C.J. (Charles James) Billson.

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that each of the four chantry priests occupying the four houses
had a separate key to the " wykkett." In the Chantry Certificate
of the Chantry of Corpus Christi Leicester returned under the
Act of 37 Henry VIII c. iv, the house and garden of the chantry
priests are said to be situated at the west end of the church,*
and to be of the annual value of los.

For some years after the purchase of the new Guild Hall,
the accounts of the Town Chamberlains refer to various repairs
that were carried out there, especially in connection with the
benching, and mending the hangings of the parlour, and the
stairs going up into the high chamber.

The Hall and Parlour were used not only for civic business
and for the Assizes, but also for social gatherings and for theatrical
entertainments. Other rooms were adapted to various purposes.
One of them seems to have been given up to the use of the school-
master. Another was used as an armoury, and another as a

In the original " St. Mary's," but obviously St. Martin's is intended.

65 E

Larderhouse. The Chamberlains' accounts allude also to the
kitchen and the Spice-house. A bedroom was fitted up in 1582,,
for the accommodation of the Recorder, Richard Parkins, who
" applied himself to reading and digesting the records of the
town." The accounts for the same year give particulars of the
bedroom's furniture ; and a note is added, saying that it remains
to the use of the corporation, and is yearly to be recorded in
the account of the Mayors " for the better remembrance thereof."

Shortly after the purchase of the new Hall, some annoyance
seems to have been caused on account of the Mayor's having
lent it for meetings of the " paratours " or cloth-makers, for
in 1572 the Corporation emphatically resolved that " the Hall,
nor no part thereof, nor no implement belonging to the same,^
shall not at any time hereafter be lent neither by the Mayor for
his time being nor no other officer nor officers."

The Mayor's Seat in the Hall was erected in the year 1586,
and the date is inscribed above it between the letters E.R. A
sum of fifteen shillings was paid to John Carver " for carving and
making the Queen's Arms which is in the Hall extant," and for
the gilding thereof 26s. 8d. These arms were not in the Hall
itself, but in " a chamber at the Hall."

The Mayor's Parlour at present existing was built or restored
in the year 1636. " This year the Parlour belonging to the
Guildhall with the chamber gallery evidence house and other
rooms adjoining unto the same were newly erected at the charge
of the common chamber." The cost was £22^^. " The carving
of the chimney-piece was finished at an outlay of £^ i6s. 6d. to
the carver, £^ 13s. 6d. to the joiners and woodseller, and £2 los.
for the colouring and gilding. It remains to this day a monument
of the skill and taste of the period of its execution."

In the year 1584 the Town Hall was mortgaged to secure
a loan guaranteed on behalf of the Corporation by two of its mem-
bers. Robert Herrick, who was then Mayor, and Thomas
Clarke, the wealthy landlord of the Blue Boar Inn, had bound
thepiselves in a bond of ;(^200 to Agnes Stringer for the payment
of £100, and it was resolved that " for their security there shall
be the Town Hall vocat' Guildhall assured unto them." Agnes


Stringer was a well-to-do widow, who appears in the Subsidy
Roll of 1590 as an owner of land at Leicester. She may have
been the widow of Roger Stringer, who was a Town Chamber-
lain in 1576-7, an Alderman in 1583, and an Auditor of Accounts
for the South Quarter in 158 1-2. His Will was proved at Leices-
ter in 1585, and he may have died in the previous year. The
Will of Agnes Stringer was proved in 1603. Either Mrs. Stringer
or her husband had advanced the ^^loo for repayment of a debt
incurred by the Corporation in promoting the manufacture of
cloth. The rest of the Twenty-four promised to pay is. 2d.
each, and the Fortyeight 7d. each, quarterly, towards the payment.
The Town Hall was mortgaged as further security.

A great feast was held at the new Leicester Guildhall in
1588, to celebrate the defeat of the Armada. The Earl of Hunting-
don, his brother, Walter Hastings, who was in command of the
troops in Leicestershire prepared to resist the apprehended
invasion, Thomas Skeffington, of Belgrave, who was then High
Sheriff of the County, and many other gentlemen of the neigh-
bourhood were entertained by George Norris, the Mayor of
Leicester. The event was commemorated on future anniver-

For these great civic banquets all the accommodation of
the building was required. There were two long tables, known
as the first and the second, which extended down the length of
the Hall, and in the Parlour were also first and second tables,
while room was found for yet another table in the chamber
upstairs. Nichols gives the Bill of Fare of one Gargantuan
Feast which contains more than 150 different items.

