C.J. (Charles James) Billson.

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for which the property was acquired, but the Bridges had really


little or nothing to do with the matter. None of the acquired
property was actually set aside for any such specific purpose,
and the conveyance caused no alteration to be made in the
community's way of financing these outlays, which, as we shall
see, was largely effected by voluntary subscriptions. That tlie
repair of bridges was used as a consideration to support the
conveyance shows only the great importance which was ascribed
to this municipal duty. To look after all the approaches to the
Town Gates was an old and solemn obligation of the governing
burgesses, and there was a special sanctity attached to the main-
tenance of bridges.

" The Six Bridges within the Town of Leicester " is a
phrase which does not seem to occur elsewhere. It refers, one
may suppose, to the same six bridges as those which are marked
upon a certain plan of the Leicester Mills and Bridges, drawn
about the year 1600, which is preserved among the archives of
the Corporation, and which is reproduced in the third volume
of the Borough Records.

According to this plan, the names of the Six Bridges are :
(i) St. Sunday's Bridge, (2) Frogmire Bridge, (3) West Bridge,
(4) Bow Bridge, (5) Braunston Bridge, and (6) an anonymous
" Bridge."


This bridge crossed the main stream of the river Soar,
north of Leicester, opposite to the ancient church of St. Leonard,
and the bifurcation of the high road. It is described in a convey-
ance of the year 1493 as " The Great Bridge," and it was some-
times so called in later centuries, but in the Borough Records
it is usually named the North Bridge from the 13th century until
the 1 6th. The monks would seem to have given to it the name
of St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order of Preaching
Friars, who was canonized in 1234. This name passed into
familiar speech as " St. Sunday Bridge," or " St. Sunday's
Bridge," Sunday being the English equivalent of " Dominicus."
It is so called in 1550, " Sent Sonday brygg," in Queen
Elizabeth's Charter of 1589, and later. Throsby calls it


" Sunday Bridge, formerly Sanvis Bridge " ; and Nichols says
that, in his time, it was commonly called " St. Sunday's Bridge."
In modern days it has reverted to its old designation of
" North Bridge."

The old North Bridge is mentioned in extant deeds of the
13th century, and occurs in the Mayor's account for 1307-8,
when one of the arches was mended. It was paved with stone
in 1 3 19, and again in 1365. Leland described it as comprising
" 7 or 8 arches of stone " ; but in later years, at any rate, there
were ten. It was repaired from time to time, and stood for
several centuries. Throsby, writing in 179 1, said that the bridge
was then " patched with repairs at various periods ; the fence
walls thereon are low and dangerous." The Rev. William
BickerstafTe, who died in 1789, left the following description of
it. " The North Bridge, now commonly St. Sunday's Bridge,
has eight wet arches, the midmost high and wide ; two more on
the town side, small and useless, obstructed on both sides by
dyers' buildings, and made-ground. It is 98 yards one foot
long, five yards two feet wide ; parapet walls about a yard high,
their thickness one foot two inches. One of its arches, the
nearest the town, is pointed ; the other nine are round. From
the top of the parapet to the water is four yards three quarters ;
the common depth of the water i yard 8 inches, near the middle
of the bridge, by the middle of the arch." In February, 1795,
a great flood almost entirely demolished it ; and, in the following
year, a new stone bridge, of three arches, was erected in its place.
A good illustration of this beautiful structure was given by
Nichols at the beginning of the 19th century. Its life was but
short, for it was pulled down and rebuilt in the years 1867 and


This bridge, by which the high road to the north crossed
a small arm of the river, a little south of the North Bridge, was
known from the 14th century as " The Little North Bridge,"
or " The Little Bridge."


It is called Little Bridge in 1592 ; but in the Corporation
Records for 161 1, it is named " Frogmire Bridge," and the island
between the two bridges is still known as Frog Island. It seems
to have been once a wooden bridge ; at any rate, timber is the
only material that is mentioned in the early repairing accounts.
In 1541 a post and rail were provided.


