C.J. (Charles James) Billson.

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near St. John's chapel, and not the larger hospital beyond the
North Bridge. But Henry of Knighton would be sure to know
who was the traditional founder of the hospital which lay next
door to his own Abbey. The church was, no doubt, built at


the same time, for the chapel of St. Andrew, which was in St.
Leonard's church, " in ecclesia Hospitalis," was also ascribed
to William Leprosus. The Church is first heard of in 1220,
and belonged to the Abbey, which received about ^6 los. od.
from the revenues of the rectory. The vicarage, however, was so
small that it would not adequately sustain a vicar, and the
Abbot therefore arranged, in 1437, with the consent of the Bishop
of Lincoln, that any chaplain appointed by the Abbot should
serve the cure, instead of a resident vicar, receiving 53 shillings
and 4 pence a year out of the revenues of the rectory.

Almost the only incident connected with this church which
is recorded in the annals of the borough is a charge of burglary,
reported in the Coroner's roll for 1297-8. Geoffrey the Mason,
in conjunction with some other persons, who escaped, stole from
St. Leonard's church the vestments, surplices, books, and other
church ornaments, all of which were found in Geoffrey's possess-
ion. The small value then placed upon the church's goods
(three shillings), quite bears out the tradition which affirmed that
it was a church of little size or importance. Two centuries
later, it seems to have been in a poor way. At the Episcopal
Visitation of 1509, a presentment was made that John Birming-
ham, the vicar of St. Leonard's, had allowed a parishioner to
die unconfessed, and without the eucharist, and that he did not
read the generates sententiae,(a commination service,) nor expound
the articles of the Christian faith. The vicar stated that he did
not possess a copy of the gena-ales sententiae. At the Visitation of
1526, when John Baston was vicar, the church was poorly furnished
and badly served. It then possessed only two altar-cloths for
the High Altar, and no linen covering at all for Our Lady's Altar.
It had no manuale, (containing the services of extreme unction,
baptism, etc.,) no canopy for the pyx, no vessel for frankincense,
and no lucerna. Divine service was not well attended, and was
frequently interrupted by disorderly and irreverent persons.
The vicar himself, it would seem, sadly neglected his duties,
and the parishioners said that he ought to be suspended. An
attempt had then lately been made to raise some money for the
church by means of a Robin Hood's Play and through that popular
performance forty shillings had been collected. But the man

who received this sum — one John Laverock — refused to account
for it, and it may never have reached the church. In the Subsidy
List of 1526 " Dom : Rogerus Slatter "appears as " Curatus"
of St. Leonard's, so John Baston had probably been suspended.
Slatter was assessed on an income of £5 6s. 8d. In a list of
Leicester vicars made out probably a few years later, the name
of the vicar of St. Leonard's is left blank.

The parish of St. Leonard was outside the Borough Walls,
beyond the North Gate, the little old church standing at the
junction of Woodgate and Abbeygate, opposite St. Sunday Bridge.
By her second charter of 1599, Queen Elizabeth placed the parish
under the jurisdiction of the Town. The church had then fallen
into a rather ruinous condition. Some thirty years afterwards
an attempt was made to collect money for repairing it. The
Brief issued for that purpose stated that " the steeple hath been
theretofore a fair square steeple, but the foundation not being
very good, for that it was made of soft mouldering stone, it so
happened that the said steeple was, by a most violent tempest
of wind, blown down ; so that with the fall the middle aisle and
north side of the church were so shaken and decayed in the
main timber that it cannot be long upheld. Charge £s^o."
Throsby, followed by Nichols, said that the church was then
rebuilt, but this is doubtful. It was still standing in the year
1634. Sir John Lambe then noted that the steeple was " all
down," and that there was at that time " no curate certain, but
it is served sometimes by Mr, Ward, the vicar of All Saints, and
sometimes by Mr. Richardson the Preacher, who is also curate
of Belgrave." The church was, however, in regular use apparent-
ly up to 1640 or later. The lists of baptisms, marriages and
burials, which took place there between 1632 and 1639
inclusive, and in some earlier years, are still extant, signed by
Nicholas Parker, curate, and the two churchwardens. It seems
to have had no vicar at that time, and shortly afterwards, during
the tempest of civil war, the building was entirely demolished.
In the early part of the eighteenth century, the Hospital, " pro
sex viduis," was in existence, but there was no incumbent,
" ecclesia caret," and the parish was united with that of All
Saints. All that remained at the end of the eighteenth century


was the little churchyard with some few grave stones. " At
the foot of the North Bridge, in an area enclosed by a low wall,
and distinguished by a few scattered gravestones, the churchyard
of St. Leonard's meets the eye."

