C.J. (Charles James) Billson.

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whence they were " to decently walk to the White Hart to an
Ordinary," the Corporation to allow " a bottle of wine between
two of all such as shall have tickets that dine, and as much ale


as shall be then necessary." Early in the following year the
programme was repeated, a hundred and twenty bottles of wine
and a hogshead of ale being specially ordered for the occasion.
On the Coronation of George the Second, the Corporation again
dined at the White Hart, and celebrated the event with wine
" and as much ale as Mr. Mayor should think fit and necessary."
When the Assembly Rooms were built in the Haymarket, the
White Hart was found a convenient place for fashionable gather-
ings. After a morning concert, for example, which took place
at those Rooms in 1770, two hundred gentlemen adjourned to
dine at that inn. In 1779 the Court of Assistants established
for the Stockingmakers of Leicester held its sitting in the same

A Bull's Head is mentioned as early as 15 18, standing near
the High Cross. Later, a Bull's Head stood next door to the
Green Dragon in the Market Place, " a better house, three
stories high, built of red bricks." A " Bull " Inn is mentioned
in 1590.

The Green Dragon, which stood opposite the great elm-
tree in the Market Place, was probably an Elizabethan building.
" It had a gable front, and was white-washed in the last " (i8th)
" century. The sign was a swing one, and bore the representa-
tion of a dragon, painted green." This Inn acquired some
notoriety in later days on acount of the murder of its landlord,
Fenton, who lies buried, beneath a caustic epitaph, in St. Martin's
Churchyard. This epitaph, which reflected on the purity of the
law, gave great offence to the authorities, and the Spiritual Court
ordered the stone to be removed ; but this order was never
executed. The story of Fenton's murder is thus related by a
contemporary, William Gardiner : — " Among many persons that
were returning to France I met with M. Soule, who in the year
1778 shot Fenton, the landlord of the Green Dragon in the
Market Place, Leicester. This person was not the man upon
whom the Frenchman sought to be revenged ; but was the
brother of the landlord who had insulted him ; and as it was
known he came to challenge him, he was rudely treated by the
family. In thrusting him out of doors he drew from his pocket


a pistol, and shot the person that maltreated him." The jury
by the direction of the Judge, returned a special verdict grounded
on the plea that Soule, or Soules (who was a French teacher),
went to the house in search of his property (a pistol which Fenton
had taken from him). This plea was not allowed by the twelve
Judges ; but Soules afterwards received His Majesty's pardon.
Nichols' statement, that Soules was killed by the Paris mob
in 1792, is contradicted by Gardiner's account of his meeting
the man in 1802.

The Horse and Trumpet was thought by Thompson to
have been the large house near the High Cross where the whole
of the inmates were killed during the siege of Leicester in 1645.
In the following century, however, it seems to have developed
Jacobin tendencies, for in the year 1754 the Grand Jury enquired
why the persons who drank treasonable toasts at this inn, with
the connivance of its landlord, had not been arrested. The
popular Horse and Trumpet toast, at the time when Mayor
Mitford was standing as the Whig candidate at the Parliamentary
election of that year, was " Damnation to King George and
Mitford." The house was described by Throsby in 1791 as
" a large inn, now occupied as a private house." Afterwards it
became a warehouse. It is said that Gabriel Newton, who
founded Alderman Newton's School, was at one time master of
this house, the signboard of which swung across the street and
was attached to the High Cross itself.

The White Horse was in Gallowtree Gate, nearly opposite
to the low rambling tavern, called the Magpie, that once stood
on part of the site of the modern Victoria Parade. It had a large,
swinging sign, which, as I am informed, bore a rhyming inscrip-
tion, that ran something like this : —

" My White Horse shall beat the Bear,

And make the Angel fly ;
He'll turn the Three Tuns upside down.
And drink the Three Cups dry."

In front of this house, in the road near the Causeway, was
placed the stone coffin which was traditionally said to be that
of Richard HI., used as a horse-trough. William Gardiner said


the stone trough, in his time, stood in the stable-yard of the inn.
CeHa Fiennes, at the end of the 17th century, forgetting the
name of the inn, wrote, " I saw a piece of his " (Richard III.'s)
" tombstone he lay in, which was cut out in exact form for
his body to lie in ; it remains to be seen at the Greyhound
in Leicester, but is partly broken." The house at one time
belonged to the Leicester Corporation, having been included in
the Conveyance to them from the Crown contained in Queen
Elizabeth's Charter of 1589, where it is described as " The White
Horse in Galtregate alias Galtergate." It flourished for many
years, and when it was pulled down in the early part of the
19th century, Mansfield Bank, which afterwards became the
Stamford and Spalding Bank, was erected on the site.

