical advice note, 2014.

This is money (website) Blocked by the banks? How to get a mortgage if you are are a small business owner or self-employed, October 2014

The Brick Industry Association, Why choose brick, USA

Tudor Brickwork by Gerard Lynch.

Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill 2014-15.

Home building and renovating. The self build and custom house building bill.

See also:

Introductory article to the house series
House bricks part 1
House bricks part 2
House bricks part 3


Richard III Reinterment news

Page last edited:  29th April 2015

29th April

New events tell Richard III story

Visitors to Leicester Cathedral will now be able to discover for themselves the history and legacy of Richard III’s life and death, thanks to a new programme of events and activities, part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The programme includes:

– New information panels telling Richard III’s story;

– Guided tours led by well-trained and professionally supported volunteer guides;

– A new guide book;

– On-line information;

– Workshops and resources for schools, supported by an Education Officer and;

– Display of the Coffin Pall, processional banners and the ceremonial crown from the reinterment service.

Alongside the King Richard III Visitor Centre and Bosworth Battlefield heritage site, Leicester Cathedral is now a nationally important location for visitors to explore and enjoy this unique heritage, understanding better the life, faith, legacy and significance of Richard III’s final resting place. HLF has provided £94,100 towards the total project costs of £189,000.

19th March

The Bones of a King: Richard III Rediscovered

The only book written by the full team of experts who uncovered the king.

The Bones of a King is published by Wiley
The Bones of a King is published by Wiley

Written specifically for the general reader, The Bones of a King: Richard III Rediscovered will publish on 26th March, the day of the king’s reburial at Leicester Cathedral.

The dramatic story of Richard III, England’s last medieval king, captured the world’s attention when an archaeological team led by the University of Leicester identified his remains in February 2013. The Bones of a King presents the official behind-the-scenes story of the Grey Friars dig based on the research of the specialists directly involved in the discovery.

The book is published by Wiley.

The Bones of a King is available on Amazon.

15th March 2015

Richard III looms large in Leicester

As the re-interment of the last of the English Plantaganet kings approaches, we look at the story so far and at what is coming up, as the world’s media prepares for a trip to our city.

January 17th

Roads and travel

Leicester City Council told us:

VISITORS coming to Leicester to watch the final journey of King Richard III are being offered advice on how best to travel into the city.

Thousands of people are expected to come into the city on Sunday, March 22, as a procession carrying the king’s remains makes its way from the Leicestershire countryside into the city on its way to Leicester Cathedral. An influx of spectators and well-wishers are expected to line the route, which includes the A47 Hinckley Road, Bow Bridge, St Nicholas Church, and a short tour of the city centre before the coffin is handed over to the cathedral. Detailed information for visitors is now available, explaining the best routes to get into the city, the Park and Ride service, parking availability on the day, cycling and walking routes and vantage points for people to view the cortege.

For more information see the Council’s website.

January 13th

Latest pictures from inside Leicester Cathedral

5th February

scroll down for latest photos

King Richard’s Prayer Book given modern twist

Artwork inspired by King Richard III’s prayer book and produced by pupils of 81 Leicester and Leicestershire schools appears in a new book published today, Thursday 5th February, called “Our Book of Hours”. King Richard’s own illustrated Book of Hours was found in his tent by the victorious soldiers of Henry VI, after the Battle of Bosworth. As Leicester Cathedral prepares to rebury King Richard’s mortal remains on 26th March, the new Book of Hours will be launched by the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd. Tim Stevens and many of the young artists at the King Richard III Visitor’s Centre at 11.30am. The book features 91 full colour plates of stunning, creative pieces of art. Students at local schools were invited to interpret passages from the Bible and their vibrant artwork is presented in a 188 page hard cover book printed by local company, Gartree Press. A leather bound presentation version of “Our Book of Hours” is being prepared. It will be on display in Leicester Cathedral from the week of King Richard’s reinterment. King Richard’s Prayer Book will be in the Cathedral for the period of reinterment, on loan from Lambeth Palace. Copies of “Our Book of Hours” can be reserved from Christian Resources in St Martins House and the King Richard III Visitor’s Centre and costs £20.00.

11th February

Leicester Funeral Directors appointed for Richard III’s final journey

King Richard III’s final journey will be overseen by Funeral Directors A J Adkinson & Son of Oadby.

On Sunday 22 March the King’s mortal remains will be transported by the company from the University of Leicester, via the battlefield villages of Dadlington and Sutton Cheney to the Bosworth Battlefield Centre. After a short ceremony, the cortège will move to Leicester, where the King’s coffin will be transferred to a horse drawn hearse for the final leg of the journey around the City Centre arriving at Leicester Cathedral at 5.45pm. “We’re tremendously excited to be involved in such a landmark event for Leicester,” says Company Director Jenny Gilbert. “It is always a privilege to be given the responsibility of providing funeral services for anyone, but to be involved with the interment of a former King of England really is a huge honour for us. As one of the oldest independent and family run Funeral firms in Leicester we are taking great pride in our role in the day’s events. It promises to be a truly once in a lifetime occasion not just for us but for everybody who will witness it.” Miranda Cannon Project Director of the Leicester Cathedral Quarter Partnership Board says, “A J Adkinson & Son made an excellent bid to play a key role in this historic occasion. They were able to clearly show to us a real understanding of what was needed and demonstrate a real depth of experience and expertise that is already proving invaluable to us in planning the reinterment events. We are of course especially pleased that a local firm was successful and shows what great talent and expertise we have in our county.”

13th February

Leicester Cathedral ready to receive King Richard III

Inside Leicester Cathedral Courtesey of King Richard III website
Inside Leicester Cathedral
Courtesy of King Richard III website

The first phase of the internal reordering of Leicester Cathedral has been completed in readiness for the reinterment of King Richard III at the end of March. For the last 26 weeks, builders Fairhurst Ward Abbotts (FWA) have been working in the Cathedral while it remained open to the public. The stunning conversion includes a new Sanctuary under the tower for the main altar, the creation of Christ the King Chapel at the east end of the building and the construction of an Ambulatory (a walking space) in which the King Richard III’s tomb will be built. “The transformation of our Cathedral is so striking and more than we even hoped,” says the Very Revd. David Monteith, the Dean of Leicester.

Building work inside Leicester Cathedral Courtesey of King Ricard III web site
Building work inside Leicester Cathedral
Courtesey of King Ricard III web site

“Suddenly we have become aware of the soaring arches and spacious beauty of our building. The craftsmanship is fantastic. All will be ready for March and the re-interment of Richard III.” The project overcome several challenges, including discovering a number of underground crypts during the excavation works. Working closely the archaeological team which discovered the remains of King Richard III, the builders lowered the height of these crypts and covered the voids. “We’re proud to have played a role in such an important project and feel very privileged to have created a resting place for a King,” says Matt Webster Conservation Director of FWA. The mortal remains of King Richard III will be received by the Cathedral on 22nd March and will lie in repose for three days before being reburied on the 26th March 2015.

Building work at Leicester Cathedral Courtsey of King Richard III website
Building work at Leicester Cathedral
Courtesy of King Richard III website

Richard’s coffin

The lead lining to be placed inside the coffin of King Richard III has been created by Leicester firm Norman and Underwood and Dr Jon Castleman, chairman of the company, will be the man with the last glimpse of the King as he welds shut the lead lid.
Jon said: “It will be my privilege to lead weld the lid once the king is placed in there.” He added that it was an honour to be chosen to make the ossuary.”
Read more about this

Film footage reveals potential ‘Killer Blow’

University of Leicester video shows injury on inside of skull – Injury to interior surface of cranium revealed, Injury consistent with a sword or the top spike of a bill or halberd. The film is among 26 video sequences being made available to media by the University of Leicester.
“It was one of those eureka moments which Carl Vivian happened to capture on film which we will all remember.”- Professor Guy Rutty, University of Leicester/Home Office forensic pathologist
New film footage revealing for the first time details of the potential killer blow that claimed the life of King Richard III has been released by the University of Leicester.
Find out more

23rd February

Route of cortège announced

The precise route King Richard III’s cortège will follow through Leicestershire has been published today.
Read more about this and see the route as a map
See the full route that the cortège will take
26th February

Royal visitors

The Dean of Leicester is delighted to announce that Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex is to attend the reinterment Service for King Richard lll on Thursday March 26 at Leicester Cathedral. She will be joined by their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. In his capacity as Patron of the Richard III Society, The Duke of Gloucester will also be attending Compline, the Service of Reception on Sunday 22 March at Leicester Cathedral.
The Very Revd. David Monteith, Dean of Leicester says: ‘We are highly delighted and honoured to receive three members of the Royal Family to the reinterment of King Richard. I know that our city and county will offer a very warm welcome to our principal guests’.
[from King Richard in Leicester website]

Bosworth reinterment event

Leicestershire County Council will be making 2,000 tickets available next week for an event to mark King Richard III’s final journey. The Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre event, which includes an afternoon service led by the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, the Bishop of Leicester, takes place on Sunday, 22 March.

The county council has already announced a series of events to take place at Bosworth from Monday, 23 March to Sunday 29 March. The programme, which supports the permanent battlefield exhibition, includes:

  • Series of daytime and early-evening talks, including ‘Arming King Richard III for battle’ with Dominic Smee, the King’s ‘body double’ in a TV documentary;
  • Battlefield tours to the likely site of King Richard III’s demise in battle;
  • What Remains of Richard III? – a play about King Richard III’s reputation;
  • Book launch by historian John Ashdown-Hill;
  • Hawkwise falconry displays and guided walks

March 4th

Channel 4 announces reburial coverage plans

The programmes:
Richard III: The Return of the King – Evening of Sunday 22nd March
This programme will capture the climax of the procession of the King’s mortal remains back to the site of his death at Bosworth Battlefield through the streets of Leicester and the service that marks the king’s reception into Leicester Cathedral with a sermon given by Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols. Channel 4 will also assemble leading historians, actors, politicians, descendants of the King and key participants in his rediscovery, to ask who Richard really was and what his place in British history should now be.
Richard III: The Burial of the King – Morning of Thursday 26th March
Live coverage of the reburial service, attended by members of the Royal Family, as the King is formally reinterred at the east end of the Cathedral. Guests at the service and key players in the King’s story will join Jon in the studio beforehand and afterwards, and a series of short films will offer glimpses of the preparations for this unique event and explore the debates surrounding it.
Richard III: The King Laid to Rest – Thursday evening
A final programme showing highlights of the reburial service from earlier in the day and – live – a last moment of intimate ceremonial, in which those who led the campaign to find Richard and his descendants, gather to bid the King a final farewell.
The Bosworth beacon, lit when Richard’s remains arrived back at the site of his death on Sunday morning, will be extinguished as the massive tombstone is revealed for the first time.
Find out more from King Richard in Leicester web site

