Walk 36: Leicester City Centre: King Richard III Walking Trail

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance:  Roughly 1.5 miles (2.41km)

Time to walk: This one isn’t really about a specific time as there’s the Visitor Centre & Cathedral to visit

Difficulty: All on hard road & flat

Parking: Plenty of public car parks in the city

Public toilets: Pubs, cafes etc all over the city

Map of the route: @RIII Leicester

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The Richard III Walking Trail takes about 1 hour & takes you around key sites in the city centre connected to the last Plantagenet King & the medieval Leicester of his time.

It’s extremely well sign posted & there’s lots of information boards at the key locations

So…a bit of background…

Who was Richard III?

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Born at Fotheringhay Castle (See our Walk 58) in our own County of Northamptonshire in October 1452, during the troubled reign of King Henry VI, Richard III’s childhood was overshadowed by the Wars of the Roses. Both sides were descendants of King Edward III & were fighting to claim the throne.

Richard belonged to the York side of the family, his elder brother was crowned King Edward IV after a Yorkist victory in 1461. Richard became the Duke of Gloucester & Edward’s most loyal supporter

His first recorded visit to Leicester was on the 10th May 1464 & he then visited the city several times in his role as the Duke of Gloucester

In 1483, King Edward IV died & his eldest son Edward (Richard’s nephew), was due to inherit the throne. However, a dramatic period followed, during which time Edward & his brother were declared illegitimate due to his father’s previous marriage. Controversially, Richard was crowned King at Westminster Abbey on the 6th July

Before becoming King, Richard had a strong power base in the north & his reliance on northerners during his reign increased resentment in the south. On 7th August 1485, Richard learnt that Henry Tudor had landed in Wales with an army of Lancastrian exiles & intended to claim the throne. Richard sent out letters ordering his northern supporters to join him in Nottingham & those from the south to meet him in Leicester

Richard arrived in Leicester with his army on 20th August 1485 & stayed overnight at the Blue Boar Inn, the site of which we’ll see on this walk. The following morning, he rode out of the city over the old Bow Bridge to fight in what became known as the Battle of Bosworth – the last battle of the Wars of the Roses. Legend has it that his spur hit a stone on the bridge as he crossed it & an old wise woman among the crowd predicted that his head would strike the same stone on the way back

On August 22nd, after fighting bravely to defend his crown, Richard was killed in battle & Henry Tudor became King of England. Richard’s naked body was slung over a horse & brought back to Leicester, entering the city across Bow Bridge. His head allegedly struck the stone as the old woman had predicted

Richard III was the last English King to die in battle

The search for his grave…

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The Centre gives an excellent account of the search, but in August 2012 the University of Leicester, Leicester City Council & the Richard III Society joined together to search for King Richard III’s remains. The archaeological search for his final resting place began on Saturday 25th August 2012, the 527th anniversary of the date King Richard III was buried in Leicester

Excavations revealed remains of the Greyfriars complex of buildings including a cloister walk, a chapter house & the church. As well as providing information about the Greyfriars buildings, the trenches also contained human remains. One adult male skeleton found in the choir of the church was subsequently identified as King Richard III

The skeleton also showed evidence of spinal curvature, which would have made the right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder. This is consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard’s appearance. The conclusive piece of evidence for identifying the skeleton as being King Richard III was the matching of the body’s DNA with the DNA of descendants of Richard’s family alive today

So…with the scene nicely set…

Let’s Walk!

1. The trail starts in Highcross Street at, of all places, Leicester Central Travelodge…

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This was the site of The Blue Boar in where it’s alleged Richard III spent his last night in the city before the Battle of Bosworth

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The rumour is it was originally called The White Boar Inn, but after Henry Tudor won, the landlord hastily painted the sign blue which was the emblem of the Earl of Oxford who was one of Henry’s main supporters!

2. Facing the Travelodge turn left & walk up Highcross Street…

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On the left’s the Old Free Grammar School…

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The school provided education for boys in Leicester, free of charge & was founded in the mid 16th century with a bequest from the estate of William Wigston, a prosperous local merchant who was twice Mayor of Leicester. The school was re-founded in 1564 when Queen Elizabeth I made an annual grant of £10 towards the upkeep of the master. It’s often referred to as Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School. It closed in 1841

Interesting names

Interesting names

3. Continue up the street & there’s some interesting individual shops along here including the very topical King Richard III pub

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…& also the delightfully named Foxy Brown’s Vaping Lounge!!

