C.J. (Charles James) Billson.

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Warwick, but tried in the shirecourt which was held at Leicester,
Thus prisoners are recorded to have been sent to Warwick gaol
from Leicester in 1297 and 1300. The inconvenience of this
arrangement was felt and remedied long before a separate Sheriff
was appointed for Leicestershire in 1566. Indeed, it was this
object which Edward the First had in view when he ordered a
prison to be built at Leicester. It was finished eight years later,


for in August, 1309, his son Edward the Second, being then at
Stamford, sent letters to the Sheriff, signifying that, whereas the
late king, Edward, his father, " for the more convenience of the
inhabitants of Leicestershire, had, with the consent of Thomas,
Earl of Lancaster, ordained that a public prison should be made
in the town of Leicester, for the safe keeping of all prisoners
taken within the said county ; " and that, whereas he himself,
after the death of his said father, had " by his writ commanded
that the said prison, then not wholly finished, should be forthwith
completely perfected, so that no prisoner should thenceforth be
carried out of the said county of Leicester (as until then was the
custom), to the prison at Warwick ; " and that whereas he was
now credibly given to understand that the said prison w^as at
length accordingly finished ; he therefore required '* that the
said sheriff should cause all such prisoners as should be thence-
forth apprehended in the county of Leicester to be safely brought
and kept in the said new prison at Leicester until they should
thence be delivered in due course."

Four years after this prison was finished, a remarkable
thing happened to one of the prisoners. Matthew of Enderby,
a thief, who had been caught and taken " ad prisonam domini
Regis Leycestriae," was convicted of larceny, and hanged. His
body was then borne to the graveyard of the chapel of the hospital
of St. John of Leicester, and, while it lay there, awaiting burial,
the man came to life again. Such an event as this is an unusually
bright spot in the annals of a prison, the dullness of which is
relieved, as a rule, only by reports of prisoners' escapes. Many
broke out of the county gaol, as they did also from the Castle
dungeon and from the town prison. For instance, Elias of
Staunton, approver, " broke the King's gaol at Leicester " in
the year 13 17, and fled for sanctuary to All Saints' Church.
Next year a man escaped from the same prison to St. Peter's

In the time of Edward the Second it was ordered, " with
the assent of the commonalty," that a hall should be built beyond
the county prison, for delivery of prisoners and holding of pleas
in. There was, however, some delay in the building of this


hall, during which the old Mayor's hall in Blue Boar Lane was
used as a court of justice. An interesting report will be found
in the Calendar of Patent Rolls of Edward III. 1330-1334, of
a Commission granted April ist, 1332, " on petition of the
commonalty of the county of Leicester," which accounts for
this delay. It appears that " divers sums of money " had been
assessed, for the purpose of building a shirehall, on the townships
of the county, " and collectors of the same appointed ; but that,
although the timber of the hall had been got together out of
such assessment, the hall itself was still without a roof and
unfinished, because the collectors had kept a great part of the
money raised in their own hands." Richard of Egebaston and
Robert of Gadesby were therefore appointed " to audit the
accounts of the said collectors, to distrain for all arrears, and to
complete the work." The names of the delinquent collectors
are not disclosed.

The Shirehall appears to have adjoined the garden of St.
John's Hospital, for in the Corpus Christi Guild's rental for
1494-5 is a rent " pro uno gardino juxta le Shirehall nuper
Sancti Johannis Baptistae Leycestriae " ; and in the 17th century
a Leicester garden was known as " the Shirehall close." King
Edward's prison lay close to the Shirehall, probably north of the
Hospital. How long it continued in use is uncertain, but
towards the close of the i6th century it seems to have been re-
placed by another building, erected lower down the old High
Street immediately south of Free School Lane. But the new
gaol was little better than the old. A prisoner who was interned
there in 1690 described it as " a low, moist dungeon " ; and,
nearly a hundred years later, John Howard, the philanthropist,
visited it twice, and gave a lamentable account of its condition.
The debtors' sick-ward was actually in the cellar, a dungeon
29J feet by 9, and 6 ft. 8 in. high, down seven steps, and damp,
with two windows, the largest about 15 inches square. The
day and night rooms of the felons were close and offensive
dungeons, from 5 to 7 steps underground. It is not surprising
that Howard condemned this accommodation as " not con-
venient or healthy." Owing mainly, no doubt, to his representa-


tions, the prison was pulled down within a few years of his last
visit, and a new County Gaol was then built on the site of the old
one. This building, which cost ,^6,000, was first inhabited in
1793, and one of its earliest occupants is said to have been George
Moneypenny, its architect, who thus became a victim of his own
handiwork, like the more celebrated artist Perillus.