6th March

Richard III videos made available to public

Historic collection chronicles dig, discovery and identification of the last Plantagenet monarch. The University of Leicester is making a suite of documentary footage available to media and the public ahead of the reburial of King Richard III.
Hours of video footage captured by documentary maker Carl Vivian is available via the University’s YouTube site and extracts are being provided to media crews for their own news and feature outputs.
In total, 20+ videos are being made freely accessible on the University of Leicester YouTube Channel and 26 sequences from these videos are being made available to the media. The videos include the historic very first moment University of Leicester archaeologist Mat Morris discovered human remains- on the first day of the dig. In it, Mat can be seen looking at a human leg bone uncovered within hours of the 2012 Grey Friars archaeological dig starting. He confirms it is an articulated skeleton, records it as Skeleton One and covers it over so it is protected until more is known about its context within the site. Eleven days later Skeleton One was uncovered and displayed staggering circumstantial evidence for it being the remains of King Richard III.
You can view that clip here
Mat said: “Finding the skeleton’s leg on Day 1 was the first significant medieval discovery of the project, although at the time we had no idea how significant it would prove to be. The skeleton was the first material evidence that we were digging in the right area and that the friary must be in the vicinity but at this point on the first day the person could have been buried anywhere, inside the church, outside in the graveyard, in one of the other friary buildings. It took another eleven days to establish that the grave was in the right area of the church to investigate further, with spectacular results.”
The videos made during this project are all available on the University of Leicester YouTube channel and include a pre-dig interview with lead archaeologist Richard Buckley in which he describes the chances of finding Richard as a long shot; the dig and the burial; identifying the remains; the fatal blow; injuries to the remains; DNA analysis and conclusion.
Also included are the Judicial Review decision, the tomb design and much more.
Carl Vivian, from the University’s Creative Services team, said: “It’s been an incredible adventure and an enormous privilege to be able to follow the story of the search, discovery and identification of King Richard III. From the outset it seemed so unlikely that his remains would be found and then he turns up in trench one on the very first day of the dig – you just couldn’t make it up.”
“I’m extremely proud of the record that I’ve made of this project and hope people enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed recording these truly historic moments.”
Members of the public can view the videos using the following links:
Richard III videos on-line
Pre-dig Interview with Richard Buckley
The Archaeological Dig
The Burial
Removing a Tooth for DNA Analysis
Discovering the Fatal Blow
Identifying the Remains
Injuries to the Remains
The Scientific Outcome
The DNA Analysis & Conclusion
Hair and Eye Colour
The Break in the Male Line
Is the Skeleton Found in Leicester Richard III?
Uncovering the Church of the Friars Minor Leicester
Opening the Medieval Stone Coffin Found at the Richard III Burial Site
The Judicial Review Decision
The Tomb Design
The Date of the Re-interment
Cathedral Memorial Stone Lifted

King Richard III Visitor Centre
[University of Leicester Press Office]

9th March

Tomb makers

…the man who’s made the tomb for King Richard III in Leicester Cathedral. James is one of the more remarkable of the many fascinating people I’ve met in the course of this unparalleled journey that the discovery of King Richard III’s remains has brought about. I’ve mentioned him before, but having just returned form another visit to his workshop
James is one of the more remarkable of the many fascinating people I’ve met in the course of this unparalleled journey that the discovery of King Richard III’s remains has brought about. I’ve mentioned him before, but having just returned form another visit to his workshop in Rutland I’m filled again with admiration for his craftsmanship, attention to detail – and just plain old-fashioned stubborn determination to get the job done!
The tomb’s design was, as is well known, not without controversy, being developed by Josh Mccsh, our architect, in collaboration with Chapter, the fabric group, and subject to the overall approval of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England. But once it was settled last March most people will have given little thought to how it would actually be made. It’s just one bit of stone on top of another, after all, isn’t it? Wrong! Granted the top stone – the swaledale fossil – is one large piece. But finding the right stone, for both size and orientation, transporting it to the workshop, and then beginning the painstaking task of slicing, polishing and finishing it is a specialist task above all specialisms. For a starter, how do you turn a 3 tonne block of fragile stone over to cut the other face without risking it breaking? (There’s not another one on the shelf you can reach for.) And there’s the cross to cut into it – without damaging it – and the internal facets to fix and polish. Just one of the tasks where James has invented a tool which didn’t exist, to smooth down those tricky internal faces.
Find out more

New film footage provides unique insight…

The University of Leicester has released a unique insight into the archaeological dig that has captured the imagination of the world, with new film footage of a second excavation at the site where the remains of King Richard III were discovered in 2012.
The sequence – an 11 minute time-lapse video – documents the month-long dig undertaken by archaeologists at the University of Leicester in July 2013. This is the first time such a behind-the-scenes insight has been revealed into the archaeological process. Mathew Morris, the Grey Friars Site Director from the University of Leicester’s Archaeological Services (ULAS) narrates the video to describe the archaeological process of excavating the car park. He said: “This is a bit of the excavation that you don’t often get a chance to see. The video shows all aspects of the dig. This was a much bigger excavation than our first on this site when we discovered Richard III, and was our last chance to document the archaeology before the Visitor Centre was built on top of the car park. “This second dig was key to providing us with more information about the relationship of Richard III’s grave to the rest of the church. We were able to excavate the additional graves we had identified during the first dig and also found evidence of a new friary building. This film footage is a great way to capture all of the aspects of the dig.”
The footage was taken from a camera positioned looking down onto the dig from the old school building which is now the Richard III Visitor Centre. At the time the building had no electrical power so the camera was run from a car battery which was changed every four days. Over the 28 day period, the camera took more than 50,000 individual still images which were then rendered into the final clip, a process that took over 40 hours.
Carl Vivian, Video Producer explained: “The University of Leicester has always been keen to record and make all aspects of the Richard III project freely available, and when the second dig was announced, it was suggested immediately that a time-lapse recording should be made to allow for the whole process to be viewed. This is another fascinating insight into the hard work that has underpinned the search and discovery of the remains of Richard III.”
The University is releasing 26 video sequences to illustrate the key events in the discovery, science and reburial of the last Plantagenet King.
Carl added: “The search and discovery of Richard III has been an extraordinary adventure and part of why it has been so unique is the fact that the archaeologists and scientists have allowed every step of the journey to be recorded, so everyone can see and share the moments of each discovery being made. I’m really proud of the recordings we’ve made and the part they play in telling the story.”
You can see the time-lapse sequence here:
· Time-lapse Recording at the Richard III Burial Site
For more information about the 2013 Grey Friars excavation, please visit the ULAS news blog
[University of Leicester Press Office]

12th March

Funeral feast

University of Leicester archaeologists identify ingredients for medieval dishes served during King Richard III’s reign

Medieval Armour Courtesy of KingRichardIII website
Medieval Armour
Courtesy of KingRichardIII website

Museum volunteers recreate medieval recipes using University research for an event at Jewry Wall Museum on Sunday 22 March
Archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) have lent their expertise towards a series of medieval recipes designed to provide insight into the culinary dishes that may have been served up during the reign of King Richard III.
Margaret Adamson, a volunteer with the Friends of Jewry Wall Museum, has come up with a series of recipes based on archaeological finds and documentary research on ingredients found in Leicester by ULAS.
A selection of these dishes, including a medieval vegetable soup called pottage and Bosworth jumbles – or biscuits – will be available to taste during a free public event at the Jewry Wall Museum on Sunday 22 March to coincide with the first day of the reinterment of King Richard III.
Margaret said: “These foods are examples of what may have been available at a local inn, such as the Blue Boar Inn, for ordinary people.
“There are some medieval recipe books and written accounts which tell us about food mainly for the rich and a display of replicas showing examples of these will also be on show and will remain at the museum until Sunday 29 March.”
Angela Monckton, Consultant in Environmental Archaeology for ULAS, said: “Specialists at ULAS have identified a number of ingredients and food types available in Medieval Leicester, mainly from environmental archaeology which involves sieving soil samples from excavated sites to examine for microscopic plant and animal remains. “The plant remains include cereal grains and seeds which can be identified to find the crops, herbs and vegetables present at different periods of time.
“Animal remains include fish bones and scales of freshwater and sea fish, and bird bones together with animal bones as food remains. These results have been collected from a number of sites over the years, particularly from the Highcross excavations in Leicester.
“Seeds and cereal grains can be preserved by charring if burnt accidently, while organic remains can become mineralised by the sewage in cesspits – a sure way of finding out what was eaten – both of which are common in Leicester.”
Following previous success with a recipe booklet entitled ‘A Taste of Roman Leicester’, Angela and Margaret are working on a follow up booklet called ‘A Taste of Medieval Leicester: Food fit for a King?’ which should be available to visitors of the museum in the summer.
Margaret added: “I have used what is known about local ingredients and old recipes to imagine what food may have been served at a local inn to visitors to the town. Food history is very important because without food there would be no history.”

Medieval food
Medieval food

Margaret’s Medieval tasting will take place from 11.30am to 3.30pm on Sunday 22 March at Jewry Wall Museum, the same day King Richard III’s coffin will leave the University and begin its journey to Leicester Cathedral.
The free public event ‘Medieval Leicester and King Richard III’ will also feature a demonstration of a knight dressing for battle, the history of the Battle of Bosworth, medieval music, craft activities for children and much more.

Medieval dishes courtsey of KingRichardIII website
Medieval dishes
courtsey of KingRichardIII website

The food display will remain at the museum until Sunday 29 March to mark the end of the reinterment week.
[University of Leicester Press Office]
13th March

What do we really know about King Richard III?

Factual and fictional portrayals of the last Plantagenet King explored at public open day on Saturday 21 March
Public open day on Saturday 21 March from 10am to 4pm on University of Leicester campus. The event will take visitors on a journey of Discovery, Knowledge and Identification
Takes place in the week of the reinterment of King Richard III
Experts will share insights into the portrayals of Richard III throughout history, from Shakespeare’s ‘hunch-backed toad’ to the modern-day examinations of his dialect, at a public open day at the University of Leicester. At the exclusive event on Saturday 21 March, the general public will also have the opportunity to hear from modern-day relations of the last Plantagenet King who were involved in the identification of the remains and learn about the legal process surrounding his reinterment in Leicester.
A full schedule of free interactive and hands-on workshops and talks will take place on the University campus from 10am to 4pm, including:
David Baldwin: ‘Leicester’s Lost King’ An analysis of King Richard’s reign and character by the historian who first identified the likely location of the grave.
Tracey Elliot: ‘A Moot Point’ and Sean Thomas: ‘Burial Rights’An exploration of the legalities around the discovery of Richard III, followed by an explanation of the subsequent judicial review into the issuing of the exhumation license.
Dominic Smee: ‘Body of Evidence’ How one man’s journey into the role of Richard III has altered our understanding and perceptions of the man and the warrior.
Michael & Jeff Ibsen and Wendy Duldig: ‘Bloodline’ How does it feel to discover you’re related to Richard III? The descendants share their stories in this facilitated discussion
Philip Shaw: ‘The King’s Speech’ How documentary evidence gives us clues to the dialect and written practices of Richard III.
Mary Ann Lund and Sarah Knight: ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’? Exploring the ‘real’ King Richard by comparing and contrasting historical and literary accounts of Richard III.
Nicole Fayard: ‘The ‘Other’ Richards’ Without the constraints of the need for historical ‘accuracy’, discover how King Richard III is portrayed in performances of Shakespeare’s play across Europe.
The event will take visitors on three journeys, starting with The Discovery Journey – which looks at the excavation and post excavation work carried out by archaeologists.
Then there is the science behind the find.
The Identification Journey will look at the DNA and genealogy research which linked Richard III to his modern day relations and proved beyond doubt that the skeleton was that of the former Plantagenet king.
Finally, The Knowledge Journey looks at the ongoing research and what academics have learned as a result of the one of the most important archaeological finds of all time.
Organiser Jim Butler, Events and Engagement Manager for the College of Arts, Humanities and Law, said: “For the first time since his discovery we are giving the public access to both the key people and the spaces that were crucial to the discovery and identification of Richard III.
“In addition to the first-hand accounts of the team that searched for and discovered King Richard’s remains, the public will be able to engage with the historic research and the science in a uniquely hands-on way to gain a real sense of the huge scale of the work undertaken across the University.
“In addition to the thirteen expert talks there will also be 27 hands-on activities which include opportunities to extract DNA from organic matter, witness the awesome power of an arrow fired at plate steel, have their own DNA profiled, examine real skeletal remains and sample a medieval banquet.”
Dr Richard Buckley said: “Like other members of the team, I’ve given many talks on the discovery – we have been to venues in most English counties, not to mention a few abroad as well.
“What continues to surprise me is the excitement the project generates.
“It’s done so much for the profile of archaeology and even after two years people are still fascinated with the story – and why wouldn’t they be, I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.”
Visitors do not need to book to attend any of the events. However, if spaces are limited it will be organised on a first-come-first-served basis.