On other occasions the Hall was given up to theatrical
performances. When companies of actors visited Leicester,
they seem generally to have played at the Town Hall whenever
it was available. In the year 1585-6, " The Earl of Essex '
players " had a solatium paid to them of 20s., because " they were
not suffered to play at the Hall." They were prevented from
doing so probably by the alterations which were at that time
being carried out there. The upper end of the building was
used as a stage, and some of the hooks from which the curtain


was suspended were recently to be seen upon one of the beams.
No less than 56 different companies of actors are mentioned in
the 1 6th century Records of the Corporation as having visited
the town. Among them was one of which William Shakespeare
was a member and shareholder, and it is traditionally believed
that the poet played with his Company at the Leicester Town
Hall. The subject has been fully investigated by Mr. William
Kelly, who came to the conclusion, that although there is no
actual proof of the historical truth of this tradition, there is still
a certain presumption in its favour.

During the years 1632 and 1633 some alterations were made
in the rooms which had originally formed the residences of the
four Chantry Priests, and to these newly-adapted premises the
Town Library was removed from St. Martin's church. The
books have remained ever since in the same congenial quarters.

The history of the Town Halls of Leicester has never been
written, and requires further investigation. The foregoing
sketch must therefore be considered as merely preliminary and
tentative, and it is liable to be corrected in some particulars by the
evidence of future research.

It remains now only to add that the fifteenth century Hall
narrowly escaped the same untimely fate as that which swept away
the adjoining Hospital in 1875. As soon as the present fine
pile of municipal buildings was finished, in 1877, the ancient
mediaeval structure became quite superannuated, and many a
voice demanded its demolition. Fortunately, in this instance,
good sense and civic piety prevailed, and the old Guild Hall is
still in existence. Long may it be preserved for the instruction
of future ages, even as the rude straw-thatched hut, known as
the " cottage of Romulus," was kept standing among the splendid
monuments of imperial Rome, to remind her citizens of their
humble origin, and of the simple, primitive virtues which are
the only roots of greatness and national strength.




A GREAT deal has been written about the mediaeval
churches which still exist at Leicester, but not so
much about those which have been destroyed. It
may be worth while therefore to recall what is known of them.

They include three parish churches within the town, those
of (i) St. Clement, (2) St. Peter, and (3) St. Michael ; (4) the
church of the Grey Friars, and (5) the church of the Annunciation
of the Blessed Virgin in the Newarke ; and two smaller buildings,
(6) the chapel of St. John's Hospital, and (7) the chapel of Wig-
ston's Hospital. Outside the walls of the town were (8) the
church of St. Leonard, (9) the church of St. Sepulchre, or St.
James, (10) the little chapel on the West Bridge, (11) St. John's
chapel in Belgravegate, and (12) the church of the Abbey of St.
Mary of the Meadows.

Of the ancient churches or chapels of St. Austin and St.
Columban, which may have existed at Leicester before the
Conquest, there is little authentic information ; and practically
nothing seems to be known about the church of the Austin Friars.*


The ancient parish church of St. Clement belonged to
Leicester Abbey, and stood within the walls of the town, between
the North Gate and the River Soar. The parish suffered very
severely from the sack of 1173, and in 1220 it was so poor that
it could hardly support a chaplain. By the year 1291 it had

* Throsby said that he had discovered the traces of this church, the
direction of which was "* from East to West, agreeably with the custom
of church-building." According to his measurements, it was in length
about 150 feet, and in width 90. It stood near the centre of what
Leland calls the " ile between the arms of the Soar."