The present gaol in the Welford Road was built in 1828,
and from that time the county gaol in Highcross Street con-
tinued in use as a town prison. It was demolished about the
year 1880.


It would appear that the guarding of prisoners taken within
the town and suburbs of Leicester at one time belonged to the
Earl's bailiffs. But in the course of the 14th century, as the
community grew in power, they claimed to keep their own
prisoners. In the year 1375 they obtained from John of Gaunt
a formal recognition of their right to do so. They did, however,
actually use a prison of their own long before this charter was
granted, for a town prison, " prisona villae Leycestriae," is
mentioned as early as 1297, and in the opening years of the
14th century we frequently read of prisoners being taken to the
*' town prison," or escaping from it. Indeed, the Mayor of
Leicester, in his account for the year 1323, takes credit for
materials and labour which were used " for making the prison
in the High Street." The amount expended (two shillings), is
so small that the entry cannot relate to any new building, but
perhaps indicates that a house already existing was repaired or
adapted to hold prisoners. It may be concluded that some
building standing in the old High Street, was in use as a prison
at the beginning of the 14th century or earlier.

After the Reformation a new town prison was built on the
site of the Chapel of St. John's Hospital, at the corner of the
old High Street and St. John's Lane, afterwards Causeway Lane.
Thompson gives the date of its erection as 1614. Writing about
1791, Throsby said that. it was at that time " a despicable place,"
and " beneath description." Another building was erected on


the same site in 1792, when the foundations of the ancient chapel
were discovered. This building remained in use as the Town
Gaol until 1828. Nine years after that date it was demolished
and some small houses put up where it had been,


After their purchase of the Hall of the Corpus Christi
Guild in 1563, the Corporation made use of the old Mayor's
Hall, in Blue Boar Lane, partly as a coal store, and partly as a
prison. In 1573 a stone wall was built, to divide the prisoners
from the coals. But long before that time the old hall had been
used for the reception of prisoners. It was enacted in 15 11
that the Mayor's serjeant should have " of every prisoner com-
mitted to the hall for a fray, /\.d., and of every prisoner so com-
mitted for any other trespass, 2d. in name of a fee, to mend his
wages." Eleven years afterwards, all trespassers that were
committed for punishment " to Mr. Mayor's Hall," were required
to take their victuals of the serjeant, " except men's " {i.e., free-
men's) " sons and apprentices." Members of the governing body
of the town who committed offences were punished by some
kind of imprisonment in the old hall, but in the year 1580 a
resolution was passed, whereby it was provided that in future
" such of the 48 as shall hereafter so offend as he or they shall
deserve punishment shall be punished at the new hall and no
more of that company from henceforth to be punished at the
old hall. But it shall be at Mr. Mayor's pleasure whether
the hall door shall be locked upon any such offender or not."


It is said by Thompson that the Gainsborough had been
used as a prison and court of justice as early as the reign of
Henry the Seventh, and perhaps before that time. It is not
mentioned, however, in the published Records of the Borough
until the year 1533, when a charge was preferred of using
seditious language " in a place called Geynysborow chambere
standyng on the market place called Saturday Market in
Leicester." It was in use as a prison in 1550.


The Gainsborough was a two storey building erected in the
Market Place, a little to the east of the spot on which the present
Market House stands. It comprised an upper room, where the
justices met both for business and also for pleasant carousing.
Beneath the balcony which projected from this chamber on the
southern side were some shops, let off to shoemakers, and there
was a dungeon below the ground. A servant of Sir Edward
Hastings, who was interned there in Queen Mary's reign, ex-
pressed his feelings thus r — " Immediately as we were come to
Leycetter Master Mayor sent me forthwith to a most vile prison
called Gaynsborrow, and then offered to put gyves and fetters
upon my legs, and so to lye upon hard planks without bed or
straw and without company or comfort."