21st March

Richard day at Leicester University

A free day of family-friendly activities celebrating the University of Leicester’s research, discovery and identification of Richard III will be held on Saturday 21 March. Free interactive and hands-on workshops and talks take place from 10am – 4pm at the University of Leicester campus and the experts involved in the discovery and identification of the remains will be available to speak to media about their work.

See also:
Our news page for items relating to Richard III’s reinterment
The background to Richard III
More news about Richard’s reinterment
Opening of the KR3 visitor centre


27th November 2014

Current awareness

Leicester arts, culture and heritage

A selection of topics that are current in Leicester’s arts scene.

Leicester Means Business

An event was held on Wednesday 26th November that brought together musicians and people from the music community, to lay down ideas, concerns, issues and thoughts about music.

Organised by Jed Spittle of Manic Music Productions, the event provided an opportunity for those present to flag up their thoughts and ideas about the contemporary music scene in Leicester.

Jed Spittle secured a contract to organise a networking series of events, the first of which was tonight’s theme of Leicester as a place to make music. Held at Curve theatre, the event attracted a range of people who were currently involved in music in some way or other.

The networking events are linked to the LLEP’s initiative that will provide a consultant to look at the Creative Industries. Result from these events will feed into what the consultant will be doing, when in post.

Find out more about Manic Music Productions.

Find out more about the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership.

Affective Digital Histories

A project was launched tonight at the LCB Depot. Affective Digital Histories: recreating De-industrialised Place, from the 1970s to the Present includes Hidden Stories and Sounds of the Cultural Quarter, two new Apps that reveal the fascinating hidden stories of Leicester’s Cultural Quarter.

These Apps use the latest locative technology to deliver immersive experience for visitors to the Cultural Quarter. Location-specific content – sounds from the past and present, poetry, plays and narrative – is revealed as visitors explore the area, helping to re-imagine urban history.

Those attending this event were also invited to experiment with traditional print processes and cutting edge technology to create their own original art work at the New Incunable Print Shop, which is located at The LCB Depot.

The apps are products of a University of Leicester research project, ‘Affective Digital Histories: Re-creating de-industrial places, 1970s to the present’ which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Following the welcome speeches from Dr Ming Lim from the University of Leicester’s School of Management , John Rance of Phoenix and Professor Andrew Prescott from the University of Glasgow, poet and playwright Carol Leeming read and performed a piece from her Choreopoem.

Find out more about Affective Digital Histories.

Find out more about the Hidden Stories Apps.


See the website for Creative Leicestershire

Also  on Arts in Leicester

Curve’s 2015 season

Chicago – the musical – we look back

Water Babies – the musical – we look back

What’s New on Arts in Leicester


Comedy at Curve





22nd October 2014

What did the Roman ever cook for us?

By Trevor Locke


If you really want to understand a community, look at the food it eats. What people eat, how they eat and where they eat will tell you a lot about their culture and style of life. In order to eat, people had to produce food and that involves farming. The methods that people used to organise farms (or any kind of agriculture) tells us a lot about the social and economic organisation of the community, as well as the kind of lifestyle lived by common people (as opposed to high status individuals and soldiers.) How they cooked, the utensils and pots they used give us real insights to what life was like in the past.

Pottery is one of the key indicators to dating in many archaeological digs. Interesting though the accounts of the Roman invasion may be, we must not loose site of the fact that several thousand men would have had to eat whilst marching or manning forts. When they were camped awaiting a battle, the armies still had to attend to the basic need for food and as we know, well-fed soldiers make better fighters than half-starving ones.

Food and farming in the Iron age

What did the Roman do for us? Well, for one thing they introduced many new varieties of fruit, vegetables and grain crops and some new animals, such as the rabbit. They gave us wine to drink. They gave us roads so that supplies could be moved more easily and quickly. The invading legions needed a constant supply of food and were very good at organising supply chains and depots. The way that food production was organised in Britain changed during the time that the Romans were here but before they arrived farming was already well established.

Farming in the Iron age When the Roman invaded in the first century they already knew that Britain was good at farming. In the early years of the invasion the armies were dependent on fresh local meat and vegetables. As the Roman established themselves here, and more and civilians came over from mainland Europe, they started to grow the kind of vegetables they were used to. The vegetables introduced to Britain includes garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. In the early years of Roman occupation, however, we have to understand Iron age food and farming to appreciate what the conquering soldiers initially had to sustain them.

During the pre-Roman period, food production was organised into many small farmsteads. Life in what we now call England revolved around farming and agriculture. These small communities were able to produce enough for their own subsistence and some for trade and exchange in good years. Crops such as barley, rye, oats and Emmer wheat (a variety that was common in the ancient world) would have been grown. Sheep and cattle were kept as well as pigs that had been domesticated from wild boar. Cattle were used to pull ploughs and provided manure and hide. Horses were also kept and used to pull wagons and carts and domesticated dogs were used to help herd animals. Cows could also provide milk at the time of calving. Cattle were not eaten until they had served their life as working farm animals.

Iron age houses often had garden plots in which vegetables were grown. These dwelling houses were largely round in shape and had conical roofs made of thatch. Inside the round house a fire would have burnt continuously providing heat for cooking and warmth for the occupants. Sometimes food was cooked in a cauldron suspended over the fire. Pots were made from clay or sometimes traded if people visited from communities where pot making was a specialist craft. Bread was made from wheat and barley and baked in an oven. Barley would have been made into a kind of porridge. It could also be fermented to make beer. In addition to vegetables grown in the round house garden, people would have gathered wild berries, nuts and roots.

In communities near to the sea or fresh water lakes or rivers, fish would be caught to add to the diet. Occasionally wild birds might have been caught for food. People at this time would have obtained honey from the nests of bees and they also used the wax for a variety of purposes. Beeswax was used in bronze casting. The archaeological evidence suggests that the Iron Age countryside was well stocked with animals, the rivers provided a plentiful supply of fish and, if the weather was good, the farmsteads and gardens produced more than enough for the local community. This abundance of food allowed people to build houses and other structures, such as barrows and hill forts.

Being well fed allowed the development of rituals and ceremonies. Having a sufficient and reliable source of food allowed people to engage in religious activities and hone their hunting or building skills. Some individuals became specialists in the working of wood or metal and could do this only if there was enough surplus food to sustain them. The ability to produce surplus food was an essential prerequisite to large-scale construction and the development of specialist crafts.  How food is grown, manufactured sold, prepared and consumed tells us a lot about the social organisation, economy and culture of any community of people. If we want to get inside the life of the middle ages then we have to find out what people ate and drank. It was the Romans who introduced many new food stuffs into the British Isles.

The age of new food

The Romans brought many new herbs into Britain such rosemary, thyme, bay, basil, savoury and mint for cooking and some that were used in brewing or for medicinal purposes. Bear in mind however that native people who were poor and not Romanised would have seen comparatively little change to their eating habits – compared to the wealthier, more high status individuals who would have mixed with the Romans and would have been invited to their dinner parties held at villas. The Romano-Britains would have eaten some of the new foodstuffs that had been introduced from Europe.

These were the people who would have drank imported wine. In the earlier part of the Roman period, most wine would have come from Spain but later on it was imported from France and the Moselle valley. There is evidence that vines were established in Britain, though we do not know for sure if they produced wine or if they did, in what quantities. We know that medieval monasteries had vines and were engaged in the production of wine. The Romans restricted the production of wine in this country until 277 when these restrictions were lifted. There is evidence of a villa vineyard at Boxmoor in Hertfordshire and grape pips have been found at a number of sites elsewhere. ‘Vines then were certainly grown in Britain, and there is no reason why wine should not have been produced from them’, writes Frere (1987.) Beer was also produced in Roman Britain and the size of some of the drinking vessels found in at some military sites suggests that it was consumed by the army. ‘This beer was priced at 4 denarii a pint in Diocletion’s price-edict’ (Frere, 1987.)

The Romans introduced many vegetables into Britain including garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. They also brought over new varieties of apples and better strains of wheat. Feeding the Roman armies required the supply of large amounts of food. Grain was an important commodity and bread was part of the staple diet of soldiers.

Cutlery, dishes and table manners

People ate with knives (the fork was not widely used in this country until much later on, in the 18th century.) Having said that, knives were not a normal part of Roman tableware. They preferred skewers for picking up small morsels or used spoons that had pointed handles. The Romans did have forks, they were used as cooking utensils rather than for eating. Spoons were widely used and a large collection of 4th century spoons were found in Thetford,  with another group being found at Hoxne – in a hoard that also included pepper pots and spice containers. The Romans spiced their food with black pepper, coriander, poppy, celery, dill, summer savoury, mustard and fennel. They had recipe books, although the most famous of these did not arrive until after the fourth century. The Romans ate, at formal meals, lying on couches arranged on three sides of a square, the fourth side being open to allow slaves to serve dishes on to a low table in the middle. Villas had their own dining rooms.

Wealthy Romans organised  elaborate banquets at which many courses of food were served. People were expected to dress correctly at dinner. A wide variety of  foods were eaten in pre-Roman Britain but both farming and cooking would have remained much the same,  after the first century,  for the poorer peoples who had less access to Roman wealth. If we can accept that the people who lived in Britain prior to the coming of the Romans were Celts, then the process of Romanisation would have affected such people in different ways, according to geography and to social and economic status. High-status individuals would have become roundly Romanised, adopting the manners and dress of the culture into which they were drawn.

The common people, on the other hand, would have clung on to their culture and would have had less access to the opportunities offered by the Romano-British economy. Most of what we know about the process of Romanisation comes from the archaeological evidence rather than from written records, certainly for the first four centuries of Roman occupation. The Romans had an early influence on dining and cooking, as we can see from the variety of plates, dishes, bowls and cooking vessels which have been found and a lot of these were being made by local craftsmen (Frere, 1987.) The Britons had developed a taste for Roman food even before the Claudian invasion. Kitchen pots were being made here in the first century. The quantity of amphorae found around the country indicates that large quantities of wine and olive oil were being imported, suggesting that its consumption was not limited to the aristocracy.

In the countryside the peasants were using Roman coins to buy pots and some of them were working on farms established by the Romans. Some peasants began building rectangular houses to replace their traditional round houses. The Romans ate from clay vessels – bowls mainly – but the wealthy also had glass goblets and wine jugs. Pottery-making centres flourished in  places where there was a  supply of suitable clay. ‘The more utilitarian domestic vessels were produced in a great number of local potteries, both large and small, all over the lowland zone and father north where clay and fuel were available’ (Frere, 1987). As the Roman army did not normally make their own pottery, they awarded contracts to local pot-makers, particularly those in the Midlands. Kilns in certain regions were producing pottery on a large-scale for both the military and civilian markets, from the time of Hadrian onwards. Finds at digs have used shards from such pottery to date the layers in which they were found. Replicas of such vessels have been constructed in order to show archaeological students how to identify such fragments.