This bridge, which spanned the Soar just beyond the West
Gate, has always been so named. It may have been built, as
Mr. Kelly conjectured, by Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester.
At any rate the Eastern arch of the bridge, or its foundations
appear to have been undoubtedly of Norman architecture. It
was reconstructed in 1325, of stone and timber, at a cost of
more than ^28 ; and again, in 1365, it was thoroughly over-
hauled, and, either then or shortly before that time, a little chapel
was built over its Eastern arch. The old bridge was taken down
in April, 1841. Both Throsby and Nichols say that it had four
arches, but in Lee's beautiful drawing, which was made just
before its destruction, there are only three. The bridge was
replaced in the following year by a wider one costing over ^4,000.
This, in its turn, has been superseded, in recent years, by an
elaborate structure of iron, erected about 1890, at a similar expense


This bridge crossed the arm of the river known as the Old
Soar, past the West Bridge, and beyond the Priory of the Austin
Friars. It may have taken its name from a foot-bridge, which
stood a few yards to the North-west, also known as Bow Bridge,
" because it consisted of one large arch like a bow." This
foot-bridge belonged to the monastery of the Austin Friars, and
was used by the monks when they went to and from St. Austin's
Well. It was swept away by a high flood in 1791.

Bow Bridge was repaired in 1666 at a cost of ^15 12s. od.
The restored structure comprised five semi-circular arches, and
it was, in Throsby 's opinion, " the most uniform bridge at


Leicester." It was built of stone, like the other large bridges,
but in his day they were all, with the exception of Bow Bridge,
patched with brick. This bridge was about 23 yards long and
6 feet wide, with niches at intervals on both sides, in which
foot-passengers could stand when carriages were passing ; and
there were piers, with cut- waters, beneath the niches. Tradition
has recorded that, when the monastery of the Grey Friars was
dissolved, the remains of Richard the Third were taken from
his tomb, and thrown over the Bow Bridge into the river Soar.
He was said to have marched to Bosworth's fatal field across the
same bridge, where an old woman, sitting by the way, foretold
his doom. From these traditions connected with it, it gained
the name of King Richard's Bridge, and was so called by Throsby,
who gave a good illustration of it, but the best drawing of the
bridge is one made by Dr. Lee, and published in Kelly's " Royal
Progresses." About the year 1784, after a carriage crossing it
had been all but swept away by the flooded stream, it was widened
with brick- work. In 1863 it was rebuilt, and again widened,
at a cost of ^^932. A tablet was then placed above the bridge
bearing this legend : " Near this spot lie the remains of Richard
III, the last of the Plantagenets."


This bridge, which crossed the old Soar, south of Bow
Bridge, is mentioned in 13 17, when " Thomas the Chapman was
killed by several men while crossing the bridge to his house in
Brunkynesthorp," Brunkynesthorp, or Bromkinsthorpe, was the
old name of Braunstone Gate.

The old stone bridge of four high-pointed arches, was
51 yards in length, and from 3 yards 28 inches to 5I yards wide.
The parapet walls were a yard high. It was widened with brick
in 1792, and a new bridge of iron, costing about ^4,000, was
erected about 1884.


This bridge, which crossed the New Cut, south of the
Newarke and north of St. Mary's Mill, is anonymous in the plan


referred to. It may be the same as a bridge, mended by the
Mayor's orders in 1338-9, which he described as " the bridge
towards the church of St. Sepulchre." It is mentioned in 1360
as " the bridge towards Aylestone which is called Coubrigg."
Two hundred years later it is called " Cowpasture Bridge," and
" Cowhey Bridge." It led to the ancient common pasture,
known as Cowhey, so frequently mentioned in the history of
the town, part of which is now the Freemen's Meadow.

There were some other small bridges that were occasionally
repaired by the Corporation. Among these may be mentioned
St. Anthony's Bridge, in Senvey Gate, and the little bridge
outside the East Gate, both crossing the Town Ditch ; and the
Spital-house Bridge or " Lady Bridge," in Belgrave Gate,
repaired in 1569 and 1600 ; which seems to be the bridge
described by Leland as " a meane stone bridge," and " a little
beyond it," he says, " is another stone bridge, through the
which passit a litle land broke, cumming from villages not far
of, and so rennith into Bishop's water." This little streamlet
is now known as Willow Brook. There were also apparently
two bridges in Humberstone Gate, one of which was known as
the Antelope Bridge ; and there was a " bridge at the Clay Pit."

The Leicester Bridges emerge into the light of history in
the middle of the 13th century, when the independent burgesses
of the town, resenting certain taxes, known as " Bridge-silver,"
and " Gavel-pence," took steps to obtain their remission. In
the first place, an Inquest was held, purporting to enquire into
the origin of these taxes. The Leicester Jurats told two stories,
one relating to gavel-pence, the other to bridge-silver. Both are
interesting, and, as they are intimately connected, it may be
well to give both.