ceased to belong to Leicester Abbey. But it had not been des-
troyed ; and moreover the Rev. C. F. R. Palmer was in error when
he wrote, in his account of " The Friars Preachers, or Black
Friars of Leicester," " Nothing later " (than 1220) " is found
concerning this church, which disappears entirely from view."
It is true that, in a Roll of Leicester churches of the year 1344, St.
Clement's is wholly omitted, but it was in use a few years before.
On July 8th, 133 1, a licence was granted for the alienation in
mortmain by Philip Danet to the master brethren and sisters of
the hospital of St. Leonard, Leicester, of 5 messuages and 7J
virgates of land in Whetstone, Croft and Frisby-by-Galby to
find a chaplain to celebrate divine service daily in the Church
of St. Clement, Leicester, for the soul of the said Philip Danet,
and for the souls of his parents brothers and sisters and of Robert
Burdet and Petronilla his wife. The canons of the Abbey must
have parted with the church some time between 1220 and 1 291, and
there can be no doubt that they gave it to the Friars Preachers, or
Black Friars, who came to Leicester early in the reign of Henry
IIL, before 1253, ^"^ settled in the grove of ash-trees near to
St. Clement's church. The parish by their rules the Friars could
not administer, but the church, dedicated to St. Clement, pope
and martyr, became the church of their priory.

The absorption of St. Clement's church in the Black Friars
is a very unusual incident. Mr. A. Hamilton Thompson,
although his knowledge of mediaeval ecclesiology is remarkably
wide, cannot recall a similar instance. In his opinion, which
he kindly allows me to quote, Danet's proposed grant indicates
that " if St. Clement's had been given over to the Black Friars,
it still had parochial rights, which it would have been difficult
to do away with ; otherwise the grant would have been made to
the Friars themselves. Possibly the nave still belonged to the
parish. As regards Friars' churches, however, this arrangement
was most unusual ; but the Abbey, in granting the church to
the friars, could only have surrendered the rectorial tithes and the
chancel, and had no power to oust the parishioners from the nave
without special agreement. The endowments of the church
were very poor. The secular vicar appointed in 1221 had as his


stipend merely the daily allowance of a canon in the Abbey, so
that it can have been no great sacrifice to the Abbey to part with
it. I should not be surprised if the chantry of 1331 was contem-
plated in order to keep up the parochial services : the normal
services in parochial chapels and churches, where there was no
vicarage ordained, were frequently called chantries, and were
precisely on the same footing."

" It appears from some old writings," says Nichols, " that
a lane from the North Gate, turning westward to the Friars
adjoining, and then running southward between the said Friars
and the backs of the houses opposite to All Saints' Church, is
called St. Clement's Lane, and therefore it is probable that the
church was situated in or near it."

The church was visited by John Leland, the antiquary,
about the year 1536. He noticed a knight's tomb in the choir,
and a flat alabaster stone with the name of Lady Isabel, wife
to Sir John Beauchamp of Holt ; and in the north aisle he saw
the tomb of another knight, without scripture, and in the north
cross aisle a tomb having the name of " Roger Poynter of Leicester
armed," (? armiger, i.e., esquire). Shortly after his visit, the
church was demolished. A century later its very memory was
beginning to fade away, for, in connection with the Metropolitan
Visitation which Archbishop Laud held in 1634, Sir John Lambe
made the following note : — " St. Clement's, Quaere, where it
stood ? no such now."


This church also belonged to Leicester Abbey. The Vicar
was instituted by the Bishop, his salary " ab antiquo " being five
marks {1,1, 6s. 8d.). The clerk was chosen by the Abbot. St.
Peter's seems to have been one of the six parish churches of
Leicester recorded in Domesday Book, but the earliest reference
to it by name appears to occur somewhere about the year 1200,
when one of the witnesses of Richard Basset's charter to St.
John's Hospital was " Gervasius clericus de Sancto Petro."
The name of its vicar was given in 1221 as Robert the Chaplain.
The parish, which was situated between those of All Saints and
St. Martin, included part of the old High Street, and the church


itself stood near to that street in St. Peter's Lane. It is stated
by Nichols that the old County Gaol (which stood at the corner
of the old High Street and Free School Lane), had been built
on the site of St. Peter's church, but he must have been mistaken.
The church did not face the old High Street, but lay some way
back from the main thoroughfare, and was approached by two
lanes, one the present St. Peter's Lane, leading out of the old
High Street, the other a cross-lane, coming from Dead lane.
Fragments of the old church are thought to have been found
during some excavations that were made in 1839, near the corner
of St. Peter's Lane and West Bond Street ; and further confirma-
tion of this site was discovered in 1892, when some workmen
exposed what seemed to be a portion of the West wall, and the
lower part of the tower, to a height of 8 or 10 feet.