A new church of the same name was built in the 19th century
on part of the old site. In the Old Town Hall Library of Leices-
ter, there is a copy of Cranmer's Bible, printed in 1553, which
contains the following M.S. note. " Mr. Rudiarde is witness
that this Byble apertaineth to the Parishe of St. Leanordes
anno Domini 1581, E.G."


The church of the Holy Sepulchre was situated beyond
the south wall of the town, on a site now occupied by the Royal
Leicester Infirmary. It belonged to the church of St. Mary
of the Castle, and was served probably by one of the chaplains
who assisted the Vicar of St. IVIary's. The church was in exist-
ence before the end of the 12th century. It faced the public
gallows, and the bodies of those who were hung were generally
buried within its cemetery. In two cases the corpses revived.
In the year 1363, according to Henr}'^ of Knighton, Walter Wynk-
bourn was hanged at Leicester, at the instance of the preceptor
of Daiby, and when he was taken down from the gallows, and
was being carried for dead to the cemetery of St. Sepulchre at
Leicester to be buried, he began to come to life again, and was
carried into the chapel, and there guarded by a Leicester priest.
It happened that the King, Edward the Third, was then staying
at Leicester Abbey ; and, when he heard of this strange occurrence,
he sent Wynkbourn a free pardon, saying, in Henry's presence,
" God has given thee life, and I will give thee a charter of mercy."
Ten years later, another man, named Peter King, was not so
fortunate. He revived, as he lay before the high altar of the
church ; but, on this occasion, the convict was promptly dragged
out of the church again, and incontinently rehanged.


The church was used once as a sanctuary by some thieves
who had been robbing the Abbot of Leicester. In front of the
building stood an image, at which it was customary for wayfarers
to make a small offering. A " parochia Sancti Sepulchri " is
mentioned in a rental of Lord de Grey, which is undated, but
probably of the 14th century. It was at St. Sepulchre's that
the view of frankpledge for the South Gate, or South
Quarter, of the town was held every year on the 31st of

The change of name took place at the beginining of
the 1 6th century. " Sepulchre's church " occurs in a list of
1492, but from the Visitation of the Bishop of Lincoln in 15 10, it
appears that the name had by that time been altered, and moreover
that the building was then in bad repair. Kelly conjectured that
the chapel of St. James formed part of St. Sepulchre's church, but
in the report of the Bishop's Visitation it is distinctly described
as " capella S. Jacobi dudiim vocat' ecclesia S. Sepulchri." A
Hermitage stood on the opposite side of the road, adjoining a
spring of water, which long retained the name of " Chapel-well."
The old name of the church lingered side by side with the new,
for in the rent roll of the Corpus Christi Guild for 15 19, it is
described by both. There is a rent from " a close beside St.
James' church," and a chief rent from " a croft beside Sepulchre
church." In 1484 " St. Sepulchre's church " had formed the
boundary of one of the town wards, but in 1557 the name given
to the limit of this ward was " St. James' chapel." The little
church was existing in 1572, but it was then probably no more
than a ruin. Nichols said that some of its walls were standing
within the memory of persons living in the time of the Rev.
Samuel Carte, who died April, 1740, aged 86. In the 17th
century Sir John Lambe noted that St. Sepulchre's was a chapel
to St. Mary's, but added " quaere, how now ? "


There was a chapel in Belgravegate in connection with

the old Leper Hospital there, which is said to have been founded,

as well as St. Leonard's Hospital, by William the Leper, Robert

Blanchmain's youngest son. This leperhouse was called " The


House of St. Edmund the Confessor and Archbishop." Arch
bishop Edmund died in 1240, and was not canonized until 1247 ;
and therefore this hospital was not founded probably till after
that year, though it seems rather doubtful whether William the
Leper, whose father died in 1190, would still be living at that
time. The hospital was in existence certainly before 1250, for
it was recorded in the Register of Croxton Abbey, that before that
date " Galfridus abbas et conventus de Croxton " gave certain
lands " Deo et beatae Mariae et domui Sci. Edmundi Confessoris
et archiepiscopi in Leycestria et pauperibus fratribus ibidem
manentibus." Geoffrey was Abbot of Croxton from 1242 to 1250.