The gavel-pence story runs thus : "In the time of Robert
of Meulan, then Earl of Leicester, it happened that two kinsmen,
to wit Nicholas Hakon's son and Geoffrey Nicholas' son, of
Leicester, waged a trial by battle for a certain land, about which
a plea had arisen between them, and they fought from the hour
of Prime to the hour of Noon, and longer, and so fighting with


each other, one of them drove the other as far as a certain httle
ditch, and as the other stood over the Uttle ditch and was about
to fall into it, his kinsman said to him, ' Mind you don't fall into
the ditch behind you,' and immediately there arose such a clamour
and such a tumult among the spectators standing and sitting
round, that the lord Earl heard their noise even in the Castle,
and then asked some people what the noise was, and he was told
that two kinsmen were fighting about a piece of land and one
of them drove the other as far as a certain little ditch, and as he
stood over the ditch and was about to fall into it, the other warned
him. The burgesses then, moti pietate, agreed with the lord
Earl that they would give him 3d. a year from each house which
had a gable looking on to the High Street, on condition that he
would grant that all pleas touching them should henceforth be
treated and determined by 24 jurats who were appointed in
Leicester of old time ; and this was granted to them by the
Lord Earl and thus first were raised the pence that are called
gavel-pence (govelpeniis). After the death of this Earl Robert,
Robert, his son and heir, succeeded, who for the health of his
father's soul entirely remitted the aforesaid pence which are
called Gavelpence, and by his charter gave a quit-claim for ever.
The aforesaid charter, with many other writings and charters,
was put in the keeping of a certain burgess and clerk who was
called Lambert, against whom e\'il-doers arose in the night,
because he was thought to be rich, and they burned his houses
and even the feet of the man himself, {etiam pedes ipsius), together
with the aforesaid charter and many other writings. Some time
after, there was a certain clerk in this town of Leicester, by
name Simon Maudit, who, for some time after the death of the
aforesaid Robert, Earl of Leicester, who made the charter of
quitclaim, had the reeveship of Leicester in farm, and collected
and exacted the said pence called gavelpence by force and at
his own will, distraining all who refused to pay, bidding them
show him a warranty of quitclaim, for he knew wtry well that
the quitclaim was burnt, so they are paid to this very day."

With regard to bridge-silver, the Jurats reported as follows :
** In the time of the same Earl Robert, the forest of Leicester was


so great, thick and full, that it was scarcely possible to go by
the paths of that forest, on account of the quantity of dead wood
and of boughs blown down by the wind, and then by the will
and consent of the Lord Earl and of his Council, it was allowed
to those who wished to look for dead wood, to have six cart-
loads for id. and a horse-load a week for |d., and a man's load
a week for ^d., and these moneys were collected first at the exit
of the wood, afterwards outside the town of Leicester nearer to
the wood, and then these moneys were collected at the bridges
of the town of Leicester, where at first there was a certain keeper
called Penkrich, to whom the Lord Earl at his request afterwards
granted a certain space near the bridge on which to build, that
there he might collect the custom more conveniently. And this
Penkrich for some time after collected the said moneys both for
green wood and felled wood which used to be paid for dead wood
only, and so afterwards it passed into a custom. And that the
truth of this inquest may appear the more clearly and be the
more obvious, it can well be perceived by the fact that strangers
from whatever part they may have come, carrying wood or
timber, whether it be from the forest of Arden or from Cannock
Chase or from Needwood forest, or whoever they might be, pay
no pontage, nor ever used to pay it, those only excepted who
came from Leicester forest."

Now these inquiries were not instituted, as Mr. J, H.
Round has already pointed out, in order to ascertain the historical
truth about these matters. They were really pieces of special
pleading, which aimed at obtaining a remission of these two
taxes on the best terms possible. The burgesses tried to show
(i) that the taxes had been granted or imposed in comparatively
recent times by, and on, the predecessors of the respective parties
concerned, in circumstances which pleaded in favour of their
remission, and (2) that they had already been actually revoked
or, at least, that their collection was attended with injustice and
fraud. The findings of the Jury cannot therefore be accepted
at their face value. The tale of the two kinsmen's battle sounds
like a genuine tradition, which had been in the mouths of
Leicester people for many a year ; but the application of it made