In 1575 the Deputy Receiver of the Duchy of Lancaster
contributed 33s. 6d. " towards the reparacions of Gainsborough
Chamber." The Town Chamberlains' Accounts contain several
references to meetings held there, such as the following : —
" Sheriffs and Justices in Geynsborow chambre," and " Sir
Edward Hastings and other of the Justices in Gaynesborowe
Chambre sittinge there with Mr. Mayor uppon the Councill's
Lettres aboute corne." In 1566 the Mayor made an appoint-
ment to meet strangers there, and in 1588 the Chamberlains
paid 9 shillings " for a weynescott cheyre remeyninge in Gaynes-
burye chamber for the Mayor to sytt in by the fyer."

Standing as it did in the most frequented open space of the
town, the Gainsborough was far more in evidence than the Town
Hall, and even than the High Cross, so that it became a favourite
place for demonstrations of all kinds. Thus, a certain Isabel
Slater, who had been convicted by the Magistrates, was con-
demned (inter alia) to be carted about the town in a white sheet
and after that to stand up " openly in the open market before
the chamber called the Gainsborough Chamber in a white sheet
by the space of one hour, between the hours of xi and xii of
the clock." When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, her death
was proclaimed both at the High Cross and at the Gainsborough.
The accessions of Charles I. and Charles II. were also proclaimed
at the same places. The building suffered during the tumults


of the civil war, for in 1643 the Chamberlains paid 2S. 8d. " for
timber and workmanshipp about the chimney at Gainsborow
beinge burnt down by the soldiers."

In 1697 the peace of Ryswick was celebrated at Leicester
by a bonfire made in the Marketplace near the Gainsborough,
and a hogshead of ale was ordered for the people at the public
expense. Again, when the news of the Duke of Marlborough's
victories in 1704 reached Leicester, the Corporation ordered
such a collation and treat to be made at the Gainsborough as
Mr. Mayor should think fit, the charges to be paid by the
Chamberlains. Bonfires and feastings and public ale drinking
followed each success. After the victories in Brabant in 1706
a great public entertainment took place at the Gainsborough.
In the previous year the room had been redecorated, and the
Queen's arms and other coats there freshly drawn, to which were
then added the Earl of Denbigh's. Indeed, the Gains-
borough was largely given up to civic festivals. The coronation
of George the First was observed with great rejoicing, and " so
much ale and wine at night at the Gainsborough as Mr. Mayor
should think fit, with bonfires and other demonstrations suitable
to the occasion." A similar entertainment — with the addition
of tobacco — was provided at the Gainsborough on the pro-
clamation of Peace with Spain, and in the following year the
coronation of George the Second was celebrated with equal

The last of these jubilations took place in 1747, when the
naval victories of Anson and Warren were recognised in the
usual manner. At the beginning of the following year the
Corporation ordered that the Gainsborough and adjoining
buildings should be taken down. They were at that time, as
Nichols said, " miserably inconvenient." It was resolved, there-
fore, that " Humphrey Whorstall's house, Coker's kitchen, the
Guardhouse and the Piazza, be all pulled down, and a new
Gainsborough built on or near as conveniently may be to the
place where those buildings stand, according to the plan delivered
in by Mr. Mayor at the last Hall ; and that the shambles and
shops in the Saturday Market be likewise pulled down and a


new shambles with a vault under them be made under the said
Gainsborough." The new building was known as the Exchange,
and was in existence until 1850.

There was a room under the Toll-booth, in the Market
Place, which was sometimes used as a house of detention ; and
the wooden Cage, a lock-up for petty malefactors, stood at the
Berehill Cross, outside the East Gate.

The town possessed at least eight pairs of Stocks, which
stood outside each of the four Gates, at the High Cross,
outside the Mayor's Hall, under the Pillory, and beneath the
great Elmtree, in the Marketplace. Besides the Marketplace
Pillory there may have been one placed on the top of the
Berehill Cage, as in the case of the Cornhill Pillory in London.
A Pillory is recorded to have been made at Leicester in 1300,
but there had been older ones.





VERY little is known about the first house occupied by
the Guild Merchant of Leicester. It was situated in
the Parish of St. Nicholas, and " with the unanimous
consent of the community " it was conveyed away to one William
Emery by Walter le Bron, who was Mayor of Leicester in 1275-6.

In the year 1257, Isolda the Turner was paid is. 7d. " for
arrears of the service of the messuage belonging to the community
of the Guild." In 1258, a like sum was paid to Philip the Turner,
" for rent of the land of the Guild." In 1260 Philip, son of
Philip the Turner, received is. 7d. " of his annual rent from the
messuage of the Guild in the Parish of St. Nicholas." Further
payments of " the Guild house rent " were made to Philip the
Turner in 1261, 1262 and 1264.