Dedications to St. Edmund the Archbishop are very un-
common. St. Edmund's at Salisbury, and the chapel of St.
Edmund at Gateshead are almost the only others in England
known to Mr. A. Hamilton Thompson, but he thinks it probable
that Sedgefield, in the county of Durham, was dedicated to
him, as the annual feast was on the day of his translation. In
this last case, where the church existed long before the arch-
bishop, the dedication must have been changed, and it is of
course possible, though improbable, that this may have been the
case at Leicester. The Hospital chapel was generally known
as the chapel of St. John the Baptist, and belonged to the Hospital
of that name within the town.

In the arrangement made in 1464 between the Steward of
the Guild of St. John and St. John's Hospital, it was agreed that
the priest provided by that Guild should say or sing mass two
days a week " in the chapel of St. John set at the townsend of
Leicester." The little building was visited by John Leland about
1536. It stood, he said, by " the Bishop's water," for so the small
stream was named which flowed into the Soar across Belgravegate
under Our Lady's Bridge. " At this chapel," he added, " lyith
Mr. Boucher."

Towards the close of the 14th century, William de Swinderby,
the well-known Lollard, became Chaplain of St. John's Hospital
at Leicester, and he and his companions, William Smith and
Richard Waytestathe, made use of the little chapel at the town's
end for the purpose of inculcating their own advanced views.


They turned the old chapel into a school where Lollard doctrines
were taught. " Thus," says the orthodox Henry of Knighton,
" the chapel that had once been dedicated to God was now made
a receptacle and home for blasphemous heretics and enemies of
the church of Christ."

The charter granted by Queen Elizabeth in 1589 comprised
a conveyance to the Mayor and Burgesses of Leicester of " St.
John's chapel at the end of Belgravegate with the chapel yard."


No mention is made of this little chapel in John Brid's
account for the building of the West Bridge in 1325, nor does
it occur in a list of Leicester churches and chapels compiled in
1344. But in the Mayor's account for 1365-6 there is an entry
which refers to the roofing of " the chamber on the bridge."
It was tiled with slates brought from the old Guild hall in Blue
Boar Lane, which was then being rebuilt. It would seem there-
fore that the chapel was built between 1344 and 1365, during the
revival of religious activity caused by the Black Death.

The chapel of Our Lady of the Bridge, or St. Mary de
Brigge, was constructed over the eastern arch of the bridge.
It belonged to the College of St. Mary of the Castle. William
Lord Hastings, who was beheaded in 1483, by his will dated the
27th June, 1 48 1, made bequest " that my executors do make and
edify the chapel on the Bridge at Leicester, and for the making
thereof one hundred pounds. Also that they find a priest in
the same chapel by the space of seven years after my decease to
say daily mass in the same chapel and other prayers as shall be
ordained by my executors."

In the year 1523 the parish priest of Muston, having been
found guilty of immorality, was sentenced by the Ecclesiastical
Court, according to the report of the case, besides doing penance
in the Cathedral church of Lincoln, to visit the chapel of the
Blessed Mary on the South Bridge of the town of Leicester,
and there repeat 150 Ave Marias on his bended knees, and to

pay certain oblations. " Visitabit . . . capellam btae Mariae

super pontem australem villas Leicestr et ibm dicet psalterium

btae Mariae genibus suis flexis ..." The question therefore


arises whether there were two chapels of Our Lady on two Leices-
ter bridges, known as the West and South, as some have con-
cluded, or whether, in spite of this report, there was only the
one chapel on the West Bridge, which is there called the South
in error, or as an alternative name to distinguish it from its
only important rival, the North Bridge of the town.

In the absence of further references to a South Bridge and
chapel, it would appear more likely that the penance had to be
performed on the West Bridge. Lord Hastings would not have
spoken so simply of " the chapel on the Bridge at Leicester,"
had there been two bridge chapels in his time. Moreover in
the year 1492-3 the Dean of St. Mary's Close was described
as holding some ground " beside Our Lady of the Bridge."
This refers, as Kelly pointed out in a written note on the record,
to the chapel on the West Bridge, and the land could hardly have
been so designated if there had been two chapels of Our Lady on
two different bridges.