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IMG_2118For those in the know…vaping is the term used for smoking e-cigarettes

4. At the top of the road we emerge into the large Jubilee Square…

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Straight ahead’s The High Cross…

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The High Cross stood at the centre of the medieval town where the north-south route of Highcross Street intersected Swinesgate, now the High Street

For centuries, this was the economic heart of the town where the thriving Wednesday Market stood until 1884

5. Turn right across the Square towards the bridge & the church in an area that’s called St Nicholas

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The church here is St Nicholas. Have a look at the graveyard – it’s got some interesting stones…

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Parts of the church date back to Saxon times around 900

6. Pass through the church grounds & ahead’s a very imposing old wall…

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This is The Jewry Wall which is the remains of the Roman Baths in Leicester…

IMG_2128The Roman town’s public baths are behind the wall & were excavated between  1936-1939 by Kathleen Kenyon. Adjoining the remains are the Jewry Wall Museum & Vaughan College. The museum contains excellent examples of Roman mosaics & frescoes from sites elsewhere in Leicester

The wall is now the responsibility of English Heritage

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7. Continue along St Nicholas…

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…& follow the road right over the river past some interesting structures…

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8. Just along here is another bridge which is our next stop…Bow Bridge

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The original medieval bridge that Richard III rode across on his way to the Battle of Bosworth was replaced by this one in 1863. This is the bridge we mentioned earlier where the King allegedly hit his spur on the way across & his head on the way back

The ironwork depicts the White Rose of York, the Tudor Rose, Richard’s white boar emblem & his motto “Loyaulte me Lie” (Loyalty Binds Me)

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It was originally thought that Richard III’s body was taken from Greyfriars & thrown into the river at this point…

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9. Head back the way we came, cross over the river & then over the road at the pelican crossing…

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Some interesting faces on the pillar…

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10. Over the road’s the entrance to Castle Gardens so go through & have a look!

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This park was the original site of Leicester Castle

11. Turn left at the first junction of paths & head out into Castle View…

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12. Turn immediately right & walk up to our next stop…St Mary de Castro

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Now here’s an interesting ‘spot the difference’ from the old picture below – can you see it?

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Yes…it no longer has a spire! The building was closed in 2011 after the spire was found to be unsafe, but reopened in April 2015. The spire has been demolished & funds are currently insufficient to replace it & repair the tower beneath

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St Mary de Castro means St Mary of the Castle, reflecting the church’s origins as a place of worship built within the fortified enclosure of Leicester Castle

The future King Henry VI was knighted here as a young boy & it’s thought that Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the “Canterbury Tales,” married his second wife, Philippa de Roet (a lady-in-waiting to Edward III’s Queen here in the 1360s

13. Head through the arch into Castle Yard…

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Today, a late 17th century brick entrance conceals the 12th century structure that Richard III would have been familiar with

Richard III wasn’t the only King to stay here. Others included Edward I, Edward II & Henry IV. Leicester Castle is open to the public on the last Sunday of each month between 11.00am–3.00pm between February to November

The view back across Castle Yard

The view back across Castle Yard

14. Continue down Castle View…

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There’s a cafe on the right which unfortunately today was closed…

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15. Keep heading to the archway that’s known as Turret Gateway…

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The Turret Gateway, probably built in 1423, was one of two entrances to the enclosed Newarke area. It separated the Newarke religious precinct from Leicester Castle

16. Pass straight through…

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Looking back there’s another view of the arch…

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…& also on the left’s a very old grapevine…

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17. The grapes are in the grounds of the Chantry House…& quite splendid it is too…

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18. Turn right now & immediately on the right’s Trinity Hospital…

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Founded in 1330 by Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster & Leicester, the Hospital had been providing care for 150 years by the time Richard III became King. It was rebuilt in 1776

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19. Cross the road & head back towards the city centre. On the right’s The Hawthorn Building, part of De Montford University…

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The building’s built on the site of The Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Church was founded by Henry, 4th Earl of Leicestershire & 1st Duke of Lancashire. The King of France gave Henry a thorn, said to be from the Crown of Thorns from Jesus’ crucifixion. It was kept of the altar & the Church subsequently became a place of pilgrimage

The story goes that this is where Richard III’s body was put on public display for 3 days as proof that he was dead. The church was demolished in 1548, however two of its arches remain in the basement – unfortunately it was closed when we were there

20. Continue up the street to the magnificent Magazine Gateway & the Newarke…

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Ping Pong anyone?

Ping Pong anyone?

Founded by the Earls of Lancaster in the 14th century, the name Newarke means ‘new works’ & was once a quiet religious precinct on the edge of medieval Leicester. The stone walls of the Newarke enclosed the church of St. Mary of the Annunciation, Trinity Hospital & several priests’ houses

The Magazine Gateway ahead of us was the main entrance into the Newarke precinct & was built around 1400. Its main purpose was to impress visitors rather than be defensive

When the church of St. Mary was demolished The Newarke became an area where many of the richer citizens of Leicester lived to escape local taxes

Graffiti on the top floor of the Magazine suggests that for a while it was used as a prison

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In the 1600s the gateway was used to store the weapons & gunpowder of the town military. It was its use as an armoury or ‘magazine’ that gave the gateway its name. The Newarke was the scene of fierce fighting during the Civil War siege & capture of the town by King Charles in May 1645

In the 1890s barracks & a drill hall were built alongside the Magazine for the Leicestershire Military. These were demolished in the 1960s & there were plans to demolish the Magazine itself, but fortunately protests saved the building for future generations

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21. Facing the Magazine turn left & walk to the pelican crossing, cross the road & head up Friar Lane…