Other 1 6th century inns were the Cross Keys, where the
Recorder stayed in 1551, where, in 1553, the Queen's Solicitor
was regaled with half a fresh salmon and two hundred oysters,
and where, in 1589, gifts were sent by the Town Council " to
certain players playing upon ropes " ; the Star, which Mr.
Woodall, the Queen's Receiver, visited in 1564, and 1565 ; the
Fox, in the North Gate ; the Swan, in the South Gate, older,
probably, than the White Swan in the Market Place, the birth-
place of a counterfeited Duke of Monmouth, which was pulled
down about 1890 ; the Crown, situated in the old Swinesmarket ;
the Cardinal's Hat ; the Red Lion, in Southgate Street, which
was in its day one of the principal inns in Leicester ; the CoCK
in Belgrave Gate ; the ancient sign of the Saracen's Head,
fronting the modern Hotel Street, which was demolished in the
last century, and rebuilt on its old site ; the Hare and Pheasant
in the old Swinesmarket, destroyed about 1890, and the MiTRE
and Keys in Applegate Street. In 1509 one John Baker was
tenant of a hospice " at the sign of the Lion " in the Parish of
St. Peter. This inn may have been the Lion which stood where
the sign of the King's Arms afterwards hung till about 1670.
Silver Street, the old Sheepmarket, was formerly known as the
" street on the backside of the Lion." The ancient inn called
the Porter's Lodge, at the corner of South and East Bond
Streets, was formerly the lodge at one of the entrances to the

Earl of Huntingdon's residence in the Swinesmarket called the
Lord's Place. The Bird-in-Hand in Red Cross Street, which
is comprised in a Corporation rental of 171 1, may have been a
1 6th century inn. The White Lion, still standing, is also an
old inn, and so is the Bee-hive near the West Bridge.

The Eastward drift of civic life in Leicester, which has been
noticed before, and which was caused not only by the increase
of trade in the markets, but by other factors, such as the decline
of the Castle, and the dissolution of the great Abbey and of the
religious houses that lay within the town west of the old High
Street or in its immediate neighbourhood, received further
impetus in the 17th century from a very different cause. The
course of traffic going from South to North, instead of passing,
as formerly, through the town, became deflected outside the
East walls. " The road running through Belgrave and ter-
minating in Belgrave Gate at the Clock Tower, owes its existence
as a main entrance into the town to one of the visitations of the
Plague. The original road from the North turned off at the
bottom of Birstall Hill, some two miles from the Clock Tower,
and, passing the Abbey, entered the town by the North Gate,
and emerged again at the South Gate. But fear of the Plague
led travellers to take a side road by Belgrave as a preferable
alternative, as by so doing they could pass by the old town,
bounded by its four walls, without actually entering it on their
way to the South or North. Hence it came into general use."

The visitation of the Plague referred to is that of 1669, but
long before that time the flow of traffic must have been turned
outside the walls, owing to precautions taken by the Leicester
authorities to protect their town from the infection of the Plague
which raged in London and elsewhere. As early as the year
1624 watchmen were appointed " to keep Londoners out of the
town during the plague there " ; and in the following year it
was ordered that " no inhabitant should lodge any person coming
from London or other place infected with the plague without
consent of Mr. Mayor or the Aldermen of the Ward ; neither
shall receive or send any wares from London or other place
infected without the like consent." In 1631 a considerable sum


of money was paid " to keep Loughborough people forth of the
town " ; and the charges incurred in 1641 " in watching to
keep the sickness from Leicester which prevails at Thurmaston,
Eirstall, Whetstone and Oakham," were no less than ^46 8s. yd.
The gates and bridges were kept locked and chained. All these
measures, preventing travellers from entering the town, must
have furthered the use of the thoroughfare lying East of its
walls ; and the more important inns began to open their doors
ovitside the ancient borough, in the neighbourhood of the present
Clock Tower. The advent of the diligence about 1760, and the
mail-coach, which reached Leicester in 1785, brought increased
prosperity to the large hostelries which lay about that new centre.