Water supply

It is well known that the Romans were good at supplying water. Britain is always seen as being a wet country in whose countryside there is an abundance of water. In prehistoric times people tended to settle close to rivers and it is was no exception Ratae (now called Leicester) was established on the banks of the river Soar. During the second century, the Romans built the famous baths in the centre of Ratae and these consumed considerable quantities of water which was supplied through leats – channels constructed and maintained to ensure was in constant supply. Running water was supplied to the baths and public lavatories. In Britain’s wet climate there was a plentiful supply of water through springs, streams and wells. People did not drink water as this would frequently be contaminated. Although water was required for cooking, washing and cleaning, people drank wine or beer, a practice that continued through to the middle ages. Wine was commonly mixed with water rather than being drunk ‘neat’.

The Romans also built canals such as the one we now call ‘Raw Dykes’, parts of which still exist here in Leicester. It was a channel that brought water into the town of Ratae and was constructed in the first century AD. It is not clear whether it was a canal or an aqueduct but it does seem to have played some part in bringing water into Ratae.

We now move on to looking at some of the food stuffs that would have been consumed in Britain between the Iron age and medieval times and during the Roman era.

The Roman menu


Milk was produced on farms and small-holdings. Cows had been domesticated for many centuries, as were goats. Those who kept milking cows also made butter, yogurt and cheese, as a way of preserving milk. Cows were rarely slaughtered  for meat (they were primarily working animals) as they provided milk which was a valued foodstuff for making cheese or curds and whey. Cheese had been available in Roman times. Because milk could not be kept fresh, its production and distribution was localised. The production of butter,  in some areas,  was for  use as a cosmetic rather than as a foodstuff.


Bread was made from flour that was milled either by wind or water power. In more ancient times grain was ground by hand using circular stones. Different qualities of bread were made, the coarser variety being consumed by poorer people and the finest white flour reserved for high-status individuals. White bread was made from wheat but only the wealthier farmers were able to grow the wheat need to make the finest quality of flour. Rye and barley were more commonly grown to make bread for the peasant, farming people. If this was in short supply, beans, peas and acorns could be added to bulk it up.


It was common for small-holdings and farms to be situated outside of walled cities, such as Leicester, and the supply of food produced in the more remote rural areas depended on the quality of local roads and the speed with which perishable produce could be brought to the urban markets. Common vegetables included cabbage, root crops, some plants that grew wild in the countryside and some fungi, such as wild mushrooms. Potatoes did not arrive in Britain until after the discovery of the new world, several hundred years after the period being considered here. Beans and peas formed part of the staple diet of soldiers and peasants. In the towns, poorer people might well have bought the equivalent of ‘fast food’ and takeaways which were a feature of Roman life in urban areas. Pulses and root crops were common in the diets of the poorer classes. Peasants ate pottage – a kind of soup or stew made from oats or bran, to which beans or peas and other vegetables and herbs were sometimes added. In winter, turnips or parsnips would be added. Roman soldiers also ate a kind of porridge made from wheat, to which a variety of vegetables might have been added.


Apples would be in supply in season and were crushed and the juice was drunk or made into cider. There is evidence that apples grew wild in Britain in the Neolithic period but it was the Romans who first introduced varieties with sweeter and greater taste. After the Roman occupation of Britain, many orchards were abandoned due to invasions by Jutes, Saxons and Danes. Fruit was often dried to increase its shelf life as a way of preserving fruit after its season had passed. Some dried fruit was imported from Europe, such as dates, figs and raisins. Most fruit was cooked, rather than eaten raw; people were discouraged from eating raw fruit and vegetables as these could carry pests and diseases.


Cattle were used to pull ploughs, carts or other movable objects. They would not be eaten until they died naturally or their useful working life had come to an end. Pigs could be killed and eaten for their meat. They were cheap because they lived in the woods and found their own food and, unlike cows, did not require to be fed with hay or straw. These were not domesticated pigs but wild boar. In some communities mutton would have been available. Meat was preserved by smoking it. In larger kitchens, joints of meat would have been hung in the chimney so that it would be smoked from the wood fire below. Horse meat would have been consumed in Roman times. Horses however were expensive animals to feed. The capture and slaughtering of animals for cookery and meat consumption depended heavily on the availability of wildlife. Birds, fresh water fish and four-legged wild animals (including Deer and Rabbits)  formed a large part of the meat diet of upper-class people. Alongside wild animals, there was husbandry of deer and pigs in the forests. Only wealthy Romans would have eaten venison and wild boar. The solders ate things like chickens, eggs, apples and olives. Archaeologists have found records of food supplies being ordered for the army. Bread formed part of the staple diet of the Roman soldier. Ovens have been found when excavating forts. Salted bacon was something that soldiers could take with them when going on long marches. Butchered cattle and sheep bones were also  found when excavating Roman forts.

It is believed that rabbits were introduced into Britain by the Romans. The remains of a two thousand year old rabbit were found at a dig in Norfolk. A mosaic was found at Chedworth in Gloucestershire that shows a man  holding a hare and wearing a hooded cloak, typical of those worm by the native British. On the same site a stone carving shows a hunter with a dog and a stag. British hunting dogs were known to the Romans and prized by them. The Vindolanda Tablets give information about the kind of food eaten by Roman armies. We find references to bread, meat, wine and olive oil. The Romans believed in a well-fed army. Amphorae were imported to supply olive oil, wine and fish sauce (garum.) The Vindolanda soldiers also enjoyed beer. Beer was being brewed over here as the Romans became established. We know this from the archaeological evidence.  The Vindolanda tablets, found in the excavations at Hadrians Wall, indicate that soldiers drank large quantities of beer. The bones of cows and sheep were found in the digs. They also needed pepper and salt and certainly the pepper would have been imported. Brown Samian pottery from France (then called Gaul) was also found, including bowls and cups, dishes and jars. Pottery was also made over here, including the black type that came from Dorset and fragments of this have been found in many parts of Britain. A wide variety of pottery fragments have been unearthed at Roman sites around Britain. Hunt cups have been found decorated with pictures of dogs chasing a hare. They had large cups for beer and small ones for wine. There is evidence that soldiers had to wear the right kind of dress when attending formal dinner parties.

Sausages were also available, particularly in the towns, where they were sold in the streets, either in shops or by street vendors. In the larger towns, many houses lacked facilities such as kitchens. Many of the urban inhabitants depended on food which they could buy at shops and bars which sold hot bread, pastries, pies and a product that resembled our modern day beefburger which was eaten with bread (Wilkinson, 2000.)

Game, birds and fish

The aristocracy – people of high status – would have dined on wild birds such as partridge or woodcock. Wild animals and game were hunted, as well a deer, and much of this atcivity was ritualised. Hawks were also used to hunt animals. Chickens have been domesticated since very early times and supplied eggs, alongside those collected from the nests of wildfowl. Records indicate that eggs were widely consumed. Pigeons and doves were domesticated and kept in cotes that were common in both monasteries and farms and sometimes in the larger halls (in the post-Roman period.) Both birds and their eggs were eaten in the middles ages. In settlements within reach of the sea, shell fish would have been eaten and it is thought that they were kept fresh, whilst being transported,  by being placed in boxes containing water.

Inland, fish would be caught in rivers. Oyster shells have been found at numerous Roman sites. It has been suggested that live oysters were transported in tanks of water (Frere, 1987.) Excavations of villas, towns and forts reveals shells of oysters, whelks, cockles, mussels and limpets. Oyster shells were found at the excavations in Bath Lane in Leicester – which is not exactly close to the sea. Fish ponds were constructed where fish could be kept. These could be expensive to maintain. Eels were the most common fresh water fish that was consumed, although other wild fish could also be caught in rivers and lakes. Some smoked or salted fish, from seaside areas, and some shellfish, were sold in inland towns that had good connections to the coast. In Leicester, shellfish remains have been found that originated in the coasts of Essex.

Pots and utensils

From the bronze age right through to the middle ages, most cooking was done in pots made from clay. These were made in specific parts of the country and then distributed by traders. Pottery fragments, found in archaeological digs, help to date the layer being excavated. Most cooking was done over an open fire. Roasting large amounts of meat on a spit was found only in the kitchens of rich people. In towns, houses did not have kitchens; those that had fireplaces would have had some method of heating pots, placed near to the fire. People in towns would obtain food from a market; there was little or no land in the town or city for them to grow their own produce. People whose houses had no cooking facilities were dependent on buying hot food from specialist shops. In larger Roman towns, many of the poorer people lived in apartment blocks in which there were no kitchens. They had to get their food from shops and street vendors – they were dependent on takeaways. In some of the wealthier houses bronze cooking pots would have been used. The cauldron was used as a cooking put since the Iron age. A group of iron cauldrons was found in the UK in 2004. They could have been used for boiling meat or for heating beer or mead to drink at feasts. They were in use from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age (1200 BC – 600 BC). Glazed earthenware was common for items such as jugs and jars. Vessels made of leather, waterproofed with pitch or beeswax were also used and a few examples have survived.

Spices, Herbs and Sauces

Roman cooking used Garum – a kind of fermented fish sauce that might have been imported from mainland Europe. Spices were brought over from Europe – such as pepper, cinnamon and dried ginger. The invading Romans were not all from Italy. Only the upper echelons of the army, high status civilians and high ranking offices would have come from Rome itself or from other parts of Italy. The Roman armies included people from France, Spain, North Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the Roman Empire. The people of Roman Britain were a cosmopolitan lot. Like people today, these people would have yearned for the kind of food they were used to in their homelands. During the period of Roman occupation of Britain trade in spices developed.  In barracks, soldiers cooked for themselves. This created a demand for spices and herbs and in some of the military bases the local people were allowed to come in and sell food and produce.

Foods that we eat today and when they came on to our tables

Almonds (Grown by the Romans and imported into England by them.)

Apples (The Romans introduced new, sweeter varieties into Britain)

Asparagus (Native to the Eastern Mediterranean, cultivated by the Romans, it did not become popular in Europe until the 16th century.)

Blackberries (Gathered from wild bushes since pre-historic times. Since ancient times they were used as a medicine)

Broad beans (flava) (Known to the Greeks and eaten in Europe since ancient times)

Cabbage (Grown by the Romans)

Celery (Used by the Romans but not used widely in Britain until the 16th century.)

Cherries (Introduced into Britain by the Romans.)

Chickpeas (Eaten by the Romans and by people throughout Europe)

Grapes (Used by the Romans to make wine which was imported into England from European vineyards, in large quantities, in Amphorae)

Hazelnuts (Wild nuts were gathered from Neolithic times, although they were native to Asia, they seemed to have spread across northern Europe)

Herbs  (Plenty of wild plants grew in Britain and the Romans introduced some of their own that were not native species before they arrived)

Honey (Honey from wild hives would have been gathered in pre-historic times. In the middle ages monasteries had bee hives)

Leeks (Grown by the Romans who introduced them to England)

Lemons (Found in England from around 1494, they became popular in Europe and were used by the Romans)

Lentils (Eaten by the Romans)

Lettuce (Known since ancient times, it was eaten by the Romans)

Leeks (Eaten by the Romans)

Olives (Native to the Mediterranean, they were imported into England by the Romans and Olive oil would also have been imported in Amphorae)

Pears (Native to Europe, they were grown in the middles ages. Eaten by the Romans)

Plums (Grew wild in Europe and later cultivated by the Romans)

Raspberries (Cultivated by the Romans and grown in England from the middle ages)

Strawberries (A wild plant in Europe, used in Roman times as a medicine) Sugar (The Romans used sugar as a medicine)

Walnuts (First grown in Persia, they were cultivated by the Romans and spread throughout Europe, including Britain)


“A taste of history – 10,000 years of food in Britain” by Black.

“Overseas Trade” by H. S. Cobb

“English Trade” by L.F.Salzman “Agriculture and Prices, Vol 4. 1401-1582” by Thorold Rogers

“Eight recipes from Around the Roman Table – Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome” by Patrick Faas.