A tragic event, which took place on Christmas Eve in 1306.
may be quoted from the Coroner's Roll of that year. " It chanced
about midnight that Simon the Welshman, clerk, came to St.
Peter's church of Leicester, to ring the bells for matins, as the
custom is; there he met William, vicar of the said church, standing
in that church, who asked him where he had been tarrying so
long, and struck him with a knife which is called Misericorde on
the head even to the brain, and he lived for two days." The
hue and cry were raised ; the townships came, that is the East,
West, South and North Gates, " together with the frankpledge
of that township " ; {i.e., the North, in which the occurrence
happened.) " They ordered the coroners and bailiffs of Leicester ;
whereof an Inquest was taken, who say that they suspect no one
of the said death but the said William the vicar himself ; who
kept himself in the said church for seven weeks, and afterwards
came to the peace, and was kept in prison in the custody of Hugh
the Mercer " (then Bailiff of Leicester). " He had chattels :
2 pieces of tapestry for five shillings, one housing of striped cloth
for five shillings in the hands of Godfrey of Louvain, William of
Broughton and William Turner, frankpledges ; two small sheets
for I shilling and ten pence, 2 sheets for 2s. & 6d., in the hands
of William of Ruddington ; one white tunicle for three shillings
in the hands of the said frankpledges ; one pavilion of Persian


for ten shillings, one surplice and one rochet of Aylsham for
ten shillings, in the hands of Benedict, vicar of the church of
St. Mary de Castro in Leicester ; one laver and one basin for
5 shillings, in the hands of Henry Dowell, and two cushions for
3id. ; one coffer and one table for 2S. and 6d., one chair and one
couse for 4jd., and one pair of cymbals for one shilling and one
penny ; two small seats for 3d., in the keeping of Robert the
coverletmaker of Hallaton, at that time of the household of the
said William the vicar. They say also on their oath that John
Smith and his wife, dwelling near the North Gate, sold the
chattels of the said William the vicar after the said felony was
done to the value of four shillings and six pence. Total, £2, iis.
4d." Cases of violence done to clerks were very prevalent at
that period, but there is no record' of the vicar's punishment.

Nichols gives a few particulars relating to this Church and
its vicars, but little is recorded of it before the i6th century,
when it began to fall into decay. In 1389 an anchoress named
Maud or Matilda, who lived in St. Peter's churchyard, came under
the notice of the ecclesiastical authorities, as an exponent of
Wycliffe's teaching. She was summoned to appear before the
Archbishop of Canterbury himself on a charge of heresy ; but,
when the poor creature came up for so formidable an examination,
on November ist, 1389, she must have recanted, for she was
reconciled and absolved at St. James' Abbey, Northampton,
on the following Thursday. At the visitation of the Bishop of
Lincoln, held in St. Mary's church, Leicester, on September 20th,
15 10, WiUiam Alcock was Vicar of St. Peter's, and presentations
were then made for immorality in that parish. In 1526 John
Ward was vicar, and Robert Green and John Pare were Church-
wardens. It is not known in what year its religious use was
discontinued, but it must have been shortly after the middle of
the 1 6th century. In 1548 there were three churchwardens,
who contributed 8s. 4d. towards a levy of horse-soldiers, raised
for service in the Scotch wars. But the fabric must have been
in a ruinous state, when, in 1555, the community purchased from
the church-wardens some stone to be used in repairing the town-
hall. Two years afterwards, the Corporation negotiated for a

lease of the building : " Mr. Mayor and other of the brethren
went to speak for St. Peter's church." This lease was carried
out in 1563, the rent being five shillings a year. Part of the
old structure was repaired, and made use of as a school-house,
the school-master being accommodated at the townhall. The
bells were weighed, and found to contain 32 cwt. i3lbs. of lead
and brass ; and, in the year after the lease was made, it was agreed
at a common hall that one of them should be sold " to repair the
school-house." The big bell was then sold for about £16; and,
shortly afterwards, the rest were also sold to Leicester bellfound-
ers, producing altogether more than £^S. The churchyard
continued to be kept in repair, and the ash-trees were lopped.
In 1571 it was resolved at a common hall that the timber of the
church should be taken down, and kept in safety with the lead
" until further order be taken therein. ; " and in the follow-
ing year the Town Chamberlains were paying men " to watch the
lead certain nights at St. Peter's church." It amounted to as
much as four fothers and five hundred pounds, about four tons.
However, steps were being taken to enable the old materials to
be converted to a worthy use, and, on April 7th, 1573, a deed was
executed by which the Queen assigned to the " Mayor and co-
burgenses of the town of Leicester," all the lead, stone and timber
belonging to the decayed church of St. Peter, for the purpose of
erecting " in some convenient and meet place within the town of
Leicester one substantial school-house meet and fit for children
to be taught in, made with windows and doors necessary, and
covered with slate." The consideration was /35, paid to the
Duchy of Lancaster. The schoolhouse was built on land belong-
ing to the town, at the corner of the old High Street and Free
School Lane.