The most celebrated of the coaching houses, besides the
old White Horse, were the Three Crowns, the Three Cranes,
the Lion and Lamb, the Nag's Head, the Golden Lion, the
Swan with Two Necks, the Queen's Head, the Lion and
Dolphin, and the Bell.

The Three Crowns, which stood on the site of the National
Provincial Bank, was built about the year 1726, and was named
after the union of the three crowns of England, Scotland and
Hanover, which was effected by the accession of George L It
was a large building " extending a long way up Horsefair
Street. It was three storeys high, containing about fifty windows,
plastered and painted stone colour on the front. Its entrance
faced down Gallowtree Gate, and its gateway into the yard in
Granby Street. It had a balcony on the front entrance, where
addresses were delivered at the time of elections. The sign
hung at the corner of the house, bearing on it three crowns,
and a sceptre in gilt. The house in Horsefair Street was guarded
with posts and rails, and at the end of them was a Town Pump."
The Three Crowns was one of the social headquarters of the
Leicester Whigs, the other being its neighbour the Three Cranes ;
while the revolutionary and dissenting spirits used to assemble
at the Lion and Lamb, the Bear and Swan, the Horse and
Trumpet and the White Lion ; although the last inn was
selected in 1665 for a banquet that was presented by the Mayor
to Captain Bassett, Commander of His Majesty's Own Troop.


In 1745 the Corporation were sufficiently Hanoverian to
hold their Venison Feast at the Three Crowns, and in the follow-
ing year they met there to express by a banquet their thankfulness
at the quelling of the late Rebellion. The Constitutional Society,
which was formed in 1789 as a countermeasure to the Revolution
Club, there enjoyed some of its dinners. Various business
meetings were also held there, connected with the woollen
manufactures, the circulation of base coin, the sale of the Town
Gates in 1774, and the Leicester Navigation in 1791. William
Gardiner offers us a casual glance through the windows of this
inn at the close of the i8th century, which permits us to catch
sight of the Due de Chartres, the father of King Louis Philippe,
who happened to be staying there at that time, having come to
Leicester to hunt with the Prince of Wales. On hearing the
sound of music, coming from some local amateurs who were
engaged in singing glees and catches, " he was curious enough
to enter the room, and remain a short time as an auditor." In
1801 the annual meeting of the subscribers to the Leicester
Permanent Library was held at the Three Crowns, " dinner on
the table at half-past two."

The most important rival of the Three Crowns in the
affection of Hanoverians was the Three Cranes, which stood
nearly facing it on the Eastern side of Gallowtree Gate.

Although the Three Cranes was a favourite sign in London,
the original name of this house seems to have been the Crane.
It is so called in 1730 and in 1754. In 1759 and 1762 it is
described as the Cranes, but thereafter it is usually named the
Three Cranes, except in an official poster, where it appears as
" The Cranes Inn." Possibly the Cranes became multiplied to
match the number of Crowns over the way. It was from this
house that one of the earliest of the Leicester mailcoaches began
to run in 1764, the Flying Machine, which left Leicester at
2 a.m. and was timed to arrive at London the same night. The
Venison Feast, and the Constitutional Society's dinners were
held here from time to time, on one occasion as many as 900
persons sitting down " at the Cranes and Crowns." It is more
worthy of record that a meeting was held at the Three Crowns


in 1766, at which a resolution was adopted for the formation of
an Infirmary at Leicester, and in 1771, when that institution
was opened, the gentlemen dined at the Three Cranes and the
ladies at the Three Crowns. The Cranes also witnessed in
the year 1791 the birth of the Literary Society, which first
brought forward the idea of establishing a Permanent Library
in the town of Leicester.

One or two of the more illustrious visitors of the Cranes
may be mentioned. It is doubtful if that epithet can be applied
to " two princes of Mount Lybanus in Syria," whose charges
were defrayed by the Corporation, and who received from the
Town a present of ten guineas and an armed escort to Coventry.
In 1768 the Cranes had a royal guest of more consequence.
On the morning of Sunday, September 3rd, a carriage drove
up to the door, and " a traveller stepped out of it into the prin-
cipal parlour of that establishment. Walking to the window,
the stranger threw up the sash, showed himself, and bowed with
affability and condescension to the people assembled. He was
about the middle size ; he had light hair and a fair complexion.
He was dressed in a light drab coat and blue waistcoat edged
with silver, wearing on his breast a star and the ensigns of the
Order of the Elephant. This was the King of Denmark, the
unworthy husband of George the Third's youngest sister. Part
of the Regiment of Horse Guards Blue were drawn up opposite
to the Three Cranes to receive His Majesty, who called to the
officer on guard, and conversed familiarly with him for several
minutes." The Blues, it appears, were on several occasions
quartered at Leicester, and their officers lodged at the Cranes.
A few years after this episode a more romantic visit took place.
*' On Tuesday, May the i8th. Lord Townshend, accompanied
by a gentleman and several servants, came to the Cranes Inn
and remained there all that day and the day following. Lord
Townshend sent expresses in different directions, and numerous
were the conjectures as to the motives of his lordship's visit to
Leicester. On Wednesday four postchaises arrived at the inn,
bringing several ladies and two gentlemen, one of the former
being young and exceedingly beautiful. After dining at the