“Food and Cooking in Roman Britain: History and Recipes”, by Jane Renfrew, English Heritage, 1985

“Britannia – a history of Roman Britain (third edition), by Sheppard Frere, Routledge, 1987.

“What the Romans did for us”, by Philip Wilkinson, Boxtree, 2000.

See also:

History of Leicester Part 1 – The Romans in Leicester

Leicester Castle

Aethelflaed – queen of the Mercians

Find out more about the Story of Leicester


Food and cooking in Roman times

22nd October 2014

Food, cooking and farming in Roman occupied Britain

Today we publish our article on food in the time of Roman Britain. This accompanies the main article on the history of Leicester (part 2) on the Romans in Leicester.

Knowing what people ate, how they cooked and how they distributed food is important to our understanding of people in the past. Food in Roman Britain is an interesting topic because it saw substantial changes in what people ate and how food was produced.  England always was a good place for growing crops and for farming animals.  The natural landscape was rich in wild animals and native fauna offered many varieties of plants, herbs, fruit and berries. The creation of earthworks, stone monuments (including Stone Henge) and the development of religion and ritual was made possible by the abundance of food.

In the stone age, bronze and iron ages, food was in such plentiful supply that communities could devote labour to building and construction rather than solely to agriculture. A surplus of food is essential if large numbers of people are to be fed when engaging in building work. People had the time to develop rituals to do with the burial of the dead and the worship of their ancestors, as well as studying the stars, which would not have been possible if everyone spent all day engaged in subsistence farming.

The Roman empire saw Britain as a wild and untamed country but one that was rich in natural resources and that enjoyed a plentiful supply of food. Many Romans saw Britain as being the edge of the known world and myths surrounded it. This did not stop them from invading England and desiring it as part of their growing empire in the first and second centuries, AD.

We can work out what people in the early town of Leicester (then called Ratae) would have eaten from the evidence of food being supplied and consumed in the country as a whole. When 40,000 Roman soldiers landed here in 43 AD they would have brought food supplies with them. As they conquered the regions of England, they gradually organised their own systems of food supply.  They began to import food and wine from mainland Europe and, as they developed their own farms (or colonised those already established by the native communities),  they introduced new plants and animals to supply the tables of the occupying armies and the growing population of European civilians.

A lot of evidence from archaeology gives us a fairly detailed picture of what people ate, how food was produced and supplied and how food distribution was organised, over four centuries of Roman domination of Britain. This area of study gives us a lot of valuable insights into the way of life of both the aristocracy and of the common people in both military and civilian settings.

See also:

The history of Leicester part 2 – The Romans in Leicester

Food and cooking in Roman times

University of Leicester Exotic Food in Roman Leicester (requires PDF reader.)


20th October 2014

History of Leicester Part 2

The Romans in Leicester

By Trevor Locke


It was after the Iron Age and the era of Roman settlement that we saw the earliest formation of Leicester as a place of continuous human settlement. Many experts believe that there was already a community in place, on the banks of the river Soar, by the time the first Roman legions arrived.
Roman contact with the early people living in the British Isles goes back long before the invasion of 43 AD. It was during the second century BC that Roman traders crossed the channel and began to trade with the people living in, what we now call, England. They traded commodities such as metals and grain, wine, jewellery and possibly weapons. Much of this would have been transported by boats using coastal routes and rivers that lead to major settlements. Before the Romans there were no made-up roads, only tracks that were rough and followed the routes made by herds of wild animals. Travel by water was often the easiest and quickest way to get around. The Romans cut canals and drainage ditches such as Fosse and Raw Dykes.) One of the oldest trackways known to exist in pre-historic Britain was The Ridge Way, which ran which ran from Wiltshire to the River Thames. About 87 miles in length, it is thought to have been used for some five thousands years. It had a series of Hill Forts, used to defend it. It was a trail that was not made up in any way or maintained. It often followed a route along high ground, on the ridges of hills. Similarly the Icknield Way, ran for about 100 miles from Buckinghamshire to Norfolk (in today’s language – such areas did not exist in pre-history.) The Sweet track in the Glastonbury fens, Somerset, is believed to be the oldest purpose built road in the world and has been dated to the 3800s BC. The Fosse Way was constructed by The Romans in the first century and it possible that they followed the routes of pre-historic trackways. The most important prehistoric route through the territory of the Coritani was the Jurassic Way.
People were mainly organised into tribes and the Romans would have visited them to negotiate diplomatic agreements well as to trade. There is evidence that the Romans visited Britain and had relationships with the Iron age tribes here, particularly in the south of the country. Even before the Romans came here, England was known for its rich farmland and agricultural produce – which might well have been one of the reasons why the Roman Empire wanted to overrun and rule it. Various areas of England also provided metal ores such as tin and iron. The East Midlands provided a good deal of minerals, including lead from Derbyshire and Iron, which had been mined before the Roman invasion particularly in Lincolnshire, Rutland  and adjacent parts of Leicestershire (Todd 1973). Iron production was a significant part of Roman industry in the East Midlands. A large number of sites have been discovered in the area. This included all stages of production, from ore extraction through to the making of iron implements [3]. The evidence shows the existence of mining, smelting and smithing. In fact the East Midlands was the third most important area for iron production in Britain. Much of the iron deposits occurred on the Jurassic Ridge (the Jurassic Limestone belt across the east Midlands.) Evidence of bronze and iron age metal working has been discovered at Beacon Hill. Metal working moulds were found at Breedon on the Hill and Ketton.
The quarrying of stone was another aspect of Roman industry, given the large amount of building construction that went on. The quarrying and working of stone flourished in the second century. Various types of stone found in Leicestershire provided building stones and even coffins in many parts of Britain. The Romans made good use of the limestone of the Jurassic Ridge and the volcanic rocks found in Charnwood. They quarried Granite at Enderby, Groby, Mount Sorrell and Markfield to provide stones for the buildings (Baths, Forum and walls) in Leicester. They also used slate from Swithland. Stone was also used by Cortianian craftsmen to fashion statues and carvings, probably at workshops in Leicester and Lincoln  (Todd, 1973). It is likely that stone would have been transported by water rather than by road ways, as far as possible.

Leicester before the Romans arrived.

Leicester was already settled in the Iron age. There were iron age hill forts at Beacon Hill, Burrough Hill, Breedon on the Hill and Ratby (Clay, 1988). Archaeological finds show that people were living on the banks of the Soar early in the first century AD. Todd (1973) argues that pre-Roman Ratae may presumably have been an extensive and disarticulated scatter of huts. Even so, it was an important centre within the territory of the Coritani.  The Settlement at Leicester probably evolved from a small site originating about 50 BC, which over the next hundred years, grew to an area of about forty acres along the eastern side of the River Soar (Clay, 1988). Other archaeological sites give us a clue as what the area was like around Ratae, prior to the Roman invasion.
In the year 2000, an open air ritual site was discovered in Hallaton in East Leicestershire. It was one of the most important discoveries in recent years from the Iron Age and Early Roman Britain. Over 5,000 Iron age and Roman coins were found on the site. Most were made locally and issued in about 20 to 50 AD. These coins were probably made by members of the Corieltavi tribe. The Hallaton Hoard included one of the oldest Roman coins to be found in Britain. It was dated to around 211 BC – long before the Roman invasion. The coin is thought to have been minted in Rome.
In 2014, a hoard of Roman and late Iron Age coins was found in Dovedale, in the Peak District, discovered in a cave where they had lain there for over two thousand years.  According to the BBC report, ‘Archaeologists discovered 26 coins, including three Roman coins which pre-date the invasion of Britain in AD43, and 20 other gold and silver pieces which are Late Iron Age and thought to belong to the Corieltavi tribe.’ In 2012 ten gold coins were discovered on farmland in Peatling Magna, near Market Harborough. They are thought to have been made in Europe between 60 and 50 BC. This suggests that there was contact between people in this area and those on the continent of Europe. When the Roman army arrived in Leicester, local people would already have been trading with people in Europe. People in Leicester were producing coins in the late Iron age; these were Corieltauvian coins (Clay, 1988).
The discovery of Roman coins in Leicester and Leicestershire, which pre-dates the invasion of AD 43, suggests that the area was important as a centre of trade between the British Isles and Europe. Local people would have been familiar with the Romans before the conquest of the country during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. Prior to the Roman invasion, Leicester had become one of the most important settlements in the Midlands.
Britain enjoyed diplomatic and trading links with the Romans in the century since Julius Caesar’s expeditions in 55 and 54 BC, and Roman economic and cultural influence was a significant part of the British late pre-Roman Iron Age [2].
Late Iron age life revolved around farming. The area around Leicester would have been divided into fields, for growing crops or providing pasture for animals. At this time we know that two types of wheat were grown: Emmer and Spelt. These varieties generated high yields from Iron age farming methods, so much so that some of it was exported to Europe. Iron age farmers had domesticated cattle, pigs and sheep. Leicester was also located near to woodlands that provided timber for building and branches for fuel. Clay maintains that up to 200 trees would have been needed for the construction of a single Iron age roundhouse. The most common type of building that would have been found in pre-Roman Leicester was the circular roundhouse, constructed from wood, with walls made of wattle and daub and a roof made of thatch (Clay, 1988). Apart from these dwelling houses, people also built structures to house their animals, barns for storage and sometimes separate cooking areas.

The origins of Roman Leicester.

Prior to the Roman Invasion of AD 43, the settlement on the banks of the Soar seems to have become an important centre for the Coritani tribe (Corieltavi or Corieltavauri).  They would have had trading connections with south east Britain and beyond, perhaps extending into other parts of Europe.

Excavations have revealed pottery from France, Italy and southern Spain in Iron age tribal settlements. The Coritani ranged across what is now Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and parts of South Yorkshire. They were a collection of like-minded people who shared the same outlook and social practices. Ratae was the capital  town (civitas) of the tribe; the Romans called it Ratae Coritanorum (in effect what we would today call the local authority.)  The name Ratae is though to be Celtic in origin. Excavations at the Jewry Wall site found pottery and some bronze objects from the Iron age and which are believed to have associated with the Coritani tribe, although this is far from certain (Todd, 1973). Discoveries of late Iron age pottery in Leicester indicates a considerable time-spread of occupation (Whitwell, 1982). There is archaeological evidence that the Roman town of Ratae was built on a site that had Iron age origins and which might well have been a regional centre for the Coritani tribe. The finds date from the first century. Todd refers to ‘Iron Age C’  pottery and to coins dating from this period. The picture that emerges is that there was a tribal settlement on the Soar in the late Iron age and that the Coritani was the principal people who administered the region surrounding the site of present-day Leicester. Todd (1973) argues that the boundaries of the Coritani tribe were not clearly defined.
Prior to the occupation of the Romans, there was little or no written accounts of the Coritani, other than inscriptions on coins and the evidence offered by other artefacts. The writer Claudius Ptolemy (circa AD 90 to circa 168) referred to them in his Geographia. In this he compiled all that was known about the world at the time of the Roman Empire. His work was often based on sources derived from earlier writers. He mentions the Coritani and believed them to be based at Lindon (Lincoln) and Rhage (Ratae.) A Roman source – the Antonine Itinerary –  contains reference to the region occupied by the Coritani and refers to Ratae as the tribal capital.