And now we come to the last scene in St. Peter's history.
The church bells had been taken away, and the church had been
demoUshed, but there was still a vicar, William Rudyard, a
descendant of the Rudyards of Rudyard in the County of Stafford.
His living was but a poor one. Its value was given on Wolsey's
taxation of the Diocese of Lincoln in 1526 as 43s. 4d., and in
1561 it was estimated to be worth 45s. a year and the tithe 4s. 6d.


Nothing could be done for him until the living of All Saints became
vacant. He was then, in May, 1584, instituted vicar of that parish
church in addition to St. Peter's, his appointment being made by
the Archbishop of Canterbury (the see of Lincoln being at that
time vacant), and confirmed by the Crown. The two parishes thus
became united during the lifetime of William Rudyard. It was
thought desirable that this union should be made permanent, and
so a petition was addressed to the Queen, in November, 1590,
by the Council of Leicester and William Rudyard, supported
by the Bishop of Lincoln, praying that this might be done.
For some reason or other, the proposed union of parishes became
a burning question in the town, and in the following year led
to a heated discussion taking place in the Council Chamber. It
was agreed finally " by the greater part then assembled " that
the late parish of St. Peter should be united to " the new parish
church of All Saints in Leicester," and the minutes of the meeting
explain graphically how this result was brought about.

'* There was assembled at this meeting of both Companies
fifty and five, whereof all but thirteen or fifteen gave their con-
sents to the said union for that they were bidden by Mr. Mayor
that so many as would not consent thereunto should go forth of
the hall or parlour. So as thereupon there went out but fifteen
or thereabouts, the said Mr. Mayor sitting in the parlour still.
Then said Mr. John Stanford " it is agreed, for here remaineth
still," or " here is the greater part." And thereupon the hall
break up. Yet after Mr. Mayor's departure out of the parlour
there was some defuzion and altercation, for that the other side
or part viz. Mr. James Clarke and they of St. Martin's parish
said they were the greater part. Quaere } " The various
documents giving legal effect to the union of the two parishes
thus initiated are given in full by Nichols.

It is a remarkable fact, that, although the Rev. William
Rudyard cannot have been a young man when he was appointed
to this living, he lived more than 42 years longer, ministering at
his new church. When he was buried at All Saints, on the i8th
June, 1626, it was noted on the register that he had been " vicar
of All Saints about fifty years."


In the next century the churchyard of the old church of
St. Peter was being used, according to Sir John Lambe, as " a
cabbage ground."

A small piece of stained glass in the window of the Mayor's
Parlour at the Old Town Hall, which is marked with the letter
P. is pointed out as a relic, said by tradition (but on no other
authority), to have come from old St. Peter's. Part of a holy
water stoup, and several small fragments of masonry, that were
discovered on the church's site about 1892, are now in the possess-
ion of Mr. Henry Hartopp of Leicester. A stone wall which
runs along part of the yard of Salem Chapel, in Free School Lane,
may have been one of St. Peter's boundaries. What is reputed
by an old tradition to be the font of St. Peter's Church, is now
standing within a garden in Guthlaxton Street.

The history of St. Michael's church is not unlike that of
St. Peter's. It was also one of the six churches existing at Leices-
ter when Domesday Book was compiled, and belonged to Leices-
ter Abbey. It suffered in the sack of 1173. Some historians
say that it was nearly, others that it was wholly " demolished."
It is certain that, after that great catastrophe, the parish was left
in a ruinous state, and long remained desolate and uninhabited.
Its " streets became green lanes ; and the sites of the houses,
which for centuries afterwards remained unbuilt upon, were
converted into orchards." Almost all the extant deeds relating
to real estate in the old parish of St. Michael are concerned with
" gardens," " plots of ground," and " crofts," and hardly ever

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Online LibraryC.J. (Charles James) BillsonMediaeval Leicester → online text (page 7 of 21)