Cranes they all set out for the metropolis. In a day or two the
London Evening Post cleared up all the mystery by making the
following announcement : " Yesterday Lord Townshend was
married to Miss Mountgomery. She is said to be about 17, and
his lordship about 50 years of age."

The landlord of the Three Cranes, about this time, who
was named Oliver, was Mayor of Leicester in the year 1762, and
is remembered as the builder of the first house in Stoneygate
and of the mansion on the hill at Birstall to which he retired.

Facing the Three Cranes on the other side of Horsefair
Street stood the Lion and Lamb, whose biblical sign, alluding
to the lion of the millennium, suggests a Puritanical origin. Tiiis
inn became, at any rate in the latter years of the i8th century,
a strong nucleus of dissent. There the Revolution Club held
their fortnightly meetings, and there ministers met in 1789 and
in the following year, to endeavour to obtain the repeal of the
Corporation and Test Acts, and to secure religious freedom.
When the Revolution Club celebrated the hundredth anniversary
of the landing of William of Orange, there were as many as
672 diners at the Lion and Lamb and two other inns.

The Manchester and London coaches, whicli commenced
running in 1777, used to stop for the night at Leicester, at the
Inn known as the Swan with Two Necks. This thirsty bird
makes a fine Pantagruelian sign, and it is quite a mistake to
suppose, as some do, that its name is derived from the two
nicks, or notches, cut in the swan's bill to distinguish its owner-
ship. This popular derivation is negatived by the consideration
that these nicks were so small that they would not be perceptible
on a signboard. The Nag's Head was not demolished until
1876. It stood at the junction of the old High Street with Tovm
Hall Lane. An illustration of this picturesque old building is
given in Mrs. Fielding Johnson's " Glimpses of Ancient
Leicester." The date 1663 was over its porch. The Golden
Lion stood at the corner of the old High Street and Thornton
Lane. The Queen's Head, which displayed its sign in Town
Hall Lane, at the east end of St. Martin's Church, was, in all
probability, the house from the gateway of which the first stage


coaches started from Leicester to Nottingham and London.
It was probably the same house and the same sign as the Maiden
Head, which is mentioned in the Chamberlains' Accounts for
1 59 1 -2. " Reed, of Wm. Hobbye for a messuage or tent, with
the appurtenances called the Maydenheadd and a garden there-
unto belonging lying on the East syde of St. M'tyn's Churche
in his occupation." The Maiden Head is said to have been
adopted as a sign by many inns in compliment to Queen Catharine
Parr, the last wife of Henry VHL, whose family bore for a crest,
" a female's head, coup'd below the shoulders, habited az. on
her head a wreath of roses alternatively ar. and gu."

The Lion .\nd Dolphin stood in the Market Place, and
coaches used to start from its doors for London, running through
Northampton, St. Albans and Barnet. These Post-coaches with
postilions " on a new plan," commenced running in 1765,
leaving London every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday morn-
ings at four o'clock, and starting from the Lion and Dolphin
on the return journey at the sam.e hour on the same days.

At the end of the i8th century the Bell in Humberstone
Gate was a great coaching house. Every morning the London
stage-coach started from its doors, and another coach used to
leave three times weekly for Derby, Buxton and Manchester.
It was the rendezvous of the Whigs during the unsuccessful
candidature of Major Mitford in 1754, on which occasion the
windows of the Three Crowns and the Lion and Lamb were
broken by riotous mobs. The inn at that time seems to have
been sometimes known as the " Blue Bell," for one of the popular
election rhymes which were then being sung at Leicester began
thus : —

" As I was going to the Blue Bell
I met Major Mitford going to hell."