The Roman Invasion

Four legions of the Roman army probably landed in Kent in 43 AD (some people believe, or we might say the south coast if we do not want to be so specific.) Within a matter of weeks they had seized the important capital of Camulodunum (the place where Colchester now stands) and the legions founded their base there, in the 40s,  on the site of the Celtic stronghold.  During the year they rapidly overran the southern areas and the tribes put up little resistance. Legion XIV came from Colchester along the new roads arriving at the Fosse Way near to Ratae [1]. The Roman army reached the area of the Coritani in the years immediately after 43 AD (Liddle, 1982).

Todd (1973) argues that  the Coritani do not figure in the surviving Roman accounts of the occupation of Britain between AD 43 and about AD 70 (based on studies between 1965 and 1970.)  There is no evidence of how they reacted to the Roman invaders. Within one or two years of the invasion, most of the territory of the Coritani was under Roman rule. The Romans set up a network of forts based on the routes of Ermine Street and the Fosse Way. The eastern part of England was occupied by the ninth legion (Legio IX Hispana) together with their auxiliary troops. In the early phase of their campaign they established marching camps. The Legio IX Hispana was sent north towards Lincoln (Latin: Lindum Colonia) and within four years of the invasion it is likely that an area south of a line from the Humber to the Severn estuary was under Roman control. Legio XIV might have been joined by IX and the two legions might have worked together on the conquest of the Coritani (Whitwell 1982).

That this line is followed by the Roman road of the Fosse Way has led many historians to debate the route’s role as a convenient frontier during the early occupation. It is more likely that the border between Roman and Iron Age Britain was less direct and more mutable during this period however. [4] Forts were constructed to house troops during the winter or as temporary bases. These were often positioned at river crossings or road junctions and the general pattern that we see from where they are positioned suggests that one was constructed on the banks of the Soar where the road crossed the river from west to east. A forty foot ditch was found on land adjacent to the Soar, in which first century Samian pottery was found (Whitwell, 1982). At least two ditches of probably military origin have been found. A V-shaped ditch, steeper on the north face than the south, was discovered; pottery from the filling suggested that it was disused after about 65 AD. Metalwork from the town suggests both legionaries and auxiliaries were present (Liddle, 1982). There may be credible evidence that the Roman forts were sited away from the main part of the Coritani settlement.
Some kind of post, possibly a fort was established, at Ratae,  by Legion XIV (they were withdrawn in 66 or 67 but sent back in about 69). A second fort was constructed between 55 and 65 AD. The army was camped here during the Claudio-Neronian period and quite possible constructed a fort not long after their arrival. The Romans were aware of the tactical importance of Leicester. It was situated in the heart of the country where roads converged, and with an important river flowing through it. It is believed by archaeologists that a Roman military base (or fort) was established on the eastern bank of the Soar, just below the native Iron Age settlement, and became the new home of the conquering Legion XIV. The fort housed about 500 men and was surrounded by a ditch and earthen rampart. It was built to guard the intersection of two of Britain’s greatest Roman roads – Fosse Way and Gartree Road – at the river crossing. With the arrival of the Roman army, came money. Traders and other settlers gathered near the fort. A minor civilian settlement such as this was called a vicus. [1]
It seems likely that the Roman army conquered much of southern Britain and the Midlands within about 20 years. Major campaigns continued until around 83 AD, including responding to the revolt lead by Boudicca in 60 – 61.  The invasion of 43 was under the emperor Claudius who reigned from 41 – 54. The Romans’ main interest in the British Isles would have been, arguably, metals and grain. The Roman armies were under the rule of Governors.  Aulus Plautius was the first governor of Britannia from 43 to 47. Scapula disarmed the Britons in 47. Aulus Didius Gallus was governor from 52 to 57 and Quintus Veranius from 57 to his death in 58.
The military garrison is unlikely to have remained at Leicester for long after 70 AD, argued Todd (1873) and at around this time the civitas Coritanorum would have become an independent administrative unit.  The date at which the Roman armies left Rate is unclear; Whitwell (1982) believes that evidence from the excavation of forts suggests it would have been around 80 AD. Although the legions left, a civil administration was left in place. The civitas was somewhat similar to our present-day county council. The whole country was divided into civitates. Later the word civitas became synonymous with the word city.

Ratae as an important town

According to one source

Leicester was unaffected by the Boudicca uprising however, and between AD 71 and AD 85, the province more than doubled in size. But in AD 83, the Roman occupation began to evolve. The Roman army in Britain was considerably weakened by a sudden recall of men to the continent. By AD 92, Britain had lost its major Roman legions. The Leicester forts were evacuated and the town was no longer a military stronghold. But it remained under Roman rule. As the soldiers departed, the forts were dismantled and land handed over to civilian use. The vicus (the civilian settlement outside the walls of the fort)  of Leicester was granted the power of local legislation and became a civitas capital of Britain. That meant it was an administrative centre of a tribal territory – in effect, the capital of the East Midlands. [1]

If this account is credible it would suggest, I would argue, that there was little resistance to the Romans by the Coritani; in fact the development of Leicester as an important civic centre of government suggests that the people who were there when the Romans arrived decided to get on with them rather than fight them. It is possible that these members of the Coritani had already traded with the Romans. In other parts of Britain there was struggle against Roman rule and that would have taken many of the soldiers away from Ratae.

The Roman settlement at Leicester.

The very name Ratae Corieltauvorum gives us a clue to how people responded to Roman occupation.  Ratae means ‘ramparts’ and harks back to the Iron age fort that probably stood on the northern banks of the Soar. Corieltauvorum refers to the Coritani tribe for whom the settlement was their civitas or centre for government. A similar situation could be found in Colchester where an iron age fort became the base for the Roman army.

Todd (1973) argues that the withdrawal of military garrisons from the tribal territory in the last first century implies that government of the region was now formally handed over to tribal authority of the municipal civitas.  In the last years of the first century, Leicester (or Ratae) became the hub or the tribal organisation, its principal meeting place and where its records were kept.  The more wealthy and influential members of the Coritani lived there. Later in the Roman period, the town appears to have been granted the status of a municipia. This indicates that the inhabitants had become thoroughly Romanised and some of its residents would have become Roman citizens.
The Roman settlement is thought to have been a rectangular area, surrounded with perimeter fortifications, in which there were four gates. There is doubt about whether the river side of the enclosure was walled, like the rest. Because the river itself offered a natural barrier, it is thought that the walls on this side were not as extensive as the rest. The surrounding walls began to be demolished in the fifteenth century as suburbs grew up.
The Fosse Way was an important Roman Road linking the fortresses of Exeter and Lincoln. This passed near to Ratae Corieltauvorum. Following the Roman invasion, the Fosse Way marked the western frontier of the Roman territory. The current A46 follows the path of the Fosse Way between Lincoln and Leicester. Nearing the city, it’s route is now marked by Melton Road and Belgrave Road. It would have terminated roughly at the position of Clock Tower and continued along the line of the present Narborough Road.

As the invading legions pushed northwards, it is thought they would have crossed the Soar near to the present West Bridge. This is likely because that was the point at which prehistoric routes would have crossed over the river, at a point which would have offered a suitable crossing, based on the shallowness of the water and the lie of its banks.
Early in the second century, the town was built up using a grid pattern. The streets defining the insula appear to have been laid out at the end of the first century (Whitwell, 1982). The square blocks resulting from the grid pattern were known as insulae.   It was around 130 to 140 AD that the forum was constructed (Whitwell, 1982). The basilica and baths were constructed between 150 and 160 (around 145 according to Liddle), the ruins of which can now been seen at the ‘Jewry Wall’ site.  Substantial town houses were also built, having central heating, floors of fine mosaics and painted walls.  There was also a temple dedicated to the god Mithras (there were other temples.)

This signifies that Ratae was an important seat of government and continued to be so right into the fourth century by which time many of the local inhabitants had become Romanised. It is likely that the civitas Coritanorum was recognised by the late first century with Ratae as its administrative capital (Whitwell, 1982). A Forum was constructed, from around 120,  immediately east of the public baths. The Forum had a central courtyard surrounded by rooms and on the northern side there was a Basilica. There were shops and a great Hall. The whole structure might have been completed by 130 to 140 (Todd, 1973.) There was a commercial area known as the marcellum (built in around 180 AD) which would have been a feature of many Roman towns of this time. It is thought likely that the market accommodated a variety of markets and trades with goods being traded from many parts of Europe. In Vine Street there were villas that had central heating system called hypocausts. One fine villa started life as a row of houses that fronted on to the junction of two streets.  These were then linked together and extended and had corridors that surrounded a central court yard.
The surviving remains (still above ground) is known as the Jewry Wall  part of the baths complex constructed by the Romans.  The complex includes a large basilica an exercise hall and the bath houses. The remains that can be seen today were the dividing wall between these two. It contains two entrances between the baths and the exercise hall.  There was rooms for cold bathing and possibly containing plunge pools. There were warmer rooms and rooms for hot bathing.  Much of what we know about the plan of the structure is derived from similar sites, many of which have been excavated in other parts of the country, particular at Bath. The site was extensively robbed of its stone, some of which was used to build the nearby church of St. Nicholas and some taken by incoming Saxons for the construction of their buildings.
After the end of Roman occupation, as the great Roman buildings fell into ruin, their stone was used to build new structures, such as the church of St. Nicholas. The regular pattern of the Roman streets began to be overlaid by the buildings of later centuries as ground level rose several feet above what would have the level of the original Roman town. I recently looked at research into the Roman settlement of Ratae on the banks of the river Soar. The researchers drew a cross section showing how the level of occupation in Roman times was very substantially lower than the current surface. The Roman surface was several metres below the current day surface. This begins to explain why archaeologists have to dig down to find earlier remains of settlements. In their report the researchers put forward a number of reasons why the level has increased. They postulated that generations of building was one of the factors why deposition raised the level.  Many other factors can be guessed. Whilst the course of the river has not changed that much in 2000 years (at this particular location) its contours have. The flow of the river changed a lot over that time. Flooding might also have deposited some layers, although Ratae was sited on a ridge over looking the river, so alluvial deposits cannot be a major factor. Deposition of waste and rubbish over centuries of occupation might well have contribution to the changes we see in surface level.

The decline of the Roman period.

Roman influence began to decline in the late fourth and fifth centuries. Alterations were made to the defences of Roman towns, including the construction of towers and ditches. This was probably in response to increasing raids by tribes from Europe.

Defended towns were more able to withstand attack but the open settlements were far more vulnerable and many of them declined. The production of pottery continued even after 400, as did metal working, which had become well established during the Romano-British period. There was a large cemetery at Thurmaston with graves dating from the middle of the fifth century. The positioning of Anglo-Saxon burials close to those of Romans is evidence for foederati. (Whitwell, 1982).  Foederati were nations or tribes that provided Rome with military service in exchange for various benefits.
These were cremation burials, indicating Anglo-Saxon influences. The Saxon-type burials might have been those of the soldiers that were brought to the country as part of the army in the last fourth century. These people came from communities in Europe that had been federated to the Empire. The Roman villas began to be disused after the 4th c. Anglo-Saxon pottery has been found at some villa sites but this might indicate that the buildings were used only temporarily and were not maintained once their Roman occupants had left. The incoming Anglo-Saxons took over the farms but built their own residences on new sites rather than using the villas left behind by the Romans. It is likely that the land that used to belong to the villas continued to be farmed. Despite increasing archaeological evidence of early Anglo-Saxon farming, the relationship between the old Roman farms and those of the incoming Saxons is far from clear.

Leicester as a microcosm of England.

Many historians have viewed Leicester as being a microcosm of England – throughout its history. There is much about the place that reflects and echoes what was happening in the rest of the country. Leicester is in the centre of England and in its way of life, it activities and people, it is typical of middle England. The things that happened in the rest of England also happened in Leicester. The history of Leicester reflects and contains pretty much everything that happened in the rest of the country. This is a justification (if any were needed) for the study of Leicester’s past. Of course the same could be said for many other long-established English towns but Leicester’s position in the centre of the country and its two thousands years of human habitation make it a mirror of English life.
Next:  Coming up – Leicester and the Anglo-Saxons.