Some complaint seems to have been made in 1526 with
regard to the conduct of the bridge priest at that time, but the
passage in the Visitation referring to this matter is so corrupt as
to be almost unintelligible.

On the outer wall of the chapel was an image of the Virgin
Mary, and it was customary for the pious, when passing over
the bridge, to make a small offering.

After ceasing to be used as a chapel, the little chamber over
the West Bridge was turned into a small dwelling. By an Inden-
ture bearing date the 20th day of September, 1598, the Mayor
and Burgesses of Leicester conveyed to Robert Herrick of Mount-
sorrel, Glover, subject to a reserved rent, " one house some time
called a chapel house situate and being on the south part or side
of the West Bridge, on the West side or part thereof, and was
late parcel of the possessions of the late College of the Blessed
Virgin Mary near the Castle of Leicester." Nichols gives the
following description of it, " On the southwestern side of the
West Bridge is a dwelling house resting on its edge, the water
passing under it through the arch nearest the town, and the brick
part continuing above the water on stonework, once a chapel


with a bell on the southwest near the top, the frame of which
still remains, though the window, through which it might play,
is stopped up. Here two mendicant friars asked alms for the
benefit of the neighbouring Priory." The Chapel was at the
town end of the bridge, and not on its West side, as stated in
Herrick's conveyance.

The old bridge with its quondam chapel was taken down in
the year 1841.


Little more than half-a-mile beyond the north walls of
Leicester lay the Abbey of St. Mary of the Meadows, the church
belonging to which, a massive edifice of the 12th century, stood
on the north-western side of the monastic buildings. The
cloisters were south of the church, and on the east of the cloisters
stood the Chapterhouse. The Abbey church, according to the
report of an eyewitness, was 140 feet in length and 30 feet wide,
with a large cross aisle in the centre 100 feet long and 30 feet
wide, and nearly as high as Westminster Abbey. It had a
high square tower standing at the west end. The great western
door, with a large window above it, opened on to Abbey Gate.
The church and other buildings were all of stone, and roofed
with lead.

The building of the church, commenced by the founder,
Robert le Bossu, Earl of Leicester, was not completed in his
lifetime, but was continued by his daughter-in-law, Petronilla,
a daughter of Hugh de Grantmesnil, and wife of the next Earl,
Robert Blanchmains. She is said to have built the nave at her
own expense, and also to have given a rope, made of her own
hair, by which a lamp was suspended from the roof of the choir.
The solemn dedication of the church did not take place until
the year 1279.

Although the Abbey was so magnificent and famous, " prob-
ably the wealthiest Augustinian house in England, with the ex-
ception of Cirencester Abbey," little has been recorded of its


church. Leland hardly mentions it. He states merely that
a tomb, " ex marmore calchedonico," lay on the wall south of
the high altar, and questions whether it was that of the founder,
or of the countess Petronilla. But as the founder was buried,
according to the testimony of one of the canons, on the right,
or north side of the choir, the tomb which Leland saw cannot
have, been his ; and Petronilla was buried in the middle of the

The church was very richly endowed with chantries and
chapels and altars.

In 1323 John de Tours founded a chantry there, which he
endovv^ed with a considerable amount of land ; and in 1352
Simon de Islip, Archbishop of Canterbury, handsomely endowed
another. In all there are said to have been four chantries.

The principal chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was
enriched by pictures and fittings presented by William Geryn,
a 14th century canon. Here Bishop Penny may have been buried ;
and here, " in the middle of the chapel," lay the great Cardinal

On the south side of the church was the chapel of St. Augus-
tine, and the altar of St. John the Baptist. Others recorded in
Charyte's Rental are those dedicated to the Holy Trinity, St.
Gabriel, St. Stephen, St. Michael, St. Leonard, St. Andrew,
St. Katherine and St. Anne.

The ceiling of the choir, and that of the body of the church,
were designed and painted about the year 1340, through the
munificence of William Geryn.

At the Visitation of Bishop Alnwick, which took place in
1441, a sermon " of a very pretty fashion," was preached in
the chapterhouse. The record of this Visitation may be read
in Mr. A Hamilton Thompson's, " Visitations of Religious
Houses in the Diocese of Lincoln," (II. 206-217). The
Abbot was accused of witchcraft.