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…turning left into New Street

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22. Greyfriars, Leicester, was a friary of the Friars Minor, commonly known as the Franciscans & was established in the 12th century & dissolved in 1538

Following dissolution the friary was demolished, the site levelled, subdivided & developed over the following centuries. Today it’s more famous for the car park where Richard III’s body was finally found

And here on the right is that very car park…

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The light small building straight ahead is part of the Visitor Centre & covers the grave as we’ll see shortly

23. Straight ahead is Leicester Cathedral…

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…but before exploring inside move round the left side & have a look at the well preserved Guildhall

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24. The Guildhall in Leicester, England, is a Grade I listed timber framed building, with the earliest part dating from around 1390. It once acted as the town hall for the city until the current one was commissioned in 1876

The hall was used for many purposes, including council meetings, feasts, a courtroom, & for theatrical performances. The ultimatum given to the city during English Civil War was also discussed here

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It’s reputed that William Shakespeare appeared here. Part of the Shakespeare legend is that Shakespeare first came across the tale of King Leir whilst appearing at the Guildhall & this inspired him to write his own play King Lear. There is, however, no actual evidence to support this, although the legend of King Leir is associated with Leicester

The Guildhall was a place of the third oldest public library in England. It was established in 1632, when the town library was moved into the east wing of the building. The books in the collection include New Testament in Greek from the 15th century

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Leicester’s first police force had its station in the Guildhall from 1836 & there were police cells on the ground floor of the east wing. Apart from the police station, it was later used as a school, however, the building was becoming increasingly dilapidated & by the 1920s there were plans to demolish the building. After the intervention of the Leicestershire Archaeological & Historical Society, the council began restoration work on the building, finishing it in 1926, when the Guildhall was opened as a museum

With five reported ghosts, it’s reputedly Leicester’s most haunted building & has appeared on various TV programmes, including being investigated on Most Haunted

25. Retrace your steps round to the front of the Cathedral, but we’ll leave going inside until after having a look at the new Richard III Visitor Centre…

Therefore pass diagonally left through the beautiful Cathedral Gardens – these really are a lovely place to stop on a chair & while away a few minutes…

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The Gardens were redeveloped in 2014 as part of a £2.5m project &, whilst this may seem expensive they really are superb

As part of the project, the statue of King Richard III was moved here from its original site in Castle Gardens…

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The bronze statue was commissioned in 1980 by the Richard III Society. Sculptured by James Walter Butler, it first unveiled on 31st July 1980 by Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester

26. Directly across from the statue’s the new Richard III Visitor Centre & it’s excellent!

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Tickets cost £7.50 per full paying adult. It’s a self-guided tour, but there’s plenty of people about to answer questions etc. It starts with an excellent introductory film whilst the important historical dates ‘bleed out’ from the throne in front of you…

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Here’s a short flavour we uploaded to youtube…

The exhibition’s split over 2 floors, the bottom one telling the story of Richard III through to his death at the Battle of Bosworth

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The Battle’s explained in some detail & very well done…

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The only tip we’d give you is try & go when it’s quiet as the corridors are narrow & many of the items are touch screen so you need to interact

Having learnt all about the life of the man & somewhat dispelling the myth about his involvement with the Princes in the Tower, the exhibition moves upstairs which is so good & tells the story about how Richard was found &, more importantly…identified

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There’s also references to the Shakespeare portrayal (here’s a copy of Sir Ian McKellan’s Nazi uniform)…

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As you pass round press the interactive buttons to hear the views of the archaeologists, why they chose the site they did & the dig itself. When they found Richard they compared his DNA to 2 living relatives, plus also solved the anomalies to the date through the diet of fish in the nobler classes – amazing stuff!

Finally they show the reconstructions…

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Now, moving back downstairs we enter the final, & perhaps most important room…

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This is the excellent, simple & quite humbling room they built over the Greyfriars Car Park showing the trench & grave where Richard III’s body was found. The person in the room explains it very well & there’s a glass cover over the trench. Every 15 seconds a hologram appears showing the position of the skeleton…

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We really can’t emphasise how good this place is, but would reiterate go when it’s quiet

27. So Richard III was found roughly 100 yards from where he now finally rests…Leicester Cathedral. So let’s cross back over the square & have a look…

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The Cathedral Church of St Martin, Leicester, usually known as Leicester Cathedral, is the seat of the Bishop of Leicester. The church was elevated to a collegiate church in 1922 & made a cathedral in 1927 following the establishment of a new Diocese of Leicester in 1926

28. It’s quite small compared to some Cathedrals, but we have to say they’ve done Richard III proud…the tomb is in a small chancel…

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Just past it’s a glass casket containing the embroider cloth that covered the coffin & a crown…

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So…there we go. It’s a long time since we last visited Leicester & they’ve really done a lot of work to make it more visitor friendly

In the afternoon we did one of the cultural walks & that was also very good

We’ll be back to explore further, but with regards to Richard III the city’s done a great job & you won’t be disappointed so…

Go Walk!

 

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