[1] The website
[2] Wikipedia.
[3] Roman iron production in Britain:: technological and socio-economic landscape development along the Jurassic Ridge, British Archaeological Reports,  380, 2004.

Clay, Patrick, 1985, Excavations in Bath Lane, Leicester, Leicestershire Museums, Arts Galleries and Records Service, Archaeological reports series No.10.
Clay, Patrick, 1988, Leicester Before The Romans, Leicestershire Museums Service.
Clay, Patrick, 2002, The Prehistory of the East Midlands Claylands – aspects of settlement and land-use from the Mesolithic to the Iron age in central England, University of Leicester.
Frere, Sheppard, 1978, Britainnia -a history of Roman Britain (third edition, extensively revised), Routledge & Kegan Paul
Henig, Martin, 1995, The Art of Roman Britain, BT Batsford Ltd
Jarvis, Paul 1986 `The early pits of the Jewry Wall site, Leicester’, Trans Leicestershire Archaeol Hist Soc 60, 1986 7-15
Liddle, Peter, 1982, Leicestershire Archaeology – the present state of knowledge, Volume 1 To the end of the Roman period, Archaeological Reports Series Number 4, Leicestershire Museums, Art Galleries and Records Service
Todd, Malcolm, 1973, The Coritani, Duckworth.
Whitwell, J B, 1982, The Coritani – some aspects of the Iron age tribe and the Roman Civitas, BAR99
Wilkinson, Philip, 2000, What the Roman did for us, Boxtree

Watch documentaries about the Roman invasion of 43 AD On Youtube

See also:

The History of Leicester, Part 1

Leicester Castle

Queen Aethelaed

Heritage news

Find out more about the Story of Leicester



1st October 2014

Three council schemes on awards shortlist

THREE major schemes recently completed by Leicester City Council have won a place on the shortlist of a prestigious architectural awards scheme.

The food hall at Leicester Market, the King Richard III Visitor Centre and Dock – which provides workspace for hi-tech start-up businesses – have all been shortlisted in the ProCon Leicestershire 2014 Awards.

The bright and airy new space for meat, fish and fresh produce at Leicester Market – designed by Greig & Stephenson and constructed by Kier for Leicester City Council – is one of three projects to be shortlisted in the ‘regeneration project of the year’ category of the ProCon Leicestershire 2014 Awards.  Replacing the 1970s indoor market hall that was no longer fit for purpose, the contemporary glass, steel and timber building opened to the public in May.  Since then, traders have reported significant increases in both footfall and takings – and the council has noted new interest from potential investors in the areas around the market.  “We all know that Leicester Market is one of the city’s treasures,” said City Mayor Peter Soulsby.  “But this new food hall and the other planned improvements we’re making will help it realise its huge potential – attracting both shoppers and visitors to the market, while encouraging the regeneration of the shops and buildings in the conservation area that surrounds it.  “I’m very proud that the building has been shortlisted for this award because it acknowledges the contribution the food hall will make to the regeneration of this key location.”

Shortlisted in the ‘large non-residential scheme of the year’ category are both the King Richard III Visitor Centre and Dock.

Commissioned by the city council, designed by Maber Architects and constructed by Morgan Sindall plc, the new visitor centre has already welcomed more than 15,000 visitors since opening to the public in July.  The former grammar school has been fully renovated, with a new build sensitively incorporating the archaeology of the medieval friary and the grave where the King’s remains were discovered.  Locally-sourced materials have been used throughout the scheme, creating a high quality environment for visitors and an appropriate setting for Richard’s story.

At Pioneer Park in Leicester, Dock provides a range of workspaces for science and technology businesses, as well as communal spaces to promote collaboration.  Designed by Maber Architects and constructed by Willmott Dixon Construction, the building includes an innovative zinc cladding to represent a hi-tech future.  Since opening in November 2013, DOCK has already met its two-year target, achieving an occupation rate of 60% – 24 resident businesses – in just 11 months.  The building has also been shortlisted in the ‘sustainable development of the year’ category.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “The King Richard lll Visitor Centre and Dock are very different buildings, but both are excellent examples of stunning design, appropriate to their surroundings, that also meet the needs of their users, and both deserve their place on this shortlist”.

The Leicestershire ProCon Awards take place each year to recognise architectural excellence within Leicester and Leicestershire.

The winners of all the categories will be announced at an awards ceremony at the King Power stadium on 13 November.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

See also:

Our news item on the opening of the Food Hall

Our news item on the opening of the Richard III visitor centre

Heritage news

News about Leicester’s heritage

Page last edited:  30th July 2014

26th June 2014

Help to tell city’s ‘Story of Parks’

PEOPLE are being asked for their views and ideas for events and activities to help tell Leicester’s ‘Story of Parks’.

The six-week public consultation, which launches today (Monday, Jun 23), is part of an ambitious project to tell the story of Victoria Park and its historic gates, as well as other capture the history of other city parks.

The project is being supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The consultation will ask people about the activities they would like to see or get involved with. The best and most popular ideas will be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) as part of a project plan for final funding approval.

If successful, the council will receive HLF funding to help deliver an 18-month long programme of activities based around the history of Leicester’s parks. This would begin in the summer of 2015.

A consultation roadshow will be traveling around community centres, libraries and other city council venues. Its first stop will be at Leicester Central Library until Saturday, 28 June.

Assistant City Mayor, Cllr Piara Singh Clair, said: “Parks play a very special part in the lives of people who grow up in our cities and everyone has a story to tell.

“We are delighted the Heritage Lottery Fund have awarded first stage approval for our ‘Story of Parks’ project and agreed to fund our initial research and consultation.

“It is important that we capture the ideas of people who use our parks, or have perhaps have memories passed on from previous generations who have grown up around them.”

In total, the city council receive around £300,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This will also pay for the repair and refurbishment of the ornate Edwin Lutyens-designed gates at the entrance to Peace Walk and the park lodges on Victoria Park.

The gates were a commemorative gift to the city by Sir Jonathan North, who was mayor of Leicester during the First World War.

The Leicester park heritage consultation can be completed online at

[Source: Leicester City Council]

See also:

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Home page for the news section

History of Leicester part 1

20th June 2014

Part 1 of our series of articles on the history of Leicester

The History of Leicester

2000 years of continuous habitation

Leicester’s pre-history

By Trevor Locke

The relationship between people and the buildings they occupy has always been a fascinating topic of research and debate. From the time when men ‘lived in caves’, to the times when they built their homes from mud and dung through to today’s gleaming spires of steel and glass, buildings have shaped the lives of the people who lived and worked in them.

Humans have lived and died in Leicestershire for many thousands of years. More and more evidence is coming to light about the pre-history of our local area. Humans have left traces of their existence in the area we now call Leicestershire, since they first arrived in the area, probably after the end of the last ice age.

Before and after the Ice Ages

Evidence of man’s presence in our country can be dated back to before the Anglian ice age, around 500,000 years BC. Our knowledge of pre-historic Britain has developed considerably in recent years with new finds from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods being unearthed.

Hundreds of artefacts have been gathered from sites around Leicestershire, giving us some insights into the life of people before they began to construct buildings, when they were primarily hunter-gatherers, living off what the land could provide for them.

The start of houses

After the end of the ice age, around 10,000 to 8,000 BC, humans began to form settlements. It was in the Mesolithic era that permanent dwellings began to be erected.

In the bronze age, people began to build homes, plant crops and tend cattle, sheep and pigs. They built round houses that were constructed from local materials.

One of the first homes to be discovered in the UK was built in the Bronze age, in 4,000 BC. The round house was made of wood and probably had a roof made of thatch or turf. It was discovered in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, at Flag Fen, by the television archaeological programme Time Team (Series 7, Episode 9). It was set in a landscape of fields and track ways. Based on what the dig discovered, a re-construction of the roundhouse was made. It was a significant find; it suggested that people were beginning to form a settled way of live, based on farming. This was around 1,500 BC. They established fields with boundaries and kept animals to provide them with meat. Settling in one place allowed people to spend more time on the creation of artefacts, including jewellery and tools and many of these have been discovered in burials. The dead were buried close to the places where people lived.

The new discoveries at Star Carr in Yorkshire threw new light some of the very earliest evidence of buildings. Hunter-gatherers are believed to have created permanent settlements in which ceremonial and economic activities took place.

As the ice melted, sea levels rose and the low-lying bridge of land that connected ‘Britain’ to the European continent was flood and created the islands we know as the British Isles, around about 6,500 BC (or BCE – before the common era.)

Man was active here at a time when our country was still connected to the mainland of continental Europe. The first humans arrived here about 25,000 years ago. In that time, between ice ages, Britain was connected to Europe by an area called Doggerland. People were able to walk here from Europe, prior to the time when the land became an Island separated by the English Channel.

The very first buildings

The people who lived after the end of the Ice Age were predominantly hunter-gatherers who lived a largely nomadic life-style. People chose the sites for their settlements carefully, based on the needs of the community – for access to water for drinking, washing and fishing – to avoid water (by choosing higher ground that would not get flooded) and where they could grow crops and tend animals.

Being on higher ground they could also command a view of the surrounding land, enabling them to keep an eye out for intruders or groups that might attack their settlements.

New discoveries have overturned the belief that the construction of domestic buildings in Britain did not begin until around the time of the Iron age, 5,000 years ago.  It was common for people to build round houses in this country; in other parts of Iron Age Europe, people lived in rectangular houses [British Museum.]

In fact one structure was discovered in North Yorkshire that dates back to the Stone Age, 8,500 years BC (the Star Carr site.) Archaeologists believe that they might have found one of the first ‘houses’ to have been constructed in the British Isles.

The Star Carr site

Tombs (barrows) were constructed in the Megalithic period; the burial of the dead preceded the wide-scale construction of permanent domestic structures.

Stone Henge, in Wiltshire, is thought to have been constructed about 2400 and 2200 BC. A roundhouse was discovered in Orkney that is thought to have been constructed about 700 BC. There is some evidence that suggests that the earliest prehistoric groups lived a nomadic existence, sheltering in tents made from animal skins. In Neolithic times people began to erect long houses as early as 5,000 to 6,000 BC (on mainland Europe.)

It was during the Bronze age that pottery began to appear. Vessels have been found that were decorated with distinctive groove patterns dating back to 3000 BC. This beaker period goes back to the end of the Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods. The first figurative art appeared in the late Neolithic period.

In the bronze and iron ages, people built their houses from the materials they found around them – trees, straw or reeds or turf for roofing, mud or clay to fill in the holes and cracks.
Apart from houses for people to live in, enclosures were also constructed for animals, such as cows and sheep, and these could have formed an integral part of the early settlements.
When these buildings were abandoned, they rotted back into the earth, leaving only tell-tales signs (such as post-holes) as to how they had been constructed.

There were no sewers; people dug pits into which they put their refuse and broken pots and other unwanted materials.  Archaeologists discovered a lot about the life-styled of Iron and Bronze age people from the rubbish they left behind.

The dead were often buried close to human habitations (indeed, sometimes even inside them.) How people dealt with the dead changed over time, customs changing from burial to cremation but other practices have also been discovered.

It was not until the (much later Roman times) that people began to use stone in construction. Early houses were invariably round; it was the Romans who brought the idea of square or rectangular buildings to this part of the country. There is evidence that some rectangular houses were built before the Romans but it  is the round floor plan that is the most common.