A tragedy which befell a few years later, when John Douglas,
then landlord of the Bell Hotel, was tried, condemned and
executed for a highway robbery committed some years before,
is related in Thompson's " History of Leicester in the Eighteenth


Few Leicester hostelries have found a place in Literature,
but the Bell has acquired fame as the inn at which Drunken
Barnaby was lodging, when he received such a severe lesson
from the watchmen of Leicester : —

" Veni Leicester ad Campanam,
Ubi mentem laesi sanam ;
Prima nocte mille modis
Flagellarunt me custodes,
Pelle sparsi sunt livores,
Meos castigare mores."

Perhaps, however, it was at the old Bell in the Swines-
market that Barnaby put up. His visit to Leicester must have
taken place some time before 1638, for it was in that year that
his Journal first appeared, and the Swinesmarket Bell was
certainly existing, as we have seen, as late as 1605.

The history of the old inns of Leicester can be sketched
only in the barest outline. Wider research might, no doubt,
discover many more interesting allusions to their ancient life,
but their doings must remain for the most part closed in dark-
ness, and the cheerful clatter of their busy days is now silent
for ever.




THE most ancient of the mediaeval prisons of Leicester
was the Castle Dungeon. The partly subterraneous
room, which still exists between the Mount and the
Hall of the Castle, and which has long been known as " John
o' Gaunt's Cellar," has been generally identified with this
venerable gaol. A very full and illustrated description of it will
be found in James Thompson's account of Leicester Castle,
published in 1859. He describes it as a long, dark and damp
chamber, the sides and roof of which are constructed of wrought
stones. " It is fifty feet from end to end, eighteen feet wide, and
twelve feet high from the original floor, now covered over with
accumulated earth and rubbish." Thompson came to the con-
clusion that the walls of the chamber were older than the ceiling,
and he conjectured that at some time, not earlier than the middle
of the 15th century, an upper room had been built over the
original building, probably a guard-room. " But, whatever it
may have been," he continues, " the chamber below was evidently
a prison, and I doubt not was that erected under the authority
of Edward the First, whose grant, dated 1301, is entitled ' De
prisona in villa Leicestriae constructend' pro prisona comitatus
qui ante usque gaolam Warwici duci " solebant.' "

It is not, however, at all certain that the existing building
was really the dungeon of the Castle, as Thompson believed.
Other antiquarians, who have studied the character of the struc-
ture, and compared it with similar underground places in other
castles of the period, have come to an opposite conclusion.
They think that it was not built for a prison, but more probably
as a cellar for the storage of wine and other domestic supplies.*

* Mr. A. Hamilton Thompson writes : " The ' dungeon ' was certainly
the cellar at the kitchen end of the great hall." See post, p. 201.


However this may be, there can be Httle doubt that Thomp-
son was mistaken in supposing that the Castle dungeon was
erected under the grant of Edward the First, for it was in use
long before 1309, when Edward the First's prison was finished.
One man is recorded to have escaped from the " prisona castri
Leycestriae " in 1298, and another in 1300. In 1305 the assistant
of the keeper of the prison of Lord Thomas, Earl of Lancaster,
of the Castle of Leicester, going to visit some prisoners that were
in the said prison of his lord, " raised the iron door of the prison,
that he might see the prisoners safely, and accidentally tripped
against the iron door, so that he fell to the bottom of the said
prison, and broke his neck." Further escapes from the Castle
dungeon occurred in 1309 and 1318. It was clearly therefore
not the prison ordered by King Edward, which indeed, as we
shall see, was a county gaol.

The prisoners taken to the Castle dungeon were the Earl's
men who were not Leicester men. The Earl had power to seize
and hang and confiscate the goods of all thieves caught within
his territory. Thus, in 1298, Gilbert Makeleys, of Houghton,
" taken on the Earl's liberty in the town of Houghton," was put
into the Castle prison. After the new county gaol had been
built in 1309, such persons continued to be incarcerated in the
Castle gaol. Thus, in the year 1323, a man taken at Stretton-
in-the-Street, in Warwickshire, with a stolen bullock, was taken
" to the prison of the Castle of Leicester."


Until the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the counties of Warwick
and Leicester were in the charge of one Sheriff, and Leicester-
shire prisoners at one time were sent, as a rule, to the gaol at

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Online LibraryC.J. (Charles James) BillsonMediaeval Leicester → online text (page 4 of 21)