A few years after the tragic end of Cardinal Wolsey the
Abbey was dissolved, and the church stripped of all its beauty.
The peal of bells was then valued at ^88, and the lead at ,(^1,000.
This is so enormous a sum, that the printer of Thompson's


History of Leicester seems to have substituted the word " land "
for " lead," and he has thereby misled some later writers.

The church ornaments were sold with the " household
stuff." Mr. Francis Cave, the Commissioner, reported to
Lord Cromwell, in 1539, that the church was then undefaced,
** and in the church," he said, " be many things to be made sale
of, for the which it may please your lordship to let me know your
pleasure, as well for the further sale to be made, as for the defacing
of the church and other superfluous buildings which be about
the monastery."

This letter was soon followed by the complete destruction
of the Abbey church ; that is to say, it was bereft of everything
saleable, and abandoned to decay.




IN the autumn of the year 1392, William Mercer and WiUiam
Spencer, we are told by Thompson in his History of
Leicester (page 137), gave to the Mayor and community
of Leicester divers houses, lands and tenements situate in
Leicester, Whetstone and Great Glen, for the repair of the
Six Bridges within the town of Leicester, and for other purposes.
This statement need not, however, be taken too literally. It is
possible, of course, that Messrs. Mercer and Spencer were
public-spirited townsmen who wished to do well to their town, and
to mend its bridges ; but it seems far more probable that they
were in reality more like what lawyers call sometimes, in their
picturesque phraseology, " conduit-pipes." The transaction may
be explained, perhaps, in the following way.

In the year preceding this grant, the Mortmain Acts had
been extended for the first time to Boroughs, so that the com-
munity of Leicester were now prevented from holding any real
estate, except by Ucense. To obtain a license was a rather
complicated and costly business. It would have been impossible,
on that account, for the governing body of the town to buy
small lots of property, and take separate conveyances of each.
And so they seem to have deputed two of their members to buy
up several lots of property on their behalf, and to take con-
veyances and assignments of each lot separately into their own
names, as private persons, to whom the Mortmain Acts did not
apply. For this purpose the town required the services of two
men of good repute and proved honesty, and Mercer and Spencer,
who were selected, no doubt answered to that description.
Mercer had taken his father's seat in the Guild Merchant in
1365, and Spencer entered the Guild in 1368. They were thus
men of some experience in municipal affairs, and that Spencer,
at any rate, was a man of good standing is shown by his being
elected Mayor of the town in the year 1399.


These two men acquired, during the summer of 1392, a
considerable amount of land, houses, rents and reversions. Two
of the conveyances to them still extant are dated in the August
of that year. The community then took steps to obtain a license
that all this property might be assigned to themselves by one
conveyance, as a grant from the persons then legally entitled.

In the first instance it was necessary for an Inquest to be
held. When this was done, the Jury found that no loss would
ensue from the proposed gift, but they pointed out that some
of the Leicester property was held of the Duke of Lancaster,
and the Whetstone land of Sir John de Beaumont, both tenants
of the King. This inquisition is printed by Nichols, and an
English translation will be found in Thompson's History of
Leicester. Thereupon the King granted his license. A portion
of this document is printed by Nichols, and an English abstract
of the whole is given in the Borough Records. Richard II,
" by special favour, and for ^20 paid to him by the Mayor and
Community of the town of Leicester," granted leave to William
Mercer and William Spencer to give 8 messuages 15 cottages
2 shops I toft 6 virgates and 9 acres of arable land 6 acres and
I rood of meadow and 25s. gid, yearly of rent and the rent of
I cock and 2 hens, with their appurtenances, in Leicester, Whet-
stone and Great Glen, to be held by them and their successors
" for the repair and bettering of the Six Bridges within the town
of Leicester and for other burdens arising within the said town
according to the ordinance of the grantors." They also had
leave to grant the reversions of some other property situate in
Leicester. The License is dated September 14th, 1392, and
within three weeks from that date licenses were also obtained
from the mesne lords mentioned by the Jury, " Prince John,
Duke of Aquitaine and Lancaster," and " the reverend lord, the
lord John of Beaumont," and a formal assignment of the pro-
perty to the Mayor and Community of Leicester was duly

The " repair and bettering of the Six Bridges " was put
forward intentionally, as one of the good and charitable uses

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Online LibraryC.J. (Charles James) BillsonMediaeval Leicester → online text (page 9 of 21)