That these payments represented a rent issuing out of the
first house belonging to the Guild is rendered practically certain
by an entry made in the Pleas of the Guild Merchant for 1335-6,
wherein, after a note declaring that " Walter Brown, formerly
Mayor of Leicester," conveyed away " veteram aulam Gylde,"
it is further stated that William the Turner then claimed to have
" IS. 6d. and two capons from the old Guildhall — de vetere
Guildhall." Hence it appears that the rent paid to the Turner
family was a charge upon the old house of the Guild that was
conveyed away about 1275. The Turners' claim is not again
referred to in the Records of the Guild.


Some years before parting with their first hall, the Guild
Merchants had been anxious to obtain better accommodation.
They were, however, very poor, and quite unable to establish
any precedent of lavish expenditure upon municipal buildings.
On the contrary, they appear to have looked round for some


dilapidated building which they could buy cheaply, and after-
wards make suitable for their purpose, as soon as they should
have funds to spare. And so, about the year 1251, they bar-
gained with one William Ordriz for the purchase of a house,
formerly belonging to his father Stephen, the son of Ivo,
which stood at a certain corner opposite the churchyard of St.
Nicholas. This house was conveyed to " the Mayor and
Burgesses and Commune of Leicester and their successors," in
consideration of the payment of 6J marks of silver (^4 6s. 8d.),
and a yearly rent of 16 pence and two capons, " to wit, at Candle-
mas five pence, at AVhitsuntide five pence, at Michaelmas six
pence, at Christmas two capons." By subsequent deeds these
annual services were released, and in consideration of 2 marks
(/i 6s. 8d.) the m.other of William Ordriz released her right
of dower.

The nev/ Guild Hall lay in what is now called Blue Boar
Lane, opposite to the Eastern end of the Church of St. Nicholas,
where Simon's Almshouse afterwards stood. For some years
after its purchase by the Guild there is no indication of their
occupying it. On the other hand, in the year 1258 they paid a
shilling to one Robert Griffin for hire of a house to hold the
Morning-speeches in. It seems to have been in a somewhat
ruinous and neglected condition, for three years later Robert
of the Dovecote was fined a shilling for taking freestones without
license from the hall of the Guild, and " carrying them to his
own house to do with them what he liked to the damage and
dishonour of the Guild and of the Community of Leicester."
Thirty years later we find this same Robert of the Dovecote
selling stones illegally taken from the town wall to a Canon of
Leicester Abbey, who confessed that he bought the stone " fore-
knowing that it was from the town wall." There seems to be
no record of the Guild meeting in their new hall until March,
1276, but the building had been restored a year or two before.
In 1274, Alexander le Debonair, who was Mayor of Leicester
from 1270 to 1275, " rendered an account of the Guild-hall of
£6 9s. 3d. in the presence of the Community." " Tantum aula


custavit in omnibus," says the Record, " The hall cost so much

There is in existence the fragment of an account relating
to expenses incurred in the building of the Guildhall, which
seems to refer to this period. In this account the sums spent
between Candlemas and July amount to ratlier less than ^4.
The rest of the document is torn away, but the fragment has a
good claim to be admitted as part of the 1274 account. It will
be noticed that the whole amount spent upon the site and building
of this hall was £12 2S. yd. The cost of building the present
Town Hall, exclusive of the site, was £^2,gii 2s. 8d. The
contrast is striking, after every allowance is made for the depre-
ciation of money. But it may perhaps be said that it was the earlier
builders who laid the foundations of this later and more ambitious
enterprise, and in that sense " they builded better than they
knew," or at any rate more expensively.

After the reconstruction of the building, it was occupied by
the Guild Merchant, and used as their Guildhall for nearly a
hundred years. The site is said to have comprised 20 yards
and I foot in length, 9 yards in breadth at the East End, and
7 on the West. The building had a gabled roof, and consisted
of a porch, a hall on the ground floor, and a large Solar, or Upper
Chamber, which hung over the street, and sheltered four shops
or market booths. These booths were let out by the Guild, at
a rental of 4s. a year, from 1309 until 1346, after which date
their use was presumably discontinued, as no later payments
are mentioned.