by the Jurats is another matter. As soon as we come to the
romantic story of the burglary and the lost charter, we feel the
ground slipping under us. With regard to gavel-pence, or
govel-pence, Mr. Round has pointed out that this tax was a
Saxon service of immemorial antiquity, the " customary tribute "
due from the tenant to the lord, commuted into a money pay-
ment. He gives several instances from Oxford, Winchester,
Chester and elsewhere. The Anglo-Saxon word gafol, meaning
a gift (German, gaben.) was joined to the word penniis, or pence,
when the service became a tribute in money. The Latin equiva-
lent is gablum. But gahlum, Mr. Round thinks, may have
suggested to the enquiring Jurats themselves, or to a former
generation of guessers, the gable of a house, and hence came the
story, familiar in all our histories of Leicester, about the tax of
three pennies paid for every gabled house standing in the High
Street. He concludes that the tax did not originate in a bargain
about the Portmanmote, as the burgesses of the 13th century
tried to make out, nor was it remitted by a charter that had been
destroyed, nor was it afterwards illegally enforced by Simon

Whatever we may think of Mr. Round's ingenious
etymological theory, we cannot doubt that the Jurats knew quite
well, and correctly stated, who paid the tax about which they
were enquiring. It seems clear that at the time of the Inquest
the Earl was levying an imposition called govelpence upon the
dwellers in the High Street, but this tax, however it may have
become so incident, was in fact pre-Norman both in name and
origin, and consequently it cannot have been imposed by Earl
Robert in the circumstances related by the Jury. The gable
of a house in mediaeval Latin is sometimes " gabulla," but in
the language of the Inquest it is " gablus." Mr. Round points
out that the Jurats maintain the English name of the payment,
" govelpence," which is fatal to the pretended " gable " deriva-
tion, " for," he says, " though govel is an easy corruption from
gafol or gavel, it cannot be a corruption from gable." On the
other hand, their use of the form " govelpeniis " would seem to
tell against the suggestion that the form gablum, and its supposed
derivation from gablus, was in their minds.


Mr. Round seems to imply that Simon Maudit (whom he
misnames "Hugh") was an "unscrupulous bailiff" invented
by the Jurats, " on whom they bestow the appropriate name of
Hugh the Accursed (Hugo Maudit)." But Simon Maudit was
a real person : a son of his entered the Guild Merchant in
1209. The toll-collector was only too genuine : the Jurats'
point was that his actions were wrong.

All this has nothing to do directly with bridges, but the
same Jurats were also enquiring at the same time into the origin
of bridge-silver. If suspicion rests upon one of their findings,
its shadow is thrown over the other. Our doubts are again
raised when we find that, in the case of bridge-silver, the Leicester
burgesses tried to make out a plea exactly similar to that which
they presented with regard to gavel-pence. They would have
it that the impost was an exaction created by a Norman Earl,
and that there had been grave irregularities in its collection.
But their story cannot be accepted. The " pontagium," as its
name denotes, was a toll paid for the making and upkeep of
bridges, as at Nottingham and elsewhere, and had nothing to
do with the wood collected in Leicester Forest.

The burgesses secured from Simon de Montfort a charter
abolishing both pontage and gavelpence ; but, in spite of their
eloquent pleading, they were compelled to pay rather heavily
for it. Besides having to make a certain annual payment, which
appears in the charter of redemption, they were also obliged to
buy up, and hand over to the Earl, some rents that cost a con-
siderable sum. They gave, for instance, 33 marks {£,22), for
a rent that had been paid to Simon de Salcey. A loan was raised
among themselves to enable the town to make these payments.

It is not clear that the proceeds of bridge-silver were made
use of by the Earl in providing the cost of building and repairing
bridges, though Kelly thought that Earl Robert de Beaumont
imposed the tax in order to cover the cost of building the West
Bridge. The community had certainly taken a large share in
this work long before Simon de Montfort's charter. In the
earliest rolls of the Guild Merchant that have come down to us,
dated from the end of the 12th century, we read of money being
contributed " ad opus pontis," or " ad pontes emendandos."


The North Bridge and the Little Bridge were constantly under
repair, as no doubt they had the hardest use. In one year the
Mayor, Henry de Rodington, advanced more than £2 to mend
the Leicester bridges, and the amount was afterwards repaid
to him by the Guild. The money was raised in various ways ;
usually out of a tallage made for general purposes, but sometimes
from a tallage specially assessed, as in 1302. But a good deal was
raised from voluntary contributions.