Early houses were built without plans being drawn. There were no architects, quantity surveyors and probably no people who specialised as builders. Knowledge of how to construct buildings was handed down from one generation to another. What materials to use and how to put them together was part of a group’s traditions. People would probably have known how to fell trees, which trees to cut, what materials were available in the woods or from the swamp areas or from river banks.

Tools were relatively primitive; saws and hammers were rare but some kinds of tools must have been used to shape wood or to cut reeds to the desired length. Examples of bronze age axes have been found – the adze was used to work wood and had a bronze head attached to a handle made of wood. Ditches were often dug around the outskirts of houses or settlements and implements must have been used for this.

Tools used by farmers have been found, dating to the iron age. These were used to harvest crops. Axes have been found dating to this period. ‘The main frame of roundhouse would have been made of upright timbers, which were interwoven with coppiced wood – usually hazel, oak, ash or pollarded willow – to make wattle walls. This was then covered with a daub made from clay, soil, straw and animal manure that would weatherproof the house. The roof was constructed from large timbers and densely thatched’ [BBC history.]

Buildings and art

For centuries buildings have reflected the cultural and artistic values of each generation. We see the ornate carvings and elaborate stonework of the Gothic era, the middle ages and the Victorians and marvel at the embellishments that adorn some of our notable public buildings and monuments. How do we recognise and appreciate the message that modern and contemporary buildings gives us? Today’s architects look for beauty in simplicity. Buildings are designed to be machines for living and working. Functionality determines their layout and external appearance. There is no evidence that Bronze or Iron age huts were decorated in any way; the ornamentation of buildings probably did not start until the Romans radically changed the way buildings were constructed.

When we look back at the Leicester of our forebears, much of which we can still see on our streets, we can glimpse the lives they used to lead. Buildings in our city centre suggest a past of wealth and prosperity, economic and commercial success and the desire of the powerful and successful to aggrandize their social status.
Leicester is a place that has seen human habitation since before the Romans arrived and has always been a major point on cross-country routes. There are indications of settlements on the banks of the Soar in the Iron age. If this is correct then Leicester is a place that has seen over two thousand years of continuous human habitation.

As we look through the buildings that stand as milestones in the history of Leicester/shire, we can see them telling us about the history of England. From the Roman invasion, through to the Wars of the Roses, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, The Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the rise of Modernism, these epochs reflect changing attitudes to art and culture as well as being a testament to the political and social currents of their times.

We can tell a lot from the rubbish tips and cess pits of our ancestors. One wonders if future archaeologists will be digging in the land-fill sites of today’s world for clues to the life of everyday people.
The excavation of the past is often about buildings and artefacts – the things that people have left behind them in the earth. A lot is also learned from the burial of the dead; if you want to understand the life of people in the past, grave yards are a good place to start.
If we want to understand the artistry of the past, we have to understand the social context in which artisans worked and in which people consumed and used their products and creations. It is only through painstakingly collating and piecing together a mass of evidence, that we can develop a picture of the earliest inhabitants of the area we now know as Leicester.

Prior to the Iron Age, humans were largely nomadic hunter gatherers. The only evidence we can find are their stone tools, left behind as they moved from place to place, together with indications of how they disposed of their dead.

From around 50 B.C. a settlement developed along the east bank of the Soar and this can be seen as the origin of modern Leicester, argues Malcolm Elliot. The Iron Age and the era of Roman settlement saw the earliest formation of Leicester. In the year 2000, an open-air ritual site was discovered in Hallaton in East Leicestershire.

It was one of the most important discoveries in recent years from the Iron Age and Early Roman Britain. Over 5,000 Iron age and Roman coins were found on the site. Most were made locally and issued in about 20 to 50 AD. These coins were probably made by members of the Corieltavi tribe.

The Romans in Leicester

Prior to the Roman Invasion of A.D. 43, the settlement on the banks of the Soar seems to have become an important centre for the Coritani tribe (Corieltavi or Corieltavauri.) They would have had trading connections with south-east Britain and beyond, perhaps extended into other parts of Europe. Excavations have revealed pottery from France, Italy and southern Spain. The Coritani ranged across what is now Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and parts of South Yorkshire. They were a collection of like-minded people who shared the same outlook and social practices.

Whilst it is likely that they had a settlement on the banks of the Soar, this was not their principal centre. Ratae Coritanorum was the capital town(civitas) of the tribe, lying on the route from London to Lincoln.
The Roman settlement is thought to have been a rectangular area, surrounded with perimeter fortifications in which there were four gates. There is doubt about whether the river side of the enclosure was walled, like the rest. The Romans frequently established their forts on (then) pre-existing Iron age or Bronze age sites. Beneath the remains of Roman forts is it common to find much earlier  archaeology.

The Fosse Way was an important Roman Road linking the fortresses of Exeter and Lincoln. This passed near to Ratae Corieltauvorum. Following the Roman invasion, the Fosse Way marked the western frontier of the Roman area. The current A46 follows the path of the Fosse Way between Lincoln and Leicester. Nearing the city its route is now marked by Melton Road and Belgrave Road. It would have terminated roughly at the position of Clock Tower and continued along the line of the present Narborough Road.

As the invading legions pushed northwards, it is thought they would have crossed the Soar near to the present West Bridge.  Early in the second century, the town was being built up using a grid pattern. It was around 125 to 130 A.D. that the forum, basilica and baths were constructed, the ruins of which can now been seen at the Jewry Wall site. Substantial town houses were also built, having central heating, floors of fine mosaics and painted walls. This signifies that Ratae was an important seat of government and continued to be so right into the fourth century.

As the great Roman buildings fell into ruin, their stone was used to build new structures, such as the church of St. Nicholas. The regular pattern of the Roman streets began to be overlaid by the buildings of later centuries as ground level rose several feet above what would have the level of the original Roman town.

Leicester – 2000 years of diversity

Discovery of pagan burials from Roman times in Leicester
A fascinating documentary on Channel Four TV tonight (1st May 2013) throws new light on Roman life in fourth century Britain. In the series Stories from the Dark Earth, archaeologist Julian Richards looked at the pagans of Roman Britain. What stood out for me was his depiction of Romano-British society as being ethnically and culturally diverse. He looked in particular at two burials: a wealthy man from Roman Winchester and a lavishly appointed grave of a woman in the heart of London. The Winchester man had received a pagan burial. He was someone who had been born and bred locally. The wealthy woman found in London, however, had come to this country from Rome itself. Artefacts found in the grave site suggest that she might have been a follower of the cult of Bacchus.
In his narrative to the programme, Richards suggests that those who inhabited major Roman towns, such as Venta Belgarum (Winchester) and Londinium (London), were not just a mixture of indigenous peoples and Romans from Italy, but a much more ethnically diverse community of people who had arrived in this country from a very wide range of European origins and, in all likely, from other parts of the Roman Empire including the Middle East and North Africa.
By the time of the decline of the Roman Empire in Britain, from the fourth century onwards, many indigenous inhabitants had become Romanised, so that their way of life, religious beliefs and culture characterised them as Roman.

If this was the case in towns like Winchester and London, then we might surmise that this would also have been the case in Leicester. There is evidence that suggests that larger Roman towns and settlements were cosmopolitan places in which we would have found people from all over the empire.

The presence of people from North Africa in British Towns is well documented. Dr Simon James has commented: Before Roman times ‘Britain’ was just a geographical entity, and had no political meaning, and no single cultural identity. [The Peoples of Britain]
Arguably this remained generally true until the 17th century, when James I of England and VI of Scotland sought to establish a pan-British monarchy.

The British Isles have always been the home to people who have moved here from other parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle and Far East, ever since the time when the first settlers walked into our land when it was still joined to the European landmass, prior to the formation of the English Channel.

From the decline of the Roman empire to the Norman invasion of 1066, the area was dominated by the Anglo-Saxons, people descended from the Germanic tribes of Europe.  Evidence from the archaeology of the rest of the UK suggests that the Roman army was made up of people from many areas of Europe, North Africa and Middle and Far Eastern places, such as Syria and parts of what is now Turkey.

Walking around what we now call Leicester (back in the times of the Romans), you would have seen a variety of faces: white, brown and black skins and witnessed an astonishing melting pot of ethnic and cultural mixes.

The Dark Ages

After the Romans had gone, The Saxons came. 1,400 years ago the country was invaded by people from the area of Europe now called Germany. This period is sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages. So little is known about this period that it appears to be a dark hole in the history of the British Isles. The archaeology is so frustratingly difficult that you might as well call it The Dark Stainages; The Saxons left so little behind, that much of the evidence comes from stains in the earth. Painstakingly scraping through layers of soil, dark patches appear where post holes were made, or red patches where fires once burned. There was however, pottery. One of the most important excavations took place in Leicestershire in 2008 when Time Team came to Knave Hill and Tony Robinson lead the team in digging up part of a hill South West of Leicester.

People walking in the fields found pieces of pottery and noted down exactly where they had been found. This gave the diggers a clue to where they should put in their trenches – where there was the highest concentration of pottery finds.

This is what modern archaeology is all about – taking a systematic approach and using well established techniques; It’s not about luck, it’s about methods. Digs are frequently about finding tell-tale traces in the soil – pits and ditches – that tell us that there was human settlement there once and if we are lucky we find pottery shards in them to give us dating evidence.

At Knave Hill there was excitement when archaeologist Matt Williams found several large pieces of pottery from the late Iron age – the period before the Romans arrived. Both the Romans and the Saxons often settled on sites previously occupied in earlier times, from the Bronze Age through to the late Iron Age.

Most Saxon buildings were built from timber, they had wooden walls and the roof consisted of thatch. All that rots away after the buildings have been abandoned, leaving only faint traces from which the type and extent of the buildings can be analysed, using a great deal of evidence gathered from many sites across the country.

Humans settled in certain places according to the nature of the local countryside. These people began to mingle with the people who were already here – the Celts. The very earliest people to colonise our land – after the end of the last ice age – were people who wandered across from the European continent at a time before the British Isles were separated by what is now the Channel. Between around 45 AD and 412 AD, there were the Romans. It was not surprising therefore that evidence of Roman occupation was found on the same site. The Romans often took over Iron Age settlements and the finds helped to prove this.

Working with the Time Team crew was archaeologist Peter Liddle and a team of volunteers from The Langtons. The Saxons established administrative areas called hundreds. The boundaries of these areas often follow natural contours such as rivers, hills and roads. A study of the local landscape enabled the team to predict where settlements might have been. Rivers were important as a source of water and fish, while higher ridges and hills offered a good place to live to avoid the flooding in the lower-lying river valleys.

The Romans built roads but these would have often followed earlier courses that had been established in the stone age. Those tracks could have been laid down by the migration of herds of animals.
The excavations at Knave Hill suggest that  there had been around a 100 people living and farming in a settlement of huts surrounding a central Hall.

Scientists have plotted the migration of Peoples from Europe, using analysis of DNA. It was suggested that about ten percent of the population were of Saxon and Viking origin. Waves of invaders did not obliterate the indigenous Celtic population but integrated with them. Astonishingly, their DNA can still be found in the people of the 21st century. So, the Dark Ages is perhaps a misnomer. A growing amount of evidence has been dug up to throw light on the people of this time and of course there is the poetry.

About this article

This text is taken from the old Arts in Leicestershire web site. It originally formed the commentary to the pages in the Architecture section. The text on this page had been edited a little from the original. We plan to republished the whole of the old magazine’s Architecture Section, as part of the heritage section of our new Arts in Leicester website.

See also:

Part 2 – The Romans in Leicester

The history of the Arts in Leicester Magazine

News about Richard III

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