The building appears to have been of moderate size.
Throsby must have exaggerated in calling it " a place of con-
siderable magnitude." Anyone who is acquainted with the
average pitch of a 13th century roof, and also with the size of
13th century tiling slates, could perhaps make a rough estimate
of the dimensions of the Upper Chamber based upon the number
of slates, two and a half thousand, which were used in tiling the
roof. These slates would be the famous blue slates of Swithland
which have been quarried from time immemorial, and which
covered the roof of the neighbouring Blue Boar Inn.


Adjoining the house was a garden, called in the 14th century
" the garden of the Moot-hall," and in the 15th " the Town-Hall
garden." This garden was walled round, and it was not large,
for the wages of two Wall-builders for 3I days at 3iJ-d. a day,
and two more for i| days at is., with straw and water, which
cost IS. 4d., brought the whole cost of the wall to no more than
3s. iid.

The street, now called Blue Boar Lane, which led to the hall
was generally described in the 13th and 14th centuries as " the
lane which leads from the High Street to the Moot-hall," or
" Guildhall," and in 1484 it was called Mayor's Hall Lane. It
w^as paved in the year 1341, when " eight rods of pavement were
paved by task " for 8d.

The Guild Hall was very simply furnished. Both hall and
Upper Chamber were provided with wooden benches, some of
which were, on special occasions, covered with mats. These
benches often needed repair, and once, in the year 1334, reference
is made to some riotous proceedings, otherwise unknown to
history, in order to account for the damage. The Mayor's
accounts for that year say that the benches of the Guildhall had
been " broken and thrown down in the presence of the King's
Justices then sitting to hold the Assize."

The only other article of furniture we hear of is a lacked
chest, or " common coffer," used for holding the deeds and
muniments of the Guild. Other documents, rolls and charters,
were kept in sacks and hampers. There was also a cheker, or
counter, in the hall in the i6th century, if not earlier. The
weights and measures were also there, as well as the seals, which
were kept in a purse with four keys. Grasses were bought some-
times, upon special occasions, for carpeting the floors of the Hall
and Upper Chamber. The Bell used for calling the community
together, which the Guild had bought for sixpence in 1220,
and had mended in 1258 at a cost of 3d., was also kept there,
as well as the Mace, which was renewed in the year 1378 at a
cost of 13s. 6d. The latter instrument, it should be noted, was
for many centuries no mere ornamental symbol of authority,
but a formidable weapon, by means of which the Mayor of the


day ** could break the helmet or smash the armour of an opponent,
as one would crack the shell of a lobster with a hammer." Other
weapons of offence and defensive armour were also kept in the
Guildhall. Ever since the days of Edward the Confessor it had
been the duty of the town of Leicester to send twelve burgesses
to fight by land with the King's army. Thus, in 1322, twelve
foot-soldiers were sent to fight in the Scotch war. In 1346 the
contribution was reduced by the King's Council to six. For
the use of these levies arms and equipment were bought from
time to time by the Guild Merchant and kept in repair on their
premises. In 1521 the town undertook to keep 10 able archers
in harness with bows and arrows, swords and bucklers, " with
other able harness for their bodies," to be ready for the King's
use at a day's notice.

Inventories were sometimes made of the armour belonging
to the town. In 1549, for instance, a list was set out of all the
harness delivered by the Mayor to certain of the brethren, " to
be safely kept for the town's use till it be needful to be occupied."
Again, in 155 1, an Inventory was taken of the plate and other
property which was to be handed down from Mayor to Mayor,
from which we learn that there were at that time " in the towne
hall to the townes use these parcelles foUowyng : —

Itm. XX* alman revyttes " (i.e., corslets rivetted in the
German fashion) " with splentes, sallytes and gorgetes.

Itm. xix* shef of arrowys with caces and gyrdelles.

Itm. on byll, tow bowys, viii* swordes, three daggers."

In the lane outside the Guild Hall stood a pair of stocks.

The first Hall had been known as the " Guild House "
(messuagium communitatis gildae, or messuagium gildaj, or donius
gildas). The second was called the Leicester Hall (aula Leyces-
triae), or the Guild Hall (aula gildas), and afterwards the Moot
Hall, the Mayor's Hall, the Hall of the Community, or the

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Online LibraryC.J. (Charles James) BillsonMediaeval Leicester → online text (page 5 of 21)