In early days, when bridges were rare, and warmed a spark
of gratitude in the traveller's heart, they used to be regarded
with soine feeling of piety, and the old religious associations of
the bridge lingered in mediaeval custom. The making and repair-
ing of bridges was one of the seven works of Corporal Mercy, and
Religious Guilds would subscribe freely to this object. Thus,
in 1525-6, the Guild of Corpus Christi at Leicester gave los. yd,
" for reparations done at St. Sunday's Bridge." In fact, there
are, underlying the common beliefs and practices concerning
bridges and bridge-sacrifice, primitive religious traditions of
immemorial antiquity. In mediaeval times, when these old
superstitions had been incorporated in the Christian faith, many
persons built bridges for the salvation of their souls , and it was
not unusual to dedicate a bridge to some saint, or to erect a
chapel upon it, as at Nottingham and Northampton and
Leicester. Private citizens would remember the bridges in
their wills. Thomas de Beeby, for instance, a Leicester
burgess who died about 1383, left a legacy of forty shillings
to each of the North and West Bridges. And, nearly two
centuries later, Thomas Davenport, who was chosen Mayor
of Leicester in 1553, by his will gave ^^5 for amending
the bridges and highways about Leicester, " the which
is to be done at the sight of mine executors." These ancient
sentiments could be appealed to when bridges wanted mending.
Thus, in 1325, when John Brid built the West Bridge, he received
the greater part of the money required from voluntary offerings ;
*' ^15 IIS. io|d. received of Ralph Gerin from oblations at the
Cross, with the sale of wax at the feast of Holy Cross, as appears
by an indenture, and 8s. 4d. for wax sold to William the Palmer,


to William of Stapleford and others, and £i 13s. od. received
of Ralph Gerin from his collection, and £2 9s. yjd. received from
the collection in the town." The rest of the money required
to make up the total cost of £22 17s. lod., viz., £2 ^os. od.,
he received " of John Alsy, Mayor, by tally." We also hear
of money beinj collected for this purpose in the Parish Churches
of the town, and generally of " gifts and perquisites to the bridges
of Leicester." Sometimes the fines inflicted by the Guild
Merchant were ear-marked for this pious use, as when John Joy,
in 1357, was condemned to pay 6s. 8d., " in aid of the bridges of
the town " ; and when it was ordained that for every beast found
trespassing in the crofts within the town of Leicester, 4d. for
every head, and id. for every foot, should be paid " for mending
of the bridges, ways, gates and other necessaries for the common
utility of the town."

In 1574 it was agreed that the Mayor and common bur-
gesses should give 2S. apiece, and the Fortyeight is. apiece,
towards (inter alia) " the repairing of the bridges." Surveyors
of bridges refusing to serve were to forfeit los., " which shall
go to the use of the said bridges."

In 1365 the North Bridge and the West Bridge were repaired.
The former cost £4 8s. od., and the latter £^ 8s. 7d. The
expense of these repairs was borne by the common fund, with
the assistance of (i) a special toll of the North Quarter, (2)
collections made in the churches of St. Martin, St. Nicholas,
and St. Peter, and (3) private donations. The total cost of the
two bridges being ^8 i6s. 7d., ^3 4s. 8d. was provided by volun-
tary contributions, and the remainder from the general fund
(tallage and guild entries), and a special toll.

As a result, probably, of the disturbances related by Henry
of Knighton, which occurred in the neighbourhood of Leicester
Abbey in 1329, a grant of pontage for three years for the repair
of the bridge at Leicester was obtained by the Earl in the follow-
ing year. This tax was collected by one Geoffrey Ridel, who
complained in 1332 before the Guild Merchant that he had been


threatened and disturbed in his office as toil-collector. The
exaction was felt to be as vexatious as it had been in the previous

Before the end of the 14th century the repairs of bridges,
as well as of all other town property, were placed in the hands
of the two Chamberlains of the Borough.*

* Thompson's omission of the word " bridges," when he enumerated
the duties of the Chamberlains, both in his History of Leicester, and
also in his Municipal History, is a pure inadvertence.




THERE is no very rigid distinction between a "fair " and
a " market " ; but, when a market is larger, and recurs

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Online LibraryC.J. (Charles James) BillsonMediaeval Leicester → online text (page 